Tuesday, November 21, 2017

1973 to 1975 -- Air Mobile to Air Assault Part 3

This is in memory of two people whom which played a role in helping me to realize my full potential as a photo-journalist.

Emily Bell Sanders, wife of Col Burnett R. Sander II passed away on November 11th, 2011 and Burnett R. Sanders II who passed away on December 9, 2016.

Both were very exceptional people and both deserve much more than I can write here.  

Since it's been 42 years ago, I can't be positive on the exact dates these events happened. I'm sure that someone who skims through the micro film of the Fort Campbell Courier for 1974 and 1975 that person could reset the chronicle logical order of the events.

So, instead of embarrassing myself with totally wrong timelines, I'm going to write what I know happened and what I was involved with.

No matter, let's fill in some blank space.


What was the difference between Air Mobile and Air Assault? I couldn't actually find a definitive answer on line so here's mine. Air Mobile was the concept that you could move troops from point A to point B using helicopters. The concept limited scope to ground troop movement for a specific purpose and all related support was either already there or was within a short distance from the ground troops being moved. Much of the transportation for operations other than ground troop movement was conducted by ground vehicles.

Air Assault on the other hand meant the entire division could be moved from point A to Point B without having to rely on ground transportation to move the logistical and related support personnel into their designated areas.

In-other-words, we brought our transportation with us.

Problem is, you have to have soldiers trained with the right skills and mental capabilities to deal with a division that has the ability to move around at any moment.  As Retired General Roper put it, "There is no room in a 100 mile per hour division for a 10 mile per hour mind." 

So whether or not you are involved with or assigned to the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault you needed additional training .  And that training comes in the form of the Air Assault School.

That training included learning how to sling load vehicles and supplies, rappelling from 125 feet in the air day or at night walking up a monkey ladder day or night, jumping onto what was known as the spider net.

In my day, to qualify you had to walk around Clarksville Base with a back sack and a rubber M-14 and do it within 2 hours and 30 minutes.  I did mine in 2 hours and 10 minutes with a wet bulb factor of 5 weighing 209.

Today, the school works a bit differently. There is a obstacle course at the beginning and the forced march is at the end.

You may want to read this.

We also learned how to do the Aussie rappel. Those were some awesome times and awesome memories.



The primary mission of the 2/17th Cavalry in 1974 was to be the eyes and ears of the Division.

The 2/17th Cavalry consisted of 5 Troops. A, B and C Troop were a mixture of OH-58s, AH-1G Cobras and a platoon of infantry known as the Blue Platoon.  Each Troop had color bands around the end of the tail booms just past the stabilizer. Red for A Troop, white for B Troop and blue for C Troop. 

D Troop was a composite of infantry and mule and jeep mounted 106 recoil less rifles. While I found them to be interesting as a mix or field expediency and intriguing imagination.

The mules would go from 106 recoil less rifles to TOW missile firing platforms.

Because the 2/17th was such a unique Squadron, it also had its unique perks.  Such as being the Division Color Guard and providing its fair share of helicopters for the Air Assault In Action demonstrations.

While I didn't take the image above or the image of the Cobra in Vietnam, I did take plenty of both over the years.

MARCH 1974 -- From small beginnings, the journey can end in greatness...or certain death. In a virtual reality game, you can always start over. In the real world, you're just dead.  It was time to tip the scale towards greatness.

"Sergeant Edwards," said a CW4 who was nick named "Wizard" and I shared a building with, just getting of the phone with our boss.

"Yes, sir."

"The colonel wants you to go with him over to the Air Assault School and take pictures. Also told me to tell you to have plenty of film."

"Do I dare ask why?"

"Know who Bo Callaway is?"

"No, sir,"

"Well, he's the Secretary of  the Army. He's going to be in the bleachers."

Great, so all I have to do is take some pictures of the Secretary of the Army and...wait a minute.

"What time are we going, sir?"

"The demo is at 10am, the Colonel will pick you up here at 9am."

Good, I thought, he is interested in his men after all. We're going to start building a true public affairs system.

So, as promised, the Colonel picked me up and we headed over to the staging area. I proceeded to shot 36 images on our men and their helicopters. My light meter was doing some strange things. Telling me the helicopter's exposure was F5.6 with a shutter speed of 250. Pointing it at the sky, even with an overcast, it was running F11 with a shutter speed of 250. With an ASA rating of 125.

