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Socotra House Publishing: Purveyor of Glib Words to the World

Socotra House Publishing is a small press dedicated to publishing and distributing the historical works of Vic Socotra, a non-mortal fellow who captures American and military history with aplomb.

A War We Forgot

The Giants won the world series and there was widespread rioting. I missed that part, but it was a grand series for a change. I got wrapped up in some hazy memories about organizing the Pariah States Cool Hotels tour for Congressman Bill. The agony of the details and preparation had faded- the hotels were grand, securing tickets and visas from militantly hostile states was interesting.

Still, that is what we did for a living. I got a fabulous account of the first Navy visit to Shanghai since 1949 yesterday which we will get to this week, and while we have been concentrating on Africa and Iran and Asia for the last string of tales, it is worth some other ruminations on how complicated the art of conflict is, and perhaps shed some light on how your taxpayer-funded elements of military-politico affairs are actually conducted.

The following report is from one of the last Staff Delegations I managed, this one not to the troubled island of Hispaniola, nor the exotic Far East, but to the European Theater, where war raged in the Balkans.

Forgot that one? Yeah, me too, mostly. But planning and execution are just two of the three elements. Someone has to take the notes and write the after-action report. This popped up in the course of looking for something else. I am not going to put the pictures with it- I think there is a bundle of them that we took on the trip, but they probably perished in the several moves since. There were none in the original report, so you are going to get it the same way the Congress of the United States got it, unclassified, un-illustrated, and with issues that really didn’t mean much in the long haul about a conflict that is even more forgotten than The Forgotten War in Korea.

Here goes- it is best read swiftly, since it is about motion, and dragging bags.


May 1, 1995


1. Executive Summary: Between 06 and 14 April, a Senate Staff Delegation headed by Mr. Pete Dorn, and Gary Reese of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence conducted an examination of intelligence support to Joint Task Force PROVIDE PROMISE in the former Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). Mr. Dorn and Mr. Reese are monitors of the GDIP and TIARA accounts, respectively, and are thus responsible for funding all levels of military intelligence from national-to-tactical levels. Prior to departure, Mr. Dorn visited Washington-Area Service and Joint Staff offices with cognizance for collection architecture and current intelligence to examine the National component of the intelligence flow. In Theater, the USEUCOM J2 coordinated the gathering of virtually all intelligence commands from the component and Combat Support Agency perspective. Additional visits were conducted with the Chiefs of Station in Germany and Italy to examine the CIA component of the intelligence collection posture. After this Theater-level round of meetings, the STAFFDEL proceeded to AFSOUTH HQ in Naples, where discussions were held with key personnel in the JTF and the Joint Intelligence Center. The intelligence effort appeared focused and well-managed; however, at the next level of Balkan operations, DENY FLIGHT at Vincenza, IT, it appeared that personnel turbulence and connectivity issues hampered the smooth coordination and dissemination of tactically-relevant intelligence to aircrews. A Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS) roll-away terminal appeared under-utilized and not integrated into the watch center structure. In marked contrast was the organization of the JTF-Forward located at Zagreb, Croatia. The intelligence mission was well-focused, studious efforts were made to prevent mission -creep and moral appeared high. Additionally, in-depth discussions with Central Intelligence Chiefs-of-Station and case-officers were conducted at every opportunity to assess HUMINT effectiveness and integration of military resources into a coherent and effective collection team.

2. Members of the Delegation:

MR Peter Dorn, PSM/SSCI (GDIP Monitor)
MR Gary Reese, PSM/SSCI (TIARA/JMIP Monitor)
MR Robert Winchester, Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army/LA (Executive Agent)
CDR Victor Socotra, Navy OLA-52
CDR Terry Roberts, DMI Staff
CDR Dennis Priccolo, USEUCOM Intelligence Architecture Officer

3. 6-7 APR. The delegation departed Dulles International under sunny skies via United Airlines flight to Frankfurt, GE, for further transportation to Stuttgart, home of the Headquarters of the U.S. European Command. Escort services were provided at Frankfurt and CDR Dennis Priccolo, EUCOM Intelligence Architecture Officer, greeted the group upon arrival at Stuttgart. After check-in at the BOQ at Patch Barracks, physical training was conducted with the Special Operations Command representative. Principals dined with BG Mike Hayden at the CINC’s mess while escorts held informal meetings with Lt Col K.C. Thompson and CDR Priccolo. Upon conclusion of the luncheons, General Hayden greeted the delegation in the J2 SCIF for an afternoon symposium and round table discussion discussions were conducted with representatives of virtually every European -area command with significant intelligence resources. This approach saved a vast amount of time and effort on the part of the delegation by eliminating most short-haul travel requirements to meet resource claimants.

Mr. Dorn gave a brief introduction on the nature of Intelligence as Force Multiplier, and the concept that reductions in operational force structure did not necessarily mandate a reduction in intelligence resources. BG Hayden then provided a concise but thorough appreciation on the Balkan crisis, from its origin as the juncture of the cultural tectonic plate between Christendom and Islam, Europe and Asia to the current status. The critical element that he sought to convey was the notion that there were no “white hats” in the conflict. Each faction has atrocities for which it must answer, the only difference occasionally being in the degree. In this regard EUCOM stood in respectful but adamant disagreement with the State Department. In this context, selected systems briefings were given on national and theater level systems such as JWICS, the Linked Operations Centers- Europe (LOCE) system and the results of the first series of Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles (UAV’s) which had completed operations late last year. In response to questions on funding sources for some of these systems, General Hayden responded that to a large degree the program elements were (or should be) transparent to the operators. The CINC didn’t care who paid, just so long as someone did. This may have a role in the apparent dis-function of the JWICS roll-away unit at the Air Component of the JTF at Vincenza, IT. The day concluded with a no-host dinner at a local gasthaus that featured traditional German cuisine in a delightful secluded venue. The relaxed atmosphere facilitated frank discussions with the representatives from the commands.

4. The next morning commenced with a thirty-minute jog through the chill of the pre-dawn Patch Barracks darkness. The theme for the Saturday morning meetings was to give each of the commands and services a half-hour face to face with the delegation to allow them to address their issues apart from the round-table forum. This approach was intended to promote the greatest candor and in fact proved very effective and provoked candid discussion.

5. USAREUR AND 66TH MI BRIGADE. First up was the Theater Army component level, represented by COL Terry Ford, USAREUR and COL Steve Argersinger, 66th MI Brigade at Augsburg. Both agreed that the capability to perform their mission had been degraded significantly. One of the ongoing themes of the visit was consolidation of intelligence resources. In regard to the UCIRF, the reluctant consensus was that there was the possibility that the facility could become a subset or Detachment of the JAC. This philosophic approach was similar to that articulated by the Navy component representative in regard to FOSIF Rota.

6. USAREUR COMBAT INTELLIGENCE READINESS FACILITY (UCIRF). According to the Command focus, the UCIRF is focused on ground intelligence issues in the USAREUR area of interest, is integrated with the JAC and NATO elements and serves as the base of intelligence power projection for the Army. In that regard, the watch floor is responsible for the national data base on Bosnia (supporting operations PROVIDE PROMISE and ABLE SENTRY), and the humanitarian relief operations in Rwanda. Additional missions include force protection assessments against potential terrorists in the Theater. The unique support streams which the UCIRF provides includes ground order of battle, terrain/mobility studies, and graphic situational depictions from the Warrior intelligence support system. Although the UCIRF occupies the building of Field Station Augsburg, the resources devoted to the national collection mission have been dramatically reduced. Additional systems organic to the UCIRF include:

– The Deployable Communications and Applications Shelter
– Deployable Intelligence Support Element (DISE) (robust automation and communications capabilities)
– Mini-DISE (Collateral laptop ASAS-Warrior with SATCOM)
– FAST (Forward Area Secondary Imagery Dissemination and TRAP)
– LOCE (Linked Operations-Intelligence Centers Europe)
– TROJAN SPIRIT (Special Purpose Remote Intelligence Terminal) (SATCOM TACINTEL processing and dissemination).

7. 18TH BATTALION. Other key mission areas of concern include the loss of interrogation capability with the consolidation of the 18th BN to the Defense HUMINT Service later in the year. With the stand-up of DHS, all interrogation units would transition to the new agency leaving the Echelon Above Corps MI structure without an organic translation capability. The 18th BN is due to transfer to the DHS within the year. Other the four companies which comprise the battalion, two will be transferred in toto, and the CI company will be reduced by about one-third. The diversity of the echelon-above-corps brigade mission showed the difficulty in applying strict programmatic rules. The 18th BN contains personnel who speak 19 separate languages, including some priceless civilians who speak as many as eight. The 18th also serves as the Defense Investigative Service for security investigations in Europe and conducts all polygraph operations, functions which clearly have national-level associations. Both Colonels argued that JWICS video connectivity for the UCIRF was required.

8. USAFE/IN. Air Force was represented by Col. Joan Bullock. Her presentation sparked an animated discussion of the USAFE intelligence mission. Her VUGRAPHS depicted a precipitous decline in resources- on the order of 78%- but it appeared that this decline was a result of functional transfers to other commands and organizations which left “about a thousand” other Air Force personnel in Theater. It was unclear to whom these personnel were subordinated; likely, many were CCP/TCP resources. Col Bullock stated that with the organization now an organic component of the Air Operations Group (AOG) there was no requirement to support the JAC. There could be, she agreed, the possibility that USAFE IN personnel could augment a JTF Staff. More likely, she reasoned, is the contingency that the USAFE AOG would simply become the Joint Force Air Component Commander and hence the de facto JTF commander. Another recurring theme was funding Special Security Officer (SSO) billets. The USAFE share is reportedly 16 SSO billets and 53 DSNET-3 billets. In regard to the Vincenza-based DENY FLIGHT HQ operation, Mr. Dorn was critical of the appellation of the U.S-only intelligence organization as the “National Intelligence Center” (NIC). His concept was that this implied a funding source from the GDIP for what was clearly a tactical organization. There was a long discussion of the use of the term “National” in the NATO context of meaning it is restricted to the unit’s own nationality for security purposes. Mr. Dorn believes this to be needlessly confusing. Colonel Bullock indicated that she very strongly wanted JWICS video buy-up funded. Mr. Dorn was again very concerned in regard to funding sources in JWICS, saying that there has been a lack of a coherent plan in the distribution of T1 Line connectivity to the commands, and to the priority of the commands receiving it.

9. CINCUSNAVEUR. The Naval Component Commander was represented by CAPT Steve Monson, USN. The number one issue for NAVEUR is the resolution of the Fleet ocean Surveillance Information Facility (FOSIF) issue at Rota, Spain. CAPT Monson’s candid opinion was that “the FOSIF should be transitioned to Major Force Program (MFP) 2 and leave it intact, essentially as is.” He believes that the JAC is not sufficiently focused to support the direct Fleet support mission and that it was unlikely to do so in the future. When challenged by the idea that Navy would not protect the FOSIF in MFP 2, CAPT Monson said he recognized the potential for trouble but thought that it was preferable to a complete loss of capability. The potential for risk, however, was why they were willing to consider moving part of the FOSIF to the JAC. Mr. Dorn raised a variety of other topics, including the collection shortfall in imagery. CAPT Monson identified weaknesses in system migration and intelligence training. At the conclusion of the session, Mr. Dorn asked the CAPT how he felt about CLUSTER YEOMAN. The CAPT was nonplussed, and acknowledged that he knew nothing about it. Mr. Dorn was very assertive in demonstrating at all levels that the Department needed to do a better job of marketing collection capabilities to its intelligence professionals. REEF POINT was another program in point, although since this is an established program-of-rcord , the sensitivity to its worth is very high. There was also the unconfirmed rumor that a REEF POINT platform had been recently lost, but this was subsequently demonstrated to be untrue. Still, the possibility that this had occurred without the Theater being aware (or seeming to confirm the rumor) was disquieting.

10. DEFENSE ATTACHE OFFICE BELGRADE – COL ROBERT KERSHAW, USAF. The travails of the DATT in Belgrade were most illuminating, highlighting the difficulties military overt collection faces when the civilian policy makers reduce the number of DAO personnel and restrict the travel of the sole military attaché. Despite the restrictions, Col Kershaw conveyed some valuable lessons-learned on the HUMINT front. The 6’6″-inch tall officer is an imposing and impressive representative of the worldwide Defense Attaché system. His motorcycle was a trademark of his aggressive collection philosophy, which brought frustration as the DAO was reduced to a single officer and his movements and access to Serbian military personnel was drastically curtailed by the State Department. He stated that he was actively lobbying the DAO system to assign additional officers; however, the sense of the STAFFDEL was that this was unlikely to achieve success absent high-level pressure on State, and that the issue was lack of support in Washington via the DHS headquarters. In terms of his connectivity, however, he lauded the Defense Attaché Worldwide Network (DAWN) as a support mechanism to keep him in touch with his desk officer and the resources of the entire Intelligence Community. DAWN in fact was his only lifeline to the larger world, since State had denied permission for a JDISS terminal to be installed at the Embassy.

11. MARFOREUR was represented by MSGT Gary Reynolds, who gave perhaps the most poignant appeal of the morning. He had been largely silent during the CINCUSNAVEUR discussion and appealed for a few minutes to explain some issues regarding the Marine Corps posture in Theater. It was with disbelief that the delegation was apprised that the G2 staff of the Marine Component was comprised of two people, a USMC Lt Col and himself. Mr. Dorn raised what would become a continuing theme, that everyone seemed to accept without question the notion that the Corps was so deficient in resources that it was simply not possible to flesh out the necessary billet structure. Mr. Dorn observed that there were thousands of personnel available within the Corps intelligence TOE, and that it appeared to be a willful act to allow a Component Commander to have so few resources.

12. DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY REPRESENTITIVE TO THE SUPREME HEADQUARTERS, ALLIED FORCES EUROPE (SHAPE). DIA’s representative to SHAPE is Mr. Steve Covington, who discussed the role and mission of the Survey Section at Mons. His opinion that the presence of a high-ranking SES civilian and himself conveyed the importance of the Alliance to other NATO countries and prompted them to contribute additional resources to the intelligence effort. This participation ensures that a unified intelligence architecture and interoperable ADP systems made sharing intel of the battlefield a reality.

13. JOINT ANALYSIS CENTER (JAC). Molesworth sent CDR Rick Morgan USN. Mr. Dorn raised the issue of UCIRF production of the Ground Order of Battle as a central issue of the JAC’s mission. He pressed the illogic of the Component providing the national database, when it logically should be resources and produced at the Theater level at the JAC. There was general agreement that the current arrangement reflected the past more than it did the objective model for the future. There was no question that the JAC was responsible for Theater OOB production; it was likewise clear that it was inadequately resourced to accomplish this task, particularly in light of the current crisis mission. In fact, the JIC/JAC Study of 1992 recommending the incorporation of the Army’s Joint Military Intelligence Support Element (JMISE) into the JAC resources had not envisioned the Yugoslav catastrophe. The JAC needs to be examined with an eye to rightsizing the command to deal with the mission at hand. Of interest, CDR Morgan was en route the UNPROFOR task force forward in ZAGREB to serve a rotational tour as the Deputy J2. The provision of personnel augmentees to the JTF’s and the UN Forces was a topic that Mr. Dorn had pressed earlier with Brig General Hayden; it was with the understanding that the resources that deployed were only a dozen or so at any given time that the issue appeared to be proportional and appropriate. With the completion of the development of the JAC in the 1997 timeframe, it will be much better prepared to accomplish baseline missions. None-the-less, the end-strength is probably not sufficient to deal with ongoing situations like the collapse of Yugoslavia. Despite this longer view, Mr. Dorn is concerned that the community managers are not stepping up to the shortfall in personnel in the near term.

14. SOCEUR. Special Operations in Europe was represented by a delegation of three, headed by Navy CAPT Shimella. The description of the command mission was punctuated by questions from the delegation on the use of the Special Operations Command Remote Analysis Terminal and Evaluation System (SOCRATES). This system had been held up as typical of the stove-pipe systems which hamper force integration. CAPT Shimella could not document a unique requirement for SOCRATES, with his civilian staff indicating that they only used it for accessing a CINCSOC database. The CAPT went on to indicate that SOC forces in Theater primarily relied on JDISS-E, which enables them to be interoperable throughout the EUCOM AOR. In terms of issues, the special operations manning at the JAC was of concern, mirroring concerns raised by USAREUR. Of seven billets at the JAC to support Special Operations, only two were filled. SOCEUR was very pleased, however, by the JAC’s ability to provide the macro Theater picture.

