6:47 | Richard Jackson was enjoying football games at Camp Lejeune. His battalion was on alert when the word went out to deploy. Thinking it was another exercise, he was astonished to find himself on a plane to Cuba. Unknown to him, the Cuban Missile Crisis was in full swing. He made a fateful decision on that flight.
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He was going to try out for the Baltimore Colts but he also had a military obligation. Richard Jackson figured the hardy regimen of the Marines would improve his chances with the team so he joined and sought a commission.
He'd made a decision to always take training seriously and learn as much as he could about what he would face in the field, and when Richard Jackson got to Vietnam, it saved his life. As he was walking on patrol, he heard a click, something he'd heard in training, but this time, it was for real.
The first time he came under fire, it was rockets coming out of the DMZ. Richard Jackson got as deep into the foxhole as he could and the thought occurred to him, why the hell did I volunteer to come to Vietnam?
The Colonel told him he was going to take over Mike company. Get over there and straighten it out. Richard Jackson was glad to have a command and he got to Cam Lo by nightfall. He had just settled in when the NVA gave him a welcome.
To beat a guerrilla force, you had to become like them. That was one of Richard Jackson's realizations when he commanded a company of Marines up near the DMZ. He describes a life defining moment during a firefight, when he realized what it would take to be successful in this war.
His company command at the Cua Viet River was just the way Richard Jackson liked it. He was given free reign to take care of his area. He describes the tactics he used to fight the enemy and recalls one memorable fight in which his men and an NVA unit charged at each other in darkness.
It was hard to find the enemy. Charlie would disappear into his holes and only come out once the Marines of Mike company had left. Richard Jackson's men tried probing the ground with sharp sticks, but they broke too easily. What they needed was steel. Thus was born the "Mike Spike." Part 1 of 2.
While a visiting General looked on, the Marines of Mike company were using their improvised steel spikes to probe for booby traps and hiding holes. He was about to get an eyeful. Company commander Richard Jackson describes that incident and another, in which the Mike Spike was instrumental in locating the enemy. Part 2 of 2.
Company commander Richard Jackson tried to be as unpredictable as he could with his Marines, following no set pattern and changing tactics constantly. This worked so well that his unit received praise from up the chain of command.
When he was company commander at Cua Viet, Richard Jackson had great success in keeping the area clear of enemy. After his combat commands were finished and he was a staff officer, he was asked to visit the replacement unit and advise them. His journey there and back was worthy of a Hollywood movie.
Richard Jackson describes two very close calls he had in Vietnam, both involving Viet Cong guerrillas who emerged from holes in the ground.
It was his last combat operation. Richard Jackson's company of Marines was to be the lead attack company on an assault against the NVA near the DMZ. During the battle, he called in every kind of supporting fire available to penetrate a fortified village.
Richard Jackson recalls the time when he was stuck in a helicopter with a general observing the battle field while his company of Marines were getting battered down below. When he finally got down to the ground, he repositioned the unit with a mad dash downhill from their exposed position.
He'd considered having a longer career in the Marines, but when Richard Jackson returned from Vietnam, he decided to move on. The lessons he learned there would animate and inspire his business career.
His first three year hitch was up and he was going to leave the Marine Corps, but he was offered an assignment in Hawaii. Not wanting to pass up a post in paradise, Richard Jackson accepted. After attending an elite jungle warfare school, he decided to advance his career, he needed some combat experience, so he put his name in for Vietnam.
The newly formed Joint Special Operations Command was beefing up the capabilities of all branches. One of the keys was the formation of SEAL Team 6. Over at the Air Force, Roland Guidry explains how they struggled to come up with the assets to succeed at their part of the plan. In the middle of all this, Grenada suddenly became a hot spot.
Delta Force and the Rangers had arrived at Desert One but the helicopters were delayed by a dust storm. Only five of them were deemed flyable when they got there and the mission requirements were for six. The mission was scrubbed until the next day and mission planner Keith Nightingale describes the tragic circumstances of the departure from the Iranian desert.
Operation Eagle Claw was the name of the attempt by US Special Forces to rescue the hostages from the embassy in Iran. The mission was aborted because of mechanical failures in helicopters and then turned tragic when eight men died in a fiery crash. Pilot George Ferkes was part of that team and he describes the events from his perspective.
The seizure of the American embassy in Tehran caught the Pentagon flat footed with no existing special operations capability to do anything about it. An ad hoc task force was hastily assembled and Roland Guidry was part of that effort. He had just assumed command of an Air Force special ops squadron which immediately began training with the new Delta Force. Part 1 of 4.
Bill Pearson had been to Vietnam twice and returned unscathed, but the Army wasn't done putting him in danger. He was assigned as an aviation consultant to Iran, advising the Shah's air force on it's supply of American aircraft. The day he arrived, martial law was declared and it wasn't long before there were mobs outside trying to burn down the building. The embassy was no help. Escape seemed impossible.
In the aftermath of the debacle at Desert One, an effort to plan and execute another mission to rescue the hostages in Iran got under way. Air Force special ops pilot George Ferkes recalls that new tactics and equipment were developed that served as the blueprint for the revitalization of special operations units throughout the military.
After months of intense planning and training, Operation Eagle Claw commenced. Pilot Roland Guidry was on the first plane to arrive at Desert One, a remote rendezvous point in the Iranian desert. There, the mission would unravel, done in by mechanical malfunctions and worse.
