6:00 | 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.
Keywords : Mac McCahan Joint Chiefs of Staff satellite communications map coverage Iran Hostage Crisis rescue briefing terminal Ft. Monmouth New Jersey MSC-46 Washington DC DCA Defense Communications Agency
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was a surprise when her National Guard unit was activated for Desert Storm. It gave Angela Beltz a new appreciation of the hands on training the water distribution detachment had received in the mountains of California. As she readied for deployment, she had to make a choice regarding her long hair. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/ .)
The long hours often faced by servicemen and women weren’t just in the field, as Brett remembers a mission to apprehend a high value target that led to a full day’s worth of administrative work.
The National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, Ohio is an amazing place for any veteran to visit, says Ohio veteran Angela Beltz. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/ .)
LTC Garnet Derby was killed when a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle, also taking 3 other soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter. Brett Stroney recalls the incident and the memories of LTC Derby.
When a vehicle loaded with explosives blew up at the gate, dental officer Mike Barno hurried to his emergency assignment, triage at the aid station. A truck with wounded men from the Afghan Army pulled up and he jumped into the back, ready to help.
Women, too, serve on the front lines. Angela Beltz, a veteran of Desert Storm, speaks of her work with women's veteran groups and their outreach to veterans of all wars. Especially important to her are the women who served in Vietnam. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/ .)
Following the tragic deaths of ten Afghan children, it fell on General David Barno to tell President Karzai about the incident. He describes the effect this had on the rules of engagement going forward and he discusses a document he drew up to give guidelines to the troops that would keep them in the good graces of their hosts.
There is a song that will make Angela Beltz recall her time in the desert, and another that will make her cry. As for the present, she is worried about the military being able to recruit among the existing pool of young people. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/ .)
Her father was an Irish cowboy and her mother was a member of the Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota. Angela Beltz followed a long tradition of military service among native people by joining the National Guard while still in high school. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/ .)
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.
It was a small detachment from the North Dakota National Guard that flew together with their vehicles to Saudi Arabia. Angela Beltz describes the scene as other units waited in the desert for their gear to arrive. Her unit had their own vehicles with them, which was a huge advantage. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/ .)
In her quartermaster unit, Angela Beltz had to endure the stereotyping of women in the Army. It was difficult to find any men with much sympathy. But when she got to the Ohio National Guard, she found something she really liked, a new truck. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/ .)
If you are a woman veteran, reach out, find a network of women who have been there. That's the advice of Angela Beltz, a veteran of Desert Storm. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/ .)
Angela Beltz had her senior year in high school after taking basic training, which gave her a completely new perspective on things. Her National Guard unit was a water detachment, specializing in distribution in conflict areas. Many of the members of the North Dakota unit had grown up together. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/ .)
It was her first time on an airplane, and when she got to basic training, Angela Beltz was the youngest one there at seventeen. She was also small of stature, which made the drill instructor wonder if she had what it takes. She did. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/ .)
Angela Beltz is proud that all water purification and distribution during Desert Storm was handled by National Guard and Reserve units. When she got to her forward base, the first order of business was to secure the perimeter with concertina wire. She was on that detail and a chance encounter would change her life. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/ .)
Brett Stroney was just a high schooler on the day of the 9/11 attacks. He recalls the sense of duty that led him to consider the United States Military Academy as America entered the Global War on Terror.
For Angela Beltz, the chemical alarms were the scariest thing. Every time it sounded, they had to don full protective gear. But when it was quiet, at night, the stars in the desert seemed close enough to touch. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial & Museum- https://nationalvmm.org/ .)