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Brian Calder

Joining The Team.

Prior to joining the Army I had aspirations of becoming an RAAF pilot. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how I look at it, I didn't have the education standard required. Because I wanted to be in the Military, I then took the option of being on the mechanical side by becoming an apprentice vehicle mechanic in the Army.

I'm not sure that it wasn't until 1968 that I realised that the Army had aircraft. So as soon as that became apparent and mechanics were being called for, I transferred to Aviation. It would beat the hell out of working on tanks, dozers, trucks and sundry other grubby bits of equipment.

On arrival at Amberley in Queensland it was good to re-meet mates that I'd known for four years or had heard of on the "Old Boy" net.

Some were volunteers but there was an element dubbed the "Anti-aircraft Platoon" who were press-ganged into the new outfit. In my opinion, very few of those who were transferred unwillingly held grudges for too long, especially once "RAEME-ation" started to become reality.

The unity of "Aircraft RAEME" with Army Aviation I'm sure, became cemented during the time that 161 Recce Flt operated in South Vietnam.

To the Funny Farm.

So, after finishing aircraft conversion  training at Amberley and a cooks tour of Canungra, where I had instilled in my mind to always look out for wood-cutters wearing black pyjamas and cone-shaped hats, it was off to the "Funny Farm".

Mick Nilon and I flew out on the same day by Boeing 707 from Sydney via Perth, to pick up a relieving SAS squadron. Singapore and on to Tan Son Nhut, Saigon. The trip from Saigon to Nui Dat was by either C123 or C130, I can't remember. On arrival I was met by Mick Loneragan, the engine fitter I replaced. I swear Mick was my shadow for a week until he finally left!

Doing The Time.

The primary part I played during 69-70 at 161 (Indep) Recce Flt was as a member of the engine section. Because of the staggered replacement system, I had different leaders, different peers and different subordinates throughout the year. In spite of that the section always seemed to operate effectively and in fact the workshop as a whole and those we were supporting always gelled effectively, minor hiccups aside.

Aircraft types flown during my stay were Cessna 180 and Pilatus Porter fixed wing aircraft and Bell 47G-3B1 Sioux helicopters. We did however occasionally refuel and do little jobs on transit American aircraft. Memories of U.S. pilots not knowing where oils etc. should be added to "THEIR" aeroplanes still sticks in my mind!

Some of the other tasks I undertook whilst part of the unit were observer/gunner on visual reconnaissance flights and air strikes, patrolling with 5 RAR in our Tactical Area of Responsibility and "Flying Squads" with the Intelligence  Section in the Ba Ria and Dat Do areas. Surviving a two day leave pass in Vung Tau was also sometimes an arduous task!!

The Reccelections.

Seeing so many people at Tan Son Nhut wearing black pyjamas and cone-shaped hats, not having axes in their hand and me not having a weapon at the time just in case.

At Nui Dat, having Mick Loneragan attach himself to me like a remora on day one and for a further seven days.

Being subjected to a mortar attack on night one and spending quite some time with the other "FNG" Mick Nilon in a bunker, scared shitless. Much to the amusement of the rest of the troops.

Seeing on day two the results of ground fire to "Lead Arse" Muir's Cessna. I think he said something earth shattering like; "Sorry fellas, I think I've given you some more work to do".

Realising how quickly and effectively maintenance can be carried out when red tape restraints are absent, while still maintaining safety.

Becoming aware through unit briefings the "Police Action" was no Boy Scouts camp.

Experiencing, from the right side, the sight of air strikes especially when napalm was used.

Having to work very long hours mainly during the time we trialed "D" Servicings at night.

Consuming "plastic" food and drinks, including American beer when 1 ATF were on two cans per man per day because of someone's indiscretion with a hand grenade.

Stealing sandbags from a vacated U.S. gun emplacement to supplement bags to be filled as punishment for urinating from the back of a truck while returning from a Vung Tau beach party. We weren't allowed to stop the truck and when you gotta go!

Learning that a mate I had gone to school with was KIA in an ambush which was meant for the Int Flying Squad that I was part of on that particular day.

Amazement at seeing for the first time one of the hangar troops chasing a butterfly for the units "rare collection". I wasn't sure if I was going nuts or he had!

Listening to the disbelief from the troops, on my return from R&R in Brisbane, when I told them that there were thousands of the same butterfly in Australia.

Helping to build a couple of go-karts for recreation and seeing a few members being injured while driving them. I also remember being saved from being squished by a Caribou when stalled in a kart, with a jammed seatbelt, in the middle of the airstrip, Mick Lappin pushed my kart clear. Thanks Mick.

Experiencing the shock and disbelief when told that Barry Donald and Alan Jellie had been shot down and killed in action.

Watching the ABC Dance Band perform at the "Dust Bowl". Many of us thought it would be a bummer but we were pleasantly surprised, especially with the up to date music they played.

Having to escort a private to the detention centre at Vung Tau on New Years Day, what a start to 1970! I also remember having the gall to get myself into an all black NCO Bar for a beer, while waiting to fly back to Nui Dat. I made it quite clear that I was an Aussie, not racially prejudiced, very thirsty and of the exalted rank of C.F.N. 4!

Waking to the sound of a large B52 strike which seemed so close that I was positive that the next stick was going to wipe out the whole of "Drunks Alley". The strike turned out to be x kilometres away.

Watching others going home on the "C130 Freedom Bird" almost every week for the last couple of months of my time in country.

Knowing I was very "short" when issued with my "going home pills".

Going Home.  

I think I left Vietnam in some sort of a coma because I really don't remember much about it. I know my poly uniform had to be beaten back into respectability with assistance from the laundry and my blue beret was a little worse for wear. I flew home by 707 and spent an overnight stop in Sydney.

Stepping off the plane at Adelaide airport was nothing out of the ordinary however it was good to see the family again. I suppose a lot of us just sort of cruised quietly back into town as if we hadn't really been anywhere important.

*** Brian served with 161 (Indep) Recce Flt from 21 Feb 69 until 11 Feb 70.


Previous Reccelections:  Tom Jobling | Peter Nolan | Peter Ginman | John Stead | Eddie Bevans | Peter Spoor

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