RELEASE NUMBER: 130906-01
DATE POSTED: September 06, 2013
Tail Number 756 connects veterans 46 years apart
By Maj. Emily Potter
USASOAC Public Affairs
Fort Bragg, N.C. (USASOC News Service, September 06, 2013) – Aviators from different generations, backgrounds, and experiences forged an unbreakable bond through tail number 756.
When veterans who shared the same aircraft in conflicts decades apart met for the first time this summer, they knew the technology and equipment available, as well as the public attitudes towards their service could not compare. The one thing they shared, however, was their dedication as Chinook crew members on tail number 756, and the pride they took in their aircraft and the crew they served with.
Around 10 years ago, Robert Bartlett started looking for the aircraft he flew on in Vietnam. Bartlett was the flight engineer aboard tail number 756, which he named "Flower Power" to counter the atmosphere of civil unrest and negative attitudes towards the war. He didn’t realize that his search, and the aircraft itself, would forge a bond connecting Army Aviators 46 years apart.
While assigned to the 1st Air Calvary Division based out of An Khe in Vietnam, Bartlett flew in "Flower Power" during missions in the Bong Son Plains and Chu Lai regions. Missions flown included combat air assaults, cargo and personnel transport, and sling load operations. One significant mission Bartlett recalls is the Battle of Khe Sanh, where tail number 756 took troops and ammunition in to Marines on the ground while cornered by the enemy.
Through his research, Bartlett learned that tail number 756, the A model CH-47 Chinook he flew on in 1967, was modified to a D model in 1985, and was now a G model MH-47 belonging to Company B, 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) (Airborne).
Sgt. 1st Class Eduardo Santiago brought the aircraft to Hunter Army Airfield, Ga. in 2005 when it became part of the fleet belonging to 3rd Bn., 160th SOAR (A). Like Bartlett, Santiago chose the name for tail number 756 because “I’m keeping the same traditions with the aircraft the guys before me did. Every aircraft has a different personality. You give it a name for a reason, it has meaning.” Santiago named the helicopter “Chaos” because according to Santiago, when he wasn’t around, issues always came up and no one else could fly the aircraft.
As the Flight Engineer aboard "Chaos" for seven years, Santiago deployed multiple times to Afghanistan. He claims during one rotation tail number 756 flew for 75 days in a row with only two days off. “It’s the pride of the fleet. It was flying day in and day out with no issues,” he boasted of the aircraft.
When Bartlett learned he would be traveling to the East Coast for a Vietnam Helicopter Crew Member Association reunion in June, he contacted the unit and tried to arrange a visit to see his former aircraft. “I received a call that night from Maj. Partridge, in Afghanistan. It blew my socks off.”
For Maj. Tyler Partridge, company commander for B Co., 3rd Bn., 160th SOAR (A), he felt the visit would be "a rare opportunity for active duty crewmembers to interact with one of their peers who had combat experience in one of their aircraft, had performed similar missions with less advanced equipment, and was willing to share his unique perspective on service in the military.”
While Bartlett wanted to reunite with the aircraft he flew in Vietnam, he also had a compelling message to share with the current Soldiers aboard tail number 756; a message about the friendships and bonds he made with fellow crewmembers, and how he coped with the memories and feelings from his combat experiences.
Bartlett, accompanied by two other veteran crewmembers of tail number 756, Wade Kane and William Hughes, visited about two dozen current crewmembers from B Co., 3rd Bn., 160th SOAR (A) this past summer.
Santiago said, “I had never seen a picture of him, but he walked straight to me, and recognized me. We shared something. The essence of the aircraft was the same.”
Current flight engineers of tail number 756, Staff Sgts. Joshua Stuart and Colin Ravencraft, coordinated the day’s itinerary, to include a tour of the hangar and aircraft. Hughes recalls, “As I stepped into the rear of the helicopter and smelled the fuel and fluids, it was like I walked back 44 years. It was unbelievable.”
The veterans of tail number 756 exchanged stories throughout the day, comparing and contrasting their personal combat experiences. The Vietnam veterans were impressed with the physical changes to the aircraft. “She’s been maintained, upgraded. Has all types of equipment we never would have thought of- larger fuel tanks, navigation apps,” admired Bartlett.
Partridge said it gave them a different perspective as well, realizing how lucky they are to crew on an aircraft with such advanced weaponry and comprehensive training.
More significantly, Bartlett said he was “proud of the work those guys do. I’m proud of the crews and maintainers over the years.”
Partridge echoed this sentiment, adding “that we are still flying airframes that have been in service since 1966 is a testament to the skill and commitment of the H-47 Helicopter Repairmen who have demonstrated so much pride and ownership in maintaining their aircraft throughout the years.”
The lingering lessons Bartlett imparted to the Soldiers in B Co. were to cherish the time spent making memories and strong relationships with fellow crewmembers, being proud of their accomplishments and service to the nation and seeking assistance early and often when coping with the stresses of combat.
For Partridge, “linking Vietnam veterans up with the very airframe they flew in combat more than 45 years ago was an awesome experience for both the veterans and my crew chiefs.”
In a fitting tribute, the current crew rebadged tail number 756 with her original title, "Flower Power". Written beneath "Flower Power" on the aircraft they added their own moniker, "Deadly Nightshade". This flower is in reference to the Regiment’s nickname, “Night Stalkers,” because of the unit’s capability to strike undetected during hours of darkness and its unprecedented combat successes.Bartlett ended the visit praising the Soldiers, saying “their hospitality and professionalism has made up for the past 46 years.”