227 AHB Beginnings (Stockton)

227th Assault Helicopter Battalion


Distinctive Unit Insignia

There is no better way to begin the history of the of the unit that would eventually be designated as the 227th Aviation Battalion than to start with an article which was written by the late Colonel John B. Stockton for the 30th anniversary of the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion.

“I started pondering the complexities and possibilities of air mobility during my 1960/61 War College student year. Then by a stroke of great good fortune I tumbled into the plum TDY assignment as the first Aviation Officer for LTG Splithead McGarr at MAAG Vietnam from November 1961 to April 1962. My immediate boss was the legendary Budge Bingham who encouraged the development of all my thoughts and ideas about using helicopters in the combat mode. We had some mind-boggling and hairy experiences trying out various tactics and techniques, flying a jury-rigged H-13 gunship prototype for the purpose. I learned a lot. Then, later in 1962 fate smiles on me once again and I reported to Lt. General Ham Howie at Fort Bragg to become his G-3 on the Army Tactical Mobility Requirements (USATMRB or “Howze”) Board.”

“Three months later, I staggered out of that assignment about as burned out from sheer exhaustion as an Army aviator in good health can get. There followed a couple of short term semi-dumb staff assignments in the Washington, DC area. Then one glorious early summer day in 1963 came that cherished set of orders transferring me PCS to the 11th Air Assault Division stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia.”

“Assigned to the 11th Aviation Group, I reported to Colonel GP Seneff in July. Along with General Howie and Bob (Rapid Robert) Williams, Seneff was the third pillar of the triumvirate which formed and nurtured and sustained the concept of combat air mobility from the earliest dawning of that revolutionary idea until it became a widespread and accepted combat methodology several years later.”

“As I recall today, Col. Seneff ruminated on the subject of assault helicopter formations by proceeding from his comprehension of earlier employment’s – transporting assorted brass hats hither and yon, evacuating casualties from the locale of occurrence directly to skilled medical attention, and hauling beans and bullets from A to B kind of like the transportation truck battalions did on the Red Ball Express during the latter stages of WW II in Europe, where Seneff had been an armored division G-4 and I a tank platoon leader and company commander.”

“He was adamant and vociferous in making the point that he wanted me to break that mold, firmly and finally. He thought it might help if I tried to compare assault helicopter employment to the use of armored personnel carriers in armored infantry battalions during our shared WW II combat experience. It was imperative, he said, that the carriers-in my about-to-be case, helicopter with their crews-and the fighters be under the singular command of the individual responsible for mission performance. It was the old WW II armored force command concept of task forces temporarily formed and organized from available units in the tank division to accomplish specific missions as spelled out by the combat command (were there two or three of these?) brigadier, acting on guidance from the division CG.”

“Then Fearless Fosdick reminded me that I was about to become the commander of the first assault helicopter formation of any size in the long history of warfare. He said he expected me to make mistakes, but each one only once. Then he turned me loose to establish, organize and train the 227th AHB. Col. Seneff, as he had been before and would be again, was the ideal to me. Occasionally, he tore huge pieces from my hide but always in private and always with the sole purpose of getting the job done better or smarter, or both.”

“On 01 August 1963, I put on the green tabs, as yet unsecured by unit crest, and assumed command of the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion. It was a typical Georgia-hot and Georgia-humid August morning thirty years ago this summer. Sometimes, not too often it seems like only yesterday.”

“When I arrived on the scene the 227th consisted only of “B” Company, a gaggle of people and H-34 helicopters not all sure of what was wanted from them or what they were doing there out in the Harmony Church east pasture of the vast Fort Benning military reservation. The saving grace was that all hands were willing, some even eager, to see what we could do with this dimly perceived air-mobility concept. And Seneff, master practitioner of the art, deftly held out to us the carrot of Bell HU-1 “Huey” helicopters to replace the piston engine clunkers with which we had been equipped.”

