The following article, written on request, is intended for non-profit
publication / reproduction in direct or implied connection with
the 30th anniversary of the 227th Assault
Helicopter Battalion. The author reserves the right to authorize
or withhold any publication or reproduction whatsoever after 30
John B. Stockton, Miami, FL 26, Feb. 93.
I started pondering the complexities and possibilities of air
mobility during my 1960-1961 War College student year. Then
by a stroke of great good fortune I tumbled into the plum TDY
assignment as the first Aviation Officer for LTG Splithead McGarr
at MAAG Vietnam from Nov. 61 to Apr. 62. My immediate boss was
the legendary Budge Bingham who encouraged the development of
all my thoughts and ideas about using helicopters in the combat
mode. We had some mind-boggling and hairy experiences trying
out various tactics and techniques, flying a jury-rigged H-13
gunship prototype for the purpose. I learned a lot. Then, later
in 1962 fate smiles on me once again and I reported to Lt. Gen.
Ham Howie at Fort Bragg to become his G-3 on the Army Tactical
Mobility Requirements (USATMRB or "Howzie") Board.
Three months later I staggered out of that assignment about as
burned out from sheer exhaustion as an Army aviator in good health
can get. There followed a couple of short term semi-dumb staff
assignments in the Wash. DC area. Then one glorious early summer
day in 1963 came that cherished set of orders transferring me
PCS to the 11th Air Assault Division at Fort Benning.
Assigned to the 11th Aviation Group, I reported to Colonel GP Seneff in July. Along with General Howie and Bob (Rapid Robert) Williams, Seneff was the third pillar of the triumvirate which formed and nurtured and sustained the concept of combat air mobility from the earliest dawning of that revolutionary idea until it became a widespread and accepted combat methodology several years later.
As I recall today, Col. Seneff ruminated on the subject of assault
helicopter formations by proceeding from his comprehension of
earlier employment's-transporting assorted brass hats hither and
youn, evacuating casualties from the locale of occurrence directly
to skilled medical attention, and hauling beans and bullets from
A to B kind of like the transportation truck battalions did on
the Red Ball Express during the latter stages of W.W.II in Europe,
where Seneff had been an armored division G-4 and I a tank platoon
leader and company commander.
He was adamant and vociferous in making the point that he wanted
me to break that mold, firmly and finally. He thought it might
help if I tried to compare assault helicopter employment to the
use of armored personnel carriers in armored infantry battalions
during our shared WW II combat experience. It was imperative,
he said, that the carriers-in my about-to-be case, helicopter
with their crews-and the fighters be under the singular command
of the individual responsible for mission performance. It was
the old WW II armored force command concept of task forces temporarily
formed and organized from available units in the tank division
to accomplish specific missions as spelled out by the combat command
(were there two or three of these?) brigadier, acting on guidance
from the division CG.
Then Fearless Fosdick reminded me that I was about to become the
commander of the assault helicopter formation of any size in the
long history of warfare. He said he expected me to make mistakes,
but each one only once. Then he turned me loose to establish,
organize and train the 227th AHB. Col. Seneff, as
he had been before and would be again, was the ideal me, and I
was wrong. Occasionally, he tore huge pieces from my hide but
always in private and always with the sole purpose of getting
the job done better or smarter, Or both.
On 1 Aug. 63 I put on the green tabs, as yet unsecured by unit
crest, and assumed command of the 227th Assault Helicopter
Bn. It was a typical Georgia-hot and Georgia-humid August morning
thirty years ago this summer, Sometimes, not too often it seems
like only yesterday.
When I arrived on the scene the 227th consisted only
of B Company, a gaggle of people and H-34 helicopters not all
sure of what was wanted from them or what were doing there out
in the Harmony Church east pasture of the vast Fort Benning military
reservation. The saving grace was that all hands were willing,
some even eager, to see what we could do with this dimly perceived
air-mobility concept. And Seneff, master practitioner of the
art, deftly held out to us the carrot of Bell HU-1 "Huey"
helicopters to replace the piston engine clunkers with which we
had been equipped.
