7:48 | Mac McCahan's first assignment in the Signal Corps was in Germany, which was just what he wanted. His wife could experience some of what he enjoyed as a military dependent stationed there. When the Berlin Wall crisis came up, it turns out he had the only American cable splicer in Europe.
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When communications engineer Mac McCahan arrived in Vietnam, he had to straighten out an Air Force Colonel who was trying to send him to Thailand, where he wouldn't get credit for a combat tour. Then he settled down to improving voice communications and found out that it was so stressful on the switchboards, operators were committing suicide.
"We don't want your equipment!" Communications engineer Mac McCahan was trying to improve military telephone service in Vietnam and he had to repeatedly reassure units that he wasn't tying to take over, just trying to make the system work better.
They wouldn't tell Mac McCahan who the visitor was, but they told him how many voice circuits were required and that the restoration priority on those lines was "1b." That got his attention because that was the code for President of the United States.
Mac McCahan lost two cousins in Vietnam, Lee and Gene McCahan. If that wasn't bad enough, his brother George McCahan died from leukemia due to contact with Agent Orange. His own luck stayed with him, though, and he kept missing enemy ambushes by thirty minutes.
Mac McCahan never cared for the rule that he had to store his weapon in the safe in his office. When the Tet offensive happened, he had to hunker down, unarmed, in his quarters. When he returned to the States, he was armed only with his dignity as he faced rabid protestors.
Mac McCahan felt like he was doing something great on his second tour in Vietnam. As he transferred control of facilities to the Vietnamese, each one meant that soldiers were going home. Then he stopped at the dispensary to find out why he was suddenly soaked in sweat. Part 1 of 3.
While the doctors tried to find out whether he'd had a heart attack or not, alarming telegrams began to go out to Mac McCahan's family, despite the fact that he'd signed a document directing the Army to send such messages only in the event of death. Part 2 of 3.
The doctors still didn't know if he'd had a heart attack or not, but they sent Mac McCahan home from Vietnam, regardless. Then they told him he was on his way out of the Army. "No. I'm not," came the reply. Part 3 of 3.
Mac McCahan knew he wanted a military career. He had a taste of military life as an Air Force dependent and he secured a congressional appointment to the Air Force Academy, but a run in with an eye chart derailed that. He settled in at Clemson with Army ROTC but a freak accident cost him a year.
In the post-Trujillo chaos of the Dominican Republic, Signal Corps officer Mac McCahan began a long run of finding solutions to communications problems. After restoring phone service by adapting old exchanges, he was able to communicate with Washington by whistling the appropriate tones to establish a connection.
As if restoring communications in the restive Dominican Republic wasn't enough to keep him busy, Mac McCahan had to deal with constantly shuttling back to Ft. Bragg for briefings and an acting Signal Officer who wrote him up for spite. Not to mention lacking the counter sign at a crucial time.
After his tour in the Dominican Republic Mac McCahan began the Training With Industry program. He worked with the New York phone company learning the network and installing phones in the field, then applied that knowledge to military telecommunications.
Communications engineer Mac McCahan caught the eye of the White House when he successfully managed two projects for the White House Communications Agency. The first was extending coverage of the first moon landing to Alaska and the second was managing the satellite link for a presidential trip to Asia.
"This is all classified. I recommend it not be broadcast." That's what Mac McCahan had to say about a script for an upcoming CBS news program. Three weeks later, what did he see when he turned on the television?
The signal battalion was ecstatic when they got in any new gear following the Vietnam war, remembers Mac McCahan. Nearly everything had been left there. In order to jump with communications capability at hand, he crammed a Command Post's worth of radio gear onto an Army Mule cargo vehicle. And what do you call a Mule full of radios?
Assigned a command position that was usually occupied by a Lt. Colonel, Major Mac McCahan sought assurances that he would get no interference because of his rank. He got that assurance and soon, the promotion to Lt. Colonel as well. Then he wound up with a distinctive blue beret thanks to the new Air Assault movement.
Reorganization was swirling around Mac McCahan at the 101st Airborne and he was nearly made battalion commander. After a European exercise where he met two Medal of Honor recipients, he found out that a communications plan for a hospital he'd drawn up had achieved some distinction.
Mac McCahan relates the story of a Chinook that mistakenly strayed into the Korean DMZ and was shot down. Closer to home, as North Korean armor was massing across the border, he tells why his wife became suddenly upset and convinced that another war was imminent. It turned out to be a case of Loose Lips.
Leaving Korea with his family and adopted daughter was a struggle. Striking airlines and visas gave him fits but they made it home and he eventually became an advocate for Amerasian adoption, appearing before Congress to support the cause.
Back in the States and commanding a Signal Battalion, engineer Mac McCahan wrote an article on nodal communications systems that was groundbreaking. He used off the shelf gear and existing installations and improved service for all users.
His expertise in satellite communications landed Mac McCahan a position at the headquarters of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington. That expertise was put to good use on an ill fated mission during the Iran Hostage Crisis.
There was no doubt Mac McCahan was a problem solver. He developed a scheme for bit stuffing that made incompatible gear work together. Should have been a patent right there. Then he encountered a problem that was projected to cost one million dollars and take a year to fix. Would he do it in half the time for half the money? Think again.
The Generals kept asking, why do we lose our satellite link during the heavy tropical rain in the Philippines? The answer, according to communications engineer Mac McCahan, is in the true shape of a raindrop, a shape which is not what you might think.
Mac McCahan has a message for all who served in a support role instead of a combat unit. First, consider yourself lucky, and second, your service was just as necessary and contributed just as much as anyone's.
