7:00 | He put his mechanical expertise to work in Afghanistan for Halliburton KBR, but Robert Walton returned to the Army with the Georgia National Guard and prepared to deploy to Iraq. He had grueling desert training in California, and then encountered an NCO who set his mind straight.
Keywords : Robert Walton Halliburton KBR Afghanistan Forward Operating Base (FOB) Pat Tillman Georgia National Guard Americus GA Fort Irwin California desert Humvee gunner Fort Stewart
He was a troubled youth, but Robert Walton thought his life might turn around in the Army. His GED wouldn't get him on active duty, but the National Guard was an ideal starting point. He was a talented mechanic, so he came in as a heavy equipment mechanic with an engineering company.
Going from the National Guard to active duty was difficult for Robert Walton. First, they wouldn't count his Guard experience toward promotion. Then, there was an abusive NCO. He had some good training experiences in Egypt, but, when his term was up, he went to work for Halliburton KBR.
He was no longer in an engineer company, he was in the infantry, now. Robert Walton deployed to Iraq with a Georgia National Guard unit. At Camp Stryker, it took only a week before getting hit with rocket fire.
When running convoys in Iraq, Robert Walton was a gunner on a Humvee. On his first mission, a local civilian in a Mazda took off at high speed and the commander gave chase. