"The Golden Hawks"
In 1965, as the U.S. Army's involvement in Vietnam grew
deeper, the ubiquitous use of the helicopter in the new "frontless" war became
apparent. The Army had to have a means to maintain tactical and administrative
control over all of its divisional and non-divisional aviation assets in
country. It did this with the creation of the 1st Aviation Brigade, the Golden
In April 1965 the USA Aviation Brigade (Provisional) was
activated in Vietnam with the existing 13th, 14th, 52nd, and 145th Aviation
Battalions reporting to it. In August it became the 12th Aviation Group. Now
doubled in size, the 12th Aviation Group was used as the basis to form the 1st
Aviation Brigade in March 1966.
The Brigade served in Vietnam from May 1966 until March
1973. At its peak strength, the 1st AVN BDE had over 4,000 rotary and fixed
wing aircraft and
soldiers assigned. The organization became so large that the Brigade was
organized into Aviation Groups. The Groups were then assigned Aviation
Battalions and Companies, or Squadrons and Troops in the case of Cavalry units.
The 1st Aviation Brigade was responsible for forty percent of the Army's
helicopter assets and one hundred percent of its fixed wing assets in Vietnam.
In 1969, the brigade carried more than 6.5 million troops in more than 4
million sorties, flying more than 1.5 million hours to accomplish this
monumental mission. Units of the Brigade performed brilliantly throughout the
war and were instrumental in inventing and perfecting the art of helicopter
warfare. Upon withdrawal from the Republic of South Vietnam, the Golden Hawks
were sent to Fort Rucker, Alabama, to serve as a training brigade where they
are still stationed today.
During the Vietnam War, the 1st Aviation Brigade and its
support units constituted the largest operational aviation brigade in the Army.
As such, the Golden Hawks were involved in practically every operation of note
during the conflict. However, Lam Son 719 stands out because it involved a
heavy use of aviation assets, including the 1st Aviation Brigade. This
Operation demonstrates both the successes and the failures in the use of
helicopters during the, up to that date, unconventional war that was Vietnam.
It is also demonstrative of the sacrifices made by the aircrews who manned
Operation Lam Son 719 involved a mass use of Army
helicopters. The Operation took place from February 8th to March 25, 1971. Its
mission was the coordinated insertion of South Vietnamese troops by air and
armored units into Laos. While ground troops were strictly South Vietnamese,
the United States provided logistical, aerial, and artillery support. The
intent of the operation was to drive North Vietnamese regular army out of areas
of Laos contiguous to the South Vietnamese border.
As United States forces were not allowed to operate on the
ground inside of Laos, the American portion of the mission was given the name
Operation Dewey Canyon II. American lift helicopters ferried South Vietnamese
troops into Laos. Helicopter gun-ships provided close air support for the South
Vietnamese ground forces (ARVN) and destroyed an estimated 88 North Vietnamese
P-76 tanks. Unfortunately, the operation was considered a failure on the ground
when the South Vietnamese forces took heavy losses in their withdrawal from
Laos. Combined U.S./ARVN helicopter losses totaled 108 destroyed and 618
damaged. During Lam Son 719 American helicopters had flown more than 160,000
sorties and 19 U.S. Army aviators had been killed, 59 were wounded, and 11 were
missing at its conclusion. Many of the helicopters were shot down by
Soviet-built 37 millimeter (mm), radar-directed, antiaircraft guns.
During Lam Son 719, Army helicopter pilots often were
forced to fly in what at best could be discerned as marginal weather.
Helicopters serving in the Vietnam War did not have tactical radar on board, so
pilots had a difficult time flying during inclement weather. The fact that more
helicopters were not lost during this operation was due, in large measure, to
the flying skills and bravery of these pilots. Lam Son 719 itself incurred a
great deal of controversy inside and out of military circles as to its efficacy
and results. The operation served as a lessons learned report for the Army.
None of which detracts from the hard work and courage of the aircrews who wore
the Golden Hawks shoulder patch.
Today, the 1st Aviation Brigade is responsible for
training aviation officers, warrant officers, and soldiers with a variety of
aviation military occupational specialties (MOS). The Golden Hawks Brigade
Headquarters and most subordinate units are stationed at the United States Army
Aviation Center, Fort Rucker, Alabama. The 1st Aviation Brigade commands four
distinctly different battalions, each with a unique mission to train young
soldiers and officers - the 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment; the 1st
Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment; 1st Battalion, 210th Aviation Regiment; and
the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training Battalion at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
Additionally, 1st Aviation Brigade commands the U.S. Army's Survival, Evasion,
Resistance, and Escape Level C Training Detachment. Along with its many command
responsibilities, logistical support requirements, and administrative duties,
the Brigade's primary mission is to train and develop future aviation
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