15. CIA. The Agency Representative to the CINC discussed Agency support to the Command. The local agent, working in a non-disclosed status, performed a core dissemination function, delivering special category material to concerned J-codes on the Staff. In fact, despite the high-level verbiage, the support function largely appeared to be delivery of finished products to the command. The method of distribution was in glaring contrast to the enhanced Theater military intelligence architecture and technology. The delegation was concerned that this dissemination issue was an issue and needed to be addressed. The old-fashioned method of distribution was counter-balanced by General Hayden, who described the difference between the Agency’s reporting on situations such as the FRY as being more “mature” than that provided by the JAC. The point was well taken by the delegation, as Mr. Dorn noted that the JAC was populated by analysts still on their second or third tours in the military, while the Agency DI analysts were able to take the longer view. CIA’s geopolitical analysis is the necessary adjunct to the OOB and military situation assessment done at the JAC. There was uniform consensus in the view that the analysis produced by the Investigations and Research (I&R) branch of the State Department was the least useful and most at variance with the reality as perceived in the Theater. Other issues: The Agency does not have (or have an interest in) systems like JDISS. The clandestine status of all Agency personnel in the Country- including those who only loaded pallets on aircraft- was a major concern. Mr. Dorn pointed out that the purported justification- that of terrorist threat- was at least as high for the active military force.

16. EUCOM ROUNDTABLE SUMMARY: During the outbrief with Gen Hayden (EUCOM J2), Mr. Dorn stated that he was very impressed by EUCOM and the emerging intelligence architecture. Clearly there had been tremendous strides in theater integration and support to joint operations. In regard to the functional transfer of component intelligence resources, the General indicated that he would be willing to accept the mission at the JAC if he was provided all of the resources to do so. The companion logic regarding some potential ground intelligence functional transfer was also discussed without a clear recommendation, although the FOSIF issue clearly indicates that a rigorous approach to “organic” Service resources in the Theater would be useful. Still, the free-fall in troops strength numbers made any planning problematic, and it served no useful purpose to break the system without some assurance that the function would indeed be reconstituted elsewhere in a more programmatically pure manner, Despite these issues, it was clear that there have been significant advances in Joint intelligence cooperation, intelligence support and JAC operations. Mr. Dorn acknowledged that although he often focused on 5% of the picture that needed fixing, there was 95% that was in good shape. Gen Hayden responded that he valued Mr. Dorn’s candor and obvious support for the theater as a whole. In bounding the problem posed by the Balkan crisis, it is useful to consider the vast scope of what it will require to terminate UN involvement. There are huge inventories of various countries’ equipment. On the basis of extricating necessary equipment, it would take two years to get all material out of the FRY.


– European Troop Strength below 65,000. Intelligence must take “fair share” and hurt is disproportionate.
– JWICS funding is uncertain and not logical.
– Systems interoperability (LOCE, JDISS, JWICS, JDISS-E, SOCRATES) and funding are real concerns.
– Airborne Reconnaissance/UAV programs require additional resources and integration.
– HUMINT. Defense HUMINT Service (DHS) Stand-up, CIA operations and interoperability
– UN and JTF Intelligence support still require doctrinal consideration.
– Uneven and short-term TDY tours in support of the crisis lead to problems in institutional memory, leaving the commands with a sort of “institutional Alzheimer’s disease” in lack of a short term memory.

18. MUNICH HUMINT OPERATIONS. After a very full morning, STAFFDEL Dorn departed Patch Barracks under partly cloudy skies en route the Stuttgart train station. The delegation boarded the Inter-City Express (ICE) Train, the high-speed rail connector to Munich, after a productive afternoon session on the train in which numerous topics raised in the morning roundtables were fully discussed. Upon arrival in Munich, the delegation was met by CAPT Brent Canaday, the current Commanding Officer of CTF-168.4, the Navy overt HUMINT office. CAPT Canaday is also the prospective Base Commander of the DHS Operating Base in Stuttgart. First off on the visit was an orientation and windshield tour of the city en route a meeting with the CIA Chief of Station (COS), who had journeyed down from Bonn at the Delegation’s request. The COS was accompanied by key staff members from the country team at the former Voice of America house downtown. A cordial session was conducted as the Station Chief outlined his views of the mission in Germany, the relation with the Host Nationals, who he indicated were feeling a new sense of nationhood and sovereignty. The Chief pointedly wore his jump-wing tie clip to demonstrate his commitment to military support. He went on to stress his total commitment to an aggressive program of support to the Services. He indicated that the relationship between DoD HUMINT and the Agency was vastly improved, with a single DHS point of contact for all DoD HUMINT activities. He pointed out that he had an initiative to establish a DHS billet on his staff, and that initiative would benefit both the Station and the military. He indicated that an Agency billet on the DHS staff would likewise be a further step in integration. There were questions about a classified DHS program that the Station Chief indicated was working very well. An interesting topic at the meeting was the Chief’s view on the question of whether he actually knew about all overt and clandestine HUMINT intelligence activities being conducted in the country. He indicated that he was “just getting a handle on it.”

19. After departing the VOA facility, the delegation proceeded to the historic Navy House for a private discussion with CAPT Canaday. The historic home has just completed an extensive refurbishment and is in its best condition since the end of the WW2, when it passed from the hands of the Nazi SS and into the custody of the United States Army. Originally constructed by a wealthy returnee from the United States, the dark wood paneling gleams and the white plaster is freshly painted. Mr. Dorn and Mr. Reese were able to get a fresh perspective on the local view of how HUMINT was functioning. CAPT Canaday’s view was that relations with the Agency were improving. While they were not always responsive to military requirements, they were at least making an effort. This was in contrast to his relations with the new administration of the DHS. While he was convinced that the functional integration of the service HUMINT resources was the right thing to do, the initial crawling-before-walking was producing the usual glitches. Thus far, the DHS management had not been responsive, and in act had not answered his last six messages. Further, the issue appeared to be an inside-the-Beltway decision-making loop. CAPT Canaday expressed his exasperation, citing the example of a GS-14 billet on his Stuttgart JMP which was taken away without consultation immediately before the hiring board for DHS positions was convened. After concluding the visit, the delegation traveled by van to the Munich airport, where they boarded a Lufthansa flight to Leonardo da Vinci airport at Rome.

20. 10-13 APR 95. ROME, NAPLES, GAETA AND VINCENZA, ITALY. Upon arrival at Rome International, the delegation was met by Lt Col Bill Hines, A/ARMA of the Defense Attaché Office. Bill additionally serves in a classified program of interest to the Committee and is an outstanding representative of the DAO. An Army Foreign Area Officer, he brings necessary knowledge of an important area to the country team. His billet is being filled on a one-time basis by Army, and will return to a Navy relief upon his departure. On the drive into Rome, Colonel Hines conducted an area familiarization tour of some of the Fascist-era architecture still utilized as headquarters for the Italian government. The new city area retains the sense of the Mussolini area. It remains remarkably “modernistic” in style and is readily identifiable to residents of Washington as representing a particularly rigid line of the early 1930’s severe neo-classiest architectural style.

21. ROME. The delegation arrived at the Hotel Grand Flora on the Via Venetto at nearly 2300. The Hotel had served as the wartime headquarters of the German Geheime Staats Polezie (GESTAPO). The slightly frayed elegance of the structure added to the continental atmosphere; located three blocks from the embassy and adjacent to both the medieval City Wall and Harry’s American Bar, the Flora offers a superb free breakfast and a special rate for travelers on official business. The next day being Sunday, the delegation was confronted by the lack of opportunity of substantive briefings. With the day at their feet, the delegation arose early for a brisk jog in the Villa Borgese, conveniently located on the opposite side of the old City wall from the Hotel. After an equally brisk breakfast, the group began a forced march across the Eternal City that would occupy the rest of the day. First off was the Spanish Stair, located about a quarter mile form the hotel. The first Church of fifteen examined that Palm Sunday was at the head of the Stair; the delegation encountered a group of Gypsy women and children, who attempted a grab-and-run on the delegation’s personal belongings. The STAFFDEL retained their icy composure and faced them down. Upon reaching the bottom of the Stair, they made a course for the Trevi Fountain, which was just being basked by the light of the morning sun. The skies were cloudless and brilliant Mediterranean blue. The breathtaking effect would continue for the remainder of the day. Subsequent highlights of this magnificent day included views of the Pantheon, numerous plazas, the Castle San Angelo, a Palm Sunday blessing by the Pontiff at Saint Peter’s with the assembled masses, a brisk walk through a tangled web of cobblestone streets to a delightful sidewalk cafe. After Lunch, Mr. Dorn left to prepare the next day’s agenda, while the remainder of the party continued on a walking tour past the Tiber island, the Temple of the Vestels, the Circus Maximus, the Baths of Caracalla, the Coliseum and the Roman Forum, with a car fire thrown in for Roman flavor. Gathering that evening with CDR Dennis Priccolo, the EUCOM Intelligence Architecture Officer, the delegation began discussions on the next day’s activities, which featured detailed discussions with the JTF intelligence team at AFSOUTH and the COMSIXTHFLT staff at Gaeta. Dinner was splendid, in a high ceilinged but intimate establishment a few blocks west of the Flora. The Italians appeared disconcerted by the determination of the Delegation to have a nice, well-paced dinner and depart in an orderly manner. It was not the first such reaction to the STAFDEL.

23. NAPLES. Departing the hotel at 0600, the next morning, the delegation was delivered to the chaos outside the central train station Lt. Col. Hines for the trip to Naples. Passing the Campo Praetorio (a continuously occupied military garrison for nearly 2,000 years and once home to the elite Praetrorian Guards, who selected their own Caesars) the group made the train with minutes to spare and began an intensive discussion on the key issues involving the Joint Task Force. The primary issues appeared to be connectivity, resources and mission. It was clear that the funding sources for many of the organizations and systems did not make a logically consistent architecture. Mr. Dorn was determined to determine where those specific inconsistencies were located.

24. THE JTF PROVIDE PROMISE JIC. After changing trains from the express to the local metro, the delegation arrived at Bagnoli, the local stop closest to the NATO Armed Forces South (AFSOUTH) Headquarters. The AFSOUTH compound, once a German WWII facility, is well maintained and landscaped with the buildings transitioning to tunnels burrowed into a commanding hill. The delegation was met at the AIRSOUTH building near the central parade ground by Col. Paul Simms, USA, the JTF PROVIDE PROMISE JIC Commander.

25. BACKGROUND OF JTF PROVIDE PROMISE INTELLIGENCE. The JTF Provide Promise team is the command element of all U.S. forces in the former republic of Yugoslavia. The J2 has been established around the core of the Southern Region Joint Operational Intelligence Center, which has a permanent party manning of 13 personnel. CDR Bill Reiske is the JOIC Officer in Charge, and in the JTF structure reports to the TDY Colonel who serves Admiral Smith in the Admiral’s role as JTF Commander. The J2 force structure as augmented includes 42 additional personnel, for a total of 55 onboard. National support to the JTF is focused through the National Intelligence Support Team (NIST) the Joint Intelligence Liaison Element (JILE) Cryptologic Support Group[ (CSG) and the DIA Detachment. This civilian analyst, a DIA resource, was singled out as a unique a valuable asset by Col. Simms, due to her extensive regional expertise. Her contributions illustrated the migrational nature of the intelligence problem at the JTF. Early in the establishment of the organization, the requirement is for technical expertise for systems integration, connectivity and networking. Later, as the ADP support infrastructure becomes mature the requirement shifts from systems knowledge to analytic capability. Hence, the personnel mix needs to be dynamic and responsive to the Commander’s requirements. Likewise, there was a gradual shift in the center of gravity of the analytic capability. Early in the crisis, the national agencies normally will have the best estimative baseline. This will progressively shift forward through the Theater JIC, with those in closest proximity to the action eventually having the best appreciation for the subtlety of the situation.

26. CURRENT SITUATION AT THE JIC. After coffee was poured, the Colonel began an overview of the JIC’s roles and missions. The turnover in personnel is readily apparent; Colonel Simms is the third (or fourth!) commander of the unit since it’s establishment two years ago. While the Commander’s tour lengths are normally six months long, watch-standers are TDY for as litle as three months. Questions from the delegation revolved around manning and function of the JIC. Mr. Dorn asked if the number of personnel was sufficient to accomplish the mission. Col. Simms responded that he believed the level was sufficient, though due to the high turnover he had weaknesses in specific skills, notably in collection management.

27. COLLECTION MANAGEMENT. The requirement for crisis-specific collection management is of a high level of urgency and the expert personnel hard to come by. Training and expertise is a never-ending cycle, since the watch-floor is turning over literally every month or so. Other questions regarding tactical reconnaissance reflected the sense that the collections expertise was located elsewhere. Col. Simms indicated that all reconnaissance issues were by the DENY FLIGHT people at Vicencia. He further indicated that they were not always responsive to the JTF’s needs. It is interesting to note that the indication of problems in communication or responsiveness equate to the echelon of command where there are the fewest clear guidelines about funding sources. The JTF has a significant level of General Defense Intelligence Program (GDIP) funding to account for systems, personnel and connectivity. In terms of unique collection assets available ot the JTF, the issue of Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles (UAVs) was raised. The initial deployment of the LOFTY VIEW in June 1995 was described as a success within the ad hoc framework in which it was deployed. One characterization was “When it was up, it was good.” The natural rejoinder is that it had been up only a few times and was not up now.

28. COMMAND RELATIONSHIPS ON THE PENNINSULA. The Vincenza command- termed the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) would (in a U.S. only context) be termed the Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC). The funding source for this echelon of Command is a Service responsibility; accordingly, the collision of National, Service and NATO funding made the CAOC a difficult command to analyze for efficiency. In that context, the Close Air Support (CAS) and Air Presence missions were discussed from the perspective of the JTF command and control. The current operations posture involved NATO aircraft airborne over Sarajevo but no shooting. This was termed “Air Presence” without strike operations. The intent was to allow the adversaries to hear that there was iron in the air, available for the UN to respond. The roles and functions of the “Two Key” concept, under which someone from both the NATO and UN chain had to approve each step was described. The role and process involved in supporting UNPROFO was also described as a ad hoc function, under which informal contacts were utilized to provide necessary data from the JTF to the UN. The UN G2 has no ability to directly task the JTF J2, but the informal link was strong. The Deputy J2 was normally provided from the JTF or a European intelligence command. One of the roundtable participants from the JAC, CDR Morgan, was in fact en route to the UNPROFOR Headquarters forward to a TDY period. This non-linear arrangement was described at some length, particularly in light of Mr. Dorn’s concern about that the high number of Liaison Officers at all the commands visited. It began to appear that the only way to effectively do business under the fragmented command structure was to embed officers from the parent commands within the UN and NATO structures so they could in fact task the parents for support and information outside the existing official chains of command. For example, Colonel Simms noted that the mechanism to provide intelligence support to NATO was through the USAFE liaison officers forward in Sarajevo, who in turn could in turn provide appropriately sanitized information to those who required it…..and who could reach back into the US Commands to get it.

29. WORK-AROUNDS. This network of work-arounds appeared to be acceptable to the participants as the cost of doing business in four separate and highly distinct cultures: US-Component, US Joint Service, NATO and the UN. The fact that it functions at all, in light of the constant personnel turn-over was indeed a tribute to the professionalism and commitment of all the players. The contrast between the EUCOM organization and NATO and the UN was stark. Where once the Components had operated in fiercely independent modes, competing in not only warfare areas but within intelligence collection and dissemination activities. Now, the draw-down and consolidation had forced a level of coherence and cooperation that was quite startling compared to the days before the fall of the war. In contrast, the NATO system demonstrated quite astonishing duplication in national effort, forced by the inability to fully share intelligence based on each nation’s unique sources-and-methods. The UN, often working under strict rules not to collect classified information, mandated yet another layer. An ongoing theme in depicting the difficulty of dealing with the situation on the ground was the fact that the UN forces operated under the Charter provisions which precluded tactical collection in the area of their forces. Further discussion of this issue must be made at the classified level.

30. TIME TO RECONGIZE CRISIS NEEDS. Mr. Dorn viewed the personnel system of augmentees with concern, since every command appeared to be manned with a hodge-podge of TDY personnel from Reserve Units, Theater Commands and Combat Support Agencies. The number of augmentees prompted the question of why the JTF was so inadequately manned. After all, with the crisis going on two years of age, it must be nearing the time when the response had to be codified and personnel ordered in on a semi-permanent basis. With so many people temporally assigned from other Commands, who was doing the work back home? No one could provide exact numbers of liaison personnel in the EUCOM theatre. In particular, Mr. Dorn viewed the JAC as serving in the “force provider” role vice the Components. In point of fact, the JTF in Naples had only one JAC person, with most of our personnel come from SRJOIC or the Components. One area in which there was a clear disparity of resources was in the number of Marines assigned. There seemed to be the widespread perception throughout all the commands the delegation visited that there simply not enough Corps intelligence personnel in the larger force, and accordingly, there was no point in asking for them. The JTF leadership responded somewhat defensively that there was no requirement at this time for additional amphibious expertise, and that should there be an emerging expeditionary warfare requirement, they would request it.

