After 39 Years, Two Warriors From Hill 881S
are Still Training Marines as FACs and FOs.
The historical record of those who defended Hill 881S during the siege of Khe Sanh is still remembered and regarded as significant in the training of today's Marines to fill those billets today.  Major Hendericks, a FAC instructor at MCAS Yuma, was aware of Arrotta's fame atop Hill 881S and found that he lived in the San Diego area.  He contacted Arrotta requesting that he relate to his students some of the lessons learned from his experience during the siege of Khe Sanh.  Arrotta suggested that another radio operator (RO), Glenn Earl Prentice, be included to relate some "real world" situations they encountered.

Prentice, as a Sergeant, was a forward observer/radio operator attached from the 13th Marines.  Arrotta, as a radio operator attached from H&S/3/26, actually served as Captain Dabney's Forward Air Controller (FAC).  The officer FAC originally attached to Hill 881S was wounded and medically evacuated shortly after the hill was occupied on 27 December 1967.  Captain Dabney requested a replacement FAC and used Cpl. Arrotta as an interim FAC.  Several weeks passed before Captain Dabney was notified that a replacement FAC had been found and would soon arrive on the hill.  Captain Dabney told them they need not send the officer as he had a well qualified Forward Air Controller, Cpl. Robert J. Arrotta.

Their first training session that Arrotta and Prentice were participants of occurred in September 2006.  It was considered highly beneficial by the school and they were asked if they would return for another classroom presentation in March, 2007.  They were pleased and decided to enhance their presentation.  They developed a Power Point presentation from photos displayed in their web site depicting the history of Hill 881S and how CAS became their main source of survival during the 77 day Siege of Khe Sanh.  They emphasized the importance of being extremely creative and flexible by describing what it was like after the siege of Khe Sanh commenced on January 20, 1968. The students learned that seven helicopters were lost to enemy fire while conducting logistical and medical evacuation missions prior to the aviation community devising a tactical employment of air assets supporting the hill that became known as the "Super Gaggle" on February 24, 1968. 

The Power Point presentation included a recording made aboard a helicopter in Vietnam that is representative of the conversations carried on by the crews supporting Hill 881S. 

The caption on this photo is, "Tail-End-Charlie joins flight from the Dong Ha LSA. Upon arriving at Khe Sanh's hill outposts they will descend through the clouds to be greeted with mortar and automatic weapons fire while providing critically needed supplies." 
 Click here for that recording.

Arrotta and Prentice were invited to see the class perform practical applications of what they had learned in the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Ranges near the Salton Sea in California in April 2007.

Glenn Earl Prentice, center

Cpl. Arrotta controlling orbiting aircraft for a CAS mission in Feb. of 1968 on the left.
Robert J. Arrotta, and Maj. Tenkley who asked Arrotta if he would like to try his 
hand at controlling a Cobra CAS strike.  Arrotta's answer was of course, "Yes."

After two passes by the Cobra, Maj. Tenkley said, "Robert, you haven't lost your touch."

Glenn Earl Prentice, right

 The Yuma school, being aware that Arrotta was thrust into replacing his officer FAC, decided to subject their officer FAC trainees to some unusual scenarios.  All the officer trainees were told they were going to participate in a three mile run.  However, soon after the run commenced they passed an open area, possibly a drill or athletic field of some description, where enough radios were placed to accommodate each officer.  They were told their radio operator had been wounded and was not able to assist them.  They were briefed of the ground situation and that they alone would have to not only work the radio equipment, GPS equipment, satellite link, etc. but call the mission in and control it also.  This happened on more than one occasion in different locations as they completed their three mile run.  The Gunnery Sergeant instructor told Arrotta, "It was an eye opener to all of them."  The officer who completed all tasks in the least amount of time with satisfactory results had his name added to the plaque shown below.  India 14 was the radio call sign for Arrotta while serving as as the FAC for I/3/26 on Hill 881S.

When Arrotta asked if they had helped with the FAC training at Yuma, Maj. Tenkley said, "In historical perspective it seems we have to learn the same lessons again and again.  Further, the ROs really enjoy it and it reinforces everything the Gunney teaches them.  Real world situations as you and Glenn have described stay with them and they will benefit from them in the future.  Have you helped?  Definitely yes."

Word of the Arrotta augmentation to the FAC syllabus at Yuma was related to various units at MCAS Miramar by students attending the school.  This resulted in the commanding officers of VMAFT-101, the "Sharpshooters", and VMAF-242, the "Bats" to request a presentation designed specifically for pilots be presented.  The "Sharpshooters" is a training squadron that transitions pilots fresh out of the training command to the F/A-18 for duty in the Fleet Marine Forces.  VMAF-242 is an operational squadron that has recently returned from a deployment to Iraq.  Both squadrons have a mix of one and two seater versions of the F/A-18 and when required the back seat can be filled with a pilot trained as a Forward Air Controller (Airborne).  Since the F/A-18 can be used in the fighter or attack roles, its pilots can benefit from the lessons learned by Arrotta 39 years ago.

The Business Side of a F/A-18 Hornet

One of VMFA-242's "The Bats" Two Seater Version of the F/A-18 Hornet.

The presentation for the squadrons was geared to acquaint the pilots with the plight of the ground Marine when he needed their close air support.  Unlike the helicopter crews that experienced the ground Marines plight up close and personal, the fast movers could not see the smiles and "high five's" when they obliterated an enemy position that immobilized their maneuvering and attacking ability.  Nor could they see the grimace of a wounded Marine, the tattered condition of his uniform and gear, and other obscene items of ground combat.  The presentation consisted of about sixty slides that brought the pilots into the battle zone with narratives relating life on Hill 881S.  Finding, marking and communicating with air assets conducting CAS.  Emphasizing that the FAC's instructions must be followed to the letter and ordnance delivered only on command of the FAC.  The Air Force bird that dropped a bomb on the garbage dump between the positions of Mike and India companies was the focus of this part of the lecture.  They were also told that after that any Air Force or Navy aircraft with spare ordnance was not drawn in close, there were enough targets to keep them occupied elsewhere.  Only Marine aircraft were allowed to deliver very close air support and the pilots were praised for their ability to do so.

To view the plaque presented Arrotta by the "Bats" of VMFA (AW) 242 Click Here