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Unit History

520th Transportation Battalion

SUSTAINER: History of the 520th Transportation Battalion (AM&S) (GS) From 1967 - 1969

Written By: SP6 Stuart L. Mullendore

Headquarters and Headquarters Company

  • 20th Transportation Company (ADS)
  • 605th Transportation Company (ADS)
  • 357th Transportation Company (ADS) Re-named 165th Transportation Company (ADS)
  • 539th Transportation Company (AGS)
  • 56th Transportation Company (ADS) Transferred from 756th Transportation Battalion

The 520th Transportation Battalion, Aircraft Maintenance and Supply, General Support, evolved as a result of the United States Army's rapid advancement in transportation techniques and emphasis on air mobility in the post-World War II years. Originally constituted on 23 February 1943, as Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 1st Battalion, 520th Quartermaster Truck Regiment, the battalion began training which eventually led it to campaigns on the beaches of Normandy and northern France, through the forests of central Europe and the Rhineland, and finally, to the Republic of Vietnam. Activated on 25 June 1943, the 520th set up operations at Camp Ellis, Lewiston, Illinois. At Camp Ellis, the battalion was reorganized and redesignated, on 25 January 1944, as Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 520th Quartermaster Battalion, Mobile. On 6 November 1945, having deployed and served in the European Theater, Department of the Army inactivated the organization and reduced it to a pencil entry on the books.

Again, converted and redesignated on 1 August 1946, the 520th emerged as a Transportation Corps Truck Battalion. Carried on military records in this capacity for almost twenty years, the 520th Transportation Battalion was destined to play yet another role in Transportation Corps history.

The early '60s saw the eruption of war in Southeast Asia and an ever-increasing commitment of American troops and military supplies in the Republic of Vietnam. The Army's time-honored infantry tactics were modified and updated to incorporate the air mobility concept. Thousands of aircraft were mustered into service. Rotary and fixed wing damage resulting from hostile action, round-the clock operations and adverse climatic conditions spawned broadening of the Army's aircraft maintenance program. On 10 January 1966, Department of the Army redesignated the old truck battalion as the 520th Transportation Battalion and allotted it to the Regular Army. Under the provisions of General Orders Number 30, Headquarters, Third United States Army, Fort McPherson, Georgia, dated 19 February 1966, the 520th was activated and attached to the 10th Aviation Group, Fort Benning, Georgia. This activation was eventually to fill a maintenance void in Vietnam. Under the Command of Major Paul Stancel, the unit reported for duty. Augmented by additional personnel, it gradually established a foundation and built a functioning staff. Although relatively small and without assigned or attached units, Battalion Headquarters was operating by April of 1966. On 13 April 1966, the 106th Transportation Company was attached to the 520th and assigned the mission of general support maintenance. The 106th has been operating as an element of the 44th Transportation Battalion, also in the 10th Aviation Group. Never receiving its authorized equipment, the 106th was unable to perform its assigned mission and remained solely a training unit. With the attachment of the 609th Transportation Company on 5 May 1966, the 520th Transportation Battalion entered the aircraft maintenance field in earnest. Previously assigned to the 66th Transportation Battalion, 10th Aviation Group, the 609th, a fully equipped and operational unit, provided direct support for Army aircraft at Fort Benning. In addition to the Battalion's mission of providing backup direct support maintenance for 10th Group aircraft, the organization. It was utilized as a direct support facility for units in the initial stages of preparation for deployment to the Republic of Vietnam.

During the summer of 1966, one high priority task assigned to the unit was that of conducting the maintenance portion of "Project Red Leaf". The Army was transitioning the Air Force into the CV-2 "Caribou", and the maintenance portion of the training program was assigned to the 520th. The summer months proved to be busy and fruitful for the small, fledgling battalion. The 520th provided support for aviation firepower demonstrations at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Additionally, it conducted support activities in conjunction with training exercises of the 197th Light Infantry Brigade at Camp Selby, Mississippi. A message from Third United States Army, dated 27 August 1966, alerted the unit to prepare for deployment to USARPAC area. A massive program, with emphasis on administrative and logistical problems, began. On 4 November 1966, Lieutenant Colonel Donald H. Jersey took command of the 520th Transportation Battalion. As Commanding Officer, LTC Jersey led the organization through its preparations and subsequent deployment. The United States Army Infantry Center issued a permanent change of station directive on 25 November. Groundwork for an intercontinental move was completed: the Army's call for aircraft maintenance support would be answered, but much remained to be done. Many of the enlisted personnel in lower grades were inexperienced. As a result, the battalion launched a training program to equip its troops to meet the challenge ahead. Selected individuals were sent, in temporary duty status, to Department of the Army schools at other stations. On-site training was conducted and much of the unit found itself pursuing various courses pertaining to military occupational specialties.

