Major Plaster, USAR (ret.), served three 1-year tours in Southeast Asia with the top secret Special Forces covert operations unit, MACV-SOG. Qualified as a paratrooper and a Green Beret weapons and communications NCO, he led intelligence-gathering recon teams deep behind enemy lines in Laos and Cambodia on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was a highly classified, multi-service United States special operations unit which conducted covert unconventional warfare ops prior to and during the Vietnam War.
Plaster’s 22 cross-border ground missions include one of SOG’s most successful, the night ambush of a North Vietnamese truck convoy and seizure of an important enemy prisoner in Laos. Wounded once and decorated for heroism four times, in 1970 Plaster was selected to fly Covey missions with USAF Forward Air Controllers, and accumulated more than 350 aerial combat missions. It was as a "Covey Rider" that Plaster took part in directing the rescue efforts in this double Prairie Fire in Laos.
One of the big differences about SOG, was that most of their operations were top secret cross-border ops carried out along the uber-dangerous Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia where SOG recon teams performed critically important missions such as area recons hunting for enemy sanctuaries and base camps, bomb damage assessments (BDA), prisoner snatches, intelligence gathering, wire taps, sensor deployments, interdiction and harassment of enemy transports and road building crews, and psychological operations of all kinds. While the NVA and Vietcong were constantly referred to by the media as "the illusive enemy" in South Vietnam, in their Laotian and Cambodian border sanctuaries, and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the SOG recon teams nearly always encountered them in large well-armed numbers.
The small 8 to 10 man recon teams (RTs) were actively hunted by well trained enemy counter-recon units & trackers with dogs, and if the trackers found them, they would be surrounded and attacked en-masse, or in some cases held in position while anti-aircraft guns were moved into position around them to shoot-down the helicopters the enemy knew would come to rescue any trapped recon team.
The recon teams might have a "team emergency" where one of the team members became sick or injured, or find themselves in a "tactical emergency" where they were in peril of being discovered, perhaps in the case where an enemy force had inadvertently moved into the recon team's area of operations (AO) overnight.
But if a recon team was in contact, fleeing contact, and/or about to be overrun, they would declare a "Prairie Fire" emergency, and all air assets in the vicinity would be redirected to come to their aid. If the team was bloodied and carrying multiple wounded, and unable to fight their way to an LZ, a "Bright Light" team may have to be deployed to help them break clear.
However, massive airpower in support of a recon team in trouble was (usually) not available for teams operating in Cambodia, where bombers were barred from participating in rescue operations, the rescue forces' offensive capabilities were limited to helicopter gunships and any artillery batteries which may have been in range from across the border in South Vietnam.
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By kind permission of Major Plaster, I have transcribed the text from his book (Secret Commandos) which is pertinent to the Prairie Fire recording, and I hope that the readers will gain a bit of perspective both to the men on the ground facing the unimaginable dangers of sneaking around in the enemy's backyard, and the men in the sky who put it all on the line running the enemy's gauntlet of anti-aircraft and small-arms fire in order to bring the recon teams home. For all involved it was dangerous business, and business was always brisk. This was a secret war, and the enemy wanted to protect their secrets at all costs.
Recorded by a Huey crew, the recording documents a rescue operation across the border in Laos, where not one, but two recon teams, first RT Hawaii, and then a short time later, ten miles away, RT Colorado faced Prairie Fire emergencies on the same day. I have converted the audio from the YouTube videos to the mp3 format, and edited them back into a single file, from which I edited out a section which had somehow been repeated, cut out some patches of dead-air, and filtered out a substantial amount of hiss from the audio which makes it much easier to understand the transmissions. I would like to acknowledge the work of others who posted information on the "Prairie Fire x2" in online forums, which became the basic outline for this blog, where I have tried to add a more concentrated and interactive version of the story combined with the text from "Secret Commandos" and the enhanced version of the recording.
The recording begins just as the White Flight hueys are turning in for the landing zone where RT Hawaii is holding their own.
I recommend first reading the excerpts from Secret Commandos, and then listening to the recording with headphones, preferably in a darkened room.
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