227th Aviation Regiment
Vietnam War
"POWER"; or "CAN DO"

Division Of Vietnam - 1954
The roots of the Vietnam War started in 1946 with the beginning of the First Indochina War. Vietnam was under French control at that time (as was Laos and Cambodia), and the Vietnamese, under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, wanted independence. So the Vietnamese and French fought each other in Vietnam. Eventually, in 1954, the Vietnamese defeated the French and both countries signed the Geneva Peace Accords, which, among other things, established a temporary division in Vietnam at the 17th parallel. The division of the country eventually led to the Vietnamese War.

The Geneva Accords stated that the division was to be temporary, and that national elections in 1956 would reunite the country. But the United States did not want to see Vietnam turn into a communist state, so the US supported the creation of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, which provided defense for South Vietnam.

North Vietnam, then called the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, wanted a communist state, and South Vietnam, then called the Republic of Vietnam, wanted a non-communist state. In 1956, Ngo Dihn Diem, an anti-communist, won the presidential election in South Vietnam. But communist opposition in the south caused Diem numerous problems. And in 1959, southern communists decided to implement greater violence to try to oust Diem. This led to the formation of the National Liberation Front (NLF).

The NLF was a group of communists and non-communists who opposed diem and sought his ouster. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy sent a group to South Vietnam to determine what actions the US needed to take to assist them. When the group returned, they proffered recommendations in what became known as the "December 1961 White Paper" that indicated a need for an increased military presence; but many of the advisors of Kennedy wanted a complete pullout from the country.

In the end, Kennedy compromised and decided to increase the number of military advisors, but with the objective of not to engage in a massive military buildup. But in 1963, the government of Diem quickly began to unravel. The downfall began when Diem's brother accused Buddhist monks of harboring communists -- his brother then began raiding Buddhist pagodas in an attempt to find these communists

The Buddhist monks immediately began protesting in the streets, and in Saigon on 05 October, 1963, one monk died by self-immolation. This incident caused international outrage and Diem was soon overthrown and killed. On 02 August, 1964, North Vietnam attacked an American ship in the Gulf of Tonkin that resulted in congress enacted the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted the president broad war powers.

Lyndon B. Johnson was the president at the time, and the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the resultant resolution marked the beginning of the major military build up of America in the Vietnam War. In 1965, massive bombing missions by the US in North Vietnam, known as Operation ROLLING THUNDER, quickly escalated the conflict.

Air Cavalry Unit
The 1st Cavalry Division went home in 1965, but only long enough to be reorganized and be prepared for a new mission. On 01 July 1965, the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) was officially activated. It was made up of resources of the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) and brought to full strength by transfer of specialized elements of the 2nd Infantry Division. As a part of this reorganization, the 227th was reorganized and redesignated as the 227th Aviation Battalion; concurrently relieved from assignment from the 11th Air Assault Division and assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division. On 28 July, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that the US Military presence in Vietnam would be increased from 75,000 to 125,000 and additional forces would be sent as necessary.

Within 90 days of becoming the Army's first air mobile division, the First Team, was back in combat as the first fully committed division of the Vietnam War. An advance party, on board C-124s and C-130s, arrived at Nha Trang between the 19th and 27th of August 1965. They joined with advance liaison forces and established a temporary base camp near An Khe, 36 miles inland from the costal city of Qui Nhon. The remainder of the 1st Cavalry Division arrived by ship, landing at the harbor of Qui Nhon on the 12th and 13th of September, the 44th anniversary of the 1st Cavalry Division. In the Oriental calendar year of the "Horse", mounted soldiers had returned to war wearing the famous and feared patch of the First Cavalry Division. The First Team had entered its third war - and the longest tour of duty in combat history.

Located in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam, An Khe was a small village on the banks of the Song Be River. In the summer of 1965, the villagers acquired thousands of men as new neighbors. They moved in and selecting a relatively flat piece of terrain just north of the village on the eastern lower slopes of Hon Cong Mountain, they set about building the home for the First Cavalry Division (Airmobile). The installation, Camp Radcliffe, was officially named after the Division's first casualty in Vietnam, Major Donald G. Radcliffe, operations officer for the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry. The base got its nickname - The "Golf Course" - when the assistant division commander told his men they were going to create an airbase without the use of heavy machinery because the earth moving equipment would strip the scene of its natural vegetation cover and, with over 400 helicopters on the way, the base would soon become a giant dust bowl or a huge muddy quagmire.

