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FAC in SEA: The Legacy

During the Southeast Asia War, propeller-driven FACs participated in every major military action against the enemy-flying with the first military advisors and supporting the last combat action in the SS Mayaguez recovery-with the possible exception of the strategic bombing campaign against North Vietnam.

A total of 338 USAF forward air controllers were lost in action. Two USAF FACs received the nation's highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor: Capt Steven L. Bennett (1972 - OV-10 Bronco) and Capt Hilliard A. Wilbanks (1967 - O-1 Bird Dog), and more than twenty received the Air Force Cross. Neither the damage inflicted on the enemy nor the number of American and allied lives they saved through the precise and timely use of air power can be known, but the impact of FACs was felt all across Southeast Asia.

The USAF learned many lessons in the Southeast Asia War, the importance of forward air controllers over the modern battlefield being one of them. Moreover, the FACs in Southeast Asia also helped pioneer many of the weapons and tactics used today. Using Starlight night vision scopes to find an enemy who had found sanctuary in the darkness, they began taking away the protection of darkness. Experimenting with laser designators, they helped lead the way toward today's laser-guided precision munitions, and the development of the Fast FACs led to the modern versions used effectively in the heavily defended skies over the Balkans and Southwest Asia. Finally, they helped demonstrate the importance of merging air, sea, and ground forces into effective combat teams.

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