While the 520th trained, Department of the Army made preparations to enlarge the battalion upon its arrival in Vietnam. Since the battalion's only two operating units were scheduled to remain at Fort Benning with the 10th Aviation Group, provisions were made to enable the battalion to complete its mission upon arrival in Country. The 539th Transportation Company (GS) activated and organized 16 August 1962, was scheduled to follow the battalion to the Republic of Vietnam to augment its strength. To prepare the unit for deployment, Second United States Army attached the 539th to New Cumberland Army Depot, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In addition to the 539th, Department of the Army alerted the 20th Transportation Company (ADS) based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, activated on 24 June 1963, the 20th was performing third echelon maintenance for non-divisional aircraft. With the development of the battalion, came a steady increase in pride and esprit-de-corps. The young organization, about to take its place beside seasoned combat units, needed identity. On 16 December 1966, Colonel J. Elmore Swenson, Commanding Officer of the 10th Aviation Group, presented the battalion with a distinctive insignia, representative of its mission. The design, centered around a heraldic nebula, symbol for air, was indelibly marked on Transportation Corps records. Men and machines accomplished the task of packing and loading materials for shipment. Last minute checks of personnel records were made, Immunizations given, and arrangements completed for pickup of the prescribed load lists and aircraft at Sharpe Army Depot, Sacramento, California. From field training and overseas replacement training exercises, Department of the Army determined that the 520th Transportation Battalion and her subordinate companies were combat ready and prepared to deploy.

The battalion headquarters moved first, traveling by rail to the Savannah, Georgia out port. On arrival, it was loaded into a transport and, on 2 March 1967, set sail for Southeast Asia. Upon arrival In the Republic of Vietnam on 23 March, the unit was assigned to the 34th General Support Group. The battalion soon learned that its mission was to establish a composite aircraft support capability in the III Corps Tactical Zone northwest of Saigon. Functions included aircraft supply support, repair and maintenance of armament and avionics devices, and the recovery of crash and combat damaged ships. After spending four hectic days with the Group in Saigon, finalizing plans, arranging transportation and attending meetings, the battalion moved to its permanent station at Phu Loi. Then the base camp of the 1st Infantry Division and the 1st Aviation Brigade, Phu Loi formed the apex of the "Iron Triangle" which also keyed on Long Binh and Saigon. Located twenty-five miles from the capital, the base had little to offer the new arrivals but a scorching sun, drenching rain and foot-thick mud. Airlifting its personnel and conveying its equipment, the battalion arrived on 31 March 1967. An area of land on the southwest perimeter was allocated to the 520th and the physical properties consisted of little more than the earth below and the sky above. Arriving before the main body, the advance party had made arrangements for construction in the cantonment area. Soon the area bustled with engineer equipment and bristled with olive-drab tentage. Concrete was poured and the first solid structures began to take shape. With the filling of thousands of sandbags and the erection of a command bunker and perimeter defense, the 520th settled down to the task of implementing an aircraft maintenance program. The organization, through its own resources, became operational only eight days after arrival in country.