31. SYSTEMS/ADP ISSUES. Systems consolidation and interoperability provided the framework on which all the intelligence dissemination was hung. EUCOM is still saddled with a variety of intelligence operating systems, some U.S.-funded (and some by the Services) and some funded through NATO, which accounts for the large number. Still huge strides have been made in coming to common software and applications. The number of discrete systems in Theater is dropping steadily as the functional managers force the Services into migration systems. The role of the Joint Deployable Intelligence Support System (JDISS) in this regard cannot be understated: the concept of common interoperable software with agreed protocols and applications was responsible for the single greatest leap forward. When coupled with the data stream provided by the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications Systems (JWICS), this brought forward the possibility of seamless national-to-tactical level intelligence support through video, bulk data transfer and file search in a “pull” architecture which did not overwhelm the operational end of the system. This does not mean that the Theater is without commonality problems. The JTF does not have Socrates and ISAS, though the command believes it will be suitably augmented should the requirement arise, since with initiation of special or expeditionary operations, Special Forces/Marines will/should bring that capability with them. Additional issues confront the JTF in addressing multi-level classification issues on a single host system like the NATO Linked Operations Centers- Europe (LOCE). There is no such capability at this time, so the answer has been to operate redundant and separate networks in addition to LOCE. CDR Pricollo, the EUCOM Intelligence Architecture Officer commented that on a test case basis, ROTA had just recently married OBU and JDISS on one multi-level system, JAC-3, allowing different levels of access to different users.

32. SOUTHERN REGION JOINT OPERATIONAL INTELLIGENCE CENTER (SRJOIC). The actual core of the JTF intelligence effort is the NATO southern region intelligence center- the SRJOIC. As the actual permanent-party NATO component commander, CDR Bill Reiske commented that since his people we there for the long haul- not TDY- it was incumbent on them to ensure that they did not burnout through constant work and crisis response. The SRJOIC has obviously had to change the way they do business since the JTF Provide Promise was camped in it’s spaces. Mr. Dorn observed that since the JTF had been around longer than the entire Persian Gulf War, it was probably time to do something more than send in augmentees. CDR Reiske also commented that potential augmentation from FOSIF Rota billets, should the command be moved, might be useful. He did not envision absorbing a large number of permanent party personnel.

33. CDR Olsen from J3 Provide Promise appeared and immediately went into a confrontational posture with the delegation over the accessibility of Sarajevo. After telling the delegation that he had “personally” turned the STAFDEL down for further travel forward into Sarajevo. He backed down quickly when Mr. Dorn began to inquire into the real decision-making process, which was made at a considerably higher level. CDR Olsen did provide a useful summary of the latest name change for the UN operations and numbers of U.S. personnel assigned:

– UNCRO = UN Confidence Restoration Operations in Croatia 302
Personnel, JTF Forward, US Hospital and Augmentees to UNHCR
– UNPROFOR = UN Protection Forces (now exclusively to refer to Bosnia/Herzegovina (BH) 17 Personnel. Augmentees and Liaison Officers to UNPROFOR/UNHCR
– UNPREDEP = UN preventive deployment (provide deterrence to further southward spread of the conflict) 541 Personnel; TASK FORCE
– ABLE SENTRY, Staff augmentees to UNPREDEP HQ

34. EW FROM THE SHED. Discussions with Col. Annas, USAF, NATO Deputy J2, lead to the conclusion that the national representatives who serve in the Secure Handling and Evaluation Detachment (SHED) were doing a fine job, given that the realities of the NATO environment made their analysis and assessments far too time late to serve as the basis for military action. The national cryptologic agencies from the NATO have their presence in the tunnels, physically separate from the JTF, made them seem less than relevant, it was largely because the operational impact of their presence was symbolic. The SHED product line, though time-late, had the advantage of being fully releasable to NATO partners.

35. TF INTELLIGENCE WRAP-UP. In summing up the issues, COL Simms, JTF-Provide Promise J2, first emphasized that his people were working hard and turning out a quality product. He felt that his support from the national agencies was generally adequate and resources were provided according to his requirements. In terms of problem areas, he emphasized the inadequacy of his collection capability, which he bluntly characterized as “UNSAT”. The reasons were largely due to the use of UN restrictions and the fact that TDY personnel ordered in to fulfill the collection management slots were normally not skilled in the demanding disciplines required by the FRY crisis. He additionally felt that there was a deficiency in HUMINT overall requirements, which were not being met due to the fact that he lacked the ability to task HUMINT resources DHS. He felt strongly that while the imagery-heavy collection systems were doing a reasonable job, the essential elements of information in HUMINT were not being met in BH. He also voiced the opinion that TACRECCE is was not forthcoming in a timely manner, and that accordingly, DENY FLIGHT did not support the JTF fully.

36. OUTCALL FROM THE JTF. Preparing to depart the compound, the delegation made an out-call on the Provide Promise JTF Chief of Staff, RADM Cole. In response to Mr. Dorn’s question regarding the adequacy of intelligence support, he responded ” It is as good as I have ever seen it.” Since he was formerly Chief of Staff at COMSECONDFLEET, the test-bed command for C3I systems, this was high tribute. He went on to explain that he felt there were geographic-specific requiring good maps for the foot soldier. He echoed General Hayden’s comments that ” No one here has white hats, everyone lies, no one keeps their word, so it is very difficult to operate with any certainty. The NIST support teams are great. The UAV deployment of LOFTY VIEW also is a wonderful development, but it was a poor choice of timing for the deployment.” He explained that requirements of the JTF were for something more on the line of Predator: long dwell, long range, multi-discipline collectors. Problem areas included the lack of emphasis the UN has on force protection and the lack of organic SIGINT collection resources on the ground in the FRY. He believes that the JAC is great on theatre level support and national collection such as overhead systems. They are not sufficiently mature to provide the granularity of analysis to provide direct unit support. The JTF relations with the Theater were very good; the Admiral indicated that he spoke nearly every day with the J2 in Stuttgart, terming his relationship with General Hayden like “blood brothers.” He also felt that there were some unsung heroes are the Balkan Task Force at CIA, providing great and timely support. He felt that personnel from NSA and DIA were top-notch, the national level has definitely been moving forward.

37. HELO RIDE TO GAETA. The delegation proceeded to the top of the Hill above the tunnel complex at AFSOUTH where there was a spectacular view of the Neapolitan countryside and the isle of Capri, home of the vacation villas of the Roman Emperors. The group met VADM Joe Prueher, COMSIXTH FLEET/STRIKING FORCES SOUTH at the pad for the thirty-five minute SH-3 flight up the coast to the Flagship, the USS LASALLE. The ship was moored outboard of an Fast Supply Ship (AFS) in the lovely bay where the picturesque resort village straggles up a steep hill from the ruins of an Empress’s palace on the shore. Upon debarking on the helo flight deck, the delegation trooped forward to the Admiral’s in-port cabin for an initial round of discussions. The Admiral opened immediately with the issue that apparently concerns him the most, the future of the GDIP-funded Fleet Ocean Surveillance Information Facility (FOSIF) at Rota, Spain. It was clear that he does not want to lose the Rota capability; he termed it his “surge suppressor” to ensure the Fleet was not caught by surprise. The Admiral recognizes that the funding profile of the FOSIF does not match that of the other Service Components in the Theater (Both the USAFE/IN and the USCIRF are in MFP-2). Further, in the USCINCPAC Area of Responsibility (AOR) the analogous FOSIF was incorporated into the Theater JIC- JICPAC. Recognizing that change has to be made, .the issue how to do it successfully? The Admiral pointed out that moving the Command was bound to incur MILCON expenditures, possibly to satisfy a programmatic, vice operational, imperative. Still, the issue came to the Sixth Fleet in a visceral manner. This was their Service intelligence capability, and it clearly was going to change, for good or for ill. The Admiral noted that “…our balance of joint and service representation this theater is about right.” It appears clear that both the Navy component and the Theater J2 prefer the current arrangement, absent some compelling argument to the contrary. In discussions with J2 personnel the compelling logic that the EUCOM intelligence architecture was out of sync with the other Theaters appeared to be of marginal interest. Only when confronted by the contention that this programmatic anomaly was at some point liable to attract unfavorable Committee attention at some future date did the logic of the FOSIF transfer to England begin to make sense. All concerned appear anxious to make the theater architecture reflect a unity of programmatic function. After nearly an hour of discussion, the Admiral turned the delegation over to CDR Darryl Fengya, pleading an appointment in Naples.

38. TOUR AND CONNECTIVITY OF THE USS LASALLE. In the N2 spaces, the intelligence personnel of the command where brought together to discuss the requirements of the Fleet and concerns. The first issue to deal with is one of perspective. The Fleet staff is now embarked on the LaSalle, formerly the flagship of the Persian Gulf Squadron. As a Command Ship, LaSalle is markedly smaller than the flagships of the other Numbered Fleets. It is less capable in terms of connectivity, although there are several initiatives to ensure that the Fleet Commander is fully interoperable with the CINC and the other Components. The staff was formerly embarked on the USS Belknap, a cruiser, and to move aboard that ship, overall staff manning was slashed to accommodate the reduced spaces. The Marine billets on the staff were eliminated in the early 1980’s, part as a consequence of the reduction in the staff, and partly (as Mr. Dorn observed) because the mission area was disrespected. All expeditionary warfare support was provided from Rota; of interest, Rota was once resourced with Marine intelligence personnel to accomplish this mission. The personnel involved were gradually being transferred to the JAC at Molesworth. The central issue to the intelligence personnel was that they were smaller and thus required more off-board support from Rota. Rota is considered critical for Fleet Support because “it is directly responsive to us and our operations and its proximity to us is of great value.” There followed briefings, discussions and tour (of newly renovated intelligence spaces) with N2 staff, to include CDR Fengya and CDR Kurdys, the Fleet Cryptologist. The feeling from the deck-plates was what might be expected from an operating unit: they were pleased with their current structure and apprehensive about changes to it. In response to questions about connectivity, the staff codes were pleased with current architecture. JDISS-E was up and running. they had access to ISAS when they needed it. The delegation voiced concerns in regard to a perceived Rota mission creep, and that it had functions that were duplicative in view of the expanding JAC capability. They are of “uniqueness” was explored, particularly in the area of Merchant shipping analysis. To a limited degree Rota was in fact repackaging some merchant-related information, but that function was largely a cut-and-tailor of that which was done at Suitland by the national ONI capability. Mr. Dorn asked if the command was aware of the CLUSTER YEOMAN program, and there was the general sense that some emerging collection systems did not have advance publicity from the national level. This responsibility for advance work was taken aboard by the delegation as an issue to be raised with ONI. The staff noted that they had many systems and a rationale for each. Resident on the Flagship was a GENSER and SI JDISS. LOC-E was maintained for the NATO effort. The new Navy GCCS imagery sub-system NIEWS (GENSER) had been provided for imagery connectivity of systems such as the Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pods System (TARPS). All was noted as being legacy systems that would migrate to a single system. The culmination of the tour was the walk-through of a barge which had been floated into the well-deck and which provided staterooms, working spaces and habitation for any contingency JTF staff augmentation. The barge occupied the former well-deck spaces of the amphibious ship. The delegation remained on the ship until nearly 2000. After debarking the flagship, the delegation took a late dinner on the waterfront before embarking the bus for the long ride back to the Autostrada and Rome, arriving at midnight.

39. AMERICAN EMBASSY ROME AND CHIEF OF STATION. After a short night’s sleep and a brisk jog in the Villa Borgheze, the formal morning activities were conducted at the Embassy, arguably the most beautiful complex in the State Department inventory. The Defense Attache, CAPT Philip Bozelli and the USAREUR Representative, Col Andres A. Arzanini were joined by Lt. Col. Neal for a roundtable discussion. CAPT Bozzelli was most informative on the special relation we enjoy with the Italians. He said that the Italians got along very well without an executive branch because the bureaucracy never changed. He stressed that “Italy was very much ours to lose” and pointed out that the ALUSNA had been on station in Rome since the 1880s. “This is the most cooperative area in the world” said the Captain. “They view us as the guarantors of their safety. And what you can’t forget is that they are the most competent military in the Med. We need to remind ourselves to send flowers once in a while and not take them for granted.” Because of self-imposed State Department restrictions, The DATT explained that the DAO team couldn’t collect directly against the Yugoslavs or the Balkans and we are not allowed to take advantage of the Italian collection capabilities in this area. The Italians are a great source of information on many countries here and in the Middle East that they have had long-term relationships with – it is a waste not to take full advantage of this on the military side. He went on to say that the State Department does not have the same close rapport and working relationship with their Italian counterparts, as does the U.S. military side. Instead they are alienating the Italian government – which is allowing their country to be used as the primary base for NATO, US and UN Balkans related operations. He indicated that there was the Italian perception that State Department held them in low esteem and that the Italians are growing tired of being viewed in this manner. He emphasized that the military side of the Embassy- the DAO- focused continually on improving the relationship with Italian counterparts and fostering our intelligence exchanges – from which the U.S. can benefit greatly. The DATT was very concerned about the future/long-term relationship between the US and Italy – believing it is in grave danger. Italy may not be there for the US in the future. A further concern was noted in that there was no direct link to the CINC and CINC requirements. Since everything the DAO releases is thru the State Department, some items of CINC interest are not released or don’t get to him. CAPT Bozelli noted that the intelligence relationships and chains of command in theatre (especially on the HUMINT side) need to be reexamined by DIA. He saw that there was a great deal of redundancy of taskings relating to the Balkans. In terms of resources, the DATT indicated that DIA supported them well in this area. The synergistic relations with the Italian Services paid major dividends in such areas as Middle East fundamentalism. The Italians are very concerned and are interested in working together on it. That was an area where the Italians were very good. On the other hand, they could not afford a great deal of U.S. equipment and much US military hardware. was beyond their means. Still, they have a great Navy and Air Force. The Army is in a state of transition. Still based on a conscripted model, there was high turnover and a huge investment in obsolete infrastructure. The Army is in crisis.

40. ROME STATION CHIEF AND NSA REPS: a fascinating and productive discussion was held in the secure Bubble regarding the specific classified missions of the CIA and NSA. While the details must remain covered in a classified annex, the wide-ranging discussion was extremely valuable in terms of gauging the field reaction to the Ames Affair, the role of the station in the new world order and thoughts on the direction of clandestine intelligence collection in hard target communities and areas. In his opening remarks, he said that “… I would like to talk about my young case officers. Because of all that has been happening publicly with the Agency, some of our young case officers are in crisis and we as an Agency have to address this.” The overall response to global terrorism had increased security to the extent that the “drop-in” traffic that had provided valuable intelligence in the past had virtually gone away. Relationships with the military were also discussed, particularly in the context of previous discussions with Chief’s of Station in other countries. An issue appeared to be in a breakdown with the Department of State here, which had commenced a policy of dramatically cutting our critical operations against the Yugoslav target and others, which was reminiscent of remarks from the DAO in Belgrade. This meeting was the most valuable of all the encounters with the Agency in Europe.

41. TRAVEL TO VINCENZA AND JTF DENY FLIGHT/5TH ATAF. Upon examination of the airline schedule, it was determined that travel by train would afford relief to the JTF (who would not have to drive both ways to Milan) and a chance for the delegation to meet and discuss the issues raised on the trip thus far. Accordingly, the delegation embarked an inter-city train for the trip from Rome to Vincenza. The four hours were very valuable and the countryside rolled in a gradual change from the lush green of Rome through the hills to the plains around Vincenza. Arriving in the late afternoon sunshine, the city center bustled with Northern Italians finished with work and thronging the central park, where children played and the carousel turned. The delegation was met by DENY FLIGHT J2/CAOC Col Elliott, USAF and USNIC Chief, Maj. Abraham at the train station. The delegation proceeded to the 5th ATAF headquarters, home of the JTF and which is celebrating the second anniversary of the establishment of the force. Col. Elliot directed the group to the Five Star Conference Room and began a general orientation of the command. She outlined the three-fold mission of DENY FLIGHT. The mission is to conduct aerial monitoring, and to enforce the no-fly zone (UNSCR 816; Provide protective air cover at the request of UNPROFOR (UNSCR 836 and 958); and to conduct approved air strikes on order from and in coordination with the UN in the Safe Areas around:

Bihac, Gorazde, Sarajevo, Tuzla and Zepa.