Meanwhile back in the states, the 1st Cavalry Division was feverishly preparing for deployment. The movement of 400 aircraft, 16,000 personnel and 400 vehicles along with the training for combat in just six weeks was an enormous task. (Author's note: Almost exactly 25 years later this feat would be repeated for the Gulf War in less than four weeks.)

USS Boxer, Loaded for Departure
The USS Boxer and three Military Sea Transportation Service Ships had been designated to move the division. All aircraft had to be protected, using preservative techniques. One tends to forget about the strategic mobility problems in moving such a force as the 1st Cavalry Division around the world. Approximately 80,000 man hours were required to process all the aircraft aboard the four vessels. There was a total of 239 aircraft on the Boxer broken down as follows: fifty seven Chinooks (CH-47s), four Flying Cranes (CH-54s), six Mohawks (OV-1s), fifty UH-1s, and one hundred twenty-two OH-13s. The Boxer proceeded via the Suez Canal and the other three smaller vessels traveled through the Pacific via the Panama Canal. The following account by Colonel Stockton, who commanded the Air Cavalry Squadron, gives some insight into the magnitude of the problems encountered:

"About half way across the Pacific, I received a cable from the commander of the Divisional task force which my squadron was to be assigned on two of the three contingency plans to become effective on arrival in Vietnam waters. Following instructions Colonel Ray Lynch had received form Washington, he directed me to be prepared to fight my way ashore" ....... "Regardless that we had no tools aboard to fight as cavalrymen, our orders were explicit. Together with the valiant troop commanders, I worked out a scheme for making an assault landing in the Qui Nhon area with the assets we had on hand."

"This done, I made a call on the ship's master informing him of the instructions I had received and requested that he break out the landing disembarkation nets we would have to use to get over the side so that we could practice with them. Here I was stupefied for the second time in a matter of less than 24 hours. Not were there no assault landing nets on board, but the master had not been informed of his sailing destination! He honestly thought he was going to Korea or possibly to the Philippines. In either event, he was sure that he would be tied up to a dock for unloading in the usual fashion. I finally persuaded this splendid seaman that we were in fact headed for battle torn Vietnam. Neither he or any of his officers had sailed in these waters for a dozen years. They were astounded at the prospect and assumed that their destination would be some location where adequate dock facilities existed for discharging their cargo. I was altogether unable to convince the master that we were in fact, headed for Qui Nhon harbor and no unloading facilities of any kind were available."

When the ships of the main body arrived in Qui Nhon, it was not necessary to make a hostile assault landing as planned. The aircraft were prepared for flight on board the carriers. The Chinooks quickly became the prime movers for troops and equipment between Qui Nhon and An Khe. On 28 September, members of the advanced party of the 1st Cavalry assumed responsibility for their own security. By 03 October, the last elements of the Division reached An Khe an the Division was assigned a tactical area which quickly grew to a zone approximately 150 by 150 miles. The establishment of An Khe as the "hub of the wheel" for the early 1st Cavalry Division operations was done for several reasons, not the least of which was aircraft maintenance requirements.

The 227th (AHB), along with the 228th (ASHB), 229th (AHB) and the 11th General Support Aviation Company operated under the command of the 11th Aviation Group. Initially the Assault Helicopter Battalions (AHB) had three companies, "A", "B" and "C", of twenty UH-1D helicopters plus one Aerial Weapons Company, "D", with twelve UH-1B helicopters armed with XM-16 kits (fourteen 2.75" rockets and four 7.62 mm machine guns. "D" Company flew support for the other three companies, as well as special missions, such as "Nighthawk". Later in the war, the -1D helicopters were replaced with model -1Hs and the weapons company was upgraded to AH-1G Huey Cobras which carried a mixed armament of XM-157 or XM-159 rockets, XM-18 gun pods and XM-28 minigun and 40 mm in the chin turret. The effective range was about 100 miles, roughly the same as the division "front". In most part, the 227th supported the 3rd Brigade and the 229th supported the 1st Brigade and both battalions were assigned the responsibility of supporting the 2nd Brigade.

