By Terk Williams
11 Jan, 1991 about 1700. My wife and I are dressing for a combined Hail and Farewell party and her birthday in a good Italian restaurant in downtown Manhattan. The phone rings and it’s Capt. Tom Morgan. Just as I had reported aboard he fleeted up from CO CGAS Brooklyn to chief of staff to LANTAREA as held by VAdm Howie Thorsen. “Terk, it’s Tom”. Anytime a senior O-6 calls an old Lieutenant using first names at 1700 on a snowy Friday NY evening it’s going to be an interesting chat. “The boss wants to know if you would be available to go overseas for up to 180 days on a mission we can’t discuss on a non secure phone line”. I put my hand over the phone, chatted briefly with Konni, the daughter of a retired B52 pilot, and told captain Morgan I was in. “Get you things in order and be in the bosses office at 0700 Monday.” “Now I’ll call your CO”. I had just been in invited to my third war. I’m an old Army “Dustoff” (medivac) pilot with a year in II Corps Vietnam. I had spent ten years “out” and missed jumping in a helo and saving someone… ‘cause I could… As an ex Army warrant I had the pleasure of doing OCS in Jan 1980 and after a run through Mobile returned to my Miami/Ft Lauderdale home. I did five there, a delightful three in Kodiak and then Brooklyn. While at Brooklyn I spent a couple months in Norfolk where I helped design and run combat SAR (CSAR) drills for a joint summer drill, 144,000 troops, live in the waters off Norfolk, prophetically called Solid Shield. Live, but not counted as a war. The second live war I was invited to I missed in Granada when our deployed HH52 went Charlie for a bad fuel control. This third war I was Desert Storm I was to be the Advisor to the Navy for SAR/CSAR in the Persian Gulf or NAG (Northern Arabian Gulf as its more politically called). I had rather open orders so got myself to Germany as the war started without me. There had been a snafu in planning and we were playing catch up. I hoped a C141 from Frankfurt to Bahrain and a “Desert Ducks” helo to the ship. As an interesting aside. The two female Navy ash n trash pilots were still flying even after the shooting started. They may quietly be the first two female pilots in a war zone. More followed but they were there and stayed. A Coastie with OPCEN experience had been drafted from Desert Shield boarding duties to get “HARBORMASTER” started aboard the USN Destroyer Leftwich (DD 984) so when I got there the 24/7 watch was established using ships radar folks. The shooting started Jan 17 as I stood in JFK with all air traffic paused. I relieved him o/a Jan 21. We were a Destroyer squadron of three patrolling behind the Dora oil field. The steel oil rigs along with our padded, low radar reflecting hull provided some radar confusion and theoretical protection from the shore based Silkworm missiles 30 miles SW on the occupied Kuwait coast. At the 30 day mark I also shifted to the USS Oldendorf, again a DD with two in company. Where I went so went the call sign “Harbormaster”. We had rotating H3’s from the deployed Carriers. We kept a bird flying on station in a designated area adjacent to the common ex fill for the flights. They would fly four hours, land, hot fuel and swap crew and go back. At the next swap the standby bird was taken out of the hangar, the blades spread and they took over the relatively boring orbit The one bit of excitement there was the free floating anti ship mines. They lay low in the water and were typically growth covered and green. The helo spent a fair bit of effort spotting them Parts of the ummm…’augmented’…SEAL team we had at our disposal rode the helo and would deploy and blow these when they were spotted. Our team accounted for about 280 of these during our stint. They did miss one. I was below in the lower berthing area when the ship did an emergency ‘all stop’. The mine had been missed in the dusk even by our “mine watch” folks and it floated past about six feet off the skin of the ship directly outboard of where I was. I think the ship destroyed it with gunfire after we resumed breathing. Funny, by then I had gone on to a shower and don’t even remember the explosion. We spent a lot of time being alert and a lot of time being tired.
The twenty four cases and the shift in mind set. The Leftwich, being one of the closest assets to Kuwait when the famous flight of attacking Tomahawks was fired was close enough to the coast that they claimed the first strike explosion of the war. When I got aboard four days later the ship, and the Commodore in charge, for whom I ‘advised’, was still in a very high state of…well, a Marine would yell Huuraha! in his sleep at that state. My most interesting, and mind bending ordeal was to explain to the Commodore the mission,…now HIS/our mission, was saving lives at sea, no matter that they were the same folk that he was tasked with blowing up four days earlier. SAVING Lives At Sea SIR! It took a bit of doing but we settled in and he had his active helicopters and SEALS and they often blew things up where we could see them.
Of the twenty four SAR/CSAR cases only two were allied. The first was in the first couple of days, and before I got there. We hadn’t gained air superiority yet and a MIG took out a single seater. Nothing to find. The second Allied bird that went down was a successful ejection in close proximity to friendly ships. Like much of the war, it was all over before we even had much information. Shot down, stepped out, picked up. It took longer to write up than to execute. The other twenty-two cases were typically vessels our forces had shot up and left adrift either in rafts or in water so shallow that the vessel still had a dry spot the sailors could cling to. There was often an entire fore deck complete with spray painted “help us” signs…in Iraqi… This is where the SEALs came into play. In the worst case we had twenty something in two inflatable rafts. We armed both helos with M60’s… and stuff… and split SEALs into both birds. One helo hoisted SEALs into a raft to sort out and disarm the folks, the other stood a very careful watch over the first who in turn had some very trigger ready folks guarding their team. Half way through the helos and SEALs swapped places and brought the second half out in the second bird. As that one panned out we just gathered twenty something low intelligence sources (for the SEALs to have discussions with AFTER the rescue) and came home for chow, which was always outstanding…. This war was watched over by folks that remembered the unpleasant debacle as we returned from Viet Nam and saw to it that we were treated in a way that tried to un do that version both during the shooting and afterward. We had crates of kiwis on the wardroom table, good lessons learned at a relatively low cost then were paraded down Wall Street, down the National Mall and given souvenirs and ‘stuff’ to know we had kicked ass and brought freedom to the people of Kuwait. While there were some interesting moments, it was the kind of thing we signed up for.