Welcome to the Life and Times of SFC Michael G. Stahl, U.S. Army (Ret.) MORE FUN THAN FEAR

My 1-1, Charlie Reed, and I were flown, with the seven (7) Bru team members (my entire team), into Leg Horn on a CH-53 re-supply chopper. The ‘site’ was a mountain top that had been ‘leveled’ with a Daisy Cutter. Just below the blasted summit was a lower ‘hill top’ that had been cleared for a chopper pad. This was typical for remote out posts, in my experience. It was very overcast when we arrived - complete cloud cover, and the ceiling soon dropped, putting us, literally, in a fog. The true “fog of war” as opposed to that of the generals and politicians.

We spent a damp, but uneventful, night. The slopes around the peak were almost vertical, which is one of the reasons it was selected. Soon after first light the OIC ‘gave’ me my assignment. He wanted me to take my green team (My membership was what made the team green.) out on a security sweep around the mountain.

As was my right as the team’s 1-0, I respectfully declined the mission pointing out to the young, greener than me, captain that without the possibility of air support (SPADS or fast movers, gun ships OR slicks), my men would be very vulnerable should we make contact. Besides which, should the outpost come under attack, the fire power of my team would be more effective inside the wire.

There was another team pulling security detail at the same time. That’s all I remember about the team ‘details.’ For whatever reason, their 1-0 volunteered for the ‘mission.’ The constant monsoon drizzle continued throughout the morning and we hunkered down under the questionable protection of our ponchos. My musings on the dampness was interrupted by a call to arms.

The other team, let’s call them RT Garter Snake, was calling a Prairie Fire Emergency. The term ‘Prairie Fire’ had multiple denotations. It designated our AO (Area of Operation); it served as a security level: Top Secret Prairie Fire; and it was the ‘May Day’ signal which essentially said, “We just got into deep shit! Get us out of here, NOW! Or we’re all going to die!”

RT Garter Snake was on a Prairie Fire classified mission, in the Prairie Fire AO, calling a Prairie Fire emergency because they had made contact with an NVA patrol who had fired them up with an RPG. The 1-0 was obviously dazed, it was reported, and they had at least one WIA who could not walk. What to do? What to do?

As any warrior knows, all battle fields are fluid creatures and to survive, one most adapt to the changing environment. My course was clear. Due to the weather, a ‘normal’ Bright Light insert was impossible. RT Michigan had to go to the assistance of RT Garter Snake.

I am not at all sure how we located the team. The maps (based upon old French surveys) were notoriously inaccurate. We would have known their planned route which would have been dictated by the treacherous terrain. When we got to a point that we might actually close on the team, I took over point from my Bru point man. I figured the dazed team might fire on an indig point man, thinking him a VC, and wanted the first man they saw to be a round eye.

I have a distinct memory of coming upon underbrush so dense it was impossible to go through. The terrain blocked any way around it, so I started to climb over it. Long branches of no more than 3/4 inch in diameter grew in a dense mat. At one point, I found myself looking down 15 to 20 feet to the jungle floor. Only the top most layer of branches had foliage, blocking sun light from reaching lower levels. Were any of us to break through to the bottom, we would have been virtually trapped, with no why to get through at ground level and too few heavy branches to climb.

Soon after we descended from the tangled mass of branches, the smell of the air changed. The sense of scent was very important in the jungle. Expecting to come upon the odor of battle - burned cordite, the air was strong with the aroma of ozone. And we found the team, still mostly lying about as if they had been hit by a Star Trek phaser on max power of stun.

One man was about 7 feet off the ground, hanging in some tree branches. The poor man had a broken leg. It did not take a very smart man to realize the ambush had not been conducted by the NVA or any Earthly source. The team had been attacked by Zeus, Himself. With a bolt of lightning, no less. Now, fairly secure we were free of another attack, we went about tending to the recovering RT Garter Snake team members. And I called in a SitRep (Situation Report), requesting a Medivac, ASAP.

After a brief wait, a Marine CH-46 arrived. He circled the area for a while as the weather vacillated. The drizzle was occasionally broken with holes opening in the overcast. Too close to last light for comfort, Zeus took pity and opened a hole directly above us and we were able to get the injured man extracted on a string. As the man was ascending into the arms of his savior, the clouds closed one final time around him and we heard the Sea Knight heading East, back to South Vietnam.

We found places as best we could to RON. RT Michigan had left the radio site prepared to move fast and fight hard. We took no packs - just the web gear and survival gear we always carried in the pockets of our jungle fatigues. A little water but no food. RT Garter Snake had more provisions and shared their still meager food rations with us.

I had a can of C-ration peaches and settled down under a large fallen tree trunk for a long, dank night. It was very dark, the dark one only finds in dense jungle and deep in caves. The rain continued all night. The tree trunk did not keep me dry but it did allow me to avoid a night of Chinese water torture. My big problem was the steepness of the terrain I was on. My ‘spot’ was a not only on a grade but my big ol’ feet were hanging over a cliff of indeterminate height. Soldiers learn to tolerate the intolerable. It’s a survival requirement. In spite of the intolerable condition, I would doze off to sleep, where upon sleeping I would slowly slide down the hill, with more and more of my legs hanging free. Eventually, the weight of my legs would wake me up and I’d scouch back up the hill as far as I could under my tree trunk, and fall back to sleep.

And I had the best spot to spend a miserable night in Laos. The night passed without incident and at first light, our two teams made our way back to the top of the mountain, not that far away as the crow flies but we had no wings. I hope the 1-0 of Garter Snake learned a valuable lesson on just how important air support was, when your all by yourself in a hostile environment where not only the enemy seemed to want us dead.

That’s all I remember. Except for being forced to use the indig slit trench before I was able to get back to civilization. There were just some things my body did NOT want to do in the bush.

A War Story

 Leg Horn: A Bright Light of Sorts

This map courtesy of Krzysztof Nervous Milewski from GRH MACV SOG. Roll over map for enlarged view.

View from the top of Leg Horn.

Not long after I became the 1-0 of RT Michigan, the teams 1-1, SP5 Charlie Reed, returned from leave. While waiting for my first real mission we trained and I got to know my team members. It was the first time I had had the honor to work with any Yards. My team members were from the Bru tribe. One cannot lavish enough praise upon these fine peoples.

The main thing was for us to get to know and trust each other. Along with the ‘normal’ training like immediate reaction drills, I decided to improve the repel skills on my team. Mainly because I really enjoyed repelling in 1-0 School and we had a repelling tower. As fate would have it, this skill proved useful for my third mission.

CCN teams usually had to rely on the FAC’s for communication. No FAC, no talky-talky. In an attempt to ameliorate this issue, radio relay sites were used. During my time, we had one called Leg Horn in the vicinity of the Laotian/Cambodian/South Vietnam border. As a first assignment, not so much a mission, RT Michigan was sent to Leg Horn to provide security and “get to know each other”.