There began for all souls of the 227th a hectic and
challenging and sometimes-rewarding seven months. The line-up
of my own team read like this for the larger part of my tenure:
XO Leo Soucek CO A Co Gerry Simons S-1 Joe Wise CO B Co Jim Aikman S-3 Bill Hinds CO C Co George Calhoun S-4 Bob Zion CO Gun Co Frank Henry CommO George Park Pathfinder CO Tommy Tomlinson
Life for us become a blur of twelve to fifteen hour days and six
or seven day weeks. An early challenge was that of overcoming
the predilection of virtually all rotorhead Army aviators to fly
free and clear of all other aircraft and to play follow the leader
at an altitude of at least 1500 feet above terrain when it became
imperative to go someplace in groups of larger than a single machine.
Budge Bingham and I had learned the manifest advantages of what
we then called contour flying back in 1961-1962 over the explains
and jungles and waterways of South Vietnam (although I was near
able to persuade either Chuck of the 8th or Bob Dillard
of the 57th Transportation Helicopter Company of any
of those advantages when they arrived in-country during December
1961). Col. Seneff was already a devout believer. Leo Soucek
climbed readily on the skids-in-the-foliage bandwagon once he
had discovered for himself that it was the way to go, Ditto Simons
and Worley and Aikman and Calhoun. As for Frank Henry, if that's
what we wanted that's what we got-no questions asked, no quarter
Persuading the rank and file 227th pilots and copilots
was altogether another story. Finally some, but by no means a
majority, came around to our viewpoint, Mostly these were lift
and gun platoon commanders, fortunately for us. I suspect that
for the most part they bludgeoned their aircraft commanders into
submission. It wasn't easy. The endless hours Leo and I spent
over flying platoon heavy left and heavy right formations, urging
them to tighten up and to get down in the weeds, began to pay
off at last. From that ill-defined moment on, we were on our
way to becoming a competent combat ready unit. Pride of achievement
began to kick in. Thenceforth the larger problem and collective
controls energetically enough to maintain direction without dampening
individual and small unit initiative. What a pleasurable task,
Late in 1963 or maybe early 1964 our Fearless Group commander,
George Philip Seneff, decided in all his infinite wisdom that
the time had come for us to identify ourselves and the 227th
with a distinctive and original, unit crest. As usual, Fosdick
left the detail to me and my people, specifying only the basic
idea was a common hawk motif among all the newly established units
of the 11th Aviation Group (I've long since forgotten,
if I ever knew, whether or not the 226th, 228th
, and 229th, battalions complies).
After a little snooping around, Leo Soucek identified an amateur
artist in our S-3 section, a captain if I recall correctly. Our
artist set to work with a will, and several weeks later-following
almost endless coordination with both green tabbers and rank-and-file
in the battalion staff came up with his version of a hawk, wings
upraised, beak facing straight ahead, and seven tailfeathers.
Concept became reality when a budding tinsmith in the battalion
snipped and ground and cut a full-sized model. It was big enough
to get attention anywhere at 1 ½ inches top-to-bottom and
a full inch at its broadest point. I remember that it took three
of those bayonet clamp gadgets to hold it in place on a uniform.
And it missed having a motto. Harking back to my long ago days
as a French instructor at West Point just after WWII, I came up
with the single word "pouvoir", which can mean either
"power" or "can do", depending on the context
of its usage, Seven feathers, a seven letter motto. And all
starkly simple. In silver hue. Nothing more.
The problem then became how to get on with this program and reach
the goal of a battalion crest for every member of the 227th
before we all died of old age or some other cause. Discreet questioning
of the Heraldry people in Washington confirmed our worst fears-it
would be a military generation before ANY crest/motto combination
could be authorized, and on that wonderful day the probable resemblance
of the final product to what we had originally intended was problematical
in the extreme, So Major Soucek, never bashful, contacted a crest
manufacturer somewhere out west, in Idaho or Utah or some such.
And ordered a thousand crest sets. Per our now-inscribed "pouvoir"
model. Payment on delivery. Somehow, I've forgotten the details,
it all worked out. Payment was effected. We had a happy supplier
and several hundred happy airmobile assault helicopter soldiers.
Just to button it all up I sent a handsomely framed and boxed
227th crest to one of my several former mentors, Gen.
Creighton Abrams, then Army Vice Chief of Staff in the Pentagon.
As anticipated, Gen. Abrams came back with a flattering note
complimenting us on our fine new crest which he was sure would
win its share of glory for the US Army future years. I had the
note framed and displayed it prominently in my office at battalion
headquarters during the remainder of my duty tour as 227th
My final major task at the helm of the 227th was to
determine by practical application (i.e., trial and error)what
were the feasible limits of night formation flying in the UH1-B
and UH1-D helicopters with which we had been equipped. That was
back in the early 1960's, don't forget. On-board instrumentation
was not too far advanced from the needle ball and airspeed stage
of days even further gone by.
