Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Operation Display Determination 1985


In 1985 I was a salty know it all member of the "Spec 4" Mafia assigned to Weapons Platoon B Company 1st Battalion 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment 82nd Airborne Division Ft. Bragg NC. I was assigned as the gunner for the main gun of our 81 mm mortar section, a somewhat prestigious position given to the lower enlisted guy who had managed to stick around the longest without getting chaptered out. The All American Division as the 82nd is known, was and is the only Division size paratroop unit left in the US Army. The army of the 1980's was different than today's military. It was struggling to make a cohesive professional force as it also transitioned from the draftee army of the 1970's to an all volunteer army. Times were a little turbulent, like the summer we had to walk to every training exercise closer than 12 miles because the military had run out of money for fuel.
Some of my good friends were Roger, Richard, Don (Duck), B.J., Bobby (The Ragin Cajun) , Mark,and Ernest T. All of these guys were awesome friends, some got out of the military and I lost touch, some like Duck who proceeded me into Special Forces made the military a career like I did.They say you never forget your first and Weapons platoon was my first military unit and I will never forget the characters that belonged to it.

In 1985 our unit was deployed to the European part of Turkey in an Emergency Deployment Readiness exercise called "Display Determination 85." Every platoon provided two soldiers to act as an advance party and I was chosen to be one of those two for our platoon. The other soldier accompanying me was a "newbie" to our platoon named David. Dave had come over from the 4/325 stationed in Vicenza Italy so he was familiar with Europe where my only trip overseas at the time had been to the Sinai Peninsula. The 4/325 would be redesignated the 173rd Airborne Brigade some years later. We departed North Carolina via C141 cargo plane on our way to Turkey and after a long and very boring flight we landed in Istanbul and unloaded our CONEX containers and vehicles for the move farther west. We convoyed west along the highway until we entered a tent city built next to a Turkish Commando base. The Commandos would be participating in our exercise but I never really saw them during our time there. We spent the next two days reconning the drop zone and preparing for the arrival of the rest of our battalion who would make a night mass parachute drop after flying straight from North Carolina.

I was tasked to be the jeep driver for the Drop Zone Safety Officer (DZSO) so at the appointed time and place I was dozing off in the sparsely cushioned seat of an M151 jeep when I heard the unmistakable sound of low flying aircraft. The DZSO was taking wind readings and talking to the lead aircraft via the radio that was on the other seat of the vehicle. The wind reading was 10 knots gusting to 13 knots which was the maximum limit for a static line parachute jump such as the one being attempted. Either way it was a little windy and pitch black. By straining my eyes I could make out the darker outlines of the aircraft against the night sky. Suddenly I saw little green chem lights shooting out the tail of  multiple aircraft as the heavy drop of vehicles and equipment was released prior to the jumpers. These chem lights were attached to the cargo parachutes rigged on this equipment. Heavy drops were normally released at the leading edge of the drop zone so as not to clutter the rest of the landing area for the personnel.

However on this particular night after flying thousands of miles in total darkness and conducting nape of the earth low level flight for 2 hours prior to the jump the Air Force got it a little wrong. The lead sortie of aircraft released their equipment in the center of the drop zone which did two things. Number one it pushed their troops off the edge of the drop zone forcing many of them to land in a water filled canal that was 500 meters from te trailing edge. Number two when the trailing birds adjusted for the error they dropped their troops smack dab on the equipment that had been previously dropped. Factor pitch blackness and high winds into the equation and you had a recipe for disaster. After all jumpers where away we started driving across the drop zone using blackout lights trying to estimate the number of injured and confused paratroopers. Along the way I happened to find a few members of my platoon and they hitched a ride to our platoon assembly area. A few of them like my friend Roger had actually been dragged by their parachutes down the shallow canal like bobsledders on their back. He told me how he struggled to release one of his canopy risers as the water kept flowing over his helmet and into his mouth and nose. After finally releasing the riser he stopped being dragged but he had to retrieve his soaked rucksack and sodden parachute and start navigating to the assembly area. He was especially upset because the disposable camera he had in his ruck was ruined. He was very glad to see us. As dawn approached all individuals were accounted for and we started hearing the war stories and rumors of injuries, things like our battalion commander slamming full force into a large truck that was on the drop zone (this one was true he was sent back home and spent 3 weeks in the hospital) or the guy who landed in some village and was arrested by the local police ( not true).

We moved out on foot and for the next two weeks we walked and walked and walked all over the Turkish countryside lugging our heavy mortar equipment with us. Occasionally we would get a fire mission and we would run some dry fire drills dropping imaginary mortar rounds onto imaginary reference points or objectives. The whole time we conducted the exercise I never knew where we were on the map and it was all I could do to slog through the muddy freshly plowed fields. It was 3 years later when I attended Ranger School when I was taught the importance of keeping all members of your unit informed. I give our platoon leader an F on that little skill. Every night we would set up the guns and sleep beside them, waiting with one ear next to the field telephone for the sound of "Section!!!" which indicated an incoming fire mission.

