It all started in 1978-1979, when the H-3s and
UH-1Ns of the 20th SOS were invited to fly in an exercise
called J-CATCH (Joint Countering Attack Helicopters). This
two-year program pitted the US Army Cobra/Scout teams against
the Soviet Hind/Hip team. Someone had to represent the Soviet teams
so the 20th SOS was chosen. They studied Soviet helicopter
tactics and flew like them and even played Russian music over
the load speaker in the Commando Hangar.
Hind experts (CIA) from Washington D.C. briefed the crews on
everything they knew about this helicopter. The helicopters
were painted with different paint patterns and each H-1 and H-3
had a Mini-TATS (Tactical Armament Turret System, a gun
camera) installed. Some of these mods were done in St Louis and
some at Fort Rucker. This program initially started at Fort Rucker
training area and finally completed its evaluation on the Eglin
complex with the H-3/H-1s going against the Cobra/Scout
helicopters and the A-7s, A-10s, F-4s, and F-15s.
By the end of the first week, the 20th guys had scored an
impressive kill ratio over their fixed wing opponents. The
second week of the exercise, the rules were expanded to require
the 20th crews to broadcast over the radio “guns, guns, guns”
to alert the fighter pilots that they were being engaged. The
kill ratio the second week was even more impressive.
The maintenance troops were under the leadership of MSgt
McKee. Under his direction, they hung a red tablecloth to a
pole on the back of the “follow me” truck to welcome the
“communist” crews back after the victories. The maintenance
troops thought the operators needed a scarf. They had a barrel
of red rags that they used to clean the helicopters and since the 20th
crews were the Soviet threat (the Red Threat), in true
special ops style, a boot knife was used to cut up the red
rags to make red scarves for the aircrews.
Many of the aircrew there, remember being on the ramp at
Fort Rucker and MSgt McKee handing one to all the fliers.
Returning to Hurlburt Field the victors, the 20th SOS crews
showcased their scarves for the 1st SOW commander. He
begrudgingly accepted the red scarves after seeing the esprit de corps
of the helicopter crews and directed each 1st SOW weapon system
to choose a scarf as part of their uniform.
The 20th SOS transitioned to the HH-53s and later
to MH-53s and the tradition of the scarf to identify the member
as part of the brotherhood continued. They are also worn at the 21st
SOS in England and at the 551st SOS at Kirtland, also known as
the schoolhouse, where today all Pave Low crewmembers receive
their red scarves once they are qualified to fly…any
Most often forgotten in the J-CATCH program
is the air-to-air missile (Stinger) simulator mounted were the left Aux
fuel tank normally hung. The red rag thing really got started when
Ssgt Al Truesdale had his wife sew a red star or hammer and sickle on
the back of his field jacket.