When Col. Seneff laid this job on me I thought at first that he
was joking. Disabused of that misconception, I called in my command
team (see above) and specked out the assignment in some detail,
along with my first thoughts on how to get there from where we
were. At first my folks thought I was joking. It wasn't easy
persuading even the likes of Frank Henry that we were attempting
lay in fact within the realm of the possible. It was going to
be a very scary and patently dangerous enterprise. None of us
liked the idea in any way, shape, manner or form. Nor did it
help that we green tab people and principal staff officers were
going to have to go along for the ride, every time out.
For guidance and inspiration I turned to that hard core golden
nugget group of professional warrant officer senior/master Army
aviators with which the 227th had by then been seeded.
Their consensus was that the first thing which needed doing was
to qualify all right-seaters involved as instrument-rated helicopter
pilots, then to proceed from that minor pinnacle to the more serious
challenge of holding some kind of combat effective flying formation
during those ever perilous hours of total and near-total darkness.
Seneff's famous "finger four" platoon formation with
companies in wedge proved once again to be the best solution.
We did it. Somehow, some way all lift companies qualified in
the night formation mode, The Gun Company became adept at accompanying
them and hosing down or otherwise identifying their LZs. It was
the scariest task I had ever taken on, both for myself and all
those brave and loyal "Pouvoirs" for whom I was responsible
to their families and to their country.
One thing I didn't do. I failed miserably and sometimes even
humiliatingly at persuading my grunt colleagues in the 11th
AAD to look on the UH1-D helicopter as a rifle squad carrier.
I thought then, and still think today, that the way to maintain
combat integrity at the firefighting level was to load one combat
ready rifle squad on one assault helicopter for the job. My infantry
comand peers at both battalion and brigade level insisted instead,
always, that we deliver our empty machines to then in what they
called "sticks" where they would load then with propel
or bullets or staff johnnies or whatever at their passing whim.
It was kind of like old man Hobson up at Cambridge a couple of
hundred years ago-either you got in the machine nearest you or
you went to the back of the line. Sometimes, again not often,
I brood on the lives we might have saved if our green tab infantry
haulees had been willing to say to that occasional single excess
rifleman as they loaded out at the PU/Z: "This is your lucky
day. Go back to your hooch and take a shower and sleep out. See
And that's the way it went for the 208 days in the life of the
227th Assault Helicopter Battalion. On 24 Feb. 64
I handed over command to Jack Cranford. With Leo Soucek as my
(and Col. Seneff's) S-3, I moved up to become 11th
Aviation Group Deputy Commander. Later that year, on 11 July
64, I assumed command of the division's only true air cavalry
formation, the 1/9th US Cavalry, taking along with
me to that job Bob Zion and George Park.
26 Feb 93 JOHN B. STOCKTON Colonel USA Miami, FL 33245-1123.
Thanks again, Leo JBL
PS The p2 footnote is the price I had to pay for Seneff's sign off.
Mr. Frank Tierney,
PO Box 705,
Lake Zurich, IL 60047
Exec. Dir. 1st Cav. Div. Assn.,
302 N Main,
Cooperas Cove, TX 786522
Co, 227 Assault Helicopter Bn, 1st Cav Div, Ft. Hood, TX 76541
CPT Jan Aaldriks, COL JP Lucas, COL J Aikman, LTC DL Lorenz, COL RR Battreall, MRS Deirdre Sabine McGowan, LTC SG Breadsley, CPT C McLeran, Peit Beijer, MD, GEN EC Meyer, COL SV Bingham, LTG HG Moore, COL GB Calhoun, MAJ GA Park, Ms Barbara Stockton Chapman, LTG GP Seneff, MR Cyril Chessex, BG LE Soucek, MG JR Curry, MS A Ktistie Stockton, GEN MS Davison, MS Mimi M Stockton, MR JL Galloway, COL RB Tully, COL JE Hertzog, LM Toonkel, MD, GEN HH Howze, LTC BG Williams, LTC NG Hlywa, LTG RF Williams, CSM LE Kennedy, H. Wodnocki, MD, COL HWW Lange, COL RB Zion, LTC JP Lougham, LTC JM Olejniczak,