Former pararescue specialist saw scary moments in VietnamBy KEITH ROGERS
Fear, according to Allen Stanek, is good.
"It gives you some real concentration. It's a reaction more than anything," the 55-year-old Las Vegas police officer said on a recent morning as he recalled the scary moments 35 years in his past as an Air Force operative in Vietnam. "You're trying to do whatever you can to save yourself and what you can to help those in the situation."
Such is the motto of the Air Force's elite: "These things we do that others may live."
In 1966, Stanek's mettle as a pararescue specialist would be put to the test. With a year of rigorous training under his belt, the type required to retrieve astronauts from a space capsule sinking in an ocean, the 19-year-old was on a mission to rescue wounded Army Rangers from a jungle at Plei Djerang near South Vietnam's border with Cambodia.
It was a late October night, and Stanek was being lowered by a hoist from an HH-43F Huskie helicopter.
Immediately after he hit the ground, Stanek began placing the wounded soldiers in litters so they could be raised to the safety of the hovering Huskie.
"I had just sent the third Army wounded up. Just as they were pulling (him) in, the helicopter was shot down by a recoilless rifle," Stanek, an officer in the Metropolitan Police Department's Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, said in an interview at the West Sahara Library.
The helicopter exploded and crashed in the middle of the area where the Ranger platoon had been stranded.
"The enemy tried to overrun the position. So it turned into a big fight," Stanek said.
"We were trying to maintain the position and pull survivors out of the helicopter, which was on fire. We managed to get the two pilots out through the front, but we were unable to get the three wounded or the aircrew member out," he said.
Armed with an M-16 and supported by the remaining nonwounded Rangers, Stanek battled Vietcong throughout the night, eventually receiving air support from some fighter planes and a heavily armed AC-47 gunship. At morning's light, planes spread napalm around the area to burn away the Viet Cong's jungle stronghold.
A pair of helicopters arrived in the afternoon. One picked up Stanek and the two injured pilots. The other hauled away some of the Rangers, but it was shot down later. Stanek received the Silver Star for "his gallantry and devotion to duty."
Today, he sees similarities between his experiences and the role that special operations and pararescue troops play in the war in Afghanistan.
"The can-do attitude and training are similar, but there's a higher level of technical expertise with advances in treatment of trauma, weaponry and field equipment," he said.
Besides today's war-fighting technology with night-vision sighting and global positioning systems, the terrain is also different: desert mountain versus tropical jungle.
"Another major difference," he said, "is the majority of the American people are backing the effort as opposed to Vietnam, when there was a very vocal, dissenting population.
"I think we should be there and do what needs to
be done and stay there until it gets done. We need to neutralize the
terrorist threat, not just in Afghanistan, but any place that harbors
terrorist activity," Stanek said.