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Along Came the Spiders

Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan – Under a blanket of darkness, two UH-60 Black Hawks maneuver low to the ground as they advance vigilantly toward an enemy safe haven, poised to insert lethal ground forces. The twin 1,800-horsepower engines roar with power as the hawks begin their approach into what is expected to be an extremely dusty landing zone in a dry river bed. The pilot calls, “one minute,” as the crew chief relays back to the team leader on board with hand signals and a shout.

(Photo by U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jim Layne, Task Force Viper, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, TF Falcon)

By the time a 30-second call is passed back over the intercom system, the Soldiers’ shouts of excitement and enthusiasm become a roar that seems to overcome the noise from the engines and the rotor blades.  

Based out of Forward Operating Base Salerno, these Black Hawks soaring through the air are not your ordinary helicopter unit. They are Company A, “Spiders” (4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment) 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, Task Force Viper’s lethal Black Hawk unit that is continuously entrusted by Soldiers with the mission of safe passage across the P2K region of the provinces Paktika, Paktiya and Khowst.  

“Timely insertion of troops and equipment give ground force commanders the momentum they need to defeat the enemy,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rich Satterfield, a pilot with A Co., 4-3 Avn., TF Viper, from Patterson, NJ.

Maintaining momentum is key to exploiting enemy weaknesses and capitalizing on friendly gains on the battlefield. One way to quickly move combat power on the battlefield in order to capitalize on enemy weaknesses is through the use of Viper’s Black Hawks. The Spiders’ 24-hour coverage over the P2K region ensures ground force commanders have the flexibility to move combat power when needed.  
A company with a call sign that dates back to Vietnam, the Spiders first made a name for themselves as the 188th Assault Helicopter Company. During the 1960s, they were known as an armed UH-1 Huey gun platoon. As told by Dick “Cherry Boy” Detra, a former 188th AHC door gunner, the Spiders of Vietnam were known to the ground Soldiers and Green Berets as “The Spider People,” and were characterized by their reputation for being the only helicopters brave enough to launch when ground units were under heavy enemy fire. Upon the completion of a successful engagement, the Spiders would always sign off with ground forces using their well earned motto, “Guns up!”

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ed Griffie from Amite, LA, and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Greg Alford from Houston, both with Company A, “Spiders” (4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment), 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, Task Force Viper, prepare to conduct a high speed shaft vibration check on a Black Hawk engine following 120-hour maintenance at Forward Operating Base Salerno May 2nd. (Photo by U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jim Layne, Task Force Viper, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, TF Falcon)

The responsibility of upholding the legacy of their Vietnam brethren is not lost on the current Spiders of Company A.  

“Being in one of the most storied helicopter companies in the U.S. Army is an awesome feeling and a responsibility that I take seriously,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jim Layne, tactical operations officer, A Co., 4-3 Avn., TF Viper, from Wheelersburg, OH.

The Spiders platoon in Vietnam from April 1967 through June 30th, 1968. (Courtesy Photo)

Each of the Company A aircraft are fittingly named after their Vietnam counterparts. Sudden Death, Satisfaction, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Cold Sweat, The O.D. Streak, Climax, and Seduction sit patiently on the flight line waiting for aviators such as Chief Warrant Officer 3 Nigel Huebscher, standardization officer, A Co., 4-3 Avn., TF Viper, from Abrams, Wis., and Sgt. Jason Struckman, flight instructor, A Co., 4-3 Avn., TF Viper, from San Diego, to launch them into the Afghanistan sky.  

“I look forward to keeping up the proud lineage of the Spiders before us from the Vietnam Era,” said Huebscher. “Every day the Spiders of today work toward adding to the unit’s long and growing legacy.”  

Although flying combat missions garner the most attention on a daily basis, maintenance operations on the hot Salerno flight line drive every day operations. Spider crew chiefs and maintenance test pilots work around the clock to support the large flying hour program. Even without receiving accolades or recognizable praise from higher commands, the Spider crew chiefs recognize the importance of their jobs.

“I feel very accomplished after fixing an aircraft and then getting in it to fly,” said Struckman.

A Black Hawk from Company A, “Spiders”, Task Force Viper. (Photo by U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Louis Baez, Task Force Viper, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, TF Falcon)

Although air assault missions typically garner the most attention from a combat perspective, the Spiders became the workhorse of the P2K regions of Afghanistan through their ability to execute a diverse number of mission sets in support of ground force commanders.  Resupply, reconnaissance, medevac escort, VIP transport, and air movements are just a few of the different mission sets executed daily by TF Viper’s Black Hawks.

“I like my job because every day is something new, you never know what to expect,” said Spc. Kurt Sanson, a crew chief, A Co., 4-3 Avn., TF Viper, from San Clemente, CA.

As the Black Hawks execute an in-flight link up for the 15 minute flight back to FOB Salerno, there is almost a deafening silence between the aircraft and the crews.  Another successful troop insertion is complete. Once everyone regroups and heart rates return to normal, the typical banter between the pilots and crew chiefs of any combat tested unit begins again.  When asked if he has anything left to say about the mission, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Louis Baez, a pilot with A Co., 4-3 Avn., TF Viper, from Holyoke, Mass., responds for all the Spiders with the simplistic battle cry of their Vietnam brethren, “Guns up!”


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