We departed for the western pacific (WESTPAC) in the summer of 1980. Though inevitably our destination would be the mouth of the Persian Gulf. In 1979, the political situation in Iran began to unravel, resulting in the Iran hostage crisis which was a was a diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United States where 52 U.S. diplomats were held hostage for 444 days from November 4 , 1979 to January 20, 1981, after a group of students took over the American embassy in support of Iran's revolution.
In Iran, the incident was seen by many as a blow against U.S. influence in Iran and its support of the recently fallen Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who had been restored to power by a CIA-funded coup in 1953 and who had recently been allowed into the United States for cancer treatment. In the United States, the hostage-taking was widely seen as an outrage violating a centuries-old principle of international law granting diplomats immunity from arrest and diplomatic compounds sovereignty in the territory of the host country they occupy.
The ordeal reached a climax when the United States military attempted a rescue operation, Operation Eagle Claw, on April 24, 1980, which resulted in an aborted mission and the deaths of eight American military men. Before deployment, we watched in shock as pictures from the Iranian desert showed burned military aircraft which were destroyed in an astounding accident that occured there. This incident along with obvious intelligence of big trouble brewing in the middle east would set the tone in the military for a number to come. The Cold War was winding down, and would be just a few years more when the Berlin Wall would crumble, and the days of communisim (at least in the former Soviet Union) would be changed forever. Though in 1980, we would see the Soviets flex their muscle throughout the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. We would be shadowed by Soviet spy ships and monitored by Soviet long range aircraft (Soviet Tu-59's). We arrived in the IO (Indian Ocean) in the fall. The weather during this time was rough, as we rode 30 to 40 fot ocean swells for at least 30 days or more.
Our mission was toprovide logistical support to the battle group that was parked off of mouth of the Persain Gulf, at a place refered to operationally as MODLOC Station and Gonzo Station. This are war a fifty mile circle, in which the battle group(s) would sail back and fourth on patrol, exercising America's naval strength in the region.
The Wichita's mission was to run to a place called Diego Garcia or to a remote airstrip loacated at a place called Al Masir Airhead to obtain supplies. Diego Garcia was a small spit of Islands located in the middle of the IO surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean, occupied by a handful of military personnel and not much more. Al Masir was part of the country Oman and was just as remote, though only a small detachment of men were allowed to leave the ship there and those who were there were told not disclose any information about the location due to the fact that the location was classified.
Al Masir was a most forbidding place. A sand and rock Island with an airfield alledgedly run by mercenaries. When we approached Al Masir. I could hear british chatter on some of our radios and fighter pilots swung in low over the water next to us. At least one gave us the middle finger when flying by. On one occassion, I was looking through the "Big Eyes" (Ships binoculars) and I could see a guy on horse back, wearing the traditional garb of an arab carrying a rifle. Shades of Lawrence of Arabia. I was also told that the detachments who went there, were warned not to look around too much as the installation was guarded by children soldiers who would not hesitate to shoot anyone who was percieved to be a spy.
Diego Garcia (DG) was an anti-climactic adventure where nothing really exciting happened, except for one time, when a Sailor came up missing, then they noticed a liferaft missing, we could actually see the inflsted raft on the beach closesest to the ship. It turns out the guy who was missing, was going nuts, so he hijacked the raft and rowed it to the beach. We left him at DG and he got an airplane ride home. I also grew up a little more and in hind sight, it made me realize how important the middle east region and oil is to our culture. I turned twenty one while at DG, the Wichita was tied up to a Tender (Repair Ship) for repairs that were needed. During this time. I did'nt bother to leave the boat. There was'nt anywhere to go.
In the distance, at DG I could see several ships anchored in the harbor, but if there were crew with these ships, there would have been a couple of thousand sailors on the Island and there was not. After making some inquiries about the ships. I came to find out that these ships were part of a rapid deployment force and were packed full of everything an army might need if they were called into action. Later in life after 9-11, I found out that federal government had an unwritten policy that said; if the worlds oil supply were threatned, that the United States would go to war for its protection. My experience at DG would couple these two items together as corroborating evidence. Whereas, I can understand the strategic importance of the world fuel supply, even if some people cannot. The one thing that the federal government failed to tell the American people was, that we were at war over oil for many years.
