The Back Pew - June 2020
Submitted: Ernie Isbell, VLOA Chaplin
From the Chaplain’s Corner--- Ernie Isbell, VLOA Chaplain, Summer 2020
Hello! and I hope that you are all well and I would like to share this with you.
While growing up in west Texas and southern California my mother often used an expression that was something like this “God will help those who help themselves.” Perhaps your parents used similar language.
The thought inferred in this message is that during these times of stress and illness known as Covid 19 we must be sure that we take care of ourselves. Lin- da and I have taken refuge in our home in Paducah, TX, a small town in west Texas where I was born. About 13 years ago we bought a delightful brick home which more than meets our needs and avoids the crowds and turmoil that sur- rounds our home in the greater Dallas area. Even here we wear a face covering while in crowded stores and each time we get back in our vehicle we clean our hands with antiseptic solutions. We hope each of you are following similar procedures.
Discipline is how we protect ourselves and I would like to share a story of a couple of my experiences in Viet Nam. We are a veteran’s group and all of us survived the Viet Nam experience by depending on each other and our training and equipment to keep us safe. Congratulations to each of you.
I had the experience, good or bad, of serving three tours in Viet Nam. We went over with what became the Outlaws and Mavericks plus supporting per- sonnel in 1964-1965, where I flew with the Mavericks. I was back to the Delta
in July 1967-1968 where I served as a staff officer for the 164th Combat Avia- tion Group as well as the Group Headquarters Company Commander. I was promoted to Major during this tour. I was 26 years old.
My third tour was in 1971-1972 where I was the S-3 of the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion (Reinforced) in the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. Along with three Infantry Battalions and an Artillery Battalion we were all that remained in country of the 1st Cavalry Division.
In the Spring of 1972, I traded jobs with the B Company commander and as- sumed command. At the time things were drawing down in the theater and it was relatively peaceful.
Upon assuming command, I noted that the aircrews were not wearing chest protectors and discipline was rather lax. I set up a demonstration and had my armorer fire a 30 caliber round into a chest protector at about thirty feet. All crews were required to watch, and I then ordered that all aircrews “were to wear the chest protector at all times” in flight.
There was immediate pushback to include one of my platoon leaders coming to my quarters at two AM complaining that he could not wear a chest protector as his arms weren’t long enough. He had been drinking and after listening to his rant I told him to make adjustment’s to his seat and get out of my quarters. He left.
About two weeks later I was a passenger in an empty aircraft flown by my Operations Officer and Yellow Lead, two Captains, as we went to arrange a non - combat move for an Infantry Battalion. In route I noted that none of the air- crew was wearing chest protectors. After we landed, I braced my Operations Officer and told him to radio Yellow Flight and say that any crew member that landed without a chest protector would be fined $250. I also told my Opera- tions Officer that if such conduct continued, I would relieve him and send him home with a nonrecoverable efficiency report.
This same officer was making a liaison flight two weeks later near the Cam- bodian border and while returning he elected to fly low level over an area that was a known “hot” area. The enemy took him up on his obvious blunder and they opened fire. The crew chief, in the left rear door seat, took a round in his left arm which at the time was over his chest protector. The chest protector saved his life and he came home to his family.
By the way, the crew chief and the Operations Officer are both alive today as far as I know. The Operations Officer continued his career ,
He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. He lives in the Fort Worth area and I have met with him a couple of times.
The calm was broken when the NVA attacked from Cambodia near the town of An Loc. They brought tanks and the Strella heat seeking anti-aircraft missile. The situation was grim for the ARVN soldiers but they fought bravely. Our In- fantry forces were not committed to the fight.
We commanders and staff discussed the situation, especially with the Strella missile. In the first few weeks of use it had downed six UH1H aircraft up north and no one survived. We were told to try and evade the missile and fly into clouds if possible. Please note—we were flying usually at speeds of less than 100 knots and the missile flew much faster. We decided that our only recourse was to announce “Missile-Missile-Missile” on guard channel and alert all that heard this to take evasive action if possible.