On 1 April 1967, the 34th General Support Group reassigned the 605th Transportation Company (ADS) to the 520th Battalion. The 605th had been in Vietnam for more than one year as an element of the 765th Transportation Battalion and was carrying on its support mission at Phu Loi. The 605th had deployed from Fort Riley, Kansas. In addition to the 605th, the 335th Signal Detachment was also assigned to the 520th Transportation Battalion. Under the 520th, the 335th was reorganized and made responsible for all avionics supply and maintenance by means of Individual platoons, collocated with the DS units. Benefiting from its own experience, the 520th made preparations to accept the two units scheduled to arrive from the States. Many problems encountered in establishing the headquarters were eliminated for the 539th and 20th Transportation Companies. Both units arrived in Vietnam on 3 May 1967. The 539th was placed at Phu Loi, while the 20th, in order to provide more responsive support for elements of the 25th Infantry Division, was located a Cu Chi. Approximately 25 kilometers west of Phu Loi, Cu Chi was also the base camp of many airmobile and assault helicopter companies. By June 1967, the 520th Transportation Battalion (AM&S) (GS), with its four primary elements, was firmly established, fully operational and engaged in the support of more than 500 aircraft.

The need for an aircraft recovery capability, on an area basis, soon became evident. Battle damaged and other non-flyable aircraft had to be airlifted to secure areas, and there was a need to lift other aircraft to maintenance and retrograde sites. Early June saw the beginning of a recovery team. The team drew personnel, equipment and supplies from the operating units, since no separate TO&E existed. Two CH-47 aircraft were provided under a special authorization from USARV, and the UH-l's came from battalion assets. Called "Pipesmoke", the recovery team derived its name from Major John T. Law, the first officer-in-charge, who smoked a pipe. The name was a natural follow on to the battalion's first call sign: "Big Stogie" (referring to the twelve-inch cigars smoked by the Battalion Commander). A distinctive unit patch was developed by the men of Pipesmoke to emblematize their chosen name. The recovery, aircraft rigging nd preparation for extraction fell to Pipesmoke in conjunction with 539th's general support facility. Control of the element was delegated to Flight Operations under the Battalion S-3. To better equip its recovery section, the 520th initiated vigorous training in rigging, extraction and communication procedures. Since no guidelines were established for this type of function, much of the training had to be accomplished during actual missions Pipesmoke emerged as a skilled team with well-developed procedures and minimum reaction time.

Tactical requirements at Phu Loi forced the 520th Battalion to assume the additional mission of providing physical security in the form of perimeter defense. Initially, the battalion was required to man only the defensive positions of the perimeter that bordered its area. Later, this was expanded to include one fourth of the total Phu Loi perimeter. To meet the demand a thirty-five-man security platoon was organized and trained. Personnel were drawn from subordinate units and were rotated at thirty-day intervals extensive barricade and bunker construction was accomplished, and the 520th soon had the finest defensive system on post. A test of the battalion aircraft support capability came on 25 June 1967. The 188th Assault Helicopter Company, Cu Chi, suffered a devastating enemy mortar attack that damaged 28 of its 30 aircraft and rendered it Ineffective. The 20th Transportation Company (ADS), which had previously created an "Instant Reaction Evaluation Team (IRET)" In anticipation of such emergencies, was at the damage scene within minutes. They designated aircraft for on-site repair, evacuation and salvage. Rapid, effective support enabled the 188th to return to operational status four days after the disaster. The Incident helped establish outstanding rapport with the 188th and other combat aviation units. An increasing reputation for mission effectiveness resulted from the battalion’s actions.

By summer of 1967, the 520th's work was being processed efficiently enough to permit it to extend its activities into other areas. A civil affairs program began with the initiation of a project involving the support of a nearby refugee camp. Prior to the 520th's deployment, the 605th Transportation Company (ADS) had adopted the refugee camp located near Phu Loi. Inhabited by 45 families, including 150 children, the camp was composed of individuals who had been evacuated from their homes in Ben Suc in the heart of the "Iron Triangle" The battalion’s arrival and its interest in the 605th's project broadened the scope of the refugee assistance plan. Naming the village "Camp Columbus" (indicating discovery, awakening and hope for the people), the 520th launched a campaign to provide food and clothing for the villagers. Through the Public Information and Civil Affairs Officers, individuals and groups in the United States were contacted for aid. Additionally, letters were forwarded to all stateside towns and cities bearing the name Columbus. An enthusiastic and generous response encouraged the expansion of civil affairs efforts and, in July of 1967, an additional refugee village containing 1,200 inhabitants was included in the program. On 8 July 1967, the 520th Transportation Battalion’s Civil Affairs Officer opened a small dispensary in the village of Vinh Son to provide medical assistance to the villagers. The project met with great success and marked the beginning of what was to be a close relationship between the people of Vinh Son and the battalion.