“There began, for all souls of the 227th, a hectic and challenging and sometimes – rewarding seven months. The line-up of my own team read like this for the larger part of my tenure:”

XO        Leo Soucek  

S-1       Joe Wise
S-3       Bill Hinds

S-4       Bob Zion
Comm  George Park

CO “A” Co         Gerry Simons
CO “B” Co         Jim Aikman
CO “C” Co        George Calhoun
CO Gun Co      Frank Henry

CO Pathfinder  Tommy Tomlinson

“By and large we were a compatible bunch. Looking back over thirty years I can recall no disputes of any imports among us. If there were any, the indefatigable Leo Soucek took care of them so adroitly that they never came to my attention other than in passing. On the other hand, I spent more time and effort than I should have in fighting my units internecine battles at Group (where I won my fair share) at division (where I scarcely won so much as a skirmish).”

“Life for us became a blur of twelve to fifteen hour days and six or seven day weeks. An early challenge was that of overcoming the predilection of virtually all rotorhead Army aviators to fly free and clear of all other aircraft and to play follow the leader at an altitude of at least 1,500 feet above terrain when it became imperative to go someplace in groups of larger than a single machine. Budge Bingham and I had learned the manifest advantages of what we then called contour flying back in 1961-1962 over the plains, jungles and waterways of South Vietnam (although I was near able to persuade either Chuck of the 8th or Bob Dillard of the 57th Transportation Helicopter Company of any of those advantages when they arrived in-country during December 1961). Col. Seneff was already a devout believer. Leo Soucek climbed readily on the skids-in-the-foliage bandwagon once he had discovered for himself that it was the way to go, Ditto Simons and Worley and Aikman and Calhoun. As for Frank Henry, if that’s what we wanted that’s what we got-no questions asked, no quarter given.”

“Persuading the rank and file 227th pilots and copilots was altogether another story. Finally some, but by no means a majority, came around to our viewpoint, Mostly these were lift and gun platoon commanders, fortunately for us. I suspect that for the most part they bludgeoned their aircraft commanders into submission. It wasn’t easy. The endless hours Leo and I spent over flying platoon heavy left and heavy right formations, urging them to tighten up and to get down in the weeds, began to pay off at last. From that ill-defined moment on, we were on our way to becoming a competent combat ready unit. Pride of achievement began to kick in. Thenceforth the larger problems were solved with “collective controls” energetically enough to maintain direction without dampening individual and small unit initiative. What a pleasurable task, though.”

“Late in 1963 or maybe early 1964, our Fearless Group commander, George Philip Seneff, decided in all his infinite wisdom that the time had come for us to identify ourselves and the 227th with a distinctive and original, unit crest. As usual, Fosdick left the detail to me and my people, specifying only the basic idea was a common hawk motif among all the newly established units of the 11th Aviation Group (I’ve long since forgotten, if I ever knew, whether or not the 226th, 228th, and 229th, battalions complies).”

“After a little snooping around, Leo Soucek identified an amateur artist in our S-3 section, a captain if I recall correctly. Our artist set to work with a will, and several weeks later-following almost endless coordination with both green tabbers and rank-and-file in the battalion staff came up with his version of a hawk, wings upraised, beak facing straight ahead, and seven tailfeathers. Concept became reality when a budding tinsmith in the battalion snipped, ground and cut a full-sized model. It was big enough to get attention anywhere at 1 1/2 inches top-to-bottom and a full inch at its broadest point. I remember that it took three of those bayonet clamp gadgets to hold it in place on a uniform. And it missed having a motto. Harking back to my long ago days as a French instructor at West Point just after WW II, I came up with the single word POUVOIR, which can mean either “POWER”; or “CAN DO”, depending on the context of its usage, Seven feathers, a seven letter motto. And all starkly simple. In silver hue. Nothing more.”

