C-130 ROLLING, 64 RANGERS ON A ONE-WAY TRIP
We loaded out for the operation at Lawson Army Airfield in Ft. Benning, Georgia. Conveniently for us, this was our home base so we didn’t need to move until right before we headed out. When we did arrive, we saw some of our 2/75 brothers who had been living on the airfield in tents for a couple of days.
Loading magazines and rucks still seems like a surreal experience to this day. Tons of pallets of ammo and ordnance were brought to us. It was so much more than the standard infantryman’s basic load. We were told to take all we needed. Man, it was like a candy store. We had all been preparing for this moment; we were at the top of our game, and for most of us it was why we were there. We were told to plan for sustained fighting for up to three days without resupply or relief, so we packed accordingly. We were overpacked, but ready.
We flew all night the night of December 19. Our TOT (Time on Target) was supposed to be 0100 the next day. We were tired from the days of preparation, planning, packing, and rehearsing the mission. Most of the Rangers on the bird had no trouble sleeping—at least I didn’t. One of the gifts of an infantryman is the ability to sleep anywhere at any time with no notice, and Rangers are no exception. Couple that with being tired and the familiar hum of the C-130 and I could hardly stay awake. Besides, I knew a long night was ahead of us.
Looking down at the ALICE pack attached between my legs I considered all the ammo and supplies inside. At the time, I constantly wondered if it was enough. Looking back now, I had no need for half of it. My LBE already had a double basic load of ammo. Inside the ruck was a fully loaded vest of 40mm rounds for the M203, some spare frags, enough extra 203 rounds to refill the vest, another couple bandoliers of ammo. Assorted smoke grenades, signal flares and M118 ammo for the M-24 SWS that would meet up with me later on the ground. Additionally, several blocks of C4 and all the fixings for a possible follow-on mission.
As we got closer to Rio Hato Airfield, our DZ, the jumpmasters (JM) helped us put on and rig our rucks. We took off just wearing our harnesses, no inflight rigging but a partial rig 2 hours out. At some point, a 5-gallon water can was passed around. Rangers were using it to take a piss. We left Georgia in December and we knew we were going to the jungle, so with
Guns N' Roses in our heads we’d hydrated accordingly and now it was time to let some out.
By the time the jump commands were
through and the first jumper was standing by, we couldn’t wait to get the hell out of that bird. The JM went out and we all followed, and I had the hardest opening shock of my entire career as a paratrooper. Even though I probably tried to execute the four points of performance while in the air, there was no time. The canopy was open, and I immediately saw green and red tracers randomly going everywhere. I was exhilarated and nervous and anxious to get on the ground where I had a fighting chance; the ground came up to me quickly. The jump altitude was supposed to be 500 AGL. I found out later it was considerably lower. No time to get the rucksack lowered, I guess I’ll ride it in. That’s when I had the hardest landing of my career. I saw stars and thought I was knocked out. After the obligatory check of all body parts to make sure I wasn’t injured I started getting out of the harness as fast as I could.
As I was getting my gear together and untangled from the harness, Joe, one of my fire teammates, came over to me. “Hey Eddie, you OK?” I told him yeah but my ruck was too damn heavy and I needed help standing. We had a chuckle as he helped me up and we moved toward the highway that bisected the airfield. One of our platoon’s missions was to clear out any fences that may have kept the C-141s from landing. Some guys had jumped with quickie saws in their rucks for this purpose, and all that C4 in my pack was the contingency plan. I was hoping to use it up, as it was pretty heavy.
Along the way we gathered up some more Rangers. On the way to the highway there was a lot of shooting. We got down and almost started returning fire. I could tell it was some other Rangers shooting but couldn’t tell what they were shooting at. It turns out someone ran the blocking position on the other side of the airfield before Alpha Company had it set in, and some other guys from our platoon were crossing the road when he came at them. Once that was dealt with, we continued to the road.
We linked up with the Company XO, our former Platoon Leader, who was already almost done dragging the fence all away. It was just some rotten wooden posts and some rusty barbed wire. Damn, what am I going to do with all this C4?
After a long, sleepless night we began to move forward of our position. Someone from a small block building was taking shots at the lead squad. The Squad leader, SSG Gary Barnard, called for the little birds on station overhead. The first run went on the wrong building. The second run was tragically directed on the lead squad, and second squad was shredded. SSG Barnard died of his wounds; PFC Roy Brown was dead where he lay in the prone. Bill and PK were fighting for their lives and I thank God that they are still with us today.
In the corner of some foreign field we got what we wished for. We wanted to taste blood. Unfortunately, it was our own. Now I tell young soldiers who are looking for a fight: “Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.”
The author and his unit loaded up for the operation at Lawson Army Airfield in Ft. Benning, Georgia. Hours later they would jump into Panama.