Mr. Dorn indicated that he preferred to cut to the issues, rather than belabor the standard command presentation. Col. Elliot responded with now-familiar litany, although the problems seemed more critical here. She said that her personnel turnover was 1/3 every 30 days. Of the 57 billets present, only 7 are permanent party assigned to the 5th ATAF; this reduced corporate memory and accelerated burnout of those permanently assigned. (There was a sardonic reference to the fact that the families called the JTF “Operation DENY WIFE” because the active duty members were at the base so often.. Another piece of humor came from a Navy officer who noted that the Carrier in the Adriatic often had more on-station time that the watch-standers at Vincenza, and sometimes told them how to get the information they needed by giving them directions within the 5th ATAF HQ building. “Just go up the stairs to the cappuccino machine” the Carrier intel officers would tap into their JDISS in chatter mode “and turn right down the hall to get to the current intelligence shop.”) She noted that there is a SHED detachment at the base, which is useful for the dissemination of multi-national SIGINT. The LOCE system links the NATO players into the process. In fact, the Colonel went on to say that “If it wasn’t for LOCE we would be DIW (dead in the water). It is the only way to communicate with and push intelligence to the Allies.” Since there are tactical aircraft from six NATO allies and the NATO AWACS involved, this is critical connectivity. Also, since the US is basically out of the TAC RECCE business, all the reconnaissance flights here are flown by NATO nations. No US aircraft are here operating until the Carrier returns. Problems include the quality of the U2 imagery that is forwarded from the UK. The image quality off the JDISS was totally unacceptable due to an unidentified system glitch. In terms of the reliability of UN reporting, CDR Nancy Clark, the Current Intelligence officer, responded that “the essence of a report is reliable – but that the details get lost or confused in the multiple English-as-a-second-language translations.” Her staff was responsible to always run the info down as close to the source as possible.

After touring the 5th ATAF building and the combined intelligence and operations centers, the delegation departed the well-appointed facility for the walk to the tent SCIF where the U.S.-only National Intelligence Center is located. On the walk the Colonel noted that the JTF would soon be moving out of the building and into similar tents- so that the 5th ATAF Staff could move back into their old offices. It was unclear exactly what mission the NATO Command was doing which was that of the JTF, which had just completing 80,000 air sorties in support of the UN. At the NIC, a Naval intelligence reserve watch officer launched a fierce personal assessment of systems and connectivity in support of the JTF. She told the delegation that the roll-away JWICS terminal in the next room had been installed in December 1994 and had only been used a couple of times since then. In addition, no one at the NIC or J2 was properly trained to operate the JWICS and they were not quite sure why they had it. This was an accurate description from the Watch perspective- since the system had been installed as a result of a Gen. Ryan, Gen. Chambers and Gen. Hayden decision to support the UAV operations and provide a dissemination vehicle for the UAV imagery. The personnel who set up the system had departed the Theater upon completion of those operations (scheduled to resume in 1995.) There were also tangled funding issues- this particular JDISS terminal had been intended for USAFE, and was diverted within Theater resources- was in fact not well supported because it was not funded by the National level. The real issue appears to be the rapid turn-over of personnel and lack of continuity in maintenance personnel. Also, as the watch pointed out “Electrons don’t work properly south of the Alps.” This remark referred to troublesome infrastructure issues in attempting to support enciphered communications over sometimes unreliable lines. The Watch also felt that the DIA JDISS operator was underemployed. As other personnel became familiar and proficient with the system, the DIA augmentee became a redundant capability. The DIA billet could accordingly be replaced by an analyst or subject matter expert (SME). The fact that the apparent JWICS problems were not relayed via JDISS back to DIA was also mentioned as an oddity. The Watch officer also complained that DIA was not being responsive, but upon examination, it appeared that the issue was in the inability of the JTF to formulate the question.

43. PROBLEMS AT THE JTF. The litany of problems that emerged from this evening session indicates that this echelon of command has significant problems. The first and most prominent is the lack of continuity of personnel. Watch-standers and permanent party people appear frustrated with the lack of training and the lack of information about how things work. Layering the tangled NATO and UN decision-making process atop this lack of institutional memory, local Base politics, and intense operating tempo and the result is a continuing crisis in intelligence support where RFIs are not answered (because the force does not know who or how to ask them) and ADP support does not work. For example, no one at the NIC or the CAOC knew RFI procedures. The NIC Chief didn’t realize there was a Balkan Task Force at the NMJIC or one at CIA that could support whatever RFI’s the JAC could not handle– and he had a JWICS system in the tent that could have them on-line in person. This appears to be a training deficiency that will have to be worked continually in light of the high personnel turnover.

44. Conversations over dinner with Colonel Elliott and CDR Clark reinforced the notion that the Command was staffed by dedicated professionals who were coping well under difficult circumstances. The success or failure of international pollicies were clearly beyond the scope of the JTF (i.e, rules of engagement and non-traditional military operations) as was solving intricately crafted command relationships which have grown over a half century (national information sharing policies which force redundancy). The areas where improvement can be made on the JTF/NATO/UN intelligence support issue is making a strong commitment to the continuity of long term manning, knowledgeable collection managers, and dedication to ensure that connectivity was maintained through programmatic juncture between nationally-funded and theater/Service funded systems. It may be that the greatest contribution that can be made to the existing system is to encourage a unified funding system which will ensure that discontinuities such as the useless roll-away JWICS do not occur.

45. After remaining overnight at the Hotel Jolly Europa, the delegation departed Vincenza via van with Major Abraham en route Milan Linate Airport. At that point Mr. Winchester and CDR Roberts detached the group for further transport to Malpensa airfield and connections to Washington, DC. Mr. Dorn, Mr. Reese, CDR Socotra and CDR Pricollo flew on to Zagreb, Croatia via Swissair connection in Zurich. The flight to Croatia was uneventful under partly cloudy skies. Upon recovering at Zagreb International, the taxi to the terminal revealed a significant portion of the Croatian air order of battle. Six MI-25 HIND helicopter gunships were observed on individual hardstands adjacent to the taxiway and at least two MIG-21’s were clearly visible near their bunkered hangarettes.

46. ZAGREB AND THE JTF FORWARD. After deplaning, the delegation was met by CWO4 Ivan Sarak, the Deputy Defense Attaché. Tall and imposing, Warrant Officer Sarak exemplifies the talent with is resident within the Army. A Special forces solider since the Vietnam era, Sarak is a naturalized citizen and fluent in the Croatian language. His expertise was a major asset in maintaining the excellent relations between the new military establishment of Croatia and the United State. Coinciding with the visit of the SSCI delegation was a large group of Professional Staff from the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Defense Attache (DATT), Lt . Col. Richard Herrick, was supporting that delegation traveling en route the site of some fierce fighting in the secession of Croatia from the FRY. Mr. Dorn and Mr. Reese were able to link up with this large group which proceeded into the countryside to examine the border, meet with military officials and visit some of the ruined buildings in the village. The local graveyard is full of victims of the fighting; the site is maintained as a sort of shrine to the Croats martyred by the Serbs. The sense of immediacy of the conflict still hangs over the Capital. Although it had been the previous November when the last rocket was fired at Zagreb, there are still large numbers of long-term refugees housed in apartment complexes between the airport and the city. Violence has had a long association with Zagreb. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the land was conquered in turn by the Visigoths, the Alans, the Huns and the Avars. The Croats themselves arrived from the Slavic lands to the northwest, displacing the indigenous residents. Founded in 1094, part of old Zagreb was destroyed by the Tartars in the 13th Century, menaced by the Turks in the 16th, burned in the 18th, rocked by earthquake in the 19th, and occupied by the Nazis in the 20th. Still for all the pain, the city retains the somewhat shopworn elegance of the Habsburg Empire. The city is human scale, and the many church spires still punctuate the skyline. The twin spires of the cathedral dominate the foothills where the old city still huddles against the heights for security. Parts of this story were conveyed during a joint dinner that night for members of both Senate delegations, hosted by the Defense Attaché. Croatian cuisine is oriented toward grilled meats and bread and the locally-brewed grain-based beverages are very good. After the dinner, Lt Col Herrick took members on a walking tour of the old city. There is a religious shrine at the Kamenita Gate to the old district of Gornji Grad, where the Virgin Mary miraculously stopped a fire threatening to destroy the town. As a special place, the people of the town often prayed for similar divine intervention there. The DATT pointed out where Tito’s Secret Police lowered secret microphones to record the prayers for evidence of disloyalty.

47. MEETINGS WITH EMBASSY STAFF. SSCI Staffers were looking for an updated JWICS funding strategy to consistently addresses current/future intelligence requirements and whether those requirements should be GDIP or TIARA or other program funded. The JAC is a winner! Intelligence is improving, despite the pressures. Ironic as it may seem, by the end of the extensive Sixth Fleet discussions on Rota, VADM Prueher seemed resigned to moving most of Rota to the JAC (with MOU assurances) and Mr Dorn seemed open to retain the Fosif in Rota, either as a JAC Detachment, or as a Navy Program 2 intelligence command. The bottom line being that the issue has been examined/debated for three years and action must be taken soon.

There appears to be a very real attempt by the State Department officials at Zagreb and Rome to prevent Military and Agency intelligence personnel from collecting either overtly or undercover any intelligence/information on the Balkans crisis, thereby allowing the State Department political position on the Balkans to stand.

Questions or request for clarification may be addressed to the author at Autovon 322-7122.

Vic Socotra

Copyright 2014 Vic Socotra
Twitter: @jayare303

The Pariah States Cool Hotels World Tour

(Evergreen Air- EVA- 747 at SFO, 1996).

It was Spring of 1996 in Washington, and the first glow of sweat for the summer to come was under the collar of my Brooks Brothers shirt. The Cherry Blossoms were out. Life was good.

Isobel, Congressman Bill’s Chief of Staff called me on my flip phon. I was walking across the street from the Longworth House Office Building. She told me where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do. It was a concept almost breathtaking in scope, but I had done travel for the Member before to some strange places, and I figured I was up to the task. I began to conceptualize how we could do it.

I decided I needed a high concept, a strategic direction for the planning process. I thought the places we were going demanded a cool theme. I mused on it. Maybe “The Pariah Nations Cool Hotels World Tour with Bill.” She gave me gave me some phone numbers to contact the North Koreans in New York so I could get visas to the Hermit Kingdom.

That was going to be interesting.

Based on my impending orders back to the Fleet, this was going to be my last major trip to arrange while I was working in the Office of Legislative Affairs, and might as well go out with a bang. I determined that we were going to stay in the great hotels of the Empires that had once existed in the nooks and crannies of Asia. I took the list of countries Bill wanted to visit and arranged them geographically in my mind. Then I tried to fit the hotels into them.

Let’s see: Rangoon. That would be The Strand Hotel on Strand Boulevard downtown near the Rangoon River.

(The Strand was the original Rangoon luxury Hotel, as this original oil demonstrates. It had just completed a complete upgrade.)

Bangkok. That is a no-brainer. It had to be the fabled Oriental Hotel, arguably the best hotel in Southeast Asia.

(The original hotel is still in there somewhere at the Oriental, on the banks of the Chao Phraya River.)


Hanoi. That was a hard one. The capital was just starting to come back from the hardships of the war and the bombing. It was twenty years almost to the day since Saigon fell, the moment of the North’s greatest triumph. So in that spirit, I selected the Metropole, the old French colonial-era inn, located just down the street from the Foreign Ministry where Jane Fonda stayed when she was tormenting our captured pilots.


We were to head south to Ho Chi Minh City next, so that was a no-brainer, too. There were some new places that had opened to accommodate the European business community, but I am a sentimental slob. I picked The Rex Hotel, the main billet of the American Military Assistance Command, and the site of the wartime daily press briefings they called The Five O’clock Follies. The Rex was kitty-corner from The Caravelle, which was in between renovations and no longer a tourist hotel. It had been The Place to have a drink after the afternoon body-count briefing and before filing copy for back home.


The rooftop bar at the end of a busy day at war was just the place to watch the fiery arc of Viet Cong rockets heading for Tan San Nhut Air Base.

Hong Kong. Let’s see, the Congressman wants a couple days in Hong Kong before heading to Beijing and North Korea, so why not just stay at the flagship hotel of the Empire? So what if it was above the per diem rates for government travel. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and do the right thing. I had no idea if I would ever be back, and I had some unfinished business. It would have to be The Peninsula Hotel.


Years before, Midway Maru had been dispatched to Hong Kong from our home-port in Yokosuka years before to serve as the backdrop to a Vice Presidential visit by Walter Mondale, and he (of course) stayed at the Peninsula, where the High Tea in the Empire themed lobby was legendary. We would sometimes dress up and take it in, alternating our habits with Jimmy’s Kitchen and the Bottom’s Up and Ned Kelly’s. When we found out the VIP party and Secret Service were going to be there, we stopped at an electronics shop and bought earphones, which we pointedly screwed into our ears and draped the cord down to our suit jackets. Then we held our fingers against plugs and looked into the middle distance speaking dramatically to no one.

That was before cellular communications made all of us look like we were hearing voices all the time, and I do recall we did not get arrested for impersonating the security detail. But I never got upstairs, and that was an important issue to address. Check.

On the next leg, we were not staying overnight in the PRC, only meeting the country team in transit, and Pyongyang was a mystery (in more than one regard!) We would have to rely on the tender mercies of the North Koreans. The last time Bill had been in the North they kept him sequestered in a countryside villa where he was held when not meeting Government officials. That one was out of my control.

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Coming out again we had to make nice with the South Koreans. I would normally have selected the luxury Shilla Hotel. It was suitably grand, at least in the public areas, but the rooms were a little rigid and the chairs were not comfortable. I had stayed there recently and it was not convenient to the Embassy or the Foreign Ministry. The Hilton would just have to do.

From there it was drafting a concept and linking it all together to see if I could make it work. In this case it was sitting down with the Travel office, a little cubbyhole on the fifth floor of the Pentagon around the corner from the Legislative Affairs shop.

The wonderful and long-suffering woman who worked there had made a career of dispatching her officers out into the wide world, and making sure we followed the regulations while we did it. With a working list of countries and hotels in hand, we logged onto the SABRE computer system that provides on-line access to commercial airline schedules. Was it even possible to link the hotels together?

I cleared my voice, and asked her: “If one was to go to Burma, how would one do it, if one was to make a quick stop to consult on the island of Taiwan before visiting Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China and both Koreas?”

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Her fingers flew on the keyboard. The SABRE computer gave us a wild grab bag of airlines to make the connections. Across the pond, heading west, it was super first class on Eva Air, a subsidiary of the Taiwanese Evergreen Company that treated us very well.

It flew all night from LA and landed in Taipei in the early morning. Royal Thai air would whisk us on from there to Rangoon, and then Myanmar Air could get us back to Bangkok.

In Bangkok, we could get the Embassy C-12 to fly up country to visit the refugees. Then, Royal Thai to Vietnam and connect us between Hanoi and Saigon. Cathay Pacific would jet us to Hong Kong from Saigon, and then again on to Beijing. From there it was dicey. You have to fly Air Koryo, North Korea’s national carrier. That was the only way in and out. From Beijing we could get a KAL down to Seoul, and leaving the capital to come home there was finally a United wide-body that would get us as far as Chicago.

I frowned, not for the first time.

There was no direct flight from Seoul to Washington. We could only justify First or Business Class when we were out of the country. Damn.

That was a heck of a note, finishing the trip in Economy. Was there no justice? But the good news was that we could pull it off. All I had to do was get the Congressman to sign off on the concept and start filling in the details.

After all, what could possibly go wrong?

Copyright 2014 Vic Socotra
Twitter: @jayare303

The Soong Dynasty


It is my contention that part of the attraction of Hong Kong is that the city so many of us love and remember fondly is actually another place- a city named Shanghai. The Fall of the Kuomintang to the Reds caused enormous dislocation in the most western and amazing city in all the Far East- a gem of art deco architecture and lovely cantonments plopped down in the middle of everything completely Chinese.

I was walking along a street there a long time ago, and had one of those moments of complete disorientation. I thought for an instant that I was in Hanoi- the walls and the stonework were distinctive. I mentioned it, and one of the men with whom I was ambling along explained it to me: “You are in the old French cantonment. You are not in Shanghai. You are in France.”

I nodded in amazement. What a city, and what times it has seen. If my pal Left Coast Guy is reading, I would be interested in his recollections of the first US Navy port visit since 1948.

Part of the big riddle of the PRC is how we got it all so wrong. The train-wreck of European colonization, the opium wars, 55 Days at Peking and the Open Door policy of the Americans is way too broad a palate on which to paint this morning.

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(Dr. Sun Yat-sen).

My first understanding of just how pro-American luminaries like Dr. Sun Yat-Sen left a legacy of democratic tradition that morphed into the government of the arguably fascist monster Chiang Kai-shek and the struggle with the thug Mao Tse-tung is frankly bewildering.

I first learned of how deeply we were entwined with the history of the “mysterious east” when I stumbled on Sterling Seagrave’s marvelous work “The Soong Dynasty.”

It is really sort of a nuts tale. The Soong family are the descendants of a Chinese runaway who grew up in America under the protection of the Methodist church. He returned to his homeland and cleaned up selling bibles to the masses. He also shepherded his family into becoming the key players in the Chinese government, and had exceptional influence with the American government and media. The Soong family comprised the hard core of the ruling elite, connected to everything and everyone who mattered in the Middle Kingdom.

