Voice from the Commonwealth Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts
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How did the troops get to the hospital to rescue Pfc Lynch? The Nightstalkers.
Before retiring from active duty, Hennies spent two years as commander of the elite, secretive “Nightstalkers,” the aviation unit that makes sure Special Operations units get where they need to go. “Special Ops don’t go anywhere without the Nightstalkers,” Hennies said. The unit was conceived in 1981 after the failure of President Jimmy Carter’s mission to rescue hostages trapped in Iran. The Special Ops men were eager and ready, but a helicopter crashed.
“After the Desert One failure, the Army made a commitment that would never happen again,” Hennies said. “The Army formed its own aviation unit to do its own missions.” Hennies said that as he observes what is going on in Iraq, the progress made by the Nightstalkers unit is very clear. “Their motto is ‘Nightstalkers don’t quit,’ and as I watch the conduct of this war, with the insights that I have, it’s very clear to me they have been instrumental in setting the stage,” Hennies said. The Iranian hostages were released when Ronald Reagan was elected president, but the need for a special unit like Nightstalkers was clear. Since that time, highly trained Nightstalker helicopter pilots have inserted U.S. Special Operations forces into settings ranging from the island paradise of Grenada to the mountain fastnesses of Afghanistan.
“In Afghanistan, we had pilots flying 11-hour missions in zero-degree weather and dropping off shooters at 9,000-10,000-ft. levels up in the mountains, trying to find bin Ladin,” Hennies said. “That’s unheard of. They go anywhere, anytime.”
“They are special people doing a special mission with special equipment and special rules.” Nightstalker pilots are no exception, he said. Aviators don’t lead a formation of aircraft without at least five years of service, Hennies said. More than half their flying is at night, at low levels and at high speed, using night goggles.
The average Nightstalker aviator has logged thousands of hours of night vision goggle time. Nightstalker helicopters are as sophisticated as space shuttles, Hennies said. During Hennies’ time as commander, he said, in-flight refueling for helicopters was developed. He’s most proud of the fact that he never lost a crew member, and that five of the officers he commanded are now high-ranking general officers serving active duty. Hennies has stayed close to the tightly-knit Nightstalker community, and he said he’s especially impressed by the wives. “They are incredibly courageous, independent thinkers, left with the difficult job of raising their families,” he said. “Nightstalker wives are almost as secretive as their husbands. They form an incredibly strong family support system, and they are very proud of what their husbands do.”
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