In the case of black and white film there is a tolerance of 3 stops up and three stops down. I would soon learn a trick about taking great action shots of helicopters, Over expose the film, using Microdol-X, 3:1 and at 72 degrees, stop the development process at 9 minutes instead of 11.

Then use a number 3 or 4 paper to rebuild the contrast.

Shooting slide film, its 1.5 stops up and 1.5 stops down. With an ASA rating of 60.

These things you learn over time. That is, if you want to master photography...in my day.

Also, in case anyone really wants to know. Exposing for the helicopter works great except, there was a slight problem. The background behind the helicopters flying by was just about the same color and intensity as the helicopters themselves.

Months later, I solved this by using an 80 to 210mm zoom lens, edited tightly on the helicopter as it flew by and used Tri-x 400 film.

Making 8 x 10 prints with tight cropping and reducing development time produced a much flatter image with the shutter speed where I needed it to be so I could hand hold the zoom lens without blurring the image.

After taking pictures of the VIPs and the Air Assault demonstration, I asked LTC Sanders if there was anything else he would be needing me to do the rest of the day.  He said no so I headed for the photo-lab.

I took my contacts over to Shepard at the Fort Campbell Public Affairs Office.

He looked them over with a loop and asked, "Where did you get these?"

"What do you mean where did I get these? I just took them."

"Print up 13, 20, 27 and 36. 2 and 10 on the second sheet. I'll circle them."

I always drew blanks trying to figure out what goes on in the heads of editors. Why my images caused excitement in them. So, I ran over to the photo-lab, printed the images in 8x10 size and came back over to the Public Affairs Office.

It was right at 5pm and I just happened to step back inside the building at the moment when the cannon went off.

The place was as quite as a church. "Anyone here?"

"I am," said a voice in the far left corner of the building. I walked towards the voice. Looked at a rather tall man with a husky voice, read his nameplate and realized this was LTC John A.G. Klose.

"Sorry to bother you sir." I began.

"No problem, I needed to finish up this response to Old Abe question. Okay, done.  How can I help you?", his smile while sincere and assuring also painted a picture of  "Warning,  Will Robinson, Warning!"

"Shepard asked me to print these up from my contacts."

He looked at the images, looked up at me and then looked back at the images. Bet you know what's coming.

"Where did you get these?"

"I just took them, Sir."

"Sergeant Edwards, please have a seat."

"Do you know how many photographers we have on post?"

"No, sir."

"Twenty.  A whole twenty professional photographers. None have been able to take pictures of helicopters. Not like these."

And I thought, well, if you rely on a light meter, that's probably what's going to happen. 

"And you come along, literally, out of no where, with helicopter images taken exactly the way I need them.

"Whose your boss?"

"LTC Sanders, sir. I'm their Squadron Stringer."

"Welcome to Public Affairs. Mind if I call you Dick?"

"No, sir not at all."

"Dick, do you write as well as you take pictures?"

"A bit weak in that area so some mentoring would help. Sir."

"So I take it you've been published?"

"Yes sir, in Vietnam 69-70. I was the stringer for the 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery from July to October. Published in Army Times, Rendezvous With Destiny and Stars And Stripes.

"But most of my work was images and cut lines."

"I can see why  Any photographic training?"

"None sir. I'm still learning on the job. But I did read a book once. Does that count?"

His smile went serious. "You're pulling my leg, right?"

"No sir."

"My gawd.

"Listen to me -- and if you've read my Old Abe column you know I don't pamper whiners and praise men and women for their accomplishments. The point I'm trying to make here is, I'm a straight shooter.

"How many images do you think the average professional takes to get one right?

"Don't know, sir"

"Three. So, out of 36, there might be 12 and that is if the subject is not moving.

"Out of the 72, you've got 60 unique images I could use.  And you didn't know what I was looking for. That is equal to using up 5 36 exposure  rolls of film."

He handed me a key, "Go upstairs, On the right is a door.  There is a refrigerator with film in it. Grab yourself 20 rolls. What type of camera do you have?"

"Argus C-5. sir"

"A view finder camera! You took these with a vintage viewfinder camera?"