Throughout such operations as the Pleiku Campaign, Nathan Hale, Paul Revere, Thayer and Byrd, the 227th proved that air mobility was a vital factor in the success of the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam. In the fall of 1965, the battalion participated in the Pleiku Campaign, airlifting troops into the rugged province near Cambodia, often in the face of heavy enemy resistance. During the campaign, the 227th airlifted the equivalent of 65 infantry companies, flying a total of 6,066 sorties. With the rest of the division, the battalion received a Presidential Unit Citation for this campaign. Throughout 1965 and 1966, the battalion provided integral support and transportation for the division, developing new techniques to meet the challenging battle and weather conditions in the Republic of Vietnam.

From October 1966 into February 1967, the 227th Aviation Battalion supported the operations of the 1st Cavalry Division as it cleared Binh Dinh Province in Operations Thayer II and Pershing, the latter concentrated in the rich northern coastal plain as well as the Kim Son and Luoi Ci Valleys to the west. Operation Pershing presented new problems to the airmobile division as it rooted out the enemy from Binh Dinh Province. The mountainous terrain surrounding the plain, with its inherent clouds and heavy rainfall, made low level, contour flying through the valleys a necessity. Ceiling and visibility were often reduced to zero, zero. Throughout the rest of 1967, the division fought the North Vietnamese Army's 610th Division and Viet Cong Units in the II Corps Tactical Zone. There were over 7,100 known enemy casualties in the two operations.

Tet Offensive Theater
Moving to I Corps, Vietnam's northern most tactical zone, the division set up Camp Evans for their base camp. On January 31 1968, amid the celebration of the Vietnamese New Year, the enemy launched the Tet Offensive, a major effort to overrun South Vietnam. Some 7,000 enemy, well equipped, crack NVA regulars blasted their way into the imperial city of Hue, overpowering all but a few pockets of resistance held by ARVN troops and the US Marines. Within 24 hours, the invaders were joined by 7,000 NVA reinforcements.

It was during the battle for Hue that CWO Frederick E. Ferguson distinguished himself while serving with "C" Company, 227th Aviation Battalion. CWO Ferguson, commander of a resupply helicopter monitoring an emergency call from wounded passengers and crewmen of a downed helicopter under heavy attack within the enemy controlled city of Hue, unhesitatingly volunteered to attempt evacuation. Despite warnings from all aircraft to stay clear of the area due to heavy antiaircraft fire, CWO Ferguson began a low-level flight at maximum airspeed along the Perfume River toward the tiny, isolated South Vietnamese Army compound in which the crash survivors had taken refuge. Coolly and skillfully maintaining his course in the face of intense, short range fire from enemy occupied buildings and boats, he displayed superior flying skill and tenacity of purpose by landing his aircraft in an extremely confined area in a blinding dust cloud under heavy mortar and small-arms fire. Although the helicopter was severely damaged by mortar fragments during the loading of the wounded, CWO Ferguson disregarded the damage and, taking off through the continuing hail of mortar fire, he flew his crippled aircraft on the return route through the rain of fire that he had experienced earlier and safely returned his wounded passengers to friendly control. The extraordinary determination of CWO Ferguson saved the lives of 5 of his comrades. His actions were in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on himself and the US Army.

Almost simultaneously to the North of Hue, five battalions of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong attacked Quang Tri City, the capital of Vietnam's northern province. The Cavalry went on the move with four companies of skytroopers from the 1st Battalions of the 5th and 12th Cavalry who arrived at the village of Thorn An Thai, just east of Quang Tri. Under heavy aerial rocket attack, the enemy quickly broke off the Quang Tri attack, dispersed into small groups and attempted to escape. Quang Tri was liberated within 10 days.