While the battalion became increasingly involved in the support of aircraft and numerous other activities, it added to facilities in the cantonment area. With mess halls and latrines completed, the organization put the finishing touches on a headquarters structure and personnel billet. As the density of aircraft supported approached 700, a need existed for expanded productivity. Elements of the 520th initiated a 24-hour work schedule. The seven-day-a-week operation assured supported units that, along with the "one stop" maintenance concept, aircraft work orders would receive constant attention from start to finish. As the maintenance portion of the 520th mission made tremendous progress, so also did the supply portion. The stock of aircraft repair parts grew to 25,000, and to provide better service, the DS units established technical supply liaison teams. Much in the manner of technical assistance maintenance teams, technical supply teams scheduled visits to their supported units and maintained an "on-call" status to provide special help. The battalion "Theater Aircraft Repairable Program (TARP) II was implemented in July 1967. This program encompassed the repair of unserviceable parts and components and their subsequent return to the in-country supply system. Significant quantities of parts were repaired through the 539th Transportation Company's general support activities.

The upswing in the battalion's support program was interrupted on 29 July 1967 by a test of its defensive capability. Shortly after midnight, combined Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces launched a massive rocket and mortar attack on the Phu Loi base camp. The onslaught saw more than 200 rounds impact inside the complex. Of these, twenty struck in the area near battalion headquarters. Assuming that the intense fire had softened Phu Loi defenses, the enemy initiated a major, coordinated ground probe in the 520th's sector. However, deadly counter fire from the battalion’s security platoon and the headquarters ready reaction team, forced the enemy to retreat. The action resulted in the decoration of many individual battalion members. In all, five Bronze Stars and fourteen Army Commendation Medals for valor were awarded.

Throughout the summer of 1967, the aircraft density and number of units supported increased and, consequently, so did the workload. At the end of its third quarter of operation in Vietnam, the battalion had repaired and returned over 500 aircraft to operating units. 350,000 man-hours were expended in the DS and GS units to accomplish this. Technical supply activities maintained extremely high demand accommodation and satisfaction during this period. Additionally, the shipped over 1,200 short tons of excess aircraft components and repair parts back into the depot supply system for a tremendous savings.

On 29 September 1967, Pipesmoke was called on to make its first complete, night field recovery. An AH-1G Cobra had gone down in the late afternoon and had to be extracted or destroyed on-site to prevent its capture by the enemy. In view of this, the commander decided to recover the ship at night. The aircraft was rigged and sling-loaded to a CH-47 Chinook. When the Chinook and its load became airborne, the cargo began to oscillate wildly and would not streamline. The operation was conducted in buffeting winds and rain and this condition threatened the CH-47 and its crew. Electing to keep this dangerous cargo in tow, the pilots zeroed their air speed to reduce the oscillation and then continued slowly toward Phu Loi. For their courage and expertise in saving the aircraft, the pilots were cited.

For months the battalion was without an assigned Chaplain and religious guidance was provided by the 23rd Artillery Group, 1st Division Artillery and the 11th Aviation Battalion. On 17 October 1967, Chaplain (CPT) Gorbia was assigned to the Battalion and a moral guidance program was initiated. The object of the program was to weave moral fiber and character into the lives of battalion personnel. Four Protestant services were held at each of the operating locations and a combined service was conducted at headquarters. Attendance increased steadily. Soon a choir was formed and informal meetings for open discussion were scheduled. The Chaplain was available for Interviews and counseling at all hours of the day and night. He also made regular visits to individual units and opened another avenue for assisting personnel with their problems. The addition of a Chaplain greatly augmented civil action projects also.

In October 1967, the 3/17 Air Cavalry Squadron arrived in Vietnam without any form of organic maintenance capability. To fill the void, the 520th Transportation Battalion organized and equipped a provisional maintenance unit and attached it to the 3/17, located at Tay Nihn, near the Cambodian border. Adopting the name "F" Troop, the small company, consisting of eighty military and twenty-six civilian mechanics, augmented the 3/17's mission. Under the command of Major David M. Medaris, "F" Troop maintained 89 aircraft. Autumn of 1967 saw the 25th Infantry Division experience a steady decline in aircraft availability, which posed a considerable threat to combat effectiveness. At the request of its headquarters, the 520th Transportation Battalion launched a study of organic maintenance procedures of the divisional units. Through research conducted by the 520th' s Executive Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Robert L. Head, the combat effectiveness of the 25th Infantry Division was restored, with the deficiencies documented as a means of preventing recurrences.

