Night Stalkers ~ “The Chinook”
A couple of weeks ago we, campground residents got a memo from the campground office stating that, “Helicopter operations would be carried out on the tarmac next to the campground”. Normally little activity occurs here except for an occasional Seahawk helo flying in from a distant ship at sea. It would be a change to see what “operations” would take place. Nothing happened for the first couple of days.
Late in the afternoon, I happened to hear a helicopter high in the sky, I mean very high, maybe 15 to 20 thousand feet above us. It was a US Army Chinook, at least that is what I was guessing. A few seconds later eight parachutes blossomed high above. They were headed towards Fleming Key. At first, I thought for a water landing. They took their time circling as they descended, but not toward the water as usual, but toward the old ammunition dump for a dry land landing.
A little time later a Chinook came in from the North over the water and onto the concrete tarmac. Something was different about this helicopter, no markings on it, it was painted flat black. Another odd thing was this Army Chinook had a long refueling probe sticking some thirty feet out to the front. This was a “Special Operations” chopper. Possibly be from the famous 160th “Night Stalkers”.
This week was full of training both day and night. We campers were all eyes viewing from the other side of the fence. At one point the powerful rotor wash literally flips one of the Special Ops. Zodiac boats literally vertical and landing on the outboard motor. I am sure that was not part of the training, but that’s what training is all about. In a real mission, those two Zodiac inflatables would be in different locations or securely tied down.
The helicopter was picking up different squads with their Zodiacs and flying about three miles out towards and into the water drop zone. They would then drop the boat into the water and the squad would jump out and swim to the boat. The procedure would be reversed picking the men and boat. The task might seem easy to accomplish, but with a 100mph rotor wash, trying to climb a rope ladder is no easy task! The above procedure was carried out in daylight as well as nighttime hours. We watched from the campground as the Chinook hovered above the men for a good forty-five minutes.
I can’t help think of those brave Special Forces guys and where in the world they would be on special operations!
The CH 47 Chinook wasn’t the only helicopter type down here on training. The smaller Dakotas were on missions here, but we weren’t able to view their training. I wished the “Little Birds” would have been here also, but they weren’t.
Meantime over at Boca Chica “Naval Air Station” they are having a big training month! Captain Bobby Baker spoke on the radio recently. Nearly a dozen different squadrons will be flying an assortment of different aircraft. Heading south as well are Navy SEAL Teams, Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technicians and underwater Seabee dive units.
So many units on base also mean Key West’s own home Fighter Squadron Composite 111 (VFC-111), known as the Sun Downers, will be busy training the incoming pilots and getting them ready for deployment. They will be joined by the civilian ATAC adversary squadron as well. Among the squadrons visiting:
- Royal Canadian Air Force 410 Tactical Fighter (Operational Training) Squadron from Cold Lake, Alberta, flying CF-18s;
- Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-151 also known as the Vigilantes out of Lemoore, California, flying F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets;
- Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA-97), also known as the Warhawks also out of Leemore, also flying Super Hornets;
- Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA-122), also known as the Flying Eagles also out of Lemoore, flying Super Hornets;
- South Dakota Air National Guard 175th Fighter Squadron also known as Lobos out of Sioux Falls flying F-16s;
- 9th Bomb Squadron out of Dyess Air Force Base in Texas flying B 1-B Lancer bombers;
- Air Force Reserve Command will be flying C-17s;
- West Virginia Air National Guard will be flying C-130s;
- Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ-129), also known as the Vikings out of Whidbey Island Washington, flying EA-18G Growlers;
- Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ-140), also known as the Patriots, Whidbey Island flying EA-18G Growlers.
(The above italic was taken from Key West Citizen)
As you see there is enough air power to sustain a small war down here in KW. I haven’t even mentioned what takes on the high seas and under
That is what we saw and did!