The pivotal generation for America and China were the three Soong sisters of the early part of the 20th century. Seagrave quoted the saying of the time: “One loved money, one loved power, and one loved China.”

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Ai-ling Soong married H.H. Kung, the richest man in China, May-ling married Chiang Kai-shek of the Kuomintang, and Ching-ling married Sun Yat-sen, denounced the corruption of the Kuomintang, and became one of the three non-communist leaders chosen as Vice Chairmen of the People’s Republic in the 1950’s. The brothers T.V. Soong, T.A. Soong, and T.L. Soong were prominent bankers and financiers. T.V. was Prime Minister under the Kuomintang.

Chiang Kai-shek, the Generalissimo I remember from childhood, and whose tomb I visited in Taipai years later, got his start as an opium gangster in Shanghai’s Green Tong. At one point, the Brits wanted him for murder, and he maneuvered himself into a position where he could personally extort billions in Lend-Lease and foreign aid. Between him and all the Soong children (except Ching-ling) they were perhaps the richest family on the planet.

China was lost in 1949, when the KMT pulled out of the Mainland and left it to the Reds. But the long shadow of that, and the enmity of the US Government to Mao’s victorious legions undoubtedly contributed to the eventual conflict in Vietnam, where I thought I was when I was actually walking in Shanghai.

Anyway, Hong Kong and Macau where the other vestiges of the Bad Old Days, and that is where the money and the refugees went, and that is why the Hong Kong we knew was such an amazing place- being the creation of a zillion other places.

My Left Coast Attorney wrote me about his time there, and thought I would pass it along:


Very nostalgic reminiscences of Hong Kong early on. Triggers a lot of memories.

My first trip to HK was on Providence in March 1968. I read constantly to finish James Clavell’s Tai Pan before we moored at HMS TAMAR. Besides getting measured for suits, I took the advice of John Soong, my Princeton club mate and classmate, to call his parents who always loved to entertain Princetonians. So I did. Mrs. Soong said: “You must come to dinner! Please bring five or six of your fellow junior officers. We’ll send a car to pick you up at 6pm.”

So at 6pm a chauffeured Chrysler Imperial pulled up to the pier and 4 or 5 of us– awed– embarked. The driver, in full chauffer regalia, drove us up Victoria Peak to Barker Road, then along the hillside road to a stately Victorian mansion– the former British governor’s mansion from the end of the 19th century.

Mrs. Soong and John Soong, senior, greeted us warmly and effusively. We learn soon that John Sr. is the Managing Director (CEO) of Mobil Oil Hong Kong, and made a fortune for Mobil by developing land in the New Territories into apartments to accommodate the constant flow of immigrants from Canton province into Hong Kong. The Soongs also invited their daughter Lydia and her fiancé Tom, heir to the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank (now HKSB).

The Soongs are great conversationalists and entertainers. John had been educated at Notre Dame University in the US, then served in the US Army in China as General Marshall’s aide de camp during WW II. Mrs. Soong had lived through the Japanese “Rape of Nanking” during the war, and was still extraordinarily animated about the event. We sat at an expandable circular rosewood table with a huge lazy susan, to be served Chinese style with a dozen exotic dishes.

The favorite dish for me and my shipmates was bean sprouts stir fried in a soy sauce, causing gales of laughter from Mrs. Soong, because it was the one Chinese peasant dish her kitchen staff served, and she said it was always Americans’ favorite.

The Soongs couldn’t have been more charming. I saw them again in Hong Kong over the years during my many visits, and invited John Sr. to a dinner at the Rancho Bernardo Inn when he was in San Diego for an oil producer’s conference.

(Chiang, Madam Chiang nee Soong and Joe Stillwell in happier times).

The reason was another vet pal’s neighbor here had been General Stillwell’s aide de camp in China, and Stillwell and Marshall apparently hated each other and were always butting heads. We thought it would interesting 40 years later to sit the two ADCs at the same dinner table. Thankfully, there were no sparks flying, and the two men had generous and funny recollections of their time serving the generals as young ADC officers.

John told the story of his long career with Mobil Oil, starting with their operation in Shanghai after the war in the late 1940s. Then he told of Mao’s Communist revolution in China, and how in 1949 they took over Shanghai, casting fear and doubt in the minds of the foreigners stationed there with their international corporations.

Mao told them all not to worry, the communists would not be nationalizing the international corporations. Instead, Mao imposed a first year 7% gross profits tax on all the corporations, then 40%, then up to 70% in the following years. Responding to the corporate howls of objection, Mao informed them “I told you I wouldn’t nationalize your corporations. You still own your means of production– no one else in China does, this being a communist state.”

It was mutually agreed at the communist takeover that the families of all the foreigners (including the “foreigner” Soong family from British Hong Kong) would be allowed to leave, and all the men working for the corporations were billeted dormitory-style in rooms of a local hotel, two to a room.

I mentioned that my uncle by marriage, Victor Butoff, a White Russian from Da Lien, also worked in Shanghai when Mao took over. John Sr.’s jaw dropped and he stared at me. “I have known you for 20 years and you never mentioned this! Victor was my roommate in Shanghai from 1949 until we all left!”

Small world.

I was there in 1984 as the “White Paper” between UK and PRC was being negotiated for the terms of the turnover in 1999 when the UK’s lease on the New Territories was up, and knew folks at the British Embassy in Beijing who were involved in those negotiations.

The best finesse in the complex negotiations was when an apparently insurmountable impasse was reached with the PRC, the UK delegation threatened to issue British passports to all 6 million Chinese in Hong Kong so they could travel freely or escape the Crown Colony.

The PRC relented on their demands. My last trip to Hong Kong was 23 years ago as I was wrapping up my groundwork for the American Bar Association’s Cambodia law revision program.

The turnover had not occurred yet, but I noticed subtle differences in the attitudes of the locals: cab drivers and some shopkeepers suddenly did not understand English and exhibited surly attitudes. I thought it did not bode well for things to come.”

My pal was right. I felt strongly enough about the whole thing- and that lovely town- that I dispatched by Junior High School aged son to visit some friends who were living in the Colony just before the reversion in 1997.

I wanted him to see something really special, and I think he did. I confess that I kind of freaked out when he sent me an e-mail that said he was in the People’s Republic- the borders were open.

Copyright Vic and the Left Coast Attorney 2014
Twitter: @jayare303

Meet the Beatles


That had to be the nicest weekend of the Fall. I stopped by the Belmont Distillery to pick up a couple bottles of their Copper Kettle Vodka to enjoy after the chores, and marveled at the quality of the rich blue cloudless skies. I puttered on the bushes and did some trimming around the farmhouse, and even moved some boxes around in the office annex to the garage.

It felt grand to be alive, and in a place that was quiet and peaceful, except for the occasional sound of gunfire from Happy Acres up the lane. It is a little funny that in the city the explosions would make me a little uptight, but not so much down here. It is actually a comfort to have anyone in the neighborhood know that the residents are ready for about anything.

There was a time when our worlds were a little wider, the sites a little stranger, and we trotted the globe with a certain innocence that is long gone. My pal Beth is out in Utah, looking around (like a lot of us) for the last place she wants to be.

She wrote me about being sixteen and bouncing around Asia, a region I once called home, and her words have a remarkable resonance. Here is the second part of her view of 1963, when some remarkable things were just beginning:

“After meeting the Royal Couple in Thailand, Dad had been hired by his next consulting engineering firm, and we knew we were headed to Lahore, in what was West Pakistan in those days- the remnant of the division of the old British Raj with majority Muslim states on the west and east borders of modern India.

He wouldn’t report to Pakistan until all the generators had been brought on line at the Bhumipol Dam … so he expected to fly from Thailand to Lahore sometime in July.

So, Mom decided this would be a fine opportunity for us to go to Hong Kong to shop, have clothes and shoes made, and then take a freighter from Hong Kong to Karachi, the port city on the south coast of West Pakistan.


She booked passage on a Danish freighter that could carry 12 passengers – for most of the trip, there were only the 3 of us – and this freighter was to stop in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bombay, Madras, and Cochin before reaching Karachi were Dad would meet us. And in 1964, there were no containers in which to carry the cargo. Everything was carried in the hull or in crates, meaning that we stayed for several days in each port while the freighter was emptied and re-filled.

For instance, in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, the ship took on coconut oil in the hull, with huge pipes carrying the product directly into the hull. It was a very neat way to travel, and it took us six weeks to make the trip from Hong Kong to Karachi.

So, we flew into Hong Kong in June 1964, where we were booked at the grand, newly-opened President Hotel (our budget couldn’t afford the Peninsula). Beautiful hotel, beautiful lobby full of antiques, lovely carpets, etc. We stayed in Hong Kong for a week or more as we shopped and commissioned clothing and shoes to be made to our specifications.


Harilela’s is where we went. When visiting Chiang Mai in up-country Thailand, I had selected several bolts of lovely Thai silk to be made up as dresses later, and these were what I brought to Harilela’s to be tailored. I loved these dresses and wore them when cocktail attire was required in college, or after marrying and attending formal USAF functions. I parted with them with great regret.

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One afternoon, we returned to the President Hotel after a day of shopping, standing for fittings, etc., and saw a throng of Chinese girls screaming on either side of the street that led up the small hill where the hotel was located.

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Our taxi driver was stopped by the police and they had a conversation in Chinese, which we didn’t understand. Then we were allowed to proceed, and the driver dropped us off in front of the entrance. It was very strange- our lobby had been stripped naked. The beautiful porcelain vases were gone. The decorations had vanished. No artifacts. No carpets on the floor… Just the furniture sitting alone on the floor.

My brother went up to the desk to request our key (these were the days when keys were large and heavy and one always left them with the front desk when leaving the hotel), and asked what was going on.

He came back to where we were standing by the lift, waiting for the door to open, and told us that some VIP’s were staying in the hotel, so they had to remove valuables from the lobby in case excited fans got inside. It made no sense to us at all.

The elevator doors opened, and there, standing in front of us were four of the strangest guys I’d ever seen. Their hair was long… longer than anything I’d ever seen. They had on strange suits with strange collars to the shirts, and their shoes were different.

They looked at us and we looked at them with no emotion, no nothing. They seemed a bit surprised, and then walked out of the elevator. We never said a word, entered the car, and as the elevator boy closed the door, he asked “Don’t you know who they are?” We replied “No”, and he said very excitedly those are the Beatles!!!

Well, that meant nothing to us… remember, their first hit didn’t come to the U.S. till June 1963, and by that time, we were already in Asia. We’d never heard them. Their famous U.S. debut on the Ed Sullivan Show didn’t happen till winter of 1964, and of course we knew nothing about that.

My brother and I asked the elevator boy lots of questions about The Beatles, and he was amazed that these Americans didn’t know anything.

I was intensely curious, and resolved that as soon as we got to Singapore, I would find a record shop where I could buy a Beatles album.

And this is the first Beatles album I bought. I looked at it all the time while on the freighter, but I wasn’t able to play it for months to actually hear what they sounded like…

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We had the six-week freighter trip, then the flight from Karachi to Lahore. We stayed at the Ambassador Hotel for three weeks or so while we searched for a house to rent. Then we had to wait for our household goods shipped from Bangkok. None of this was completed until late November 1964… And then, finally, I was able to listen to this album…. And it was love at first hearing.

My brother became a life-long Beatles fan and played guitar in a rock band that covered a lot of their music. And it’s still funny to think that I saw them, up very close, before I had any idea who they were…. And they were visibly surprised at our non-response.


So, Hong Kong, for all of my life, has been closely associated with shopping and tailoring by Harilela’s… Because of the time it took for tailoring at that fine establishment, we stayed much longer in Hong Kong than we would have, and that gave us our Beatles experience.”

That was one of the better letters I have received, and it brought back a lot of memories of places far away, and a society that no longer exists. The Beatles were controversial, and I watched them for the first time on the black and white Television with Mom and Dad.

I never stayed at the President Hotel in Hong Kong, but I did eventually get around to staying at the Peninsula in Hong Kong. That was on the trip I arranged for Congressman Bill to talk to the SLORC Junta in Burma (I can’t call it Myanmar, but do highly recommend The Strand Hotel in Rangoon). In fact, since I got to arrange the itinerary, I called it the Outlaw Hotel Tour of Asia: The Oriental in Bangkok, The Strand in Rangoon, The Peninsula in Hong Kong, The Metropole in Hanoi, and in Ho Chi Minh City, the legendary Rex Hotel, where the American Military Assistance Command used to hold the Five O’Clock Follies press briefings on how the war was going.

The last was a spooky place before it was upgraded and remodeled. I may have seen a few ghosts there, but I never did meet the Beatles.


Copyright 2014 Vic and Beth
Twitter: @jayare303

Letter From a Friend

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I have a festival of Blue Jays on the lawn- I don’t know what they are after, but the gone-to-seed garden plot seems to be of particular attraction for the members of the species Cyanocitta Cristata. They are big fellows, a kind we do not see up in Arlington.

There is a forecast for temperatures climbing to the 80s today- maybe the last interval of warm Indian summer- is that appropriate to term this delightful dreg of summer? I am delirious at the prospect of this magnificent day in the country. Maybe I will investigate the veranda of the Hazel River Inn on East Davis Street later.

In the meantime, I have been drawn to America’s terrible, horrible, very bad day last Thursday and recoil from the events in New York and Washington State and Northern California. I can’t bear thinking about the events this morning, and accordingly was drawn again into the world of not-so-long-ago when things made a modicum of sense and we were not expected to believe the impossible as a condition of everyday life.

I was occupied editing pictures from the two events Friday- the Annual Fall luncheon of The Professionals, and the Naval Intelligence Dining in- more about that sometime when I get to it- but in the meantime there is something quite marvelous I wanted to share with you.

I have a correspondent in Utah who retired from a distinguished career as an Air Force civilian. We went to school long ago and have kept in touch. We are part of a dying breed who used to write things called “letters,” which were actually extended narratives of places and people and things that happened. She is working on a splendid photo-journalistic account of a safari trip to Eastern Africa- a coincidence, since my pals Dave and Bev just did the same thing, and regaled us back here in the States with some real marvels of the natural world.

I am attempting to get both accounts compile in a user friendly manner so the broader group of you globe-trotters can share something special. In the meantime, my old recollections of 1979 sparked some commentary. Since those started as “letters,” with saved carbon copies, I thought this might be of interest to you as an example of a gone world where people wrote to one another:

“What’s so amazing, Vic, is your friend’s use of Harilela’s — the Hong Kong tailor!!! He was my tailor in Hong Kong!!! And I had shoes and a purse made out Thai silk at Dodge Shoemaker.

My uncle worked in Bangkok in the 1950s for Pan Am, as manager of the Pan Am flight kitchen… you do remember when eating airline food was a treat, when Pan Am’s food was prepared by Maxim’s in Paris, and everything was luxury????

Anyway, the Pan Am community was close, if spread out over many countries. He was single then, and became fast friends with a Pan Am pilot and his family who was based out of Hong Kong. In 1963, when my family was moving from Denver to Thailand, we stopped in Hong Kong and visited and had dinner with these friends, the Schaeffers, at their Hong Kong apartment and I’d never seen anything like it.


HUGE apartment, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking over Hong Kong towards Repulse Bay. Impeccably attired servants who served the cocktails and the dinner. What an elegant lifestyle, and what an impression it made on this very impressionable 16 year old.

During that first visit, the Schaeffers gave us all the inside scoop about where to shop, what to see in Hong Kong. And this is where we learned that Harilela’s was the place to go for tailoring. It wasn’t until we returned to Hong Kong in June 1964 that we visited Harilela’s and had clothing made. More on that later.

I need to tell you about our June 1964 visit to Hong Kong.

My dad was an electrical engineer, specializing in hydroelectric projects. In Denver, he worked for a consulting engineering firm, designing the powerhouse for the Bhumipol dam to be built in Thailand. This dam was going to be the largest dam in Thailand, supplying electricity to Bangkok and all locations between the dam and this huge city. After completing the powerhouse design, Dad was sought out by the contractor who was building the dam, and was hired to participate in building the powerhouse…. Every engineer’s dream come true: Build the item you’ve designed.


In February 1963, Dad moved to Thailand to begin work on the powerhouse. Mom, my brother and I followed in June 1963, after school was out. And this June 1963 trip was my first air experience, first trip to Hawaii, Japan (where Dad met us, and we all visited Yokohama, Tokyo and Kyoto — in fact, we stayed in the old Frank Lloyd Wright earthquake-proof Imperial Hotel… a fabulous experience – but that’s a tale for a different day), and then to Hong Kong, before flying to Bangkok.