"Would you like to see it?" I asked as I pulled it out and showed it to him.

"See if you can find a ASHI Pentax and lens up there, too."

When I got back from upstairs and handed him the keys:

"Alright, you don't talk to anyone here but me and my civilian counterpart. I'll give Shepard your work. I can't give you credit for every picture you take. Or all the photo-features you create.

"If I do, I'll have those GS 13s who run the AV section down my throat.

"Bring the news releases and that newsletter your unit produces to me as well.

"Dick, some of your Squadron is about to go to over to Indian Mound.

"I'm going to talk to your boss.  Let him know of your value to me. And I'll have SP5 Charles Drake do the journalist piece and then, when the two of you can get together, he can help you with cut lines, reverse pyramid writing and photo-features."

"Thank you, sir."
I think I floated home.What the hell just happened?

While this may sound far fetched, LTC John A.G.Klose did something similar two years later in Germany on REFORGER 76. Lightning does strike twice.

Col Sanders called me into his office the next day.

I stood at attention and saluted him.  He said, "At ease." Pointed to a chair and said, "Sit down."

"You apparently made a big splash with the division public affairs."

"He was impressed with my photography work."

"Do you want to go work for him?"

"Hell, no, sir. Permission to speak freely, sir?" 


"I am totally, 100% dedicated to you and the Squadron. You and the unit are priority #1. You took a chance on me pulling me out of a 67Y20 critical shortage MOS to do this job and by god, I'm going to do it to the best of my ability."

"Also, just because he thinks I'm a damn good photographer doesn't mean I want to be his damn good photographer. I'm more than that.

"Why don't we put 5 cork boards up, one for each troop along the hallways leading to the Mess Hall label each with the troop names and add In Action and change out the images once a month?

"Now that is a great idea. What about?"

"Yes, we can put one up for the Officer's wives club, too, sir."

He smiled.

"Let's do it."  

 Someone behind me cleared his throat.

"Of course with the XOs permission as well, " I said, looking at Col Sanders with a big fat smile on my face."

"Is that all, sir?

"Get ready to do Indian Mound tomorrow."

So, we went out to Indian Mound. Like me, you're probably wondering what could possibly be out there that would be news worthy.

Well, as it turns out, Indian Mound was a short field dirt runway where C-130s could land and take off. It was a very damp morning and I was glad I had put Tri-X film in the camera. Again, riding in the front seat of an open jeep, Colonel Sanders and I arrived on station around 8 cold 30 in the morning.

Because the C-130s were working with a very short takeoff distance, their paddle wheel like blades were causing some very cool looking white rings to appear like smoke. I had no idea that one image would get published in the Clarksville Leaf Chronicle, Hopkinsville New Ear, the Courier Post and be on the front page of Army Times when I took it.

I just knew it was a cool shot.

By May, I had my first two page spread -- known as a double truck.  A little bit of my writing creeped in and a whole lot of images.

Our Squadron Command Sergeant Major accused me of carrying a lethal weapon -- namely my camera as one of the images published showed a crew chief refueling an UH-1H without his safety visor down.


There are two General Officers who seemed to like me as much as I liked them. General John N. Brandenburg and General Sidney B. Berry.

For the next 4 years, General Brandenburg and I would -- how should I put -- interact in ways you probably won't believe.

I took a picture of General Berry once in Vietnam.  Although I had no idea who he was until Life Magazine did an article on him.

The very first encounter with him was humorous.

A helicopter landed near our Tactical Operations Center (TOC).

We had a lot of them land there but this one had a red plate on the side with two gold stars on it. I expected the crew chief to hop out, slide the door back and let the General out.

Instead, the pilot door to my side of the helicopter opened up and General Berry got out with his flying helmet on.

The ground was wet from a quick shower that came and went.  The trail down to where he would have to walk was a bit steep and angular. So as the General tried switching helmets he almost slipped and fell. He saw me holding my camera up and realized I had taken a picture. I went to full attention and saluted him.

General Berry smiled, put his hand on my should and said while laughing, "I see you caught me almost falling on my ass." I smiled.

A few moments later, I took a very serious image of General Berry and, perhaps, one of the most powerful images of my life. I photographed three men in that picture. All three were Commanding Officers of the 101st Airborne Division.

