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these planners published USSAG/7AF OPIan 2-75 on 3 March, the helicopter courses of action had been reduced to four. The published plan for fixed-wing evacuation also listed four options. Both plans specified the use of three possible sources for ground security forces. Tactical air and fixed-wing airlift schedules listed the available ground forces: a 50-man Air Force security police detachment from the Seventh Air Force Security Police Squadron; two reinforced rifle companies from the 3d Division on Okinawa; or two reinforced rifle companies from 31st MAU. Helicopter planning factors were limited by the available assets:


12 Air Force CH/HH-53 aircraft at Nakhon Phanom and 16 Marine Corps CH-53 aircraft from the 31st MAU. In every scenario, the Marine command element, augmented by the Air Force Combat Control Team, was tasked to provide overall command and control of the activities at the evacuation sites.


At Nakhon Phanom, First Lieutenant O'Neil and Lieutenant Colonel Lawson conducted instructional training exercises for the Air Force helicopter crews in the use of the GAIL and standard night lighting and hand signals in the event night operations became a necessity. Additionally, the Marine officers in the command element visited Phnom Penh to confer with Embassy personnel and inspect designated landing zones.21


Two factors militated against the use of just one helicopter carrier and its 14 Marine helicopters and 12 land-based Air Force helicopters: First, the number of potential evacuees continually fluctuated. At times, the projected total exceeded the entire lift capability of the combined USAF/USMC helicopter inventory in Southeast Asia. Second, the contingency at first glance appeared to be a minimum time operation, but upon reexaminaiion, the Eagle Pull command staff classified this assumption as fallacious. They decided that due to frequent and rapid changes in the tactical situation, the duration of the operation could not be determined. Despite unfavorable conditions and a lack of reinforcements, the Cambodians continued to hold the perimeter around Phnom Penh. With the United States determined to remain in Cambodia until the last possible minute, each day that the government forces successfully defended the capital guaranteed additional waiting time and another day on station for the relief force, 31st MAU/ARG Alpha. With the date of execution of the MAU's mission continuously being postponed, the need to create a helicopter-capable, relief/rotation force began to grow in importance. The concern centered around the fact that the only other ARG in the Western Pacific, ARG Bravo, did not possess a major helicopter platform.


On 16 March, as a result of these concerns, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed that an aircraft carrier proceed to Subic Bay with a Marine heavy helicopter squadron embarked, and upon arrival, assume a 72-hour response posture for Operation Eagle Pull. The following day, CinCPacFlt directed the Hancock (CVA 19) to unload sufficient Navy personnel and material to accommodate 16 Marine CH-53Ds and associated crewmen, supplies, and equipment, and proceed to Hawaii. Having unloaded the necessary equipment and men, Hancock departed Alameda, its homeport, on 18 March. Upon its arrival in Pearl Harbor on 23 March, Hancock received further guidance and more specific derails on its new mission. Upon completion of the loading phase, the carrier received orders to sail as soon as feasible on or after 26 March at a speed of 20 knots with Subic as its destination.22


During Hancock's 2,000-mile trip from the West Coast, Lieutenant General Louis H. Wilson, Jr., Commanding General, FMFPac, chose HMH-463, a heavy helicopter squadron of the 1st Marine Brigade, as the deploying unit. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Herbert M. Fix, the squadron embarked in the Hancock on 26 March and sailed for the Western Pacific. The wisdom of the decision to use the Hancock soon became apparent. At this point, the news from South Vietnam was progressively becoming worse with the latest reports revealing that the defense of the northern and central regions had collapsed. The ensuing chaos

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