IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED...
But don't give up on a great idea!
Lt Kermit DeVaughn was assigned as the FDO (Fire Direction Officer) of "A" Battery in August, 1966. At each of the LZs we went to, he and his crew would dig a trench about 3 feet deep, 3 feet wide and about 6 to 8 feet long. This was useful, of course, to fill sand bags around the small tent they used as the FDC. The tent was placed in the hole and he would set up his aiming charts, maps, radio etc. He then performed his duties along with his 2 man crew down in that hole. This made sense, of course, as it gave them better protection in case of mortar attack. However, it was always a lot of work and time to get it done whenever we moved which, sometimes, was quite often.
After doing it this way for about 6 months, Kermit came up with what turned out to be his
very best idea. He went to the 2/9th Bn CO, Lt. Col. Holbrook, and suggested we could make a portable FDC that would be ready immediately upon entering a new LZ and provide good
protection as well. His idea was to take two CONEX containers, cut one end off of each and weld the two containers together. All
of the items needed to run the FDC, maps, aiming charts, radio, maps, etc. would be in place at all times. The containers were ideal
for this because they had hooks on each corner for moving purposes anyhow and it would be simple to just hook up this portable
FDC to a Chinook and be moved to the next LZ. Once it was dropped in place it would ready to go and his crew could fill sandbags
and build a berm around the unit as they had time. Col. Holbrook liked the idea, approved it, and had some engineers build one to
test out the idea.
Once it was completed, the big day came when we were to have a Chinook come pick it up and take it to a new LZ. I happen to be there watching them to make this move. It was kind of tense for all of us cause we weren't sure how well the Chinook could handle it or how well it would hold together once off the ground. The Chinook hovered over it, two guys were on top of the container and attached the straps to each corner of the container then got down off and signaled the Chinook to go ahead. We watched breathlessly hoping it would work.
The Chinook slowly began lifting the FDC CONEX and as it cleared the ground, we were delighted to see it going up. He lifted it up about 60 feet and the container started to sway a bit back and forth. Then one of the straps on one of the corners broke loose and the container was hanging there precariously held on by the other 3 straps. Kermit was frantically motioning for the Chinook to lower it back down. Apparently the pilot felt it was too risky and directed his crewman to let the container go. So they dropped it from about 60 feet. Look out below! None of us were stupid enough to be standing right under it but several of us were close. We all jumped/ran back and watched it hit the ground with a sickening thud. Several of the welds broke loose and the two halves were mangled. It didn't do the radio much good either or the other equipment inside. Col. Holbrook was watching too, of course, and flew into a rage. It was the angriest I ever saw Holbrook. He was so pissed that he didn't know who to be pissed at. Was it the pilot's fault, the guys who hooked it up, or Kermit's for coming up with a "dumb idea"? I actually had a hard time to keep from laughing watching him rant and rave about the incident.
Thus the first portable FDC made from CONEX containers met its demise. After calming down, Col. Holbrook did realize that it was still a good idea and ordered more to be made. I think another one was dropped at a later date but the concept overall was so successful that, in time, virtually all the other artillery units throughout the country were welding two (2) CONEX containers into portable FDC units.
Shortly after this incident, Col. Holbrook was admitted to the hospital with a bad case of ulcers. If you knew Col. Holbrook, you would have to wonder....was this a routine thing with him? Or perhaps did the deathly christening ride of the first ever FDC CONEX have anything to do with it?
Lt Gary Dean Springer
FOOTNOTE 1. Sp5 Joe V.
Turner was on hand for this incident also. Joe says he and another guy
were sent out to guard the CONEX
until it was retrieved.
FOOTNOTE 2. Sgt Joe
Cook, one of the original "Operation Blue Light" members, provided
photos to "The Mighty Ninth" that confirms the very FIRST concept of
FDC CONEX took place in "B" Battery in January, 1966. Two CONEX containers were placed in a hole dug by a bulldozer and used as the FDC. However,
they were not welded together and had no mobility when "B" Battery got orders to move out.