Following fierce fighting at Thorn La Chu, the 3rd Brigade moved toward embattled city of Hue. The southwest wall of the city was soon taken after the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry overcome severe resistance and linked up with the 5th Battalion. At this point, the NVA and Viet Cong invaders were driven from Hue by late February. The Tet offensive was over. The NVA and Viet Cong had suffered a massive defeat, with 32,000 killed in action and 5,800 captured.

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A Shau Valley Orientation
On 19 April 1968, Operation Delaware began. The Viet Cong, who had always considered A Shau Valley to be their personal real estate and a symbol of their relative invulnerability, was about to be given a psychological blow to discover that they had no place in Vietnam where a secure sanctuary could be established. Operation Delaware was a coordinated airmobile and ground attack using elements of three divisions - the 1st Cavalry, the 101st Airborne and the 1st Army of the Republic of Vietnam. The following are excerpts from After Action Reports of the 227th Aviation Battalion.

On 19 April 1968, the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion, commanded by LTC W.F. Dixon was prepared to commit its maximum available resources in the third massive heliborne assault within a month, Operation/Delaware/Lam Son 216. The plan of operation was to simultaneously assault into the A Shau Valley and to insert a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol to secure "Signal Hill," a 4,879 foot peak 5 kilometers northeast of A Loui Airfield to be used as a vital communications relay station. At 0730 hours, 19 April 1968, the weather, which was to play a harassing part throughout the 29 day operation, was a thin overcast on the plains and solid overcast above the valley floor. The cloud tops, however, were at about 4,500 feet. The top of Signal Hill was above the clouds.

Looking North into A Shau Valle
With the main assault aircraft on a temporary weather hold, "B" Company, 227th AHB, with four UH-1H helicopters, a command and control ship, and two escort gunships from "D" Company were suddenly in the position of the lead assault element. Carrying an aircraft load of 5, the four lift aircraft departed Camp Evans, climbed through the thin overcast, and were vectored to the initial landing zone. It was briefed to be a single ship LZ and intelligence reports had spotted anti-aircraft positions along the ridge to the northeast and a heavy concentration of assorted weapons in the valley floor to the west. The initial approach was attempted directly to the west, approaching the hill mass at a 45 degree angle. The first view of the LZ showed it to be a bomb crater on a 40 degree slope surrounded by 50 foot trees. Touchdown was impossible and the LRRP's would have to be rappelled from about 30 feet. The lead aircraft was unable to maintain a position over the LZ and made a "go around." The second aircraft attempting the drop, lost power and crashed into the LZ, sliding down the hill into the trees. The approach axis was shifted from west to east and the lead aircraft on a second approach successfully rappelled his load and extracted a miraculously uninjured crew of the downed aircraft. A total of 14 sorties were lifted into Signal Hill without further incident with constant improvement being made on the LZ. From the initial assault it looked like a milk run, as no significant anti-aircraft fire was encountered.

During the day, the 227th A.B. had lost two aircraft that were not recovered and over 75% of the fleet had required maintenance. Maintenance crews worked throughout the night to prepare for further lifts the next day. On 20 April, the second day of the assault into the A Shau began with an aircraft hold due to a low overcast and fog on the valley floor. At approximately 0900 Major Burkhalter led "C" Company's yellow flight followed by "A" Company's white flight to assault a ridge line 4 kilometers southwest of LZ Tiger to establish a third fire base, LZ Pepper. The approach was made form the north along the ridge into a slope studded with stumps. Again the aircraft could not touchdown and experienced power loss at a hover. The lead aircraft crashed, but all crew and passengers escaped with only minor injuries. The crash, however, closed the LZ until members of 2/9th Cavalry rappelled with chain saws to expand the LZ. Upon resumption of the lift, the new lead aircraft came too close to the trees on take off and also crashed. Again the crew got out unhurt. These two crews remained on Pepper for two nights due to bad weather restricting any further flying into the valley. Only one infantry company was airlifted into LZ Pepper before the weather halted all operations.