There was one last big action just before his tour was over and then Jon Keen could look forward to returning home. The replacement unit that moved into his position in Afghanistan began taking casualties right away, so nothing had changed. He reflects on the challenges he faced there and how the attack on September 11, 2001 shaped his life.
Justice details a too-close-for-comfort interaction with a vehicle-borne IED. The IED came as a complete surprise and the entire F.O.B. fell into what Justice could only describe as “chaos” immediately following the explosion. She suffered several injuries and had to work with the nurses back in Bagram and depend on the friendship of comrade Colonel Ellison to come back from the injuries.
On the Afghan border with Pakistan, platoon leader Jon Keen had the difficult job of finding Taliban fighters and sympathizers among the local population. Sometimes, this did not make many friends. He did have a good friend in his interpreter, who at great risk to himself and his family, helped the Americans.
His father had a long Army career so it was not unusual for Jon Keen to join ROTC in college and then enlist in the National Guard. He was in basic training on September 11, 2001 and the events of that day would have a profound effect on the rest of his training and on the rest of his life. After Airborne and Ranger schools, he deployed to Afghanistan in 2005.
Jon Keen was back in Italy training with his Airborne unit when he got two pieces of news. One was that deployments would be extended to fifteen months and the other was that they would be returning to Afghanistan instead of going to Iraq. This time it would be the Korangal Valley which challenged the men and the action began the very first day.
After commanding the 75th Ranger Battalion, Ken Keen's next assignment was with the US Southern Command. During an official visit to Haiti, he was caught up in the massive earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. The value of his Ranger networking was proven in the relief effort that followed.
Jon Keen was helping unload casualties in Asadabad, Afghanistan when he saw his platoon sergeant among the wounded, a sight which seared his memory. It was difficult for the Afghans as well. The dead children he carried from helicopters is another forever memory. During this time, two Medal of Honor events occurred in a large operation called Rock Avalanche.
Based on the experience from a long career as an Army Ranger, Ken Keen has some advice for young Rangers and some gratitude for those who have undergone extensive service following 9/11. He also notes how their influence has spread throughout the services since Gen. Creighton Abrams' charter which established the modern Ranger battalions.
On a mission to visit the Afghan villages in his area, Jon Keen's unit experienced its first casualty and he experienced his first live fire. Many of the civilians were resentful of the American soldiers and he relates two incidents which contributed to this feeling.
Frank Noonan owed the Navy another year. That's how he wound up at the Bikini atoll for Operation Crossroads, the first post-war atomic bomb tests. There were two detonations, an air burst and an underwater burst. He describes the scene and the devastating effects on the target ships. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
He already had a long, distinguished career in the Army but Rock Merritt wasn't done. He served in the Dominican Republic, where he had a hard time believing that taxpayer money was being used to buy off the combatants, and in Panama, where he got to bring his wife with him. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
Perhaps the scariest experience for Jon Keen in Afghanistan was the night time drive on a particular mountainside road in the Korangal Valley. It was a long way down with not much clearance for the vehicles. One of his most rewarding experiences was the mission to recover a fallen comrade.
With a variety of successful engineering assignments behind him, Jack Martin began participating in high level general war planning, first in Washington, and then in an underground facility in the Midwest. (This interview made possible with the support of BARBARA SHELDON in honor of Joseph Graham.)
There was a concern that Saddam Hussein's Scud missiles could be fired against Israel, so a Ranger detachment was one of the units inserted into Iraq to make sure that did not happen. As part of this operation, Ken Keen was helped by the close camaraderie among Rangers, men that he already knew and men that he just met and could trust.
Jack Martin was having a fine time his first year at college when his father asked him this question, would he accept an appointment to West Point? Having answered the only way a real man could answer, he chose engineering school at Fort Belvoir upon graduation. (This interview made possible with the support of BARBARA SHELDON in honor of Joseph Graham.)
It was tough during his second tour of Afghanistan, but Jon Keen reveals how he tried to help his platoon cope, including that most sacred of American male rituals, the video game. Not that he had much spare time, because in addition to his duties as scout platoon leader, he ran the detention facility in Asadabad.
After a short bit of shore duty, Frank Noonan was assigned to the USS John R. Craig, a destroyer that was bound for a goodwill tour in the Pacific. It berthed in some unlikely places, including up the Irrawaddy River at Rangoon. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
Army Ranger Ken Keen reflects on the importance of mentors in his career, beginning with the ROTC instructor who talked him into going to Ranger school while still in college. When he retired from the Army, he found a way to carry this forward at Emory University.
Jack Martin was a new lieutenant out of engineering school by way of West Point. His first post was in Cold War Germany in support of the 2nd Armored Division, where he faced a great challenge, moving tanks across the Rhine. (This interview made possible with the support of BARBARA SHELDON in honor of Joseph Graham.)
As documented in the movies Restrepo and Korangal, the action in the Korangal Valley of Afghanistan was fierce. During one firefight, platoon leader Jon Keen took cover and when he looked around for his men, he had a startling discovery.
Working in Civil Affairs, it's essential to understand the nuances of what is going on in the place you're deployed. Christina Cross made sure she was well-versed in the intellectual part as well as the physical training. Being given the honor graduate award at airborne school meant a lot to her.
Ever since he was in ROTC, Ken Keen wanted to be part of the Rangers. It wasn't until he was a major that he made that happen. During Operation Just Cause, he had to miss the jump because of a training mishap, but he still joined the command team on the ground in Panama.