WHO GOT "THE BIRD"?

The "fickle finger of fate" was certainly flying around,
but...who got "the bird"?

I was released from the hospital at Nha Trang after my bout with malaria from the "VC mosquito" in early Nov, 68.  I was then ordered to report to DivArty HHB at Camp Enari for a new assignment.  I was formerly the FO for “Bravo” Company, 2/35th Inf Regt from July-Sept ‘68 prior to my hospital stay.  The DivArty CO, a full bird colonel and a nice guy, interviewed me and asked me what I wanted to do.  I told him that I wanted my old job back as FO with “B” 2/35th.  He said that was not possible as I had been replaced by Lt William "Wally" Wallin.  He further mentioned he did not have a Battery XO or FDO position available, but noted I was a civilian pilot.  He asked me if I would like to be an "AO" (Air Observer).  I told him not if I had to stay at DivArty, as I did not want to be a "runner or gofer" for the staff. {SIDEBAR:  after you've seen "action" in Vietnam, you sorta get "loose" with your choice of words to almost anyone.  After all, what can they do about it?  Send you to Vietnam?} That was cheeky of me, perhaps, but I had heard rumors of chickenshit jobs at the Headquarters level.  He then tried to sell me by saying that there was extra pay and some other benefits.  I responded that I would accept if I could be assigned to support the 2/35th or 3rd Brigade. (Now that's a combination of  loyalty to my grunt brothers AND being picky too!)  He said that I would be attached to the 2/9th Battalion for support and I could work out of "The Oasis".  He would assign a helicopter for my use for four hours per day.  I took the job.  

I arrived at The Oasis and was told to report to the Battalion Commander, but he was busy.  So the Battalion S-1 assigned me my tent next to the TOC with another Lt.  When I did get to meet the 2/9th CO (who was rather stiff and arrogant), he told me that since I was to be supported by the Battalion, he would assign me to some "additional duties".  These included serving as an artillery advisor for the ARVN camps in our AO (Area of Operations) in addition to my flying duties as the Brigade Air Observer.  Being a lowly second Lieutenant ( I was actually promoted to 1st Lt but did not know it),  I did not try to "second guess" his orders although I was not happy about it.  The first week I had the helicopter every day except one day when it had a mechanical problem.  I fired some registrations and in general started to get used to working out of a plexiglass bubble.  The second week the BnCO called me into his hooch and told me to report to Plei Me for the next three days to advise the ARVN on Artillery matters and provide training to the Mortar sections there.  I did that and returned to Oasis.  The next day, I was advised the CO was taking my helicopter as he needed it for visiting some firebases.  The third week, I got a repeat of the second week going to Plei Merong, Plei DeJerang, and Dak To to advise the ARVNs.  What the hay?  I'm supposed to be flying missions!  Wait a minute...I think I've got this figured out.  The BnCO keeps me busy with the ARVNs while he takes the helicopter!  

When I returned to the Oasis a week and half later, there was a message to call the DivArty CO, ASAP!  As soon as I called from the TOC and reported, he proceeded to chew my ass, asking why I was not flying my AO missions?  I then proceeded to tell him that the helicopter was commandeered by Battalion and I was given additional duties instead.  He challenged me as to why I didn’t refuse to relinquish the helicopter since it was assigned me?  {SIDEBAR: don't you love it when you're a ping-pong ball caught between two paddles?} Naturally, my answer was “Sir, he is a Colonel”.  (In Vietnam, you can speak your mind whenever you feel bold enough to do so, but you never disobey orders, even contradictory ones.)   He muttered something to the effect: "We will see about that!"  The next day I was summoned to the 2/9th COs  hooch, wherein I got my SECOND ass-chewing in as many days for running to DivArty.  (Boy, I knew that one was coming!).   I protested that I did no such thing!  At this point, the BnCO, a Lieutenant Colonel and a direct report to the DivArty full Colonel, knew "the jig was up" and he held the losing hand.  He was caught taking the Colonel's chopper assigned to me and putting it to his personal use.  He got extremely defensive and told me: "Lieutenant, no one will take your helicopter anymore, but  you will still have some additional duties to attend to whenever you don't have "the Bird" AND during your off time".  These included convoy duty and being the night FO for the defense of the base.  (See my Photo Album)

Needless to say, the BnCO never bothered to acknowledge me after that.  As a matter of fact his parting words to me were something like “I don’t want to see your face, so make yourself scarce around me”.  (I have no problems with that, sir!) 

So, in summary, you might say that the DivArty Colonel already had his "bird", I finally got my "Bird", and the Arty BnCo got the "middle-digit" bird.  Lotsa birds flying around the Headquarters areas, wouldn't you say?


Lt Mike Kurtgis


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