When I got there the 125th ATC was in it's infancy. They had a plan, but the execution was a little rough. We arrived at Quan Loi with no clue of what we would find. The AF CCT (combat control team) parked beside the runway with a jeep full of radios and a big antenna appeared to be a good place to start. It was, now we knew 2 people. They found us two cots in the 10 man tent they stayed in when they were on location. Once a week a C-130 came in, dropped the ramp and out came a jeep with a trailer. This crew fired up their radios and the other crew shutdown and drove into the plane and we cleared it for takeoff.
Here is a fact that might be hard to get your mind around, during offensive operations this 2,400 +/- foot laterite runway had a higher traffic count for days at a time than Chicago's Ohara. Each take-off and landing counted as one, that came to about 240 a day. To add to the fun we had mixed traffic, from helicopters to C130's, with Huey flights of 6 or 8 to hot Dustoffs. Did I mention Ohara didn't have artillery mixed into the fray. You definitely had to keep your head out of your butt.
I have to mention this, during a busy time of night flights somebody gave us little smudge pots, like used for highway construction safety in the 60's, to use as runway lights. Sad, we couldn't even see the ones at the other end of the runway. The next night we had 55 gal. drums with, the tops cut out, full of JP-4 fired up and I mean fired. Did you know you can't light JP-4 with a match, had to put AV gas on top. That definitely worked, you stayed real low when you flipped a match onto it. We had a C-130 pilot tell us he could see them as soon as he was airborne from Tan Son Nhat, about 70 miles. In the morning they were alittle hard to put out.
An event that became a problem when the infantry started camping out close to the runway was pedestrians. A C-130 coming at you on final approach is nearly silent. These guys would stroll across the runway like it was theirs with a C-130s on final, gear down, 130kts, 1/4 miles away. You could nearly hear their asses slam shut when the aircraft dumped in full throttle for a go around. One time we had a C-123 land and when he reversed pitch one engine stalled, good thing the pilot had it together. The wing missed hitting the ground by a few feet and avoided doing a donut. One more story and I'll try to quit if you haven't already bailed.
Went to work one morning, couldn't quite see the end of the runway, ceiling about 300ft and couldn't see the 100 foot radio tower a couple 100ft off the runway. Then the radio comes to life, a Bird Dog FAC low on fuel wanting to know if we had a navigation beacon or anything. I had to tell him he came to the wrong place for such finery. He told me he had a plan, though he couldn't see the 100ft tower either. I think ain't this sweet, what's your plan sir? The avionics in his plane could home on a beacon. He confirmed the runway heading and location of the100ft tower and my location on the field. On his request I'd key my mike for 5 seconds so he could find me and hopefully the runway without contacting the tower or the rubber trees. We did this 3 or 4 times, finally he decides it was time to do it. Talk about pucker-factor awareness time. You couldn't have found two happier men in Vietnam when he broke out of the overcast right over the runway. After getting fuel he stopped by to thank me and I congratulated him on a job well done.
One other small thing that makes me smile when, for whatever reason, it crosses my mind. I didn't know jack about artillery when I got there so my nomenclature is a bit sketchy on this. When the 105's had a fire mission somebody would call us on the radio with the azimuth and range, if we had an a/c in the area we would ask them to delay it until we told them it clear. Of course we weren't happy with them firing through our traffic pattern for H&I (Harassment and Interdiction) during the day. It kind of became a game between us and their "mission director". One day he called us with a 4 digit azimuth, say again, got the same numbers, huh. I asked him to standby. Being less than 100 yds away I walked over there to figure out what he was doing to me. I found a tent that looked important and went inside and found a 2LT with a map. He seemed to know who I was. With a bit of a grin, educated me on mils. Damn, he won that one, I told him to fire away.
Moving on, Chow was served at 2 locations, Big Red 1 or Artillery mess tent. We'd check both before deciding where to eat. Both were edible.
I knew we were in for an adventure, two of us that didn't know jack in charge of ourselves. I guess not exactly true, I was our Site Chief, HMSCIC. We worked shifts with the AF, that all worked out. Off time was worthless, no where to go and nothing to do. Actually there was a strip against the perimeter wire, on the outside. Ba Muoi Ba, Export 33, one nasty beverage, and girls. GI's during the day, charlie at night.
In our area there were small stucco buildings scattered around in the trees, One of importance, the Club, about 10'x20' with a couple places to sit. Complete with small refrig and a nice sized hot plate. The manager was a 1st INF guy with good connects with the Quarter Master guys. In the evening when he had time he'd whip up a gallon can of GI chili with whatever else sounded good, always a splash or two of beer. Occasionally somebody would go shopping at the QM compound and come back with a canned ham for the chili and butter for the french bread we'd go to the local market place to get. Kind of an uncomfortable experience in an under-roof maze of shopping booths. One last thing about food quality of the Club, One evening a Staff Sargent came in for a cold one and ended up eating a bowl of chili. He thought it was real tasty and asked for the recipe.The manager gave it to him. Two days later we found out Sarg was the new Mess Sargent and had whipped up a batch for the evening meal that day.
One last thing, the tower was parked beside the ramp entrance to the QM compound. You ask what's the big deal - well that's where the pallets of 1/2 gals of ice cream came in. The forklift guy would always stop and give us each a 1/2 gal. So the big deal was how fast can you eat ice cream at a temp of 90 some degrees without debilitating brain freeze?