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After sightseeing in Bangkok (the dam’s contractor’s guest house, where we stayed , was on or very close to a main klong, so the sights were incredible. … and this was in the era when Bangkok had all of its klongs; they had not been filled in to make streets), we boarded our prop plane to fly up to Tak, a capitol “city” in the Tak province. And from there a long bumpy jeep ride to the dam site in the middle of the jungle.


I’ll digress…. On this prop plane – the kind where you walk literally up the aisle to get to the seat — remember? — I decided mid-flight I needed to visit the toilet. I walked back, opened the door to the only toilet and was astounded to see stashed on the toilet a crate of stinky, smelly Durion (for which I never developed an appreciation), a monkey in a cage, and our Siamese cat in her cage…. All there, stashed together. I’ll never forget that! So, I turned around and returned to my seat. Good thing it was a 16-year old bladder and not a 67-year old one!! J

For a year, we lived in a Thai style house, built of teak, on stilts, with gaps between the teak boards to allow easy entrance and exit of bugs, Tokay geckos and chinchuks (do you know these? They are a small version of the Tokay gecko, but they’re silent. The Tokay, would make a “wind-up” sound, and then spit out “to-kay, to-kay, to-kay” … hence its name. I loved the lizards that ran all over the walls and ceilings. Our house had no air conditioning (except in my parents’ bedroom), my brother and I had ceiling fans overhead, and our small living room was cooled with an evaporative type cooler/fan.

No hot water in the house… it was all river water, but was lukewarm. And we kids never thought anything about it. I was the only teenager in the camp. Lots of elementary aged kids, so my brother went to school using the Calvert system in a all-grades, one-room schoolhouse, with an Aussie teacher. I took my junior year of high school from the University of Nebraska via correspondence course… in hindsight, a great preparation for the independent study required of one in college.

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Of course, no TV. We had a short-wave radio over which we received each morning a 1-hour BBC broadcast. And the Bangkok Post and Stars and Stripes were flown up twice a week from Bangkok on the same prop plane we’d flown up on. The Bangkok Post was full of articles showing the Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire in the streets of Saigon (Ngu Dinh Diem was still in power). And The Stars and Stripes was full of news from Asia. Not much info about the U.S.

To show how “backward” things could be… One morning, Dad took my brother and me down to the area where they were cutting down and moving teak trees as part of construction work associated with the dam. There was no yellow Caterpillar, no moving equipment. There were Thai elephants with their mahouts who guided them as they hauled the teak trees and moved them as easily as if they were trees, piling them on the ground. And another sight, was the relay of concrete up the face of the dam. This was done by “puyings” (Thai word for “girl” or “woman”), dressed in their pasins (ground length, wrap-around skirts), blouses, Thai bamboo hats, forming a huge line, and literally passing the concrete buckets up the line, and the empty buckets down the line…. While a man stood and watched, gave instructions, and didn’t lift a finger ……. That made a huge impression on this teenaged girl!!

OK… so you get the picture that we’re a bit isolated, a bit out of the mainstream…. And loving every minute of the experience.


The dam was finished and dedicated in June 1964, and we all got to “meet” King Bhumipol and Queen Sirikit when they came to dedicate the dam. We were in a receiving line and were presented (ladies curtsied) as they walked down the line. Queen Sirikit was stunningly beautiful, elegant and so royal… beautifully attired in Thai silk and jewelry.

By that time, Dad had been hired by his next consulting engineering firm, and we knew we were headed to Lahore, in what was West Pakistan (at that time).”

This is all one letter, mind you, but we are going to have to Meet the Beatles tomorrow. There is some life that still needs living this morning.

Copyright Vic and Beth 2014
Twitter: @jayare303

Jimmy’s Kitchen and Johnny Mac


Gentle readers, there were a lot of comments about a retrospective trip to the pearl of the East, the lovely city of Hong Kong. Some are too good not to compile, so here goes. It beats talking about crazed Islamists and Ebola and politics, wouldn’t you agree?

A lovely lady in Rancho Santa Fe wrote: “Ahh, Hong Kong. Several R & Rs there as relief from the Pee Eye. Lots of shopping and furniture purchasing for the new bride. Such a joy to design a bedroom suite and receive it even more beautiful than I had envisioned!”

She was living in the Philippines and has many more stories, some of which (and not all) are in the book I edited a couple years ago entitled “Living With the Shadow Warriors.” It is on Amazon, if you are interested in some fascinating tales of the other great cities of Asia.

From Utah came this: “Loved this, Vic. Hong Kong was one of my favorite places. I often went there beginning in 1963, and then almost annually from 1963 until 1973, with 1973 being my last visit. Of course, as a very proper young, unmarried American female, the Hong Kong I saw after dark was undoubtedly much different from your experiences! J”

Chinese Dancers In Traditional Dress , Hong Kong

“As I recall Hong Kong from those visits, the women were dressed either in the traditional Chinese garb of black pants, blouse over-top with the frog closures, or beautifully attired in cheongsams. I thought they were stunningly exotic, impossibly petite, and just loved watching their grace as they moved. And the European women were so well dressed…. Everyone dressed well in Hong Kong. Everyone wore beautiful jewelry in Hong Kong. It was so exotic…. I’ve never smelled a smell like the one that greeted you when you climbed down from the plane that had landed in Kai Tak Airport. The heat, humidity and unique smell of Hong Kong slammed you full in the face when you climbed down the jet’s ramp to the tarmac….. Fifty years later, I remember that as if it were yesterday.

I loved Hong Kong. Loved exploring the streets, riding the Star Ferry, watching people, listening to the language, smelling the smells…… And so, Hong Kong is not a place to which I’ll ever return. I just don’t want to lose my crystal clear vision of the Hong Kong I knew, with the rickshaws that still operated next to taxis, the very British feel to the colony, the many junks sailing Repulse Bay, watching how people lived aboard their junks, taking taxis for the annual trip to the floating restaurants, tea in the famed Peninsula Hotel, shopping at Lane Crawford, having jewelry designed and made by the fabulous Phillip Chu, staying long enough for clothes and shoes to be made……

This is going to sound strange, but I’m glad I’m “old” (and I certainly don’t feel old!) Young people will never know the joys of the world I’ve traveled, the places I’ve visited before they became a tourist attraction, the countries that still had their unique character, dress, language and customs… when the world consisted of hundreds of amazing “flavors” instead of today’s world with its steady march toward “vanilla”….. every country is moving towards the vanilla of U.S. culture. And I think that is so unfortunate.”

An old Shipmate was the assistant Naval Attaché in Hong Kong in the late 1970s and is a noted curmudgeon in his own right. He wrote from the Volunteer State to make an important correction to my assertions yesterday:


“Vic old chap, sadly I must say you got it wrong when you opined that “The Repulse Bay Hotel had been used to intern British officers in harsh conditions when the Japanese occupied the Crown Colony, and subtle revenge was still carried out as busloads of tourists from Tokyo were jammed into the worst tables in the deep interior of the storied restaurant.”

“In fact it was the expatriate women and children that were held there for three months after Christmas Eve on Victoria Island in 1940, the men were out at Sheko (Golf Course). It is, nevertheless, a fine example of the long Chinese memory and utter contempt for the Sons of Nippon. My source was the long-serving Maître d’ hotel, who, when asked one Sunday during the brunch service, surreptitiously lead me to an alcove overlooking the grand ballroom and showed me the Japan Inc. minions eating the buffet. He then said this is where the expat women and children where held until the could be moved to the new territories. I frankly cannot believe they tore the Repulse Bay down and yet left the Long Bar in Shanghai’s New Peace hotel.”

And then came a gold mine. I had not talked about tailors, or Jimmy’s Kitchen, or the High Tea at the Peninsula Hotel, where I finally got to stay years afterward. He took me back to the same period as my first visit:

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“I first went to Hong Kong on a port call aboard USS Kitty Hawk in 1981. The only word that I could think of when it came to describe the experience was “fabulous.” I think it still sticks.

My main mission then on that first visit, outside girls and drink, was to find my Uncle’s tailor on Nathan Road aka the Golden Mile in Kowloon and get some suits. Like your Dad, my uncle Guy had been a Skyraider pilot in the mid-50s. He had stopped in Hong Kong on a port-call during an around-the-world cruise aboard the USS Shangri-La (now there is a great ship name for you). The tailor shop he had engaged was called Harilela’s, who were a large family of Pakistani ex-pats from Karachi whose scion had immigrated to Hong Kong after WWII.

As such, I found that the Harilela’s were warm, generous and wonderful people. They still had my uncle’s measurements on file (more than 25 years later and who knows, they probably still have mine from the last time I was there in 1993). I wound up, over time, buying about a dozen suits, shirts, sport coats, a tux, an overcoat, several hand-stitched slinky silk dresses for my wife (she came later during the 3rd and 4th port calls), and for my Uncle when he was still alive, short-sleeved white cotton duck shirts.

Albert ran the tailoring part of their business and always asked me during my sojourns “How is Commander Richardson?”


I bought even more suits during my second port call aboard the Vinson in 1983, and got invited to have dinner with the family. As I was to learn later, the Harilela’s were from an unusual segment of Pakistani society: they were Christians, not Muslims or Hindus.

At the appointed hour, I met the Mercedes sedan in front of my hotel on the Golden Mile; driven by what was an obviously armed body guard. He delivered me to the family compound where, after cocktails, we were served a sumptuous mixed Chinese and Indian meal. There was a lot of the family there at the communal gathering and I fell in love with one of the old man’s grand daughter’s. She was this drop-dead gorgeous stunning divorcee about my age with sad dark eyes and a young daughter. We spent most of that night talking and canoodling. I think they finally drug me out of there around 0430. The ship left the next day.

The Brits thought that they still controlled Hong Kong politics during those times and the military (mostly the Royal Navy) held no little amount of sway. The Fleet Landing for liberty boats was their China Fleet Club on the Victoria Island side, which had its own concessions, eating establishments, and bar. It was a great place to cash a check or float a loan from Navy Federal, who had thoughtfully set up a satellite office there. In 1983, we happened to be there for Black Saturday when the exchange rate for the Hong Kong dollar dropped from 7:1 to the US dollar to 11:1 in less than two hours.

This occurred when the Brit negotiations with the Chinese over the future had broken down, with the pissed-off Chinese delegation emerging from the fray to announce “no matter what, the future of Hong Kong is Chinese,” which was still 14 years away.

In 1997, we made a mad scramble to grab cash from the NFCU or check cashing window at the China Fleet Club and quickly pay for our contracted suits and other stuff before they jacked up the prices. One of my best memories of the mayhem that ensued was racing up Nathan Road trying to get ahead of the price hikes so I could secure my highly desired Rolex Submariner, which I finally did for less than $500 US – I still wear it.

Harilela’s was located a block or so up the Golden Mile from Ned Kelly’s so it was convenient for fittings, and maybe another suit or some shirts which seemed like a good idea after a couple of more beers. One of the many great places in Hong Kong which Vic has generously allowed me the honor to write about was Jimmy’s Kitchen, which at the time was the closest thing that Hong Kong had to a New York or Chicago steakhouse.

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Jimmy’s was founded in the 1920s by an American GI (Aaron Landau) as a place for ex-pats who liked their martinis and beef. it was one of those dark, wood-paneled places with burgundy carpet (probably to hide the spilled Cabernet), white table cloths and white coated wait staff, and wonderful smells from the in-house grill.

Steak was the only thing on our menu, along with “laced” baked potatoes which meant everything good tasting (bacon, onions, cheddar cheese, sour crème, etc.); along with the bad cholesterol (as if we cared in our 20s), and all manners of vegetable accompaniments from real Caesar salad made to order to creamed everything that would make Ruth’s Chris jealous.

The highlight of the meal, of course, was fried ice cream flamed tableside with Grand Marnier. It gets so-so reviews now, but back then, one never strode out of Jimmy’s, just rolled into a taxi or the next bar.

In 1983, the place to roll to was down to the Star Ferry for the Hong Kong side and a short cab ride up the mountainside to a place along an extremely steep and narrow street, the aptly named 1997 Club. For sailors, this was the place to find young, relatively horny Brit and more interesting and available Australian women. It was young and hip and happening. I still have a scar from one memorable evening there.

I remember that it was really hard to get a cab from there as the streets were too steep and narrow. The Star Ferry stopped running around 0130 so to get back from Hong Kong to the Kowloon side was a pretty hefty cab ride through a tunnel by the old airport if you couldn’t otherwise find friendly accommodations on the island.

After an 8-year hiatus from Westpac on my European vacation, I got back to Hong Kong, now sporting a trophy wife, fresh off over six months deployed during DESERT STORM and a wonderful reunion in Phattaya Beach. We had made a duty fleet homecoming in Subic Bay for a week or so, then endured the backside of a typhoon on the way up to Hong Kong, with the Midway Maru rocking, creaking and rolling. The weather cleared as we pulled in and anchored.

My wife, along with lots of others, flew back down from Japan to meet us at fleet landing at the China Fleet Club. We checked into the Marriott, and then decamped via the Star Ferry over to the Golden Mile to order some new duds for him and her at Harilela’s. To get it right, tailors and sewers need time to get suits ready and truly bespoke clothing requires several fittings. We got that out of the way and then walked down to Ned’s for some pub grub.

During that port call, there was a men’s professional tennis tournament going on and John McEnroe was holding court in Ned Kelly’s – great guy and just as profane and funny as shit. One night, we were all standing around drinking beer and some of the Brits started to get into it with our Midway guys and it looked like fisticuffs were soon to follow.

Undeterred and upset about the disrespect being shown to the USN and Midway sailors in particular (and more than slightly hammered), Johnny Mac waded into the middle of it and stared down the Brit hooligans. He then sealed the peace with the sons of perfidious Albion by ordering up a round for the entire bar. Not sure if he won that tournament or not, but I have loved that guy ever since.


Yeah, Hong Kong was and still is fabulous.”

My Hong Kong Rolex, you ask? It is on my son’s wrist. I bought it from Mr. Sluggo, since he found such a good deal that he purchased two of them.

Copyright 2014 Vic Socotra
Twitter: @jayare303

Hong Kong

January, 1979

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There is plenty that no one is talking about these days- the madness in Ottowa yesterday, four more cases of possible Ebola infection identified at Dulles, the drumbeat of negative advertising for the impending elections. It makes me feel a little sullied, just listening to the blather of absurdities we are supposed to believe. So let’s not do that this morning.

Let’s go someplace else, where the evils of the present day are just beginning. There’s a ship that lies a-waiting in the harbor…

In the Fall of 1979 there was plenty of time to day-dream as we bored holes in the long aquamarine swells of the North Arabian Sea. There were memories of the carnal carnival of the Philippines, of course. And then there were more esoteric concepts from a world that had changed dramatically since January of that strange year of 1979. The war in Southeast Asia was over, final, for four years. Not quite enough for the last of the Midway enlisted band of foreign legionnaires to have transferred, but it was close enough to a whole new world.

There were still remnants of the British Empire, and when we pulled into the harbor at Hong Kong, the refugees from the victorious Communists were packed on boats, watching the big gray boat with questioning eyes.

We had issues of our own- the question of finding the perfect gin and tonic. Not a pedestrian one; The Drink was an elusive commodity in the Far East. It should be tall (everyone was agreed on that, at least) and with a trifle more ice than the Europeans generally deem appropriate. Enough to make cool drops of condensate roll in silver trails down the side of a well-cut crystal glass. The gin must be British; the tonic Schweppes, naturally, delightfully Schweppervescent.

After all, Commander Whitehead should not have died in vain.

A slice of lime or lemon? The controversy rages on. A hint of Rose’s lime concentrate for subtle aura? Fist fights and duels have been known to erupt over this very question.

Dear Reader, tremble no more. The Answer has been found.


So there I was: I had inhaled the most astonishing brunch in a long and checkered career at the serving table. Jambo, Hooch and Zim-Bob were there, I think, or Black Cloud and Sluggo, Scooter and Rocket and Splash. The cast changed from event to event, but there was a constancy in demeanor and bearing.

The Staff of the Repulse Bay Hotel had done their best in Colonial under-statement. Why, the cheeses alone demanded a groaning table; the salads a Hall unto themselves. The entrees were dished out in appropriate elegance and style: the diners approached the carving block like supplicants to the Throne itself.

The Repulse Bay Hotel had been used to intern British officers in harsh conditions when the Japanese occupied the Crown Colony, and subtle revenge was still carried out as busloads of tourists from Tokyo were jammed into the worst tables in the deep interior of the storied restaurant.

But that all is prelude, and a different matter altogether. The dishes cleared away, the Bill was presented and the vulgar soiled pile of Hong Kong dollars removed.
“A cocktail might possibly be in order,” we mused. “Perhaps even The Cocktail….”

I strode boldly across the long dining hall under the elegant high ceiling. Past the three-story red plush curtain that waved under the gentle urgings of the warm breeze off the China Sea. Into the bar. Dare I say The Bar?