Bad weather prevailed throughout the entire day of 21 April 1968 with no air assaults being conducted. "D" Company with 6 aircraft was on standby to haul a badly needed resupply to LZ Tiger. Shortly after noon the aircraft took off at 1 minute intervals with an 800 pound sling load under each aircraft. One by one, the aircraft were radar vectored to a point over LZ Tiger. Each aircraft had to feel its way through the holes in the overcast creating a separate approach axis for each. The gambit proved quite effective and a total of 14 sling loads were taken into both Tiger LZ's before the weather again closed. For most of the crews, it was their first actual instrument flight. 22 April brought much improved weather conditions and the air lift into LZ Pepper continued with a maximum of aircraft again committed. Anti-aircraft fire was harassing but far less than previous days. At the day's end the 3rd Brigade was firmly entrenched in the A Shau Valley with three Infantry battalions plus supporting artillery.

A Luoi Airfield
On 24 April, "A" and "B" Companies, each with six aircraft, joined the 229th AHB to air assault elements of the 1st Brigade into LZ Cecile, 2 kilometers south of A Luoi Airfield. Again weather played a significant part forcing the lifts to climb as high as 11,000 feet to clear the cloud tops. Once over the valley and through the holes in the overcast the aircraft delay-chained to the new LZ, covered a route by the guns of both 227th AHB and 229th AHB, LZ Cecile was a two ship LZ at the southern end of a ridge about 2,200 feet high. Although all aircraft were exposed to sniping fire on the approach, the main threat came from an automatic weapons position about 500 meters down the ridge to the southeast. Since the approach was made to the south, the enemy gunners get crack at each aircraft as it departed no matter which way it broke. Very few hits were sustained and no aircraft were lost as the lift of the 2/8th Cavalry on to LZ Cecile was completed prior to 1400 hours.

Late in the afternoon, "B" Company was given the mission of an emergency re-supply of LZ Cecile. The 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry had run short of ammunition and supplies after making contact on the landing zone. A hole was found in the overcast and the six aircraft climbed on top at 6,000 feet. A radar vector was obtained to get out to the valley and the ceiling in the A Shau Valley was forecast at about 800 feet. When the aircraft arrived, a hole was found in the vicinity of LZ Tiger and the ships proceeded in trail from 8,500 feet to 800 feet above the valley floor. The ships low level approach was another story. The flight received heavy automatic weapons fire during the entire traversing of the valley floor. One ship was hit in the engine tail pipe, but remained flyable. The aircraft found a hole to climb through near LZ Tiger and exited the A Shau Valley.

On 28 April, the 227th AHB committed ships to lagger during the night at LZ Stallion. The weather had varied between low ceilings and ground fog in the morning to high cumulus clouds in the afternoon. This had seriously restricted the operations because at the time when the valley floor was clear enough for operations, ships could get into the valley due to the high, dense, clouds surrounding the A Shau. The laggered ships could support units in the valley in case the A Shau weather deteriorated to the point that ships could not get in while the floor of the valley allowed airmobile operations.

On 10 May, the extraction phase of Operation Delaware began. The weather, which had been poor throughout the operation began to deteriorate. "A" Company, 227th AHB was assigned the mission to extract two battalions from the A Shau Valley. The battalions involved were the 1/7th and 5/7th Cavalry. The flight leader had been briefed the day before the move by the ground commanders on the execution of the mission. Twelve lift ships and two gunships were committed the next morning to begin the extraction of the 5/7th. Plans had changed considerably from the briefing that was given the previous day and the flight was to take the entire battalion back to Camp Evans, instead of the airstrip at LZ Stallion and await further orders. About 1200 hours, a company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry came into heavy contact about 2 kilometers northwest of LZ Pepper. The flight was to extract the unit back to LZ Pepper. The extraction was accomplished smoothly with the assistance of two gunships from "D" Company, 227th AHB, two fighters and eight ARA rocketships. Once this was completed the flight returned to LZ Stallion to wait for the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry to get into a pickup posture. The entire mission for the day was accomplished without incident, with the outstanding support that was given to the lift aircraft by the gunships of "D" Company, 227th AHB.

For the remainder of the extraction place of Operation Delaware, the aircraft of the 227th AHB gave maximum air-support to the ground commanders. The problems encountered by the 227th were only overcome by the sheer determination and true professionalism displayed by all members of the Battalion. Eventually, all of these problems fell on the shoulders of maintenance personnel at Camp Evans. These people worked night and day to repair damages sustained along with normally scheduled maintenance. The maintenance effort was outstanding in keeping the availability of the 227th at a high. By this maximum output and coordination, the 227th was able to help insure the success of Operation Delaware/Lam Son.

