Most of the accounts of airstrikes, close air support and heroic rescues during the Vietnam war sought to give credit to the brave airmen who risked their lives by giving their names, aircraft type and even their hometown. While any newspaper account can scarcely do justice to the chronicled events, the one glaring omission was any mention of the real central figure in almost every story, the Forward Air Controller. “The FAC” was usually the only mention; no name, no aircraft type, no unit, no hometown. In all probability, it was the FAC who discovered the target or was first called for help. It was the FAC who requested the air support and specified the ordinance or type of weapons needed for each situation. It was the FAC who guided the fighters to the target, briefed them on the target location, enemy fire and positions, emergency escape and evasion areas and finally marked the target with smoke or flares. It was the FAC who coordinated the actions of fighter/bombers, attack helicopters, rescue helicopters and the ground troops, usually on at least two and sometimes three different radios.
The aerial ballet that followed the call for help was busy enough just in the radio coordination, but it played out in three dimensions with aircraft moving over 200 miles per hour in a confined area. Add to that the FAC having to record all the pertinent information on locations, fighter call signs and munitions and flying his own aircraft to boot! And it was the FAC who flew back over the target at the end of the strike to get the BDA (Bomb Damage Assessment) for the record. It was very much like whacking a hornet’s nest with a stick and then walking closer to count any dead hornets! The FAC aircraft it was usually a one-man show. We normally carried a second pilot or navigator only at night. On missions designated from before launch as ground support, we did carry another person, usually an Army “Trail Rider”, to help with the coordination efforts and confirm friendly and enemy positions before dropping any bombs.
Given the increasing number of accounts where “The FAC directed the airstrike” was our only acknowledgement; it wasn’t surprising some creative mind would come up with a way to relieve the frustration. I don’t recall which idle mind eventually thought of it and am at a total loss how we pulled it off in the first place, but someone decided our planes needed a big “THE FAC” painted on the top of the wing and fuselage. If “The FAC was how we were to be known, then “The FAC” we would be! What better canvas than our all-black “night-fighter” O2s? The large white letters stood out like beacons on the coal-black upper wing surfaces so the fighters orbiting above could see “THE FAC” from almost any altitude. If the idea caught on, we planned to paint black “THE FAC” stencils on our white and gray “day-fighters” too. The maintenance guys and crew chiefs were in on the plan and painted the black birds to our new unofficial specifications. We were ecstatic. It was a blow for freedom for all our neglected comrades and a stick in the eye to any over-inflated fighter jock ego. To most of the jet-jockeys’ credit, they saw the humor in it and went along with the fun. The zenith of our glory came with a story and photos in an issue of the “Stars And Stripes”, the official newspaper of the US military. There was “THE FAC” emblazoned across the wing on one of our “Oscar Deuces” and even a short caption as to the “why”. Our euphoria was short-lived. Within nano-seconds of the paper’s release, an edict came down from some pencil-necked REMF declaring the symbol of our rebellious and unprofessional attitudes would be removed from all aircraft and never again see the light of day – or night! The official reason was the white letters would stand out and make us easier targets at night; never mind the fact we would have to fly inverted and the O2 wasn’t built for that maneuver.
We slid back into the terminal boredom of non-recognition, but deep in our hearts, if not our minds, we held onto that moment of glory, however fleeting.