Who the Hell are You?

submitted by: Alva Leon Matheson

It was just before 0500 and I was making my way down to the chopper pad at Dong Tam as directed by Major Nelson the night before. I was to be the ALO for the 3rd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division’s five-day search and destroy operation just to the southeast of Saigon. As usual, my briefing was brief, “Report to Colonel Benson at the chopper pad, 0500, and wear full grunt-gear.” On these operations, any one wearing something unusual or bright, like a flight suit, would be a prime sniper target.
Remembering the thorough briefing from the night before, I started drifting around the chopper pad looking for Colonel Benson but I could not find him. On sighting a marshaller I approached him. The reader, at this stage, has to imagine this AF officer wearing brand new, never worn before grunt-gear, standing out from the seasoned combatants, and displaying captain bars whilst emitting an Australian accent. So I said to the marshaller, “Pardon me, but do you know where Colonel Benson is?”
The answer, “Uh?”
“Do you know where I can find Colonel Benson?”
“Who the hell are you,” came the answer.
I pronounced that, “I am the ALO.” To the American ear this would have sounded something like, “I am the Oil O!”
So, I received another, “Uh?”
I then decided to say, “Air Liaison Officer,” at the same time pointing my finger at myself.
With an element of doubt and looking sideways at me, the marshaller said, “Shit, Colonel Benson left here 30 minutes ago. Look, get on that Chinook.”
Thanking him for his help I climbed aboard the Chinook he indicated and, being last on, I was seated at the rear ramp. Last on, first off. Next to me was a first lieutenant whom I took to be the Commander of the Company of men already onboard.
After a few minutes of silence I said, “Good morning,” to the Lieutenant who responded by saying, “Who the hell are you, sir?”
Being a quick learner I then said, “I am the Air Liaison Officer.” The Lieutenant then inquired, “What the hell are you doing on this bird, sir?” I imagine he thought that he was about to be replaced by a greenhorn captain. Greenhorn, yes, replacement, no! I advised him that I had been told to take this flight by which time we were getting airborne and conversation ceased.
It was a hot insertion! As the ramp opened at the destination the whole Company raced out as one, making me think that either the pay officer was out there somewhere or it was an R&R stop. Getting in everyone’s way, I then tagged along behind. Last off, I had one foot on the ground and the other still on the ramp as the Chinook started to move forward, leaving me feeling somewhat isolated. As all my recent acquaintances were now lying on the ground in threatening poses behind rice paddy mounds. I did the same. As spasmodic small arms fire started to be exchanged, I thought to mention to the Lieutenant that, “I don’t think I should be here!”
The Lieutenant said some thing to the effect of, “right on,” and, as he had already established that I was no threat to his command, he dropped the “sir.”
I soon spied a lieutenant colonel with a radio operator nearby so I crawled over to them. I spoke to the Lieutenant Colonel saying, “Sir, I am not supposed to be here.”
He replied, “Who the hell are you?” I said, “I am the Oil O, sir.”
“The Air Liaison Officer.”
“Christ, what are you doing here? The Colonel has been looking for you.” I did not have an intelligent answer to this. Fortunately the Lieutenant Colonel continued, “I’ll get the Colonel on the radio.” After a short exchange the Lieutenant Colonel advised that Colonel Benson was on his way.
In what seemed like days to me but was only minutes, the C&C OH-23 Raven landed right next to us and I jumped onboard. As we lifted off, and with a half smile on his face, the Colonel shouted, “Where have you been Cooper?”
I was pleased that he did not inquire, “Who the hell are you?” Not wanting to elaborate I merely said that I would tell him over a beer some time. By this time it was about 0630 and, having already been in contact with the enemy, I knew it was going to be a long day. Nevertheless, I was thankful to be above the contact where I belonged, and not amongst it as I had recently been.