General John M. Brandenburg and LTC Teddy Allen were the two others.

Months later when General Berry was about to leave, he passed me in the hallway while I was once again taking pictures and said, "This is the most picturest taking Battalion I've ever seen.

Then laughed, put his hand on my should once again and said, "How are you doing Sergeant Edwards?"

I smiled back, "Just fine sir." 


Another triple newspaper event happened when the division celebrated its 30 year old anniversary.

By then, Public Affairs had more images of helicopters in action than they could publish. So images like pictures of our color guard and from the Air Assault In Action demonstration and pictures of the Air Assault School were put together as a collection of images and were published in Clarksville Leaf Chronicle, Hopkinsville New Ear, the Courier Post.


When we went to Fort McCoy, I was there to take pictures and to do a day in the life of  type article on our Blue Platoon when it launched an nighttime attack on the National Guard.

I also brought with me a  screen and a move projector and showed movies.

You are going to notice that I bring a screen and a projector a lot to the field. I can blame that one on my father who used to run movie theaters in the New Jersey area, they called him Uncle Eddie.

I remember both the West Point Army and Annapolis Navel Officers coming into the theater before heading over to the Army/Navy Game in Philly.

Anyway, it seemed to me to be the right thing to do.

So was wanting to document the Blue Platoon's story up close and personal. So I volunteered to go with them.

Moving along slowly and quietly, we finally found them and hid behind the treeline 50 feet away from their outer perimeter guards. 

Once we established the best position to breach their security without being seen, we slipped in.

It seemed to us they weren't taking their jobs very seriously. They were playing loud music and you could smell the beer and loud laughter. They were in party mode and we were about to crash it with some music of our own Calvary Style with a sobering rendition of M-80 cocktails thrown into tents
and a ton of blanks popping off.

"Welcome to the party boys.  It is called the real Army."

We came, we conquered and we were out of there and headed for the Rendezvous point.

"What the hell was that last big pop, sir?"

"Not telling," he said in a smirky smile the cloudless moon displayed along with the eyes like a Cheshire cat: the camouflaged face hiding all the rest.   

No choppers.

For a moment, we began fearing for our lives.

Luckily for us, the choppers did arrive before we were found by a bunch case of the red ass National Guardsman.   

When we went to Fort Bliss, TX, I went in a C-130 running on 3 engines for the most of the air time. Due to pressurization issues the C-5A to longer to arrive and to Colonel Sanders' and Major McDermot' surprise, I was there to take images of them once the nose was up and rampway was down.

One the coolest things in the world is to listen to a C-5A taxi and start to take off. Sounds like a very loud vacuum cleaner. Or at least it did until the door blew off and the air got pin drop quiet once again.

I took the first flight back to Fort Campbell and the pictures I took were published that Friday.

When we went to Fort Polk, La, I went with LTC Sanders and, again,  I brought a screen and a move projector and showed movies.

We weren't just about Cobras and recon. We also had an ground Troop. D Troop used 106 recoil less rifles. Photographing them in action was awesome.


I remember, once, taking a picture of a jeep dropped at 500 feet from under a chopper.  Wasn't pretty.
It looked in all of the world like someone had taken have the jeep and put it into as trash compactor.
Someone should have finished the job, take it home with them and then sold it for 1.5 million as art decor.

Chief Warrant Officer William "Bill" Burton was a very interesting character. Once, he saw me left behind and alone in an open field. He came in to get me home.

Another time he took me flying with him while he honed his skills flying NAP of the earth. Basically doing 60 knots, 5 feet off the deck. There were a couple of occasion where we became leaf cutters as the blades sliced through the tips of some trees looking for a free haircut.

Bill also let me fly the OH-58 and gave me some pointers on hovering and finding a line of horizon to fly straight and level.

This was about to come in handy.

Flying in the front seat of a Cobra is a really cool.  I've done this twice. Once with LT Craig Geis and once at SERTS training at Camp Evans when I needed some images of our rockets being fired down range.

So I got in the front seat and started taking images. Two other Cobras joined us and I used up all of my film on in the air action shots.

"Sergeant Edwards. Have you flown before?"

"Sir. if you are asking if I've actually flown a Cobra myself, no sir. But I have soloed in a fixed wing and have over 40 hours of official and unofficial stick time.