The ARVN forces decided to move their airborne brigade that was fighting around An Loc North to support their actions in I Corps. They requested our aviation support to pick them up and move them to a friendly airfield for further move to the North. My unit was the lead of our troop movement effort.
The Airborne Brigade had fought their way from An Loch about 5 miles south along Highway 13. They were carrying their dead in their tradition.
I was on the ground in the first flight of five aircraft sitting along the highway. It was about 3pm. As we were loading I heard “Missile-Misslie-Missile”. I looked up and about 500 meters away was a tree line with a very large puff of white smoke and it streaked overhead in a white trail. I followed it overhead and saw the tail boom of an AH1G Cobra falling.
We were loaded and took off back South headed to Lai Khe. I then saw the Cobra main fuselage coming down about two miles in front of us. They were turning slowly. Their radios were destroyed in the falling tail boom.
At this time, the lead of the Cobra heavy fire team told me that the main body of the downed Cobra had crashed into the jungle and the crew was out and alive. There was no place to land but he asked if we could send a slick to try and help. I sent my number five aircraft to lend a hand. The pilots hovered over the crash site and while fully loaded lowered their aircraft, cutting down trees, until they were low enough for the Cobra pilots to climb up their AH1G body and rotor system and were assisted on board the UH1H by the crew.
They flew to Lai Khe, landed and the crew was safe. The front seat pilot had back injuries but the backseat pilot was unharmed. Both these men are alive today. One lives in Washington state and the front seat lives in Round Rock, TX. Neither continued their Army service.
While the slick aircraft commander and I looked at the damage to his main rotor blades. The young CW2 turned to me and asked “Sir, am I going to have to pay for the damage to this aircraft? I was astonished that he was that concerned about what had happened and I assured him that we would get another aircraft and not be charged anything. He is alive today and living in Missouri the last I heard.
I have told these stories because I believe that skill, discipline, training, and following what you have been trained to do will help God protect you and your family. It worked for all of us in our Army service and it will help keep you and your family safe during this pandemic.
May God Bless You.
Ernie Isbell, Chaplain
P.S. Linda and I continue my fight with cancer of the bladder. I am awaiting another bout of surgery as soon as it can be scheduled. Ernie.
What can the Chaplain do for me?
My primary job as Chaplain of the V. L. O. A. is to conduct the Sunday morning worship service at our reunions. In addition, should you have the need to talk with someone who has "been there, done that," I am available to listen.
Outlaws Devotional - July 2017
Ephesians 4:29. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
When I entered the U.S. Army in 1960, I quickly learned that getting straight to the point was the norm. Commanders were “old school;” give orders and demand soldiers execute them. In later years, younger military personnel were a “different breed of cat” and required more explanation before the order.
As a young commander, I wasn’t attuned to the fact that the “explanation” I gave might be perceived as blunt, harsh, or critical. My orders were more often than not very straight-forward, even though they contained some explanation. My Father-in-Law made a statement one time when we were hunting on his Florida farm that really hit home with me. He said: “Words are like a bullet shot from a pistol; once you pull the trigger, you can’t take back the bullet.” As my names imply, I have always been earnest and frank! My Father-in-Law’s words stuck with me as I grew older.
Some years ago, I forwarded an email I received criticizing a politician I didn’t support, only to get a return email from an Army buddy. “Good Christians don’t criticize others” he said in his lengthy response, but then he criticized me for criticizing others. I did a great deal of thinking about what he said.
Have you experienced someone that criticizes or disparages someone else in the written or spoken word, seriously or jokingly, knowingly or unknowingly? Just about everywhere we look in today’s society, there is an abundance of hate, offensive statements, Tweets, Facebook posts, TV reports, and newspaper articles that have clearly moved away from being Christ oriented in our words and deeds. This is the right time for all of us to take a step back and really see how our words and deeds are received by others. Maybe we should apply Ephesians 4:29 during this period where our country is trying to find who it is and what it stands for again as a world leader. Just maybe, some things might work better in our personal lives, our church, our community, and our nation.
My Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, oh Lord, my Strength, and my Redeemer. Amen.
Submitted by Frank Estes