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Mills Journey to the AAAA Hall of Fame
May 21, 2011
Hugh Mills enlisted in the army as an airborne infantryman in February, 1967. He was selected for Officer Candidate School while in infantry training and was assigned to the school of Armor and Cavalry for OCS. He graduated in 1967 and was selected for ORWAC and flew A and B Model Hueys and participated in a pilot program to focus class members in the UH-1B gunship. He was awarded his wings in December 1967 and joined the First Infantry Division in combat in III Corps in Viet Nam. 1LT Mills was assigned to the Divisions Cavalry Squadron as a replacement and requested assignment to the Aero Scout platoon. With no vacancies for scouts he was assigned to the Aero Lift platoon and flew as section commander for the Troops Aero Rifle platoon participating in combat assaults and downed aircrew rescues during January and February of 1969. In March the Aero Scout platoon leader requested relief and 1LT Mills was assigned to the Scouts and assumed his duties as Darkhorse One-Six. Previously, when the scouts were engaged, they tended to come to altitude and allow the gunships to work but LT. Mills believed that initiative as well as momentum was lost in that procedure. He traded the third crewmember for an XM-27 mini gun and staffed with a crew of two, with a pilot in the front right and a door gunner in the right rear. Suddenly the little birds were fighting back and carrying the fight to the enemy. Mills rules were to attack when fired upon on enemy troops located but do not become decisively engaged, allowing the gunships handle the fight before that happened. Casualties in the scouts suddenly dropped and the enemy KIA numbers went up. With Aero Scouts leading the way, the 4th Cavalry worked the Iron Triangle, Bolo Woods, Fish Hook, and Thunder Road with a fever. The scouts led the way into the Michelin Rubber on operation Atlas Wedge in Mar of 69 and formed a maneuver force that surrounded the NVA troops there allowing the 4th Cavalry and First Division to offer them a sound defeat. Lt Mills flew as scout platoon leader for ten months and personally led the most dangerous missions. MG A.E Milloy described him as “the most courageous small unit leader in the Division with the highest kill ratio of any combat unit in the Big Red One.”
. Milloy decorated Mills with three Silver Stars and four Distinguished Flying Crosses as well. When he landed his OH-6 during a fire fight and captured an NVA officer at gunpoint during a mission, Mills was awarded the rare honor afforded to few aviators by receiving the Bronze Star for Valor in ground combat.
Hugh Mills left Viet Nam to marry his childhood sweetheart and to command a tank company in Germany for a year until his wife died suddenly of cancer. He chose to return to Viet Nam and was assigned to the Cobra IP course en route. Assigned to the 101st Airborne Division in I Corps where he joined D 3/5 Cavalry as “Charliehorse 38,” the weapons section commander. Electing to fly a unique position as “low gun”, he flew the AH-1G at 600 feet over the scout. That altitude allowed him to better cover the scout and drew fire and attention away from the smaller scout ship. Employing the M35 20MM Vulcan cannon from just above the scout, he could quickly bring fire to bear on those who would fire on the scout.
In December of 1971, he commanded a massive rescue force that covered a downed UH-1H and a downed OH-6A just a thousand meters apart and during a protracted battle for over 6 hours, the combined US Army and US Air Force rescue team rescued nine of eleven crew members and successfully extracted the two KIA’s. Twenty days later while en route to rescue two F-4 crew members in Laos, his flight lost the rescue Huey and Mills orchestrated the gunship cover and the USAF rescue elements to successfully extract the surviving Huey crew although two members ultimately died and two were never recovered.
On 30 January 1972 while attacking an enemy AAA site he suffered a massive tail rotor failure when a hang fire rocket exploded in his right inboard pod while in an 80 degree vertical attack. The explosion separated his 90, 42 and 60 degree gear boxes and his tail aft of the cobras exhaust left the aircraft. The resulting spiral was so severe that he could not do anything but hold the aircraft upright though nose down. When his wing man, 1LT Lou Breuer yelled on the radio “pull it,” he did just before impacting the trees on the side of a mountain on the Laotian border. Mills suffered a fractured leg but WO1 John Bryant, suffered a broken back and could not be extracted from the aircraft. Enemy troops moved in to use the crew as bait and three army Rangers from the deactivated 75th Ranger Company were flown to the area and rappelled in to cover the injured crew. Mills could only crawl from position to position but kept the rangers informed as he talked to rescue elements by radio. USAF A-1H Sandy’s arrived and put down smoke before Jolly 67 roared in to rescue the small force. Bryant and Mills became “saves” 700 and 701 for the Air Rescue Service in Viet Nam.