"Okay, its yours. Watch your altimeter and air speed. When they turn, you turn."

So, when the lead Cobra turned, I did what I did in a fixed wing and, knowing the sensitivity of the controls in the front seat, my twist of the cyclic to the right was about an 8th of an inch.

"Sergeant Edwards, this is not a fixed wing, " the back seat began his lecture. "A little less then next time."

"Yes, sir, sorry sir."

We did some more flying around, landed over at Clarksville Base to get refueled. He jumped out, refueled the Cobra and got back in.

"Okay, its yours."

Let me get this straight, you want me to get this 2.1+ million dollar helicopter off the refueling pad and not kill us in the process.

Thank you Bill Burton!

A bit of left pedal, pull up on the collective while doing very small figure 8s on the cyclic.Piece of cake. What, wait, oh no, we're going to high.  About 30 feet too high. Smooth as glass, I might add. But not 3 feet.

I often regret not having more film in my camera. Imagine looking down at Cobra pilots who are looking up at us wonder what the hell we were up to.

Or them taking a image of me in pure terror mode!

"I've got it. Not bad, by the way."

That would be the last time for the rest of my time in the service that I would get a chance to be in the front seat of a AH-1G.

Still, WOW!
We didn't just photograph exercises.


Once again, I found myself being flown around in an OH-58 with Warrant Officer Bill Burton -- this time observing the wrath of a twister's aftermath north of Hopkinsville and heading back home,  Mister "Bill" had to land due to needing to go to the bathroom.

He choose a grade school.

When I saw all the kids faces and I thought, it would be really cool if we brought the children all of the various helicopters we used and showed them each one up close and personal. 

I convinced Colonel Sanders and with permission from everyone involved, we brought our choppers up to the school. I took pictures and wrote the article.


When the women of he officers wives club went to a retirement home up in Hopkinsville, I took pictures and wrote a story about it.  I remember an older gentleman kept on insisting we see a young man at the retirement home. When I asked him what the age was of this young man, he said 53.
As I write this, I'm 15 years older than that "young man"


There were times when we just had fun laughing at ourselves.  Maj McDermot comes to mind.  I accidentally took a picture of him holding the purses of then BG Jack V. Mackmull wife's gloves and purse.

LTC Sander's wife Emily Bell whom I knew as yes ma am, thought that to be totally hilarious considering McDermot was well known for not liking to do such things.

Now, admittedly, I may have had a bit of my own payback in mind for this West Point Officer in agreeing with yes ma am on this one. As he made an embarrassing moment for me more embarrassing.

As that story went, I was supposed to take images of a Captain getting promoted to Major at 4pm and our Communications Officer decided to continue to lecture me well into that moment.

By the time I got to where the promotion was being held, the new Major had his gold oak leafs on his label and the officer doing the promotion performed his salute and turned around and faced me.

It was General Brandenburg.

"Sergeant Edwards"

"Yes sir"

"You are late"

"Sorry sir"

"What do you want me to do?" 

This is a 6.3 one Star who ribbed me about whether or not I had film in my camera. Who told me he wanted five images for his grandmother. Who was the most interesting ROTC graduate General I had ever met in my life.

"Can we do it again?"


You know when you can feel the presence of danger without knowing why? I was feeling the pitch forks being packed in numbers of unfathomable quantity being packed into a canon being fired at point blank range at my butt by Maj McDermot.

When he was mad, you could hear his billowing voice from New York to California. You never wanted to hear it again. When done with the botched promotion and with the General on his jet to India so he didn't have to hear it, out of his mouth came the roar

"EDWARDS, report to my office."

So, I did.

"If I wasn't feeling so bad I would chew you up and down on both sides. Be gone."

So it was only fitting the night of the Hail and Farewell party for Colonel Sanders at the Officer's Club that we give Major McDermot a moment of payback.

When the time came, I was out in the hallway asking one of the staff for a coke. There was some laughter.


"I'm not here,sir."

More laughter.

About to finish off the cold drink. I turned around and there's Major McDermot.

"I need the camera."

"No problem, sir, " I said as I handed it to him.

He started shaking his head. "I mean you have to report to General Brandenburg. He want's me to take a picture of you and him together."

