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KEVIN LYLES
VIETNAM: US UNIFORMS IN COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

1966

CREW CHIEF, 25TH AVIATION BATTALION (DIVISIONAL)

One of the most novel innovations of the war was the air assault, the cutting edge of the Army's new doctrine - 'Airmobility'. For the first time infantry units had at their disposal vertical assault capabilities that brought a previously unheard-of degree of troop mobility. Airmobile operations would dominate the battlefields of Vietnam for the rest of the war, enabling US commanders to overcome the difficulties of troop movement due to hostile terrain and lack of roads. The main purpose of the air assault was to place combat troops on or close to their tactical objective. Fresh troops could be delivered to the scene of battle unwearied by tortuous ground approach marches. It took something in the order of two minutes to land troops from a typical twelve-aircraft formation: thirty seconds to flare and land, a minute for the troops to disembark, and a further thirty seconds to clear the landing zone. However, it might seem like a lot longer to the aircrews if the LZ was a 'hot' one, i.e. under enemy fire. Each infantry division was assigned a Combat Aviation Battalion. The 25th Aviation Battalion was the airmobile asset of the 25th Infantry Division, arriving in April 1966 and departing December 1970.

Other than the pilot and co-pilot, helicopter crews at this time wore the same OG107 utility uniform and black leather combat boots as ground troops. The shirt in this case bears the full-colour rank insignia of a Specialist 5th Class and the shoulder sleeve insignia of the 25th Infantry Division.

The APH5 flight helmet is shown with the tinted anti-glare visor in place; when not in use it could be retracted and locked into position by pulling up on the visor knob. The helmet illustrated has been overpainted dark green on top of the white factory finish. The name 'Catalina Islanders' is a typical personalization, and probably refers to the hometown of the aircraft commander.

The flak vest is standard ground troops' M1952 Body Armor. Aircrew, particularly crew chiefs and door gunners, were extremely vulnerable to ground fire and, until the introduction of specially developed aircrew armour later in the war, most wore standard infantry vests. The M1952 was developed during the Korean War and was worn right through Vietnam. The vest contained a filler of semi-flexible layers of ballistic nylon cloth with a quarter-inch layer of sponge rubber over the ribs and shoulders; the sponge rubber served as a shock-absorbing layer to alleviate contusions and fractures from the impact of missiles. The vest closed with a full-length zip fastener, and could be adjusted to fit by laced closures at both sides. Two chest pockets were provided, as were shoulder straps, and two rows of web hangers for grenades, etc.

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