The Chinese serving boy approached me and I placed my order. I surveyed the lounge. The fashionable diners could be observed through the lazy swishing of the curtain. The women…ah, the women of Hong Kong! That joyous collision of the best of the East and the fashion and style of Europe. Heavy leather boots coyly peeking out from beneath long skirts, soft and meticulously cut. Magnificent materials and muted colors, soft blouses gathered at the waist, over stunning figures.

And the faces: those of Empire, the Brit, the well-heeled Malay or Indian. The wealthy Chinese. And of course the understated elegance of Carrier Air Wing Five…..but I digress.

It is the faces better than the clothing. Clear skin and fair complexion; the hint of almond to the eye-lines, the lovely hair, raven-dark and hanging straight, softly gleaming in the afternoon light. Surpassing beauty in an Empire setting, complementing the parking area crammed with Mercedes sedans and Bentleys.

My drink….The Drink….arrived with ideal obsequy. It met all the specifications. I raised it to my lips for the crucial moment; a last indolent shake to hear the silver chimes announcing High Tea. A lazy dollop over the palate. A healthy swallow.

“By God!” I exclaimed “Eureka!” The Chinese boy rushed to my side.

“Is everything all right Sir?” He looked up anxiously.

I ran my tongue over my sea-chapped lips. “No, my good fellow. Most assuredly nothing is wrong. Things are absolutely superb.”

Six Perfect Gin & Tonics later I found myself in a taxi-cab rushing over the Gap and down into the white spires of the City. From the vantage point past the Cricket Club you can see down Happy Valley to the blue waters of the Harbour.

Kowloon beckons on the other side. “Star Ferry, my good man, and step on it.”

A pell-mell rush through the Wanshai District (of ill-fame and story) brought me eventually to the Ferry terminus. A First Class passage is 30 cents HK- one of life’s little luxuries- and the ride is over virtually before you know it. Five crowded blocks of foot traffic bring you to the narrow asphalt estuary that is home to Ned Kelly’s Last Stand (The Fun Pub.)

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Time for a cold Swan’s lager to cut the dust of a rigorous trip.

” ”Ello. Wots this?” The owner is complaining from his station behind the dark bar. “I stock up on bloody Fosters when I ‘ears the Midway is comin’ in, and you Yanks drink nothin’ but Swan’s. Crazy, thats wot.”

Poor John. A Sidney man can’t understand why the bloody Yanks want to drink a Perth beer. He does not know that is the last place we were, Down Under. I commiserate and buy him another rum and Coke. “We’re all bloody mad, you see.”

He nods in agreement. “Proper balmy. But not all bad fer all o’ that.”

Ned Kelly, for those of you who may not have had your ancestors transported to Botony Bay for Low Crimes and High Misdemeanors, was the King of all the transported highwaymen. His last great raid (suitably attired in cast-iron helmet and breastplate) is what established him as the spiritual ideal of the Land of the Kangaroo.

“They counted twenty bullets in ‘im. Healed him up proper, they did, and then took him out and hung ‘im.”
“Right then.” I agreed in my very best drunken pseudo-brit. “I believe that calls for another Swan’s.”

“No accountin’ fer taste.”

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Eat did you say? What manner of food? A brief stagger from Ned Kelly’s (Past the Bottom’s Up Bar with it’s baffling series of mirrored rooms, featured in the last James Bond epic) will take you to Au Trou Norman, a delightful bistro founded by a former French paratrooper Bernard Vigneau in 1964. The place is a 60-seat slice of Europe in Tsim Sha Tsui.

French replaces Brit as the lange du jour. Subtle ambiance, chateau style. How about some chilled avocado soup? Perhaps followed by artichoke heart smothered in mushrooms,’ in a delightful marinade? Ah, you say, what of the main event?
That delectable stack of aged beef, thinly sliced and graced with a sauce to make an epicure weep. Not enough can be said of the pommes de terre, or the pommes frites like little zeppelins moored tenuously to the plate. And the ritual of the Irish coffee performed by the waiter/acolyte at your elbow from the rolling cart.

Ah, ’tis enough to warm the very lower G.I. tract, long suffering from the gastronomic outrages of the aft wardroom of ship of war.

Hong Kong is quite a place. A place that is forever England.

Well, at least it was.

Copyright 1979 Vic Socotra
Twitter: @jayare303

Jihadi Christmas

(Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini He was a strange Dude.)

On the 18th of October, 1979, I noted the situation seemed bleak because the Bazargan Government in Iran had packed cheeks and gone away. This left Khomeini and the Revolutionary Council as the only decision-making unit in the country, even they did not seem to be on top of the situation. Khomeini himself does not speak any English, and thus all statements by our Government- and others- must be translated and presented to him by his councilors.

There appeared to be no one to negotiate with, even if we were amenable to that approach. The Carter Administration seemed willing enough. There were reports that Ramsey Clark (of Vietnam fame!) had been tapped to go and meet with the Iranians, but at the last moment the powers-that-be vacillated and Clark was stuck in Ankara. Such luminaries as Andrew Young made bids to get in, but all seemed to stumble on the fact that no one knew what was going on, or who could actually make the hard decision.

The students who held the Embassy seemed to be the only people who were confident of their position, and in the great tradition of students everywhere, were in a non-negotiable demand mode.

Strange motions were made by all concerns. The reports were out that the PLO had been responsible for the actual planning of the operation. Yassir Arafat sent a delegation to talk and was rudely rebuffed. The Students seemed to be playing the Race Card in an effort to split the American opinion at home. Suddenly they announced that the women and the African-Americans could go free. A few days later they did in fact release twelve or thirteen hostages. At this late date it is still unknown whether all the women have been freed, as Khomeini added the kicker that known Spies, regardless of race or sex might be retained for trial.

It began to resemble the Soviet Union in the thirties. Anyone not in favor of the regime was immediately branded a Spy; the tactic being to unify the country against the foreign bogey-man. It appeared to be a successful tactic.

The circus at the Embassy continued with ‘spontaneous’ demonstrations that appeared to take on a legitimate popular flavor. In fact, the place assumed a carnival atmosphere with street vendors, mass prayers, the whole shot.

All of this had a clearly dilatory affect on the hostages. Early reports had them bound sixteen hours a day, with intense psychological warfare tactics used against them. They reportedly gained several concessions from one of the women, and revelations of conspiracy to admit the Shah into the United States. Lillian Johnson was the lady in question, but I bear her no ill-will, as she never got even the rudimentary resistance training we got at SERE School, much less the water-board.

What was particularly galling was the use of real and bogus message traffic by the Students to justify the seizure of the Embassy and the ‘nest of spies.’

Khomeini has already pronounced them guilty, with trial to follow if the Shah goes anywhere except back to Iran to stand before his accusers. He further called President Carter “insane” and his advisors “buffoons,” certainly arguable points.

I’m sure this got great press back home for him, but to a room full of blood-thirsty military pilots it was greeted with angry mutterings. All we wanted to do was launch one of the contingencies everyone was working on so hard behind the little locked curtains. Turn the Holy City of Qom into a picturesque crater district.

Amid all this hoopla, the most devastating news came in. In response to it I wrote an ill-advised letter home, because I was convinced that it was war within the next day or so. It was more complicated than I could know from the sketchy first reports; but here is how it went.

The strange business at Mecca, Islam’s holiest of holies. We were flying nights for some reason known only to the Staff in its infinite wisdom.

Actually, it was all very simple. We called it “practicing bleeding.” The CARGRU Staff knew that when USS Kitty Hawk finally arrived they would be hopelessly out of qualification for night flying, and they wanted to make sure that we were ready. Same principle as the all night and day EXTENDEX: in the event of war, we might have to fly around the clock for a few days.

Therefore, to be ready to do so in time of conflict, you should try your damnedest to kill people in peacetime. The problem with all of the above is that the crucial adrenaline factor is left out. In our little contingency mind-set it wasn’t that hard to get up for it, but being still peacetime, the ship and squadron authorities didn’t think twice about going on with the usual daytime ship’s business.

Our ‘stand-down’ days on the 8th and 9th of November were even worse. On the “no fly” day of the 8th, we only flew five events. On the 9th, we started flying at 0200, which didn’t even stop the All Officers Meeting, Squadron Pictures, and all-hands Quarters events from taking up the blessed afternoon rack hours.

But I can see that I am jumping ahead of myself. The issue is Mecca, and the implications are dramatic and far-reaching.

When you look at the map of the Middle East you may as well put the numbers ‘8’ over Iran and ’28’ over Saudi Arabia. That quickly covers the number of barrels of go-juice- black gold- that comes out of the ground of those barren desert nations. I have always been fascinated by the use of the phrase “Our Oil” which comes from the Middle East.

Wait a minute, how come those freaking fundamentalists have all our oil trapped under their blasted sand? Why did we put it there in the first place?

Anyhow, I was getting the morning briefs together to delight the aircrew as they stumbled in at 0340, eyes still screwed up at the blinding florescent light, rack scars still prominent on the cherubic faces. Eddie Chow came in from his station up forward, monitoring the traffic we don’t talk about. He said casually “Did you hear the news about Mecca? Some bunch of gorillas (sic) took over the Mosque there.”

“Holy Shit!” I exclaimed mildly. Only one of the biggest stories of the decade! Certainly the biggest blasphemy committed against a major religion since the Romans tore down the Temple in Jerusalem. The preliminary reports had the Iranians responsible- Shia versus Sunni. Great News, if those idiots had acted against the Holiest of all Islamic shrines they would be isolated as never before.


I was ecstatic. I was confident this blasphemy of Shia versus the Sunni protectors of the most holy site in Islam would change everything! I envisioned the huffers (air-start generators) beginning to turn all over the Saudi Airfields, the invitation coming for the Air Wing to use all Saudi assets in an all-out strike against Iran already being received at the Department of State.

It was as good as over, I thought. We would go to war and crush them in a few days. Vie would return triumphant, and the national balls would be restored. The glow of that development lasted for hours. Unfortunately it was not true. As has been so characteristic of this cruise, the manic cycle began. We were way up over the prospect of getting it on against the Iranians. Very high indeed until the second shoe dropped.

The true story in Mecca was considerably more sobering, and had a most arresting implication. The fanatics were actually Saudi Shias, or at the very least, Iranian-inspired. They were well-armed, and had occupied the sacred precincts of the Grand Mosque and the surrounding the Ka’aba. Tradition goes that the Kaaba was ordained by Allah to be built in the shape of the House in Heaven called Baitul Ma’amoor. Allah in his infinite Mercy ordained a similar place on earth and Prophet Adam was the first to build this place.
The idea of pocking it with bullet scars was most astonishing in and of itself. The very gaze of an infidel is enough to give the faithful the vapors.

Further, it seemed that the occupiers were students from the Islamic college located at the Mosque, and that they had been preparing for the siege for months. The leader was apparently of a disposition to believe himself the latest Prophet, the Caliph whose coming was foretold. He had apparently convinced his youthful followers of that revelation. Below the precincts of the shrine exist a maze of passageways and chambers, from which it was going to pose no small problem in removing the attackers in the holiest of precincts.

Naturally, the propaganda began to flow out of Iran the nasty Imperialists had engineered the occupation with their lackies, the Zionists. This was a Kafkaesque turn taken with some surprise by we Satanic Plotters and Schemers, but the time had come around for the Big Lie to be credible to the unwashed, and the season was ripe for belief.

The climate for Jihad was favorable, and it seemed that the sap of Islam was waxing wroth, or whatever it is that sap does. The picture for the Saudis was not good, although it seemed that they were more than ready to deal with the immediate problem. What they were to do with a sizeable portion of their miniscule population who were being educated that the House of Saud was nothing more than the creature of the Devil himself? Who actively pursued such decadent habits as the watching of television and the listening of Radio? A ruling family so irretrievably corrupt as to play Soccer?

The entire concept of the Islamic 14th century revival runs contrary to the spirit of the West since our own middle ages, not coincidently of the same era that Khomeini’s followers would so desperately like to revisit.

I was fascinated to see what the Saudis were going to with a Shia threat in their midst.

For our part, Carrier Air Wing Five seemed to be of the unanimous opinion that if they wanted, we would be happy to help them go back a couple centuries at least.

The plague of religious violence was spreading across the region. In Pakistan, the Cricket Tests were underway. Whether the word was spread by the broadcasters of the matches, or whether the contagion of Radio Tehran was sufficient to spread the call to jihad is a moot point. What happened plunged me into the deepest depression. On 21 November, busloads of demonstrators showed up at U.S. facilities all over Pakistan after rumors swirled that the Americans had bombed the Ka’aba. Consulates were burned, American cultural centers ravaged, and the ubiquitous sign of US capitalism, the American Express in Rawalpindi, were burned.

But the worst event by far was at the Embassy in Islamabad. stormed the US Embassy in Islamabad and set it alight The fire killed Army Warrant Officer Bryan Ellis and Marine Steve Crowley along with two local Embassy Employees. Several American women were assaulted by the howling mob.

The messages as they flowed into Main Comm depicted the events in over-graphic detail; the buildings burning, rioters on the second floor, over a hundred Embassy Staffers trapped in the secure vault with air getting thin. The British Ambassador protested, but General Zia, the Pakistani strongman, could not be reached.

In the end, the Army did act. They swept the demonstrators from the roof and evacuated the staffers to the British compound. It was a little bit late for the two American military guys. Their charred bodies were found in the rubble the next day.

If there was a moment when I would have lashed out with all the force at my command, this would have been it.

But not our President, Mr. Carter. I have to admire his restraint (if that is indeed what it was and not some total paralysis of the lower bowels, which renders him unable to act under any circumstance). I would have had the Strike Force moving north and west within the hour. I know, intellectually, that such an action could only lead to the immediate demise of the hostages whose lives we were present ostensibly to preserve, but I think a fundamental stage had been reached in the crisis where the hostages began to become irrelevant.

Past this point we could no longer stick with the Embassy occupation in Tehran as the sole cause. Now, it appeared to be Jihad writ large, and our response could only be taken by the zealots as an assault of Islam itself.

The focus in Iran politics seemed to be on the matter of a Constitutional Amendment to existing law which would enable Khomeini (who we have taken to our vision of the evil vizier of the Arabian Nights) to assume the power de jure he has hitherto exercised de facto. It is interesting to contrast his version of moral authority with President Carter; but I wander from the issue. They have shown the Mike Wallace interview with the grand Ayatollah, and there have been some interesting responses.

I personally was livid with anger for hours, and I am not certain whether it is because I was burned out with fatigue, or because I was overcome by loathing for the ministers who surrounded him, refusing even to pose certain questions.

The logic of the situation runs something like this: the shortages incurred by the drastic cutback in oil production have forced forward the inexorable pincers of inflation, of the hoarding of rice, the limited supply of kerosene, the slow drying up of the availability to carry on the commerce which fed the growing bourgeoisie. That, lingering effect of the Shah’s profligate ways, have left them in grim shape economically. The oil is a finite resource. At the Shah’s pace of something well over four million barrels a day, it would have been exhausted by the late eighties.

Even the greatly reduced production of the new Islamic Oil Ministry (to something under three) placed on the lucrative spot market is barely enough to cover the lean essentials of public services.

Inexorably, Khomeini is faced with a no-win situation, much like the sorry nations of Pakistan and India, who add millions to already burdened populations each year. Scarce resources preclude reaching the light-off point for capital investment.

I think it is inevitable that the enthusiasm of the Revolution would wither before the re-emergence of the eternal plagues of hunger and cold. The indicators I read pointed to a consistent erosion of Khomeini’s authority. The answer, and an astute one in the short term, was to drum up the foreign bogey-man.

There could hardly be a better one than the U.S. I make no breast-beating case for the horrible crimes of stabilizing a nation, and paying it the going rate for what was then a non-essential commodity. Our interests were well served by the listening posts that constantly read telemetry from the Tyuratam Proving Grounds in the USSR, and as our national oil-aholism grew, so did our need for a steady and dependable source of crude.

That we could also build a powerful ally on the very flank of the Soviet Union also was of great utility. Most important, it stood as a powerful bastion between the Bear and the vital House of Saud in the thinly populated sands of the Empty Quarter.

But we did fuck it up. We were guilty of wishful thinking as a national policy. What we hoped was true we formulated in concrete, and in the blood of the victims of SAVAK. The truth was there all along, had we but taken the time to look for it. As far back as ’71 , my pal George traveled the region and brought back the news that Iran was a police state; that giant portraits of the Shah emblazoned all the custom’s gates, and that to walk his path brought no trouble, but the hint of criticism could bring the agonies of prison.

