As one of the US Army's most decorated pilots in the Vietnam conflict, Hugh Mills flew over 2,000 combat hours and was instrumental in developing many of the Army's standard air cavalry aero scout tactics. After enlisting in the Army in 1967 as a paratrooper, he was selected for officer training later that year. After commanding a reconnaissance platoon, Mills attended flight training and received the silver wings of an Army aviator in 1968. In Vietnam, he commanded the Aero Scouts Platoon, the Outcasts of D Troop. Major General A.E. Milloy described Lt Mills as "the most courageous small unit leader in the division with the highest kill ratio of any combat unit in the Big Red One."
He was the first Army pilot to use the XM-8 40-mm grenade launcher subsystem in combat. He was credited by the Army Safety Center with developing a pilot technique to correct the OH-6 Cayuse "Hughes Tail Spin," which had killed numerous aviators. After a tour in Germany, Mills attended the instructor pilot's course for the AH-1G Cobra gunship in 1971 and deployed to Vietnam again, this time as commander of an aero weapons platoon, operating along the DMZ. Assigned to a then-top secret component and mission, Mills led air cavalry raids into Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. Participating in the rescue of over 100 covert operations teams, he himself survived a 2 day escape and evasion in Laos, rescuing his wounded co-pilot.
In February 1972, he once again commanded the Outcasts Aero Scouts. They operated in the U Minh Forest area and along the Saigon River into Cambodia. He applied revolutionary formation techniques to overcome the North Vietnamese ground-to-air Strella missile threat. In 1975, he commanded the Army's first night-attack helicopter unit, deploying it to Europe as the basis for the Army's first combat aviation battalion equipped with the AH-1S Cobra anti-tank helicopter. In 1978, he served as a member of the task force, which was to become the Army's only Special Operations aviator regiment--the then-top secret 160th. Finally, he served as the senior Army representative to the FAA for the Central and Great Lakes Regions.
He retired in 1993 after 26 years as a combat aviator. His honors include: three Silver Stars; the Legion of Merit; six Distinguished Flying Crosses; three Bronze Stars; three Purple Hearts; three Meritorious Service Medals; two Air Medals for combat hours and six Air Medals for personal valor; six Army Commendation Medals for valor; and the National Defense Service Medal. The Government of Vietnam awarded him the Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star and Palm, the Vietnamese Honor Medal First Class, and the Civic Action Honor Medal First Class.
During 1969, Highway QL13 was the lifeline through which supplies flowed to elements of the 1st Division and 11th Air Cavalry Regiment. The enemy had decimated several convoys before the "Hunter-Killer" teams of "Darkhorse " assumed protection of the "Thunder Runs." Hugh Mills commanded these hunters and sniffed out ambush groups before they could strike. Shot down three times, Mills killed 28 men on one flight during a counter-ambush. At the conclusion of operations, friendly convoys ran twice daily--unmolested.