ARE YOU LOOKING FOR SMOKE, SIR?
After arriving in-country and in-processing, Lt Frank Herbick and I went to the 2/9th Bn HQ, then at Pleiku, in November, 1966. After being given the "wonderful news" that we would be Forward Observers, Frank drew "C" Company, 1/14th and I drew "A" Company, 2/35th. Then, it was just a matter of being sent out into the "boonies". Your helicopter limousine awaits you.....
My mentor and "happy guy" leaving the boonies was Lt Doug Turner. He began the process of training and turnover. Although Ft Sill prides itself as being the "Cannoncocker's College of Comanche County", they didn't quite manage to include the course of being an FO in the jungle. You won't find it in the FM 6-40 either. No....we sat on those little folding canvas cots on some ridge staring out at the Blockhouse, Signal Mountain, never really being afraid of those rusting car bodies and tank frames. Suddenly...and without warning or preparation, you're in the target zone, my friend. It would certainly help to know how all this is supposed to work!
So, Doug begins teaching me how to set up "defensive concentrations" around the company perimeter; they were called "delta tangos" or defensive targets. First thing...and most important thing...says Doug with great emphasis...always call for a smoke round to insure you are hitting your target area. Adjust as necessary...and then call for HE.
He begins by selecting a general area outside the perimeter, getting the coordinates from his map, and calling the FDC of "C" Battery. "This is Lanyard 51, Fire Mission, Delta Tango, first round smoke, coordinates xxxxxxxxx". The FDC works up the firing data and calls: "Ready"; Doug says "Fire". FDC says "Shot, Over". Doug says "Shot, Out". We stare out at the horizon waiting to hear the "pop" of the smoke round, ejecting the chute and the smoke canister. But....all we hear is the distant "boom" of the base piece. What we see is.....nothing.
Oh, well...musta been a dud smoke round. So Doug calls the FDC with the command: "Repeat". Again we hear the distant boom of the base piece but we see.....nothing. Doug re-checks his map coordinates...looks okay...calls the FDC for another repeat. Again...the boom...again...the nothing.
An NCO of A/2/35 watching us hollers out: "Any of you Lieutenants calling for smoke?" "Yes," Doug replies. "Well," he says "It's over here" pointing us to the opposite direction. Doug committed the most basic of artillery miscues...the 3200 mil error.
Doug simply turns around as if nothing had gone wrong at all and proceeds to adjust and complete the mission. Whatta guy!
My sincere thanks to Doug Turner. He taught me the importance of being unflappable and cool in the face of things going wrong. You can't change what goes on in the field, you adjust to it. Of course, I don't know if we will ever wipe that smile off the NCO's face.
Lt Dennis Dauphin