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KEVIN LYLES
VIETNAM: US UNIFORMS IN COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

DOOR GUNNER, 101ST AVIATION BATTALION

In 1968 the 101st Airborne Division was converted to Airmobile status and was redesignated the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile). By 1969 the various helicopter units were organized in four basic ways. The first was the Airmobile Division - the 1st Cavalry and the 101st Airborne - fully equipped with their own helicopter assets under the direct control of the divisional HQ. Second was the organic aviation unit attached to a non-airmobile Infantry Division; similarly under the control of the parent Division, these units were usually of Battalion strength, comprising two Companies with an Air Cavalry Troop. Additionally there were two types of non-divisional helicopter units. These were the non-divisional Helicopter Companies under the direct control of MACV; and those attached to specific units such as signal, support and engineer groups. Often a particular Helicopter Company became linked to a specific Division or Brigade because it always flew in support of that formation, though it would remain under the operational control of MACV.

The SSI of the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) to which the 101st Aviation Battalion were subordinate is worn in full colour on the left sleeve of the tropical coat. On the right sleeve is the SSI of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, indicating a previous combat posting to that unit. On both sleeves are worn locally embroidered Specialist 5th Class rank insignia.

Headgear is the army's AFH-1 Crash Ballistic Protective Flying Helmet introduced in October 1965. This improved helmet was similar to the APH-5 but was manufactured from ballistic resistant nylon laminated with phenolic resin. This increased the helmet's ballistic protection but also slightly increased the weight. Like the APH-5, the AFH-1 featured internal communications with boom-type microphone. An expanded plastic liner held the shell snugly against the head, and by pulling on the external strings the earphones could be retracted for donning or removing the helmet. Many helicopter aircrew wore sunglasses as an alternative to the helmet's anti-glare visor.

The Flyer's Gloves, Nylon, Fire Retardant were introduced especially for aviation personnel in mid-1968. The gloves were manufactured in high temperature resistant Simplex jersey or Nomex, which offered a high degree of flame protection. The palm and inside fingers were faced with thin leather designed to aid sweat resistance and manual dexterity.

In 1966, after much experimentation, standard body armour specifically designed for helicopter crews was introduced. The final version shown here - Body Armor, Fragmentation, Small Arms Protective, Aircrewman - was issued from mid-1968 onwards and was popularly known as 'Chicken-Plate'. The aircrew body armour was a two-part cloth carrier with large external pockets containing rigid ceramic plates. Two versions existed, with either a single frontal plate for pilots and co-pilots, or with both front and back plates for door gunners and crew chiefs, who exposed their backs as they moved around inside the aircraft. From 1968 onwards the ceramic plates were additionally covered with ballistic nylon and their carrying pockets on the vest were lined with nylon felt. These two modifications greatly reduced the risk from bullet fragments ricochetting off the armour plates. The type illustrated featured quick-release snap-fasteners on both shoulders, wrap-around Velcro waist flaps, and a nylon chest pocket for maps etc. Because aircrews spent the majority of their flying time seated these aircrew vests were noticeably shorter than those for ground troops. In addition to the torso armour the Army also experimented with protective leg armour for aircrew; various types were tested, but their use was never widespread.

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