When his unit stood down in February Captain Mills declined a stateside transfer to remain in country and transferred to C /16 Cavalry to again fly scouts as “Darkhorse One Six.” Mills commanded the only aero scout platoon in the Delta at that time and in support to ARVN river operations to Phnom Penh, led air cavalry raids into Cambodia and the contested area of Tuni, Tuc Mias and Kampong Trach where the 44th Special Tactical Zone was fighting the 2nd NVA Division.. In one mission alone, Mills tracked an NVA regimental sized force from deep inside Cambodia to the concrete plant located near the U Minh Forrest culminating in one of the largest maneuver force battles in the Delta in 1972. In April of 1972 the Easter Invasion introduced the SA-7 into the conflict and immediate adjustments had to be made. The scouts had no heat suppression kits available initially so the tactics were changed from standoff to hugging enemy troops to reduce the acquisition ability o the Strella. Though other aircraft we lost, no scouts were victims.
Mills commanded a Cavalry Troop and Air Cavalry troop in CONUS in 1975 and 1977 and established the first anti tank attack helicopter unit to form within the 6th Air Cavalry Combat Brigade in 1978 and acquired pilot aircraft and material for the move to Germany. He commanded the first night attack platoon and trained from the ground up on the AN-PVS 5 ground goggles writing much of the tactical foundation for the night operations which had never been conducted before. He developed such novel techniques as “lofting” flares and shooting TOW missiles shots at night and under goggles. His attention to Aviation Life Support Equipment led the 8th Aviation BN to a premier status in the area of survival equipment and training. Promoted to Major in 1979, he commanded C Company (Attack Helicopter) 8th Combat Aviation Bn. Major Mills fielded the mission for Joint Aerial Attack Team Tactics with A-10 assets from RAF Bentwaters who would position forward to a Forward Operating Location at Finthen Army Airfield. Working with the Attack Helicopter BN, the A-10s were integrated into the general Defense Plan. The “Spear Point” anti tank teams was a significant employment of the A-10 and AH-1S in Germany.
In 1984 Major Mills was promoted to LTC and assigned as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Combined Arms Center and Ft. Leavenworth. He attended fixed wing transition and flew General Officers from Ft Leavenworth in the installation C-12’s. In 1988, he as appointed the US Army Representative to the FAA for operations in the National Airspace system and Counter Narcotics coordinator for the Central and Great Lakes Regions. LTC Mills handled highly classified, special compartmented intelligence programs in the National Airspace System and Counter Narcotics and Interdiction Missions in the Joint Counter Narcotics arena.
LTC Mills retired from active service in 1993. He is a dual rated, master army aviator with over nine thousand rotary wing and three thousand fixed wing hours. He holds a standard instrument ticket and was a standardization instructor pilot in the AH-1G/S and the OH-6 series. His decorations include 3 Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, 4 Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Bronze Stars, one with V for valor in ground combat, three Purple Hearts, the Meritorious Service medal and 3 OLC, the Air Medal, 6 with V for personal valor and 70 Oak Leaf Clusters for combat hours, the Army Commendation Medal seventh award, the Army Achievement medal, the National Defense Service medal 2nd award, Viet Nam service medal with 5 combat stars, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the Vietnam Campaign Ribbon, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star and Palm, the Vietnam Civic Action Service medal, and the Vietnam Honor medal first class. He is a member of the order of Saint Michael and an AAAA member.
In 1992, Mills authored the Vietnam classic, Low Level Hell, a scout pilot in the Big Red One. It has been continuously in print since and is published in English, Italian, and Japanese.
Since retirement in 1993, LTC has flown OH-6 helicopters for the Kansas City Missouri police department. In 2008, LTC Mills was decorated by the KCMOPD for a daring night rescue of two kayakers swept away in a storm. Hovering under low clouds at night and in blowing rain with a non functional FLIR and searchlight following a lightning strike, he located the boaters clinging to a tree stump and using only his landing light, he guided rescuers to the stranded couple. The couple stated that if the helicopter had not found them, they would have surely drowned. LTC Mills landed on an unlit access road to a land fill after the rescue because the weather would not allow his return to base.
He serves today as the Under Sheriff and Colonel for the Jackson County Missouri Sheriff’s office. Hugh and his wife Sharyn live in K
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