When I went on WESTPAC, the Commanding Officer of the Wichita was Captain Anthony (Tony) Less. I really appreciated Captain Less. He was open minded, fair and supported the crew. He was also an ex- Navy Fighter Pilot and was with the Blue Angels, which may explain why he was open minded. After leaving the MODLOC Station for our first liberty port, which was Thailand. We were in the South China Sea, when we came up on some Vietnamese refugees in a boat. We had just arrived when we saw a boat pulling away from their disabled sanpan. The boat that was pulling away, was crewed by Thai Pirates who had just taken the last of everything these people had that mattered, except their lives. We dispatched a helicopter to follow these pirates, but it did'nt do much good.
After we picked up the refugees, I was near the bridge and I could hear Captain Less on a portable radio, talking to the crew who was handling the Sanpan. They did'nt want to leave it float unattended in sea lanes and they were trying to figure out what to do. So I walked up to the Captain and made a couple of suggestions,. Captain Less actually listened to my suggestions and passed them on over the radio. They ended up flooding the sanpan with a firehose to sink it. But thats how Tony Less was, if you had something pertinent to say, he would listen.
The next time I heard of Captain Less, was sometime around the Gulf War. At this point in time, he was an Admiral. He was the Officer that gave the order to the USS Vincense to shoot down a suspect aircraft that was thought to be an enemy plane. It was later found to be a civilian jet liner full of passengers. Muslim Passengers.
The Wichita and crew, were in the IO for approximately one hundred and nine days straight in 1980, without any sort of liberty. We refueled countless ships, sailed independently and in a Battle Group several times. During this time, another significant player entered the scene. This was Iraq, and it was leaked to the crew that a war had broken out between Iraq and Iran.
THE QUIET TIME OF SECRETS
We would frequently be sent to Coronado Island (CI) in San Diego California.
CI was a huge base that housed many frontline naval units, including the U.S, Navy Seals. It was around this time, when I began see indications of more Navy Seal activites from observing them in our operating areas when we were out to sea. On one ocassion, we were told that we would be boarded by Seals for a training exercise. And they did board from a rubber inflatable boat.
This was just one small indicator of a fairly new method of warfare. "Special Forces" had started during world war two, but gained a real foothold in modern warfare during the Vietnam war. The U.S. Government while downsizing the regular military had taken to utilizing small special forces units, such as, the Navy Seals to conduct covert warfare. In conjunction with this, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was also involved in covert warfare in various parts of the world including Afghanistan.
There were some short term large scale military operations that the public knew of, including Grenada and Panama. But the public was not necessarily privilaged to this information until the operations were underway. But as time passed, the covert operations and the secret war for oil would come home to roost for the United States. To add insult to injury, the U.S. became a staunch supporter of Israel, the small state of Israel was (and is) hated by their Arab neighbors. The leaders of the various hostile middleast nations would be brought to the peace table multiple times, sign multiple peace accords, only to watch them fail, only to watch the military solution come into play, especially between the Israelis and Palestinians..
MY QUIET TIME
After my enlistment was up, I was out for about a year and pretty bored, so I went into the Naval Reserve. I was with a Unit called NCSO 413. This units job was to sieze control of civillian shipping assests in time of war. We pushed a lot of paper, and after being in the fleet, I needed more action, so I went into the Illinois National Guard and was a Sergeant with the 133rd Signal Battalion. During this time, I was getting busy in my personal civilian life. I attended the Chicago Police Academy with he suburban class, and went into law enforcement for a small suburban police agency in Fox River Grove Illinois. It was during this time that we saw pictures of the Soviet Army bogged down in Afghanistan, fighting against the majaudin, in which we would later find was directly supported by the CIA.
Then under the Reagan administration, the Berlin wall came down. Ronald Reagan spoke the magical words "Mr. Gorbacheve tear down that wall". Reagan obviously knew more than he said. Because the days of the former Soviet Union were numbered, surely a victim of the covert warfare apparatus.
All things considered, the 1980's and 90's, were very prosperous for the United States. The U.S. had come out of a resession under the Reagan administration and the nation seemed on track. I was well out of the military, working in civilian law enforcement in the nineties, when the Gulf War erupted. One of the earlier players, Iraq, under the regime of Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait.
Another thing that I had learned while I was in the IO, was that most of the oil tankers that sail the oceans of the planet are registered in Kuwait. This is because Kuwait is a huge oil producing nation. So when the Gulf War kicked off. I knew why it did. By the time of the Gulf War, I had been married, had two children, got divorced and was close to being remarried.