Since the Civil War when hot-air balloonists scouted enemy troop movements from above battlefield treetops, the job of Forward Air Controllers (FACs) during wartime has been to coordinate air-to-ground operations for reconnaissance, searches and surveillance. As helpful as aerial perspectives may have been, the balloons were always easy targets and the balloonist’s mission was often his last.
In military conflicts that followed, the fragility of forward air controllers remained unchanged.
Even well into the Vietnam War of the 1960s, aircraft employed for U.S. and allied reconnaissance efforts over enemy territories were slow moving, piston-and-propeller-driven planes that proved too slow when up against the formidable Soviet-built anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) and surface-to-air-missiles (SAMs) employed by the North Vietnamese Army.
And as North Vietnamese air defenses increased in number and strength, casualties to American FAC patrols also increased and, as a result, the southbound movements of enemy supply trucks, weaponry and troops became less observed and constrained. It became imperative for U.S. military strategists to implement a new bold method of forward air control and rescue support over Vietnam’s heavily-defended terrain.
The Misty Experiment: The Secret Battle for the Ho Chi Minh Trail documents that urgent adjustment in U.S. strategy, and tells of the psychological and physical challenges faced by the daring airmen who volunteered to test tactical theories. Theirs was an uncompromising trial: To seek out, identify and impede enemy movements of supplies and artillery throughout the region, and to direct from above searches for, and rescue of, pilots--from all military branches--that had been shot down by enemy fire. The Misty squadron’s reputation as “courage-under-fire warriors” grew quickly among the military, but the perilous nature of its mission cost them greatly as it suffered the War’s second-highest loss rate. 23% of Misty volunteers were shot down, captured or imprisoned, and/or ultimately declared missing or killed in action (M.I.A. or K.I.A.).
Although the service and sacrifice of the Misty pilots remain relatively unknown to the American people today, these bold aviators performed feats that were remarkable in the annals of warfare--and did so long before the advent of laser technology, computerized drones, and precision-guided targeting.
Among the on-screen interviewees in The Misty Experiment are some remarkable individuals who endured their life-risking war-time experiences to, in subsequent years, achieve even greater distinction: A highly decorated Medal of Honor recipient, two NASA astronauts, two Air Force Chiefs of Staff, a dozen general officers, a Director of the Air National Guard, a Director of the San Francisco Department of Health, several CEOs, aerospace engineers, and the first man to pilot around the world unrefueled in a light aircraft. Their level of success, by any measure, is extraordinary. Truly, while many Vietnam veterans have difficulty, today, in discussing the horror of their Vietnam experiences, the men of Misty prefer to share them—not as stories to glorify themselves or the war, but to serve as lessons to be learned from the past.
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