Reflections: Watching a War Start

We noticed that Iran chose the recent occasion of the 27th observance of the start of the Iran-Iraq war to parade their latest thumb-nose Israel (and the rest of the world).  While subject missile, and some other observations, are in the process of being written, we too recalled the occasion of the start of said war, though not fondly and for different reasons. 

The kick-off, if you will, of that event was witnessed by YHS as we were drilling holes in the North Arabian Sea as part of the IKE CVBG in 1980.  Having been on station already since May (with one brief break in the action for a port call in Singapore), we were very much looking forward to a week of liberty in Perth.  In fact, for almost three weeks previous, bags of mail addressed to “Any Sailor, USS Eisenhower” had been arriving from the good citizens of Perth, many from the good, single female citizens of Perth.  With pictures.  Did I mention we’d been pretty much at sea continually since January with an abbreviated workup schedule, even shorter POM and pretty much hit the bricks running in early April in a mad dash for the IO (the long way around Africa BTW).  This with an extra load of helos and folks who didn’t wear nametags on their flightsuits for a potential hostage rescue attempt, that, of course, was preempted by the aborted one off Nimitz?  I did say we were looking forward to Perth, didn’t I…

Well, we were up on the last cycle (one of the joys of being the junior mission commander come flight sched time) when we get a call to buster north to a set of coordinates that didn’t look quite kosher.  See, when you tell an E-2 to buster, it must really be urgent ’cause we aren’t exactly going to shift to after-prop and go screaming off into the wild blue.  Point two is that where you put the war hummer is important since our only mode of armed self-protection lay in our Bethpage-bred swing-wing brethren or the ability of our surface buds to reach out and touch someone.  Since the latter was unavailable owing to stationing and the former were in the process of being scrambled (only ones aloft were us, a couple of war Hoovers (S-3s for everyone else), the Whale (EA-3 for everyone else) and the PG helo) we were notably alarmed at the location they wanted us to go to – well up inside the ‘Thou Shalt Not Trespass on Penalty of a FNAEB’ Straits of Hormuz, with a dictum to “look North and West and tell us what you see…”  A call was placed over secure to his Alfa Bravo-ness which was replied to most expeditiously by AB himself (AB being the Battle Group CDR, a one-star which, to a LTJG CICO, pretty much amounted to The Word from the Throne of the Almighty Himself) to go forth as directed with haste, and quit wasting his valuable time.

So, off we went.  By now the ESM was picking up significant activity of a number of early warning, anti-aircraft, air-intercept and other radars – much more than we had become accustomed to seeing even during the pathetic chest thumping that periodically took place to place fear in the hearts of the infidels cowering off the coast.  Yeah.  As we approached our station, by this point, thankfully, with a brace of 4 x Tomcats loaded out  2 x 2 x 2 and a knife in their teeth, we picked-up a lot of air activity flowing north and west.  Something Was Up.  Alas, no one was interested in us (we, of course only say ‘alas’ for our Tomcat buds who hoped for an opportunity to OPCHECK a Phoenix, or Sparrow or Sidewinder or two.  Or three.  Or six…)  — no IIAF Phantoms or Tomcats ventured our way that evening.  A call to the Whale went unanswered as they were very busy collecting.

Eventually, fuel states dictated an end to the festivities and we returned to an unbriefed EMCON A battle group (with much cursing and gnashing of teeth over squadron commons with the disappearance of TACAN and such), but all managed to make it aboard in more or less typical fashion.  That is to say the first Tomcat boltered, the Hoover gooned the pattern, the Whale boltered and we sucked fumes until the ‘all clear’ for our approach was made and our sticks made sure we’d trap on the first pass…it was an interesting debrief by the LSOs for ALCON afterwards, accompanied by continued weeping, aiwing and much gnashing of teeth.  So, after that round of fun, we were headed back to the Bluetail RR to partake of a movie and make plans for Perth, when we were collared by OPS who said not so fast, to get our hide down to CVCC because we were on the first launch the next day (“But I thought we were going to Perth…?”) and had to do our planning for a “special mission of national importance.” 

