'Snatch Team' - They'd Rather Capture Than Kill
By SPEC 4 MICHAEL KOPP, S&S Staff Correspondent
CHU LAI, Vietnam
- He was whizzing only feet - it seemed
like inches - over the treetops when he spotted the little man in black pajamas.
CWO2 Allan Levy wheeled his OH6 Skeeter
into a tight, 180-degree turn almost on top of the startled Viet Cong.
Trapped in a clearing with nowhere to hide,
the VC unlimbered his rifle. The move was his death warrant. Before he could get off a shot he was cut down by Levy's machine
The enemy was dead. Levy moved on, trailed by three other choppers. He was feeling a bit less than triumphant.
The had wanted the Communist soldier alive.
Levy had been flying point on an Aero Scout "snatch" mission. The objective
had been to find, isolate and capture one or two of the enemy and bring them in for questioning.
Aside from the Skeeter,
the operation usually involves two UH1 "Huey" gunships that stay within a quarter of a mile from the little scout copter,
ready to provide covering fire if the Skeeter runs into heavy opposition, and a lightly armed "slick" chopper that hangs high
over the other three. That's the one the "snatch team" rides.
The Skeeter leads the way, buzzing over the terrain
close enough to the ground or trees to give an old time crop duster the jitters.
Flying low like that gives the OH6
pilot a chance to sneak up on the enemy - to spot the quarry before the quarry spots him.
If suspicious looking men
are spotted, the Scout zooms in. And when there are more than one or two, the Huey gunships come in.
The Hueys can
be on the spot in seconds, blazing away with their two M60 machine guns, rockets and mini-guns. The object is to separate
one or two of the enemy let them know they're covered and hopelessly outgunned, then bring in the slick ship.
slick team dashes in fast. The snatch team, usually an officer or NCO and three Marines, leaps out and surrounds the suspect.
The captor is hustled into the chopper and hurried back to Chu Lai for questioning.
Sometimes it doesn't work that
way. Sometimes the VC would rather fight than switch. That's why the Aero Scout Co., 123rd Aviation Bn. (Levy's outfit), has
killed enemy since it started its snatch work last March.
But they've also managed to put the snatch on about 500
suspects, and more than 300 of them have turned out to be Viet Cong or North Vietnamese.
No one is telling how much
these captives tell, but knowing that a few words from one of them could save many allied soldiers' lives is enough to keep
the aero scouts flying low.