Helicopter Flight Vietnam honoured with Gallantry Citation


Rear Admiral (retired)  Neil Ralph accepts the United States Air Medal from the Commander Fleet Air Arm, Commodore Chris Smallhorn in 2016.
Rear Admiral (retired) Neil Ralph accepts the United States Air Medal from the Commander Fleet Air Arm, Commodore Chris Smallhorn in 2016.

The commanding officer of the first Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Helicopter Flight Vietnam (HFV) has welcomed the news personnel would be recognised by the Unit Citation for Gallantry.  

Rear Admiral (retired) Neil Ralph, then a Lieutenant Commander, was the officer in charge of the first flight in 1967, said the honour was “much deserved”.

Eight pilots, 24 maintenance personnel, four observers and six support staff from HMAS Albatross were part of that first flight, assigned to the US Army’s 135th Assault Helicopter Company (Experimental Military Unit).

Commanding officer of the first Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Helicopter Flight Vietnam (HFV) then Lieutenant Commander Neil Ralph behind the controls of a helo in Vietnam.

Commanding officer of the first Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Helicopter Flight Vietnam (HFV) then Lieutenant Commander Neil Ralph behind the controls of a helo in Vietnam.

The personnel from 723 Squadron, flying Iroquois helicopters or Hueys as they were called, eventually became known as RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam.

A total of four flights over the next four years and around 200 personnel deployed to South Vietnam from October 1967– June 1971.

Minister for Defence Personnel, Darren Chester announced the Unit Citation for Gallantry for the extraordinary gallantry displayed by the flight.

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Commanding officer of the first Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight Vietnam (RANHFV) then Lieutenant Commander Neil Ralph (centre).

Commanding officer of the first Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight Vietnam (RANHFV) then Lieutenant Commander Neil Ralph (centre).

Mr Chester said the outstanding service of the pilots and the maintenance and support personnel during RANHFV’s deployment in South Vietnam from October 1967– June 1971 is worthy of the citation.

“The newly established RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam flew helicopters in both utility and gunship configurations,” Mr Chester said.

“In addition to their usual duties, a significant number of the maintenance and support personnel also worked as aircrew and door-gunners, and ensured the security of their bases.

“RANHFV did extraordinarily dangerous work and spent most days flying combat assault missions, with the expectation of coming under fire on every second sortie.”

“The citation is a great thing and thoroughly deserved,” RADM Ralph said.

The USA RAN EMUs.

The USA RAN EMUs.

“This is the highest honour and well deserved even if I do say so myself.

“All four flights did extremely well. It was a hard year up there for each flight. We all worked flat out.

“The Americans were very good to work with and we all did very well.”

RADM Ralph along with his fellow officers in charge of the Australian flights have been working on this recognition since around 2013.

“These things take time,” he said “the Americans always had this sort of unit citation system and I always thought it worked well.

“They weren't introduced in Australia until 1991 and we we all off doing other things and hadn’t given it much thought.”

He said the crews lived up to the Flight’s Motto of “Get the bloody job done”.

The awards follows on from crew members being presented with the United States Air Medal in 2016.

The RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam badge.

The RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam badge.

Veterans of the RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam are encouraged to apply for the Unit Citation for Gallantry through the Department of Defence Medals Online Application form available at: www.defence.gov.au/medals.

Family members of deceased veterans are also encouraged to apply to receive the insignia.

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