By December 1967, the theme of "Forward Support" was carried on efficiently by the men of the 520th Battalion. Supported aircraft density had climbed to almost 800. The organization had repaired over 12,000 aircraft and chalked up 496,000 productive man hours. Later, December brought additional defense demands. An entire sector of Phu Loi base camp was transferred to the battalion. Called Reno Sector, the area constituted a full one-third of the compound's perimeter, some 10,000 linear feet. During January 1968, the task of organizing, equipping and updating defenses began. The battalion S-2 Officer, compiled a workable SOP and began upgrading physical properties. Through coordination with the various tenant units, within the sector, improvements were made, and a cohesive defense plan developed which was referred to by the camp commander as the finest on post.

Unrelated to aircraft maintenance and supply but nevertheless essential, the 520th again fulfilled its assignment. The New Year brought stepped-up combat activity and a further increase in workload. A massive enemy offensive loomed ominously before the allies. Preparations were made at Phu Loi for the assault that all hoped would never come. Additional personnel commitments were made for defensive positions. Evening brought the sounds of thumping rotor blades of aircraft on aerial patrol, and night shifts for personnel to provide fast reaction In the event of attack. Days were reduced to a routine of work, guard and rest (sometimes). Those not working at night slept in the confines of stuffy, dank and overcrowded personnel shelters for protection against enemy mortar fire. Tempers grew short, dispositions irritable, but work continued. The fact that there was little decline in productivity indicated strong devotion to duty on the part of battalion personnel.

The concentrated communist effort came as the Tet Offensive in late January 1968. Untested until the second day, Phu Loi bristled in readiness. On the night of 31 January 1968, the Phu Cong/Phu Loi area was attacked by elements of the 273rd and Dong Nai Regiments, along with local force units. The 273d made its approach from the north. Using the village of An My as its re-staging and supply point, it attacked the base camp at the end of the north runway. At Reno Sector, the initial attack force was repelled on contact. Armed gunships immediately fixed the majority of the regiment, and air and artillery strikes were called in. The evacuated village of An My was pounded by heavy fire and the enemy was driven back. On 1 February 1968, two companies of the 1/25 Infantry began a counterattack in the area between An My and the base camp. The ground elements, reinforced by additional infantry and armored cavalry units, met heavy resistance. Again, tactical air and artillery strikes were called. The enemy was routed, and heavy casualties were inflicted. Among the insurgents, little combat capability remained, and the remnants departed under the veil of darkness. During the evening hours of 3 February, regrouped enemy forces again attacked the base from the east and south. A wall of heavy automatic weapons and gunship fire sealed all approaches. Dismal failure on the ground spurred the communists to change tactics and attempt assault by bombardment. Mortar, 122mm and 107mm rocket, and rifle-propelled grenade rounds rained upon Phu Loi. Tactical air, counter artillery and mortar fire inflicted further casualties on the enemy. Experiencing a steady depletion in combat capability, the enemy scaled-down the attacks and with the exception of occasional light, sporadic probes into the 520th and other areas, began to avoid the complex completely, using the area around Phu Loi only as an infiltration route to other III Corps sectors. The communists had failed to make good their threat to fly the Viet Cong flag over Phu Loi.

On 23 February 1968, a change of command ceremony was held with LTC Donald L. Jersey relinquishing the battalion to Lieutenant Colonel John F. Eggers. An era had ended, and another was beginning as the battalion neared the completion of its first year in Vietnam. Lieutenant Colonel Eggers assumed command of an organization that had repaired 1,800 aircraft with over three-quarters of a million-man hours invested. The 520th's DS units were maintaining the highest standards of demand satisfaction, accommodation and supply effectivity in Vietnam. During the month of March 1968, the battalion completed construction of maintenance buildings in the areas of the 605th and 539th. The 34th Engineer Battalion completed revetment construction in the battalion portions of Phu Loi's flight line. In addition, the 20th Transportation Company, Cu Chi, was adding to its technical supply facilities.

The battalion made provisions to begin retrograde operations at its newly assigned Saigon aircraft processing detachment. Initiating retrograde activities required planning so that the transition could be made without conflicting with in-processing of aircraft arriving from CONUS. Requirements for additional personnel, equipment and construction were analyzed. An overall plan for the assumption of a retrograde program from the 56th Transportation Company was finalized and implemented. With a minimum phase in period, the Aircraft Processing Detachment (APD) was activated and assumed the mission. Maintenance and billeting areas used by the 56th at Tan Son Nhut AFB were transferred to APD and were renovated.

On 29 February 1968, battalion personnel, as a civil action project, contributed the final amount toward the goal of $3,815 needed to purchase a farm tractor for the village of Vinh Son, and it was ordered the following week. Taking over two months to ship from the states, the tractor and plow arrived and were presented to the village, in ceremonies on 12 May 1968.

The 520th began to experience a drain on personnel resources as a result of ever-increasing workload and the rotation of individuals. A study of personnel shortages was made and "Project FIX" evolved. In this project, MOS qualified individuals were sent from CONUS for temporary duty with operational units; Coupled with "Project Fix", "Program Six' placed fifty Vietnamese National laborers in Jobs previously held by the military. Enemy activity at Phu Loi base camp decreased after the Tet and May offensives. In June, the post suffered the last mortar and rocket attack experienced in 1968. Also in June, APD received a direct mortar hit on a line aircraft and shrapnel damage to several others. In their growing civil affairs program, the 520th made arrangements through the COORDS Advisor, Chau Thanh District at Phu Cong, to renovate a school destroyed in the spring offensive. The An My School, located near Phu Loi's perimeter had been reduced to a bare shell. The clearing of debris and repairing of property damage was the first of many types of assistance the battalion was to provide in coming months.

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas M. Dunn, Jr. assumed command of the 520th Transportation Battalion in ceremonies on 23 August 1968. LTC Dunn's first task was to direct preparations to receive the 357th Transportation Company (ADS) which was scheduled to deploy from CONUS in early October. After an extensive study, the battalion decided to locate the unit at Bien Hoa Air Base, in order to provide responsive support to the combat aircraft located in that area.

The 357th, a former Army Reserve component, from Greencastle, Pennsylvania, had been activated in May 1968 and was completing processing for overseas deployment at Fort Benning, Georgia. Supplies and personnel were nearing authorized strengths and the unit was packing equipment for shipment. The 520th established liaison with the 145th Combat Aviation Battalion and the U. S. Air Force, Bien Hoa. Areas for billeting and maintenance were selected in the 145th's section of the base. The battalion sent work crews to construct a cantonment area. Wooden floors and general-purpose tents were erected to shelter the company. Electrical power was connected and necessary grading and ditching accomplished. While cantonment construction continued, the Corps of Engineers began preparation of the maintenance facilities. Revetments were built and the entire area was surfaced with hardstand. The new unit literally and figuratively had a firm foundation on which to build. The 357th's advance party arrived on 27 September 1968, with the main body following on 11 October. Unit personnel were not disillusioned by the "bare necessities" which they found. Enthusiastically, they began to establish operations. After three days, the unit accepted its first aircraft for repairs. The 357th Transportation Company increased the battalion's maintenance capability and, fittingly, 156 additional aircraft were assigned for support.

During the months of November and December 1968, the 520th Transportation Battalion was instrumental in assisting the 1st Air Cavalry Division in relocating from I Corps to the III Corps Tactical Zone. The battalion assumed the support of many of the 1st Cavalry's aircraft and kept the ships operational until the division re-established operations. The 520th accepted and fulfilled that task in addition to supporting its regular customers.

Enemy activity was limited during January 1969 and the battalion concentrated on its support mission. Additionally, subordinate units worked on a variety of Improvements projects in their respective areas. The lull in hostile actions permitted battalion personnel to carry on additional activities at the An My School. Several building projects were initiated on the school grounds. The 520th distributed over 600 sets of shorts, blouses and shirts to An My pupils. Just prior to the Tet holiday season, the battalion gave school supplies to the students. Tet brought stepped-up enemy activity Bien Hoa and Cu Chi posts underwent numerous heavy shellings. In February 1969, a Viet Cong sapper force infiltrated the Cu Chi perimeter and damaged or destroyed eleven aircraft supported by the 20th Transportation Company. At Bien Hoa, a concentrated enemy force made several sustained attacks on the base, which caused the 357th Transportation Company to divert manpower resources from the primary mission to bolster defenses. Although the Phu Loi Base Camp was also shelled, there was no significant action during this period. Enemy hostilities subsided near the end of February, and, in March, the battalion was operating normally again.

Technical supply operations also made great strides. The battalion's monthly average in demand accommodation rose from 70.9% to 81.8% and demand satisfaction went from 52.9% to 58.1%. Direct supply units purified ASL's to reduce stockage to hardcore items and returned great numbers of excess items to supply channels. During the early morning hours of 6 June 1969, Bien Hoa Air Base underwent a surprise rocket attack. Several rounds of enemy 122mm missiles impacted in the billet area of the 357th Transportation Company. Two personnel were killed, and 15 others were wounded in the action. On 15 August, the 20th Transportation Company experienced a similar attack, which resulted in eight personnel sustaining wounds. The 520th Transportation Battalion continually grew and prospered from the time of its arrival in Vietnam. To combat aviation units operating throughout the III Corps Tactical Zone and throughout the country, "Sustainer" has come to mean the best in aircraft maintenance support. The achievements of the 520th were many and are indelibly recorded on the pages of United States Army history.

In 1970, the 520th Transportation Battalion “Sustainers,” commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Ainslie, provides direct, back-up direct, and general support maintenance for over 1,100 Army aircraft and associated armament and avionics systems within the northern and western half of Military Region 3. One direct support company of the battalion is located at Cu Chi, while the battalion headquarters and the remaining units and elements are located at Phu Loi. The 539th Transportation Company (AGS), located at Phu Loi, has been operating in Vietnam since 23 March 1967. Commanded by Major Wilbur R. Mixter, the “Hexmates” provide general support and backup direct support for 1,100 aircraft. Commanded by Major Edward D. Collins, the 165th Transportation Company has recently moved from Bien Hoa to Phu Loi. Serving customers in the Bien Hoa, Long Binh and Saigon areas, the “Sword Sharpeners” provide supply and maintenance support to more than 275 aircraft. This move to Phu Loi has centralized supply and maintenance operations resulting in quicker and more responsive customer support. Providing direct support maintenance for units from Tay Ninh to Cu Chi, the 20th Transportation Company, commanded by Major Larry H. Woodard, is located at Cu Chi and supports over 270 aircraft. The 605th Transportation Company (ADS), commanded by Major Raymond E. Collins, provides direct support and backup direct support to over 500 aircraft belonging to units stretching from Quan Loi to Bear Cat. Assigned to the battalion on 1 April 1967, the “Pacesetters” average more than 35,000-man hours per month on their supported units' aircraft. The Aviation Electronics Company, Central (Provisional), commanded by Major Roger D. Shiley, is the only provisional Avionics Company in the Republic of Vietnam. AVEL Central, with platoons at Phu Loi and Cu Chi, completes an average of over 5,000 avionics work orders monthly. In addition to its line units, the 520th Transportation Battalion is responsible for the operation of the Army Aviation Refresher Training School which provides updated training in armament, aircraft, and engine repair for all aviation units in the Republic of Vietnam. The “Pipesmoke” Recovery Section, which has become synonymous with the term "aircraft recovery" in the Republic of Vietnam, is also a member of the 520th Team. The only consolidated recovery section in the United States Army, “Pipesmoke” has recovered more than 3,500 aircraft since it was established in April 1967.1

The 520th Transportation Battalion was inactivated in 1971. It was awarded three Meritorious Unit Commendations for 1966-1967, 1967-1968, and 1968-1970. It also received the Vietnam Gallantry Cross for 1 July 1966 – 31 May 1967 and 1 June 1967 – 29 June 1968, and the TCC for 30 January 1968 – 1 April 1968.


“520th Transportation Battalion ‘'Sustainers,’” AVIAN 34, October 1970.