In the 1960s, young males were required to register with the federal government’s Selective Service Agencyupon reaching their 18th birthday. Whether or not the war in Vietnam would encroach upon their future was determined in many cases by a simple academic decision. In many cases, young Americans enrolled in college to pursue a professional career were spared from inclusion in the draft that kept US forces in the Pacific supplied with necessary manpower.

Russell Pettis was a college sophomore in 1968 when he received his draft notice from Selective Service. For Pettis, a Bay area resident, there was no question. He enlisted in the Army where he was trained as an aerial reconnaissance technical observer. In May of that year, Pettis was sent to Vietnam to serve with the Army’s 1st Cavalry, flying in unarmed, reconnaissance aircraft.

In his book, Mohawk Recon: Vietnam from Treetop Level with the 1st Cavalry 1968-1969,

Pettis details his 350 air missions that encompassed some 1000 hours of combat assault flying time during his Vietnam deployment. He describes in detail his first air reconnaissance mission in a Mohawk fixed-wing twin turboprop airplane, two weeks after joining the 1st Cavalry. We learn that the Mohawk is 41 feet long with a 48-foot wingspan, a fuel capacity of 297 gallons, and a maximum speed of 267 kilometers. Pettis explains the communication system on board and we also hear details about the aircraft’s top-notch infrared surveillance system in understandable terms that make sense.

Pettis’ goal was to bring the reader into the cockpit with him to experience firsthand what it was like to fly low over the treetops by day and at night, using a state-of-the-art infrared target detection system to guide them. He accomplishes that and more as he shares stories of his everyday life experiences in a war-torn country, as well as his critical surveillance missions.

The author manages to find humor in the most unlikely places. The reader will enjoy hilarious stories about the soldiers’ interactions with peers from the U.S. Marines and the Royal Australian Air Force, the former involving a well-honed boomerang. Pettis wanted to show that there was more to Army life in Vietnam than poor living conditions, food scarcities, and dodging rockets and mortar attacks.

The proud recipient of dozens of medals for his service in Vietnam, Russell Pettis did return to college and completed his education. He is currently CFO of Pettis Education, a consulting company.

You will find Mohawk Recon: Vietnam from Treetop Level with the 1st Cavalry, 1968-1969 on Amazon in paperback and e-book.


By Russell Pettis

McFarland & Company Inc Publishers (2021)

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Sharon Schultz

Sharon is a writer/photographer and a proud “Bay” Boomer from Anne Arundel County and can be contacted at [email protected]