CALL SIGN RUSTIC is an abbreviated version of the Rustic's book "THE RUSTICS - A TOP SECRET AIR WAR IN CAMBODIA.

American army troops entered Cambodia in April of 1970. President Richard Nixon could not keep ground troops there beyond June 1970 without authorization from Congress, which was not forthcoming. He did not want to desert the anticommunist Lon Nol regime, so he ordered top-secret, round-the-clock air support over Cambodia, and the Rustics were born. This three-year mission was so secret--managed directly from the White House--that there are no official records of it. Richard Wood flew as one of the Rustics, a group of forward air controllers (FACs) who provided twenty-four-hour air support to the Cambodian ground commanders by flying low and slow over enemy positions. Wood bases his book on his own experiences and those of the other pilots and Cambodians who took part in the operation. He shows how the Cambodian fighting men welcomed the American pilots like they were the cavalry, and how the Rustics played a major part in the fight against the North Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge guerrilla forces. The Rustic pilots and their enlisted interpreters unequivocally expressed admiration for the courage and dedication of the Cambodian field troops, commanders, and radio operators. They were proud to support the Cambodians, and when all U.S. operations ceased in 1973, many of them were devastated at abandoning their friends. This covert air war ended on August 15, 1973; the Cambodian radio operators' calls for air support were no longer answered. The Rustics, while in action, played a major part in staving off both the North Vietnamese and Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. The loss of American air support eventually contributed to the fall of Cambodia and the horribly dark period of Cambodia's history that will live in infamy as "the killing fields."

About the Author

Richard Wood is a retired United State Air Force Colonel and has logged more than 6,000 hours flying military aircraft.  In Vietnam, he flew the OV-10 as Rustic 11.  Besides this book, he has written and published books on Aviation Safety Programs (3rd edition) and Accident Investigation (2nd edition) Both books are used throughout the world.

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Author's Comments

The Birth of a Book Call Sign Rustic. The Secret Air War over

Cambodia, 1970-1973

 Richard Wood

This book actually started in 1995 after a chance meeting between Claude Newland (Rustic 19) and Jim Lester (Rustic 01), in Ft Walton Beach, Florida. Neither knew the other lived in that area. The discussion turned to the possibility of a Rustic reunion and obtaining the official U. S. Air Force history of the Rustic operation. Claude recruited a fellow airline captain, Jim Reese (Rustic 57) who lived near Atlanta and could visit the Air Force Historical Research Agency in Alabama. The prospects were encouraging, because the USAF had recently declassified much of the material relating to the war in Southeast Asia<

Unfortunately, there was no official history. It was so secret at the time no history was kept. Beyond the names of the Rustic commanders (Jim Lester was the first one) there wasn't even a statement or a description of the Rustic mission.

The first Rustic reunion was held in 1997 and the attendees were told that there was no record of what they had done. Worse, a lot of the Rustics, particularly the interpreters, had never received the decorations they had earned and never would if there was no record of the operation.

The mood of the attendees shifted from disbelief to anger and finally to indignation and resolve. There absolutely would be a record of what they had done and there would be action to obtain recognition for those who deserved it but never received it.

A committee of volunteers was formed and duties were assigned. Jim Gabel (Rustic Bravo) was in charge of historical research and became the official arbiter of the chronology of events and how Cambodian place names would be spelled. Doug Aitken (Rustic 16) developed techniques for scanning pictures, which came to him in all shapes, sizes, and formats, into a computer for inclusion in the book. Jim Reese became senior editor and took on the job of collecting the stories and data submitted by the Rustics in whatever form they had available. This ranged from handwritten notes to tape recordings to computerized stories. This process proved unmanageable for one person. An editorial committee was formed and the task was divided among them. I became one of the editors because I was a published author and had some experience with the writing and editing process.

Cambodians who had worked with the Rustics and were living in the United States were located and interviewed. Those tape recordings were transcribed for use in the book. Mark Berent, who was the Air Attaché at the United States Embassy in Phnom Penh, was located. He not only agreed to write the Foreword to the book, but he provided an unusual insight into the diplomatic side of the operation.

The final draft was sent out to the 15-member book committee for comment and technical review. Jim Reese, Claude Newland, Doug Aitken and I met and spent an entire week keeping three computers humming while we incorporated those review comments. By the spring of 1999 we had a book. Dick Roberds (Rustic 21) took on the job of proofreading it.

The book was self-published in a limited number of copies strictly for ourselves. It was a coffee table-sized book with nearly 300 pages and close to 150 pictures. It was distributed at our next reunion in the fall of 1999 and we liked it.

At the reunion, the question of a commercial version came up. I was not optimistic, but I agreed to explore that with some publishers. Sure enough, the consensus among publishers was that it was too long, too technical, and too full of individual stories. Since we were there, it wasn't too long or too technical for us and we liked the individual stories. They were our stories.

After a lot of discussion, I agreed to rewrite the book and submit it for publication. Since most of the research and data collection had already been done, we agreed that the Rustic FAC Association would receive 75% of any royalties and they would be used primarily for Cambodian relief.

The book was completely rewritten to the standards of the Smithsonian Institution Press. Mark Gatlin, the Smithsonian Editor for Aviation and Military History, was very helpful. The rewrite took about a year and without Mark's suggestions and encouragement, I don't think there would be a book.

The act of writing the book turned out to be an interesting experience for me. The Rustic operation lasted a little over three years and the standard combat tour for air force personnel was generally limited to one year. Thus none of us experienced the entire operation from start to finish. I was there when it started and I was fascinated to learn all that had happened after I left. When the end came in August of 1973, I could feel the same frustration and disappointment felt by those who were actually there. I hope I've been able to pass a little of that feeling on to the reader.

Call Sign Rustic was published in 2002 and can be purchased directly from the Rustic Store. I hope you enjoy reading about this small and unrecorded bit of American history. It was one of the few positive things to come out of the war in Southeast Asia.

Rustic 11, Col (ret) Dick Woods passed away on  31 May 2013