From the beginning, Tom Fleming wanted to be a fighter pilot. He settled for a tour as a forward air controller in Vietnam and, after that, his quest for fighters continued as he embarked on a lengthy Air Force career. That career took him to Turkey, Germany, many stateside bases and the Pentagon, but it was Hawaii that was most satisfactory.
As Operation Desert Shield gave way to Operation Desert Storm, the Pentagon needed someone like a fighter pilot to brief the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense on biological and chemical warfare in language they could understand. So, Tom Fleming became the "bugs and gas guy."
Keith Nightingale was heading up post-invasion operations in Grenada when he got a packet of good intelligence on the leaders of the coup there. This aided him in locating and capturing Hudson Austin, who had been behind the Communist takeover. Part 4 of 4.
On his first operation, Green Beret Changiz Lahidji went to Afghanistan to help the Mujahideen fight the Russian occupiers. The Iranian embassy takeover led to the second, a daring solo mission into Iran, where he surveilled the embassy. He had to make it out on his own after the aborted rescue attempt. (Caution: strong language.)
After a long stint with Joint Task Force Eagle Claw, Keith Nightingale left to command a battalion in the 82nd Airborne. This unit was called to be part of Operation Urgent Fury, the liberation of Grenada from a Communist takeover. Part 1 of 3.
When he returned from Vietnam, George Ferkes is fairly sure he saw his old hooch burning on the television when Quang Tri fell. After a couple of years he leapt at the chance to join a special ops outfit, even though, at the time, there was little interest in those units.
Operation Eagle Claw was a pivotal moment in Special Operations history. Unconventional warfare had been ignored after the Vietnam War and three veterans of that conflict, who were also deeply involved with the attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran, reveal the inside story of the planning and tragic outcome. George Ferkes, Roland Guidry and Keith Nightingale each offer a unique perspective on the events.
No one could get Charles Beckwith to admit that Delta Force didn't have enough personnel to secure all the locations that would be needed for the rescue of the hostages in Iran. Keith Nightingale had to present three times the briefing that proved this. Finally, the Rangers were brought in to enhance the operation and training began in earnest. Part 3 of 4.
When Roland Guidry was given the command of the 8th Special Operations Squadron, he had to prove himself because he was not from a special ops background, per se. He did just fine. The missions he'd flown in Vietnam were perfect preparation. He says it takes a certain type of low key individual to excel at that type work.
In the aftermath of the Grenada invasion, peacekeeping forces from all around the Caribbean were assembled to help keep order. Keith Nightingale's battalion was spread all around the island involved in various missions and the locals in all these enclaves helped their liberators celebrate Thanksgiving. Part 3 of 4.
Early in the planning for the rescue attempt of the hostages in Iran, it was decided that carrier based helicopters would be the key aircraft. They would rendezvous with fixed wing aircraft carrying personnel and fuel in the remote Iranian desert. Pilot Roland Guidry explains why a preliminary clandestine mission was required before planning could continue. Part 2 of 4.
Keith Nightingale remembers that, during the buildup of the new Ranger Battalion, the team researched units from the past including British commandos and Vikings to extract any useful training techniques. Live fire exercises and road marches became very important. In December of 1974, the new Rangers were ready.
The plan was complicated, with a lot of moving parts, but there was high confidence that the team would be able to rescue the hostages in Iran. Pilot Roland Guidry describes how a combination of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters would deliver the Delta Force and the Rangers and then extract them along with the hostages. Part 3 of 4.
When the Iranian Revolutionary Guard seized the American embassy, the joint chiefs began looking for the means to rescue the hostages. It was decided to build a team around Delta Force, the elite special ops unit led by Charles Beckwith. General James Vaught was selected as the overall commander of the operation and on his staff was Keith Nightingale, who was then immersed in the urgent planning process. Part 1 of 4.
It's tough to be a Green Beret. Changiz has broken both legs and dislocated his shoulder, among other injuries. Even the extreme training is dangerous, like the high altitude parachute jumps for which he set a record. He spent time in Haiti and Grenada and was in Somalia when the Blackhawk Down incident occurred.
The decimation of the Army was complete. The leadership had punted in Vietnam and there was no support among most of the public. Army Chief of Staff Creighton Abrams decided to rebuild the Army around a reborn Ranger Battalion, which would be built from the ground up as the finest light infantry in the world. Keith Nightingale found out about this and made sure he was in on it.
The Pentagon set up a commission to investigate Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran. Roland Guidry was the first chief of air operations at the newly formed Joint Special Operations Command, the organization created to deal with unconventional warfare in the future.
The rebuild of the 75th Ranger Regiment was underway at Fort Benning. Keith Nightingale was the headquarters company commander among other odd jobs. They were developing a new training regimen that was to be the finest anywhere. One important task was the creation of a Ranger Creed.
The rescue attempt failed but it was the genesis of an all out effort to reorganize and improve the special operations capability of the military. Roland Guidry helped manage the air operations as the team began Project Honey Badger, which aimed to mount a second try at freeing the hostages in Iran.
It had been a long and tortuous process for Keith Nightingale and the rest of the joint task force but Operation Eagle Claw was ready. All the moving parts were primed and all that needed was for President Carter to give the word to go. Pt 4 of 4.