"Confessions of an RLO"

Submitted by: Bob Patterson

Perhaps this will bring back a few memories and a smile or two...

Do you remember your first flight in country and being assigned to an "old timer", to get you "broken in"? I do, and I still chuckle just thinking back to that day. I arrived in country in August of '68 as a 1LT and ready to go. As an RLO (Real Live Officer) I got assigned as an Assistant to the Assistant Section officer for a flight platoon. I even quickly got a jeep that had been "liberated" from the delta for just such duties and left for me by some predecessor.

Soon I was in Ops ready to start my in-country check out. For the life of me, I cannot now remember the name of CWO who was unlucky enough to get me to check out. After I more or less helped getting the bird started, the Chief told me to taxi out, take off northbound and head to Dong Tam. No problem, after all, how hard can this be? Let's see, Dong Tam, that's the place in Vietnam that he told me about in the briefing. East, as recall. "No LT, the other west", he pointed, that way. Sure, I got it. No problem, after all, how hard can this be? I soon found that it was really easy to navigate to Dong Tam. There were lots of canals that ran exactly east-west, so I just flew right down the middle of one to stay on course.

Shortly, my IP said, "Don't fly down canals, it ain't safe." "Charlie lives in the trees along the canals." Sure, I knew this. I moved off the side a bit, but was soon back over the canal. After all, navigation is important. "L.T., don't fly down canals, it ain't safe." "Charlie lives in the trees along the canals." Oh yeah, Chief, sure, just testing you.

About 10 minutes later as I returned to "navigate" squarely on top of a big canal headed west, my CWO IP said, "L.T., move your track a bit to the left. "A little more, little more." "That's good, hold it right here." He had his arms folded and said nothing else.

I flew along puzzled at the very specific track he now had me on. Finally, I when couldn't stand it any more, I asked why we moved our track well west of the canal? He had been waiting for me to ask. He turned from the left seat and looked at me rather sternly and announced, "I had you get off to the left so when Charlie shoots our @%#$$ off, it will be on your side and not mine!" I thought it prudent to move well away from using the canal for nav aids. You know, it's a funny thing about that period of instruction, I never flew close to a canal again without thinking about that!

In just a couple of days after my check out, I finally drew my first mission. As the only RLO on this two ship flight, I was rather surprised when I was told that I was mission commander. (MAJ Patterson, the CO, was very clear that RLO's would earn their paychecks and flight pay in the 147th!) After sitting down in the cockpit of the aircraft, I still remember well the somewhat sinking feeling of having my very senior CWO aircraft commander hand me "the clipboard" and say, "OK L.T., according to the rules, you're in charge, what's your orders?" (Yeah, it was the same guy who trained me about navigational canals.)

Being a former Marine, having 8 years enlisted time, and being an Infantry OCS grad, I quickly sorted through this dilemma and developed my "order. With a confident RLO smile I firmly said, "I am in charge, right?" The Chief paused, looked at me and very slowly said, "That's right." I handed the clipboard back to him and smiled, "Then my order is, you run this mission so it will be done right while I try to learn to fly this aircraft." He looked at me for a minute, grinned back and said, "L.T., we are going to get along fine." We did too. He helped pass along to me what I much later tried to pass along when I became an IP at Rucker.

About three months later I was the Operations Officer.

In case I never said it, "Thanks Chief."

R.W.P. "Bob" Patterson
LTC      USA Ret
Hillclimber 3 & 5