Fifty Pounds of C-4

Mitch and I were, like most of the time, where we weren't supposed to be when we found the Piper Cub fuselage.

After jumping into a small flight landing strip (FLS) between Plank and Chicken Roads, the Scouts cut the corner of Coleman Danger Area, just West the creek that feeds Mott Lake, headed toward Raeford and Vass Road, and ultimately to set up Recon and Security Positions around either Salerno or Normandy Drop Zones, I forget which, before the Battalion Airborne Assault.

We were moving fast, far, and heavy, convinced this plan from the S-3 was punishment for our shenanigans on previous exercises when the Battalion Commander insisted on using us as his opposing force rather than letting us do our job.  The time-line forced upon us left little time for planning, security, or rest.  Smoked as we were, Mitch and I both looked at each other and pointed at the old aircraft sitting there and mouthed, "Demo," plans already blooming in each of our crazy brains.

Three days later, when the Scouts reassembled inside the Battalion perimeter, awaiting our next mission, and after some much-needed rest, Mitch and I began discussing how we could use the Piper Cub to train.  We both wanted the result to be blowing the plane to hell.

We had trained many times on demolitions, sometimes at ranges, sometimes with 307th Engineers.  One of our missions was to blow small bridges to protect the Battalion flank or front, or to help channel the enemy into kill zones.  We loved blowing shit up.

The scenario we decided on, after much "discussion," was a downed American reconnaissance aircraft and pilot behind enemy lines, a "pilot recovery mission." Our mission was to find the pilot and destroy the aircraft.  Our plan shook out like this, we'd jump into FLS-19, move to an objective rally point (ORP), go through ORP Procedures and conduct a leaders recon of the aircraft (the pilot would not be with the aircraft).  Then, we would send out Scout Teams on an Area Recon to search and find the pilot, litter carry him back to the ORP, and then go "Admin," meeting the S-4 lieutenant at a prearranged Dead-Letter-Drop to draw our Demo, move back to the ORP, open our range with Range Control, and let each Scout prepare a two-pound, non-electric charge, blow the charges in timed sequence, inspect the range after the appropriate time in case one charge misfired, clear the range, and then go tactical, move to a Pickup Zone (PZ) across Raeford and Vass from the old Small Arms for Air Defense Ranges, and Return to Area J.

Once we had the Op Plan designed, we went to the Ammo NCO and fenced fifty pounds of C-4, 100 feet of fuse, and twenty-five non-electric firing devices.  Next, we went to the LT and the Boss with the plan.  They loved it.  It required us to use so many of our primary and secondary Mission Essential Tasks that they really couldn't disapprove, plus, it was going to be high-visibility and a Hoot!

After approval from the S-3 and the Battalion Commander, Mitch and I went to work requesting the Range and approval to destroy the plane, a C-130 for the jump, UH-1s for the extraction, chutes, the demo, train the platoon on all tasks, rehearse, briefed the S-4 Lieutenant, and conducted our Air Movement Commander briefs.  Because we couldn't get an Air Force bird, we changed the insertion to an Air Mobile.

On the day of the mission, everything went beautifully, up to the Dead Letter Drop.  This was supposed to be done tactically, by the book, with long and close recognition signals, but the LT just parked on the side of the road and began honking the horn of his truck.  Pissed, the three Section Leaders and the Platoon Leader walked to his truck.  He gave us Fifty Pounds of C-4.  That's it.  Just the plastic explosive with nothing to detonate it.  His answer, "The Ammo Dump didn't have any fuse, non-electrical caps, or firing devices." When we told him we couldn't use the C-4, he said the Ammo Dump wouldn't take it back until the next day and he couldn't take it across Gruber Road, a huge No-No.

We all begin to brainstorm.  I don't remember who, but someone suggested we could set it on fire and shoot at it.  Even I'm not that crazy.

Finally, I told the S-4 LT to either take it back or go find us something with which to demo it, I didn't care what, but if he didn't, I would take it across Gruber Road, back to Battalion HQ, and put it all on the Battalion Commander's desk.  I was bluffing, but he left and showed back up at the drop about two hours later with two electrical blasting caps, two rolls of commo wire, and an electrical firing device.

Awesome! Fifty Pounds of C-4 and two blasting caps.  I think it was my idea to stack it all up under the Piper Cub, double-prime it, and roll the wire out as far as it would go, dig in, and then hunker down and blow it.  What else could we do?

And that is exactly what we did.  The roar was deafening, the shockwave overwhelming.  I'm pretty sure we shook every house in Raeford, probably broke some windows and a lot of china,  knocked family photos off of walls, and lit up the night sky for miles.  When we went forward to inspect, there was hardly a crater at all, only a small indention in the ground, but the area was cleared of trees, pine straw, and scrub oak in a circle about thirty feet around.  The piper cub was gone.  About fifty meters away from ground zero, we found one of the wheel struts but didn't find anything else.

 Since it wasn't a normal range, no one had to inspect.  We waited a while and let a few artillery rounds from other units explode, reported all charges exploded, and closed the Range.  We left, secured our PZ, and flew out at first light.

We never heard anything negative and, as far as I know, Range Control was clueless.  Years later,, when I was the Scout Platoon Leader, I found an old F-86 on the ground at Camp MacKall on the West side of the airfield.  I planned another mission for the platoon, but this time with mock demolitions.  This mission was scrubbed for an Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise.

Though I would love to do the mission as designed, I never-ever want to explode fifty pounds of C-4 all at once again.

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