Eventually we made it back to the tent city for some R and R prior to leaving to go back to the States. The first night in the tents we managed to obtain some Turkish Arak, which is a liquor similar to Sambuka or Raki. If you have never had any of those they are all clear and taste like black licorice and will kick you butt. We mixed this liquor with the dried fruit we pilfered from our first generation Meals Ready to Eat to make a jungle juice par excellance'. After about 2 hours we where howling at the moon and rolling through the bonfire outside the tent. Bobby burned his hand in the fire but we told him to quit his whining and have another canteen cup full of the juice. The next day we all had heads the size of fresh watermelons but we were told we would be getting a cultural tour of Istanbul. This was actually pretty cool, we visited the Grand Mosque and other attractions. I bought a little ivory jewelry box for some reason. I kept the box and 2 years later I gave it to my wife who at the time I hadn't even met. She still has it. Later on that evening we went to the Kervan Seray night club and were treated with a show featuring traditional dancers. We drank a bunch of beer and things were going along well until we reached the beer limit established by the chain of command and also discovered we had been locked into the night club. I guess the muckety mucks didn't want any drunk and testosterone filled paratroops invading downtown Istanbul. Disheartened and half sloshed we used all the money we had left to bribe one of the waiters to provide us with some alcohol. He delivered us ten bottles of the most god awful red house wine I have ever drank. Of course we proceeded to polish those off and the night ended with us doing jump commands and Parachute Landing Falls off the tables of the night club.

The next day we poured ourselves into the planes taking us back home and lifted off for our refuel stop in Madrid Spain. The flight back was no picnic as this was still the Cold War. Our route took us close to the airspace of some Eastern Block countries and our pilot did some pretty nifty evasive manuevers when he reported we where being shadowed by two unknown MIG Aircraft. I expected a air to air missle to come through the fuselage at any moment. Eventually we landed in Madrid however and had a 4 hour layover that was prolonged when after takeoff our landing gear woudl not retract and we had to make an emergency landing back at the airport. Rumor had it the Security Police had the bomb sniffing dogs out giving the plane a once over.Finally we landed back at Pope Air Force Base and Fort Bragg. I was happy to be back in the States.

Post Script: As I write this blog entry it has been one year since my good friend Roger was killed in a bicycle accident. Airborne All the way

6 comments:

  1. Mac,

    What's up old buddy? Been awhile. It's a voice from the past. I was on this f'd up Turkey jump and I'm in the platoon pic above. Totally freaked me out when I stumbled across this blog of your's the other day. I'll let you guess who exactly I might be. Hint: My motto was "Land Hard, Die Loud." (I even had a shirt that said that--lol) My email is rialmo1@aol.com. If I haven't heard from you in a few days, I'll email you at the yahoo address. Maybe we can catch up a little. Airborne

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  2. Hey!
    I was there in 1st Plt, Assistant 60 gunner and my gunner got hurt on the jump so I ended up toting all his shit. I remember it just like you stated above but wasn't it the Division Commander (Gen Porter) who hit the truck? I was in one of those planes who flew over you and as we approached the DZ our crew chief was yelling the wind readings to us which were all too high for jumping so we were laughing & joking (just going through the motions like so many times before) I was 4th or 5th from the door. Suddenly he yelled 13 & holding about 2 seconds later the light turned green and I was out into the blackness. The thunder of my exit slowly gave way to the quiet hum of the plane getting farther away. I couldn't see shit so I dropped my gear and just look straight ahead. A few seconds passed and I noticed movement below me, fast movement of dark and darker shadows (Looked to me much more than 13 knots) I closed my eyes and went limp. I hit like a sack of shit, somehow cracking the back of my head while I was clearly drifting forward. I was dragged for (?) before I got my riser pulled also. I didn't see any water or vehicles though. Took my routine leak and headed for the rally point. That was one of the hardest landing I had while in the 82nd. We walked forever also and I never really knew where I was going,. Just remember waking up to that singing every morning from the nearest village. I remember Istanbul and that club also. We had roast lamb or something and those belly dancers were ugly as sin. We went to a Turkish bath also but they made all the girls leave when we got there. Hey, what ever happened to those Turkish jump wing orders we were supposed to get? That picture you have looks like the DZ where I landed. Straw, which was piled up about 3 feet behind my shoulders when I finally stopped being dragged. Glad I was there never want to do it again. 11 years of that then got medically reclassed & retired SFC. Now I’m GS working for the Air Force. Thanks for sharing the memories.
    p.s. I always wondered who the joker was who gave our flight commander that “13 knots malarkey” It’s OK, I’m over it now.

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  3. Porter could have been the truck hitter..my old timers disease makes names hard to remember

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  4. I just did a search for "Display Determination 1985" and found this blog. I was in 1st Platoon B. Co. 1/325 and did this jump. Miserably cold! I have a few pictures from this exercise. Fun times!

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  5. It was Gen Porter who slammed into the vehicle. I remember it being a Gamma Goat. I remember the USAF dropping us a mile from the intended drop zone and the canal full of water that separated out units. I also remember it being extremely cold and trying to dig a hasty fighting position for warmth but the soil was so rocky. I can remember having the admin day with the Turks and one of them trading his field jacket for an American one. Later that night when we were in the tents, that Turk came back with his supervisor and was almost in tears because his identification had been left in his jacket.

    This event and the 6 months in the Sinai are my most favorite times in the Army.

    Randy Foreman

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  6. I know this is not completely relevant, but if anyone reading this was stationed in Fort Bragg in 1984 and knew Michael Gentry and/or Robert Plummer, please e-mail me at Jmbunn2011@yahoo.com. Thank you!!

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