In the fall of 1968 the battalion moved south to the new area of operations, the III Corps tactical zone. From this location, the battalion supported the division as it interdicted the enemy infiltration routes from Cambodia. The terrain was thick jungle which frequently concealed machine gun positions of the enemy. Extensive use was made of the battalion's Nighthawk helicopters in the III Corps areas. The unique installation of an infrared light coupled with a starlight scope, a powerful spotlight, three M-60 machine guns and a mini gun mounted in the rear cabin seriously hampered the enemy's ability to take advantage of darkness.

Despite the flatness of the terrain of the III Corps area, the 227th found that the heavy tangled vegetation and the dearth of landing zones reduced the size of the basic assault combat flight. In addition, the use of .51 mm anti-aircraft weapons called for a greater reliance on escort Cobra gunships from "D" Company. The typical insertion formation was modified to six Hueys, which carried the infantry, and two gunships from "D" Company. The gunships would make a strafing run, covering areas around the landing zone prior to troop landings. The Cobras would also circle the landing zone as troops landed, discouraging the enemy from firing on the Hueys at that most vulnerable moment.

Throughout 1969, the battalion continued to support the division by providing rapid, flexible assault transportation to any terrain, the key to the continued mobility of the 1st Cavalry Division.

On 05 May 1971, the colors of the 1st Cavalry Division, minus those of the 3rd Brigade, were moved from Vietnam to Ft. Hood, Texas. Using the assets of the 1st Armored Division, the 1st Cavalry Division was reorganized, reassigned to III Corps and received an experimental designation as the Triple-Capability (TRICAP) Division. Its mission, under the direction of Modern Army Selected Systems Test, Evaluation and Review (MASSTER) was to carry on a close identification with and test forward looking combined armor, air cavalry and airmobile concepts.

On 30 August 1971, "D" Company, 227th Aviation Battalion was inactivated in Vietnam; reactivated and assigned as "D" Troop, 9th (Air) Cavalry Brigade (Prov). who had been assigned to the 12th Aviation Group previously on 10 April, 1971.

By 31 March 1972, only 96,000 US troops were involved in the combat operations in Vietnam. In mid June 1972, the stand-down ceremony for the 3rd Brigade was held in Bien Hoa and the colors were returned to the United States. The last trooper left from Tan Son Nhut on 26 June, completing the Division recall that had started on 05 May 1971. With the 3rd Brigade completing their withdrawal, the 1st Cavalry became the first US Army Division to go to Vietnam and the last to leave.

Even as the war continued, peace talks in Paris progressed, with Henry Kissinger as US negotiator. A break in negotiations, followed by US saturation bombing of North Vietnam, did not derail the talks, and a peace agreement was reached, signed on 27 January, 1973, by the United States, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the NLF. The accord provided for the end of hostilities, the withdrawal of US and allied troops, the return of prisoners of war, and the formation of a four-nation international control commission to ensure peace.

Fighting between South Vietnamese and Communists continued despite the peace agreement until North Vietnam launched an offensive in early 1975. The requests of South Vietnam for aid were denied by the US Congress, and after Nguyen Van Thieu, the President of South Vietnam, abandoned the northern half of the country to the advancing Communists, a panic ensued. South Vietnamese resistance collapsed, and North Vietnamese troops marched into Saigon on 30 April, 1975. Vietnam was formally reunified in July, 1976, and Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.

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Copyright © 1996, Cavalry Outpost Publications ® and Trooper Wm. H. Boudreau, "F" Troop, 8th Cavalry Regiment (1946 - 1947). All rights to this body of work are reserved and are not in the public domain, or as noted in the bibliography. Reproduction, or transfer by electronic means, of the History of the 1st Cavalry Division, the subordinate units or any internal element, is not permitted without prior authorization. Readers are encouraged to link to any of the pages of this Web site, provided that proper acknowledgment attributing to the source of the data is made. The information or content of the material contained herein is subject to change without notice.

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