Now that really is payback. I tried not to laugh hysterically.

"Do you even know how to report to a General?"

Sure, I do this kind of think on a religious basis.

"No sir."

So he told me. And I did exactly what McDermont told me to do. General Brandenburg said, "As many times as you have taken a picture of me, I think it is time for us to have one together."

It was, indeed an exciting moment for me.

Then there was the walk out incident. Almost out of nowhere another tall formidable looking officer in civilian clothes said, "Excuse me Sergent, do you know where the stag bar is. I had just passed the sign, second floor.

"Sir, my apologies for my ignorance as I don't generally visit the Officer's Club, I very politely pointed to the sign, "I believe it is upstairs, sir."

The gentleman realized I had flavored my response with a ton of deep respect for his stature despite the fact that he was in civilian clothes, let me know just how smart we both were and smiled with an appreciative smile.

"Thank you, Sergeant"

"You are sincerely welcome, sir."

The next day at our change of command ceremony, we eyed each other, smiled and I walked up to him. I went to salute, he shook my hand. His name?

Charles W. ("Bill") Dyke retired from the U.S. Army as a Lieutenant General on September 1, 1988. After that, he would become the Founder International Technology & Trade Associates, Inc. and Chairman Emeritus.

And who took over the 2/17th Air Cavalry?

Some cranky old guy of 42 by the name of LTC Gary E. Luck who would rather play golf than return my calls.

Oh, wait, I meant cranky retried 4 star General Gary E. Luck.

Perhaps, his stature is why.


Ounce per ounce, at the time the 101st Aviation Group officers in charge was more like a general officers club. Why I even knew them was because my wife worked for them and they knew me from all the work I did with the Fort Campbell Courier.

The names below either knew me by first name or knew of my photographic reputation or worked for the 101st Aviation Group. They also became Commanding Officers of the 101st Airborne Division:

  • MG John N. Brandenburg March-78 – June-80

  • MG Jack V. Mackmull June-80 – August-81

  • MG Charles W. Bagnal August-81 – August-83

  • MG Teddy G. Allen May-87 – August-89

  • These men were responsible for preparing the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault for REFORGER 76.

    Except for John N. Brandenburg, the rest were either Lieutenant Colonels or Colonels when I knew them.

    I was and still am very proud to have know or have worked with all of them


    I'm over on the tarmac over at Fort Campbell Army Airfield.
    A C-5A had just landed and I was there to take images of it. I did my usual 360 around the aircraft. Once I was done and had all the images I wanted.
    But I had to wait on LTC Gary E. Luck to get a ride back to the 2/17th Cavalry -- it was five miles on the other side of range road.  I could have caught another military cab or walked along Range Road and left him there.

    But what I was seeing was to comical to not want to stay and watch -- incomplete disbelief. It was the most comical thing I had seen in years.

    Apparently, the rest of the 101st Aviation Group thought to do the same thing.

    Here's my boss inspecting the C-5A like he had never seen one before.

    You know, come to think of it, he probably hadn't.
    He was all over it.

    In the wheel well, looking at tires, walking through the C-5A, going up to the top portion of it and peering out from up top where the chief flight technician would peer out of as the plane taxied along.

    About that time,  I think it was  Colonel Charles W. Bagnal, but it didn't matter, because all of them that knew me were future General Officers, walked up behind me.

    "Sergeant Edwards, isn't that your boss," he asked in a voice of  "What the hell is he doing".

    Shaking my head, "Can I plead on the 5th, sir?

    We both got a good chuckle out of that one.


    For years now, I've been wanting to prove the fact that the below images were taken by me.

    Below is a link to my published in Army Aviation Digest in December 1976:


    Thanks to Army Aviation Magazine, I can prove it.

    As for me at this juncture, aside from having a picture taken with General Brandenburg, I was awarded an Army Accommodation medal and a Commanders Certificate.

    I never did get an Air Medal although I had plenty of flight time under my belt.

    But my best rewards: The fond memories of working with the best men and women who helped me breathe life and stories into my world with the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault.

    RIP Emily Bell Sanders, Col Burnett R. Sander II and Col John A.G. Klose. May your memories live on both here and for the rest of my time. We certainly, were "Out Front".

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