Now most JG’s think that being salty has something to do with excessive use of the table condiment and the verbal underscore of  “special mission of national importance” would leave them wide eyed and oohing in the passageway.  Trouble was, this particular JG had already been jerked around enough by this point on “national missions – etc.” that all that it elicited was a roll of the eyes and a “yeah….right…” as he shuffled off to CVCC.

And ’twas in CVCC that Operation RAWHIDE was a-borning.  “RAWHIDE”?  Yeah, RAWHIDE; as in head ’em up, move ’em out.  You see, the Administration, comfortably ensconced in cardigan sweaters and a-frowning on national TV back home over “malaise,” was all worried that the war which had begun that evening between Iraq and Iran was going to demonstrably upset the oil market (not that the inactions taken by them the previous three years hadn’t had an effect — but we digress) and one of the metrics they wanted monitored was the flow of oil through the Straits.  We (‘we’ being CVW-7) had the dubious duty of counting oil tankers in- and out-bound from the Straits.  With the exception of the F-14s, who were going to be flying, tightly leashed by ROE, CAP for the whole endeavor.  SUCAP-armed A-6’s and A-7’s were to fly the littorals and the S-3, station wagons (aka Prowlers), COD, helos and anyone else up flying (including the PMCF E-2) would be flying the rest of the area outside the mouth of the straits.  Everyone was assigned a box to patrol and pass their count, IDs, and other tracking info.  By voice.  To the airborne secretaries in the E-2 (that would be us).  We in turn would relay the counts to the ship for further transmittal to Washington. 

Funny thing about UHF radio – it is line of sight.  Ergo, when you are down low, you are limited by the horizon, so that say, your fellow A-6, who is two boxes, or a hundred or so miles over, can’t hear you.  Meaning as you are down rooting around the littorals and making your list to pass along, you aren’t bothered by all that nasty chatter on the radio, it being all peaceful-like. 

Another funny thing about UHF radio – it is line of sight.  Meaning that a platform at 25,000 feet can hear ALL those A-6’s, and A-7’s and CODs and Helos and Hoovers And Prowlers who ALL want to pass their traffic, and right NOW thank you kindly.  Oh, and while you’re at it Bluetail, we need tankers and reliefs on CAP station too…  Yeah, we had fun.

When we returned to the ship 6 hours later (on fumes) to another circus in the pattern (you would think the S-3 with all that visibility from that vast acreage of canopy would be one of the last to regularly violate the Case I stack and cut others out of the pattern – evidently that wasn’t the case…) we learned the fate of our visit to Perth – cancelled.  But, hey IKE, not to worry, we’ll take care of you.  Even now our crack State department folks are working on getting a port visit for you in Karachi or even better, Mombassa instead !  And don’t worry about having to take massive amounts of the Malaria prophylaxis just before returning home from 9+ months at sea, we’re sure there’s no harmful side-effects, we think.

Well, wasn’t long after that when the absentee ballots began showing up for that fall’s election and it would be fair to say that the battlegroup’s response probably went along the lines of  ‘malaise this…’  RAWHIDE continued for another 2 months and eventually dwindled to nothing in terms of assets assigned.  We finally got orders to return home and with input from the crew (‘scr*w Mombassa, home by Christmas’ was the crew’s slogan) we eventually returned to Norfolk, putting in on the 23rd of December.  All total IKE spent 347 days at sea, underway in 1980 including the longest line period since WW2, a record held until it was broken by the Abe Lincoln BG during another war involving that area, OEF.  The Bluetails earned another Battle “E” and AEW Excellence Award for that period while learning that the reward for doing well was – more deployments (see Reflections: The Resurrection of BuNo 160992 for more). 

And Iran and Iraq continued in one of the longest, bloodiest protracted land battles the likes of which hadn’t been seen since WW1 – with about the same level of incompetence at command levels and attitude towards throwing bodies into the fray…for eight more years…


1 Comment

  1. S-3 busting through the Case I stack? Probably the Skipper driving!

    Rawhide sounds like it was a product of the political machine – a vast waste of time and resources.

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