The Radar Mission

For some reason I like the green crackle paint job on the Chinese-made clock sitting just to my left. I don’t, however, care much for what the hands are pointing to; 4:30 in the morning. I’m pulling my second and last shift on the radar, a ground surveillance doppler unit that allows us to detect enemy infiltration along the Cambodian border.

The small van that contains the operator’s end of the radar system is cramped and hot in spite of the 2 ventilation fans that are whirring away overhead. In the background I can hear chatter on the radio net, most of it official, some not. I check the target log on my left and see that a half dozen targets were detected tonight and four were fired on. I make a mental note to scan those particular areas again during my shift.

Sweat trickles down my brow and I begin to stick to the metal folding chair. I feel very tired. I haven’t had an uninterrupted night’s sleep in 11 months. Eleven months of being awakened twice nearly every night for radar duty, more if our camp is attacked. Sleep during the day is almost impossible due to the sweltering heat, even if I have time for it. But, I have work to do. The generator that supplies power to the radar has accumulated a lot of hours and it demands daily maintenance. It’s near the end of it’s tour, just like me.

Uh, oh… I hear something outside. I reach for the fan switches and shut them off. I wait, and listen… gunfire, but it’s in the distance… the FSB about half mile down the road. Our ARVN camp is probably OK for the moment. It’s getting unbearably hot in the van now, but I decide to leave the fans off so I can hear what’s going on outside. This is when I really feel uncomfortable being on-duty in the van; I can’t tell what’s going on around our perimeter.

I focus on the scope and tune my ears to the speaker attached to the radar system. Doppler makes the TPS-25 radar rather unusual. It generates incredible audio sounds from moving targets. Listening to a column of enemy troops walking down a trail is surreal, almost unbelievable. Their arms and legs make distinct “whooshing” noises, a sound that I’ll never forget.

Bingo… the unmistakable “grass” is moving on the left side of the scope. I move the range gate to the flicker and listen carefully. Movement! I mark the spot that the bug-light has illuminated on the map located just above the scope and then record the coordinates in the logbook. I re-position the range gate and listen again as the column passes through the gate. I estimate 20 people moving in northeasterly direction. After recording this information in the log I key the mic and report the target information to TOC (tactical operations center) back at our base camp.

About 5 minutes pass before TOC declares the target hostile and designates a fire base to fire on it. A few more minutes pass before I hear the anticipated word, “shot!” I acknowledge and wait for the howitzer rounds to impact. The seconds tick by, …there, I see it, the tell-tale puffy flickers on the baseline of the scope. The rounds have fallen 50 meters short of the target. I report the impact information to TOC and in turn FDC makes the adjustments. A couple of minutes later new rounds arrive, this time right on the mark. All movement in the area has ceased. I report rounds on target, fire for effect. I intensely watch the scope, feeling a deep sense of satisfaction as the 105mm Howitzer volleys hit the target.