“The problem then became how to get on with this program and reach the goal of a battalion crest for every member of the 227th before we all died of old age or some other cause. Discreet questioning of the Heraldry people in Washington confirmed our worst fears – it would be a military generation before ANY crest/motto combination could be authorized, and on that wonderful day the probable resemblance of the final product to what we had originally intended was problematical in the extreme, So Major Soucek, never bashful, contacted a crest manufacturer somewhere out west, in Idaho or Utah or some such; and ordered a thousand crest sets. Per our now-inscribed “POUVOIR” model. Payment on delivery. Somehow, I’ve forgotten the details, it all worked out. Payment was effected. We had a happy supplier and several hundred happy airmobile assault helicopter Soldiers. Just to button it all up I sent a handsomely framed and boxed 227th crest to one of my several former mentors, General Creighton Abrams, then Army Vice Chief of Staff in the Pentagon. As anticipated, General Abrams came back with a flattering note complimenting us on our fine new crest which he was sure would win its share of glory for the US Army future years. I had the note framed and displayed it prominently in my office at battalion headquarters during the remainder of my duty tour as 227th CO.”

“My final major task at the helm of the 227th was to determine by practical application (i.e., trial and error) what were the feasible limits of night formation flying in the UH1-B and UH1-D helicopters with which we had been equipped. That was back in the early 1960’s, don’t forget. On-board instrumentation was not too far advanced from the needle ball and airspeed stage of days even further gone by.”

“When Col. Seneff laid this job on me I thought at first that he was joking. Disabused of that misconception, I called in my command team (see above) and specked out the assignment in some detail, along with my first thoughts on how to get there from where we were. At first my folks thought I was joking. It wasn’t easy persuading even the likes of Frank Henry that we were attempting lay in fact within the realm of the possible. It was going to be a very scary and patently dangerous enterprise. None of us liked the idea in any way, shape, manner or form. Nor did it help that we green tab people and principal staff officers were going to have to go along for the ride, every time out.”

“For guidance and inspiration I turned to that hard core golden nugget group of professional warrant officer senior/master Army aviators with which the 227th had by then been seeded. Their consensus was that the first thing which needed doing was to qualify all right-seaters involved as instrument-rated helicopter pilots, then to proceed from that minor pinnacle to the more serious challenge of holding some kind of combat effective flying formation during those ever perilous hours of total and near-total darkness. Seneff’s famous “finger four” platoon formation with companies in wedge proved once again to be the best solution.”

“We did it. Somehow, some way all lift companies qualified in the night formation mode, The Gun Company became adept at accompanying them and hosing down or otherwise identifying their LZs. It was the scariest task I had ever taken on, both for myself and all those brave and loyal “POUVOIRS” for whom I was responsible to their Families and to their country.”

“One thing I didn’t do. I failed miserably and sometimes even humiliatingly at persuading my grunt colleagues in the 11th Air Assault Division to look on the UH1-D helicopter as a rifle squad carrier. I thought then, and still think today, that the way to maintain combat integrity at the firefighting level was to load one combat ready rifle squad on one assault helicopter for the job. My infantry command peers at both battalion and brigade level insisted instead, always, that we deliver our empty machines to them in what they called “sticks” where they would load then with people or bullets or staff johnnies or whatever at their passing whim. It was kind of like old man Hobson up at Cambridge a couple of hundred years ago – either you got in the machine nearest you or you went to the back of the line. Sometimes, again not often, I brood on the lives we might have saved if our green tab infantry haulees had been willing to say to that occasional single excess rifleman as they loaded out at the PU/Z: “This is your lucky day. Go back to your hooch and take a shower and sleep out. See you tonight.”

“And that’s the way it went for the 208 days in the life of the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion. On 24 February 1964, I handed over command to Jack Cranford. With Leo Soucek as my (and Col. Seneff’s) S-3, I moved up to become 11th Aviation Group Deputy Commander. Later that year, on 11 July 1964, I assumed command of the division’s only true air cavalry formation, the 1st Squadron, 9th US Cavalry, taking along with me to that job Bob Zion and George Park.”

26 February 1993

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