The Shah’s enemies disappeared, were worked over and exiled, But we still believed that a bastion in our favor was far preferable to uncertainty. The military contracts were good business. They brought down the unit costs on the F-14 to a manageable level, where we could procure more for ourselves. The cruise missiles are there today, and provide an element of unease never present in the waters of Yankee station. Four-engine state-of-the-Art P-3 Charlie patrol aircraft fly out to do maritime surveillance on us.

Well, they are actually Foxtrot-models different (slightly) than the ones we fly, but there were only six constructed, and they carry U.S. Navy Bureau numbers still.

(The hanging Judge, a Khomeini insider since 1955.)

Khomeini’s people are projecting the message that the “Iranian Government policy has never been one to condone terrorism,” which is nonsense. The rule of law is gone, as demonstrated by the appointment of Sadegh Khalkhali, the Hanging Judge as First Chief Justice of the Revolutionary Islamic Court. He killed hundreds of the Shah’s people in the early days of the Khomeini regime.

He was famous for ordering the executions of Amir Abbas Hoveida, the Shah’s Prime Minister, and Nemotollah Nassiri, the former head of the feared SAVAK.

According to one report in the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS)reporting, after sentencing Hoveida to death:

“pleas for clemency poured in from all over the world and it was said that Khalkhali was told by telephone to stay the execution. Khalkhali replied that he would go and see what was happening. He then went to Hoveyda and either shot him himself or instructed a minion to do the deed. “I’m sorry,” he told the person at the other end of the telephone, “the sentence has already been carried out.””

That is the sort of scum we are dealing with. However one attempts to come to grips with the attractive self-flagellating argument of “How We Lost Iran,” that is not the issue. It isn’t even close.

I can grant the Iranians have many points. Some of them I heartily endorse, as a lover of Liberty in my own homeland.

But the real issue is so simple that in the last 37 days it has been entirely obscured. A civilized nation does not take hostages of persons under diplomatic immunity. It may, should it so choose, expel those who it considers active (or hyper-active, rather, as all nations engage in the collections of Intelligence in their embassies) and bid them good riddance as they pass through customs on their way out. It may not capture a sovereign building, on what is in point of law another nation’s soil, root about in it’s internal paperwork, and come up with evidence to run show trials.

Were that the case, I would dearly love to paw over the files the Soviets maintain at their embassies and consulates in the United States.

But there it was, and we are now in a strange new land where laws mean nothing, international custom is scrapped, and something medieval and savage is abroad

The big lie was again triumphant. They shouted ‘Espionage!’ and ‘CIA! and they shouted SO LOUD and so long that those two words became the issue, in part of the long self destructive retreat from Watergate that haunts us still. Even Ted Kennedy, damn his liberal hide, jumped on the bandwagon. It is the first time that a Presidential Aspirant has even had a hand in helping me lose my Christmas, and I suspected it would not be the last.

As it turned out, I was right.

CV-41 Gonzo Station Christmas-102214

Copyright 2014 Vic Socotra
Twitter: @jayare303


Unvarnished and un-retouched. We were young, once, and out in a wild world.


03 February 1979


YOU COULD SMELL THE LAND THIRTY OR FORTY MILES OUT, if you had gotten up early enough for it. I couldn’t have; stupefied still from over-liberty in HONG KONG, I suppose, but here is how it would have been: the orange ball of the sun would have made you screw up your eyes after the nighttime of florescent glow. Brisk breeze as the Midway left off her night of circling off the coast. The green and black of the mountains would have been the first thing to strike you above the blue of the water. And the smell of the Philippines.

Musky, like the snatches of the thousands of little brown girls even now boarding the battered Victory Liners out in the tiny villages. Ready to greet the happy Midway crew.

Ready? Shit, we were- the first capital ship to call at Subic Bay since the Constellation pulled out for that crazy run to the Straight of Malacca before New Years. Guarding the rights of the Americans in Iran from five thousand miles away; defending Liberty by having the capability to bomb Singapore. Real gunboat diplomacy. They must be calling him whirling Teddy Roosevelt now, wherever that ace Imperialist finally fetched up.

It was a working In-Port. You know how that goes: you feel guilty as you bolt down a couple Cubi Dogs and a Special at the BOQ bar in the course of your official duties up the hill at the Cubi Point Naval Air Station complex above the field.

Having to hang around the ship all day, either nursing a hangover or plotting how to ravage and pillage Olongapo City again that night. We were docked by the industrious little tugs at 0900 sharp.

“All heads forward of Frame 47 are secured until further notice.” It is like using the lavatory on a train in the station, since plumbing simply exits to the great outdoors. It is important not to dump on the tugboat crew. Bad taste for all concerned.

The squadron was going to be flying this time, so there was no bullshit about the work part for us. The golf clubs started going ashore not long after the brow went across. After all, it was the P.I. The temperature was a balmy 87 degrees, the sky cloudless, the Bay a sparkling blue.

Two or three brushfires were raging out of control in the hills. It was great to be back. Naturally, I had the duty first day in. Not a snivel, mind you, as I would prefer to miss the ritual drunk-ex on the first night anyway. But I will confess to that distinctive feeling of loneliness on board as everyone you know throws on civilian clothes and races for the nearest fondly remembered club, bar girl, or rattan shop. Takes all kinds, I suppose.

I was able to work a deal with my boss about the duty. After he had a nice dinner and a couple cocktails, he came back and relieved me.

I was able to grab a cab and head for the Cubi O club for a couple non-Midway emergency burgers and an obligatory six pack. San Miguel: what a refreshing beer! Really a wonder-beverage. It has the capability to work as a thirst quencher, a mild intoxicant, and a purgative all at the same time. Back home it would run you a couple bucks a crack down at the bistro. Here, 45 cents at the Club and as little as 2 pesos out in the Ville.

Splendid! I believe I’ll have another. Rose early the next morning to discover that the Boss had an exercise associated with the Duty, commencing at 0500. Maybe there is a God, after all.

I hung around the ship until after lunchtime shuffling papers and plotting my escape. Finally discovered some vital Squadron business over on the Subic Side and logged myself ashore. Had a delightful burger over at the Chuck Wagon. And a couple beers. Paid off an overdue account at the Subic Club for some frolicking last time down. Duty done, I repaired to the ship to get ready to Alpha Strike the town.

Let’s see: watch and ring off the hand. Wallet purged of unnecessary cash assets. Placed in the front pocket, so it can be guarded with the left hand. All small valuables transferred to the security safe down in the Intelligence spaces. As the sun declined my spirits soared.

I walked down to the quarter-deck and reported that I did indeed have permission to go ashore to the bored Officer of the Deck. Free at last, I cruised to the waiting line for a taxi and prepared myself mentally for the rigors ahead. The mind-set is of necessity quite different than that called for in any other country in Westpac. Most anywhere else you can cruise around pretty much as you want.

In Japan, the chances of getting rolled are so slight as to be negligible, unless it is another American.

The Philippines Islands, or Pee-Eye in colonial-speak for the Republic of the Philippines- is another case altogether. Before Marshall Law, there were signs in the most fashionable nightspots requesting the patrons to deposit their firearms at the door. Not uncommon to see great bodily harm come to someone on the street; in fact. The Boss reports that his first time out in town a security guard got wasted in the very first club he was sitting in.

It is not quite that bad these days, but still among the weirdest places on earth.

A shared cab ride with one of the squadron Skippers brings us through the Naval Air Station grounds and out past the F-8 on the pedestal that marks the perimeter.

One of the Connie A-7 squadrons painted the hapless old fighter up like one of their birds. A shocking insult to both the memory and the mission of the entire Fighter community. Everyone knows the A-7 really looks like an F-8 that has been run hard into the hangar bay armored door.

Round the Bay we rocket: past the Air Force fuel receiving dock, past the JP-5 settling tanks and the huge fuel farm. A hard left by the new Exchange Complex and we scoot along the flanks of the supply depot warehouses, seemingly secure behind wire and lock. Amazing what the Filipinos can steal when they set their mind to it. I heard from some permanent party folks that it wasn’t unusual to have forty “intruders” every night roaming around looking for things to borrow.

Out in front of one of the warehouse go-downs are the guns of the Battleship New Jersey. Three to a rack the huge steel telephone poles are mute testimony to the days when we still used the islands as our own soil, which Subic still is. One of the funny little trappings of a former empire, like the old peso coins you still see with the legend “United States of America” on the reverse.

God, I wish I could have seen it: three aircraft carriers in off Yankee Station and the New Jersey taking on more ammunition for Naval Gunfire off the coast of Vietnam. Lobbing 2500 Ib. shells for a quarter of a hundred miles. Like throwing Volkswagens of high explosives at the strange brown people with their own funny dreams of imperium.

Into the Naval Station at Subic proper we cruise past the go-cart track and the skeet shooting facility. Past the baseball fields and the fleet supply ships. The flat black antennas of the escorts poke up into the night sky.

The aircraft in the pattern for Cubi roar overhead in a non-stop racetrack of flashing red lights, and suddenly there we are. Main Gate City. I can smell Shit River already.

We queue up for the ritual inspection at the gate. The Marines stand like ramrods and the.45s on their belts are loaded. We flash our ID cards and receive a crisp salute. “Good Evening, Sir!”

“Good evening,” we reply “and good luck tonight.”

No response. The Marine is already hunched over inspecting another party on the way out. We stand in disorientation for a moment and allow the crowd to carry us along. Already I have been asked to sell my watch and purchase some cheap shell necklaces.

Twenty feet beyond the gate is the real boundary: the famous vile smelling river the separates the shacks and gaudy neon from the prim American order of the Base. Shit River. No name could be more appropriate. A four-lane bridge connects the Base to the City, and the angels of the river beckon from the shoulder-to-shoulder outrigger canoes.

“Hey Joe! Look at me Joe!”

They stand precariously over the fetid water on stools set in the middle of the canoes. They wear long gay dresses that cover the stools, so they appear to be immensely tall. “For a quarter I show you my tits! Hey Joe!”

They carry wire nets scooped to catch flying change. Occasionally a sailor will toss whatever is in his pockets. Usually it is money. Above all, the scene is bizarre. The stench, the exhortations, and the pickpockets who stride through the crowd looking for the drunk, the naive, or the distracted.

Sixty yards takes you to the city. It is a riot of neon, a carnival of jeepneys, and a confusion of people. Beggars, chewing gum sellers and hookers.

Never mess with a hooker off the street; she works there because she cannot pass her medical examination to work in one of the clubs. Cute, still, and the eye cannot cover all that shouts out for attention. Money changing booths across Magsaysay Boulevard where the pretty girls bang the glass with pesos for your attention and patronage. Each club has a security guard outside exhorting you to come on in and start spending that paycheck.

Tee-shirt palaces to delight even the most jaded traveler: “I Love You No Shit” says one, concluding with “Buy your Own Fucking Drinks'”

And more bars and women than you could count. Taxis cruise the street and hiss at you from the curb. Hat sellers exhort their merchandise. And the women…. they call the P.I. the land of beautiful women and they are correct.

The centuries of Spanish rule were not wasted by the hardy conquistadors.

Short as a rule, with long glossy black hair and piercing black eyes under lovely lashes. It seems they are either ladies of Virtue here or of the lowest morals. After dark you will seem to encounter only the latter. It is a marvelous place.

The question at hand is where to enjoy that first ice-cold San Miguel. The Skipper wants noise and action and women. He heads for a place called the Cavern. It is dark and loud and the women know him. He buys her six drinks immediately (at 24 pesos per drink you could have twenty beers) and that serves to set her free.

I dance with the lady who sits by me, and buy her one drink before I slide on. I know a place where it is 2-and-a-half for a beer, and the same price should you care to provide liquid refreshment for a lady. I bid every one a fond farewell and head for the door. It is like hitting the Steelers line, but I win through and pass once more down the swarming street.

The Club Rufadora lies past the American Legion (with the deck gun from a Japanese Death Ship out front) and before the New Florida Club and the sordid pleasures of the New Jolo. I order several beers and relax. Part of the attraction of the Rufadora is the fact that there is no hustling allowed. The ladies are available, of course, but they don’t knock you down in the stampede to get at your wallet. I look around for Sally, a real beauty with a slim body and gold in her teeth. She is occupied, and I am momentarily at a loss for a goal. I see a helicopter pilot I know and we slosh down another beer in search of a game plan.

“How about a trip out to the Barrio and the Samurai Health Club? We could take some cocktails and still be back before curfew.” The hated curfew is a relic of Martial Law since lifted nearly everywhere else. Marcos, in his wisdom, has decided to retain the law in Olongapo to help contain the sailors.

Anyone still on the streets after midnight is subject to arrest, and the gates to the Base slam shut exactly at midnight. There are some great stories of survival in the darkened streets by shipmates who dallied for a rendezvous only to find (to their great fear & loathing) that their lady love got a better quotation later and abandoned them to their own devices ’till the gates to safety opened up again at 0400.

“Does the Samurai give specials with the massage?”

“You betcha. And for only 35 Pesos. ” At those prices it was impossible to pass up. We lurched out of the club, flagged down a jeepney, and were on our way.

A word about jeepneys: they are open long-bed jeeps with a surrey style roof.

The colors are gaudy and the hoods are decorated with chrome bars, horses, religious medallions, reflector lights, and any other bauble that strikes the fancy of the owner. They serve as the public transportation system, and for 30 centavos you may ride wherever they choose to take you.

This particular one deposited us at the Olongapo Jeepney Station, where you may book passage on a jammed Victory Liner for the exotic spas of Baguio, Angeles, or Manila itself. We negotiated with a waiting cabby and secured transit over the hill to the Barrio for IOP. We ground gears and commenced the journey in a cloud of unburned emissions and Tagalog profanity.

You gotta see the roads to believe them. No one has seen such things in America in two generations. Crushed rook and potholes are the main constituents of the paving, with an assortment of Wash-Outs, Craters, and Land Slides for diversion. We rattled and rolled for twenty minutes and came to the abandoned guard shacks of the check-point.

The Barrio is thinly populated in comparison with the ‘Po and very rural in appearance. No paved roads. The clubs tend towards open air. Sailors stand along the road in various states of repair looking for rides back to civilization.

We forge on into the middle of the place and come to a halt in front of a dark lane that runs generally uphill. We pay off our chauffeur and he wheels around to pick up a fare on the other side of the road. We amble on up the deserted lane and come eventually to a two story building that bears the legend “Samurai Health Club” on the front. Next door is a large private home with several cars in the drive.

A gaggle of children rush out to greet us, and they seem to recognize my companion: “Hello Joe! Rock n’ Roll Hoochie-Coo!”

My buddy digs out a peso piece and flips it to the first one to shout the slogan.
“You cultural imperialist” I observe.

“It passes the time. Ah! And here we are.” Behind the desk in the pink foyer is a cute little girl of about sixteen. We exchange amenities, haggle about the price, and order a cold beer while we settle the tab. “I’ll pick up the beers” says my associate.

”Yeah,” said I, “and a round of Blowjobs for my friends.”

It was 35 pesos, as advertised, and our hostess assigned us rooms and leaned back to speak Tagalog into an intercom. We walked through the portal to the large vacant bar and through the back to the numbered rooms. There was no one around that I could see, so we found our room assignments and prepared for the inevitable. “See ya out front” said my mentor.

“Later” I agreed.

I walked into my room, kicked off my shoes and stripped to my trousers. In a few minutes I laid down on the bed and watched the little gecko lizards dart around on the cracked ceiling. They eat them over in the attack squadrons, but it has always been my position that anything that walks around eating mosquito eggs is a definite ally. The Filipinos consider them to be good housemates and I defer to their judgment and experience.

I watched two circular evolutions and a near collision and a lady entered the room in a short white dress, severely tailored, like a nurses uniform. I got up, removed my trousers and dumped them on the floor. She went ahead and spread a sheet over the bedspread.

“Please lie face down” she said. Her tones were bored, but the massage was anything but. “Powder or Oil?” she inquired.

“Oil, I think. The sea air dries me out so.”

It is possible she could have cared less, though I am not sure how. I reclined and slid off into the zone. It was magnificent. She kneaded me, pummeled the muscles, and wrenched the joints. Finally she rolled me over and worked down to the main joint with careful deliberation.

When she reached the center of attraction she went to work with an experienced and enthusiastic palate. The Geckos ran circles on the ceiling.

“My God” I said.

“You’re welcome,” she said.

Copyright 1979 Vic Socotra

Fantasy Patches

It isn’t all just knuckles and know-how out there in the Fleet. “Other duties, as assigned,” was part of it, and as the coffee mess officer for World Famous Medium Pursuit Squadron 151 sometimes writing detective stories and designing new unofficial squadron patches was part of it.

Considering the other stuff I could have been writing about this morning, I think I preferred 1979. Things were a lot less nuanced and much less complex. Heck, back then you could even mostly believe what the Government told you!

Join with us now for a thrilling trip to those days of yore…..









Copyright 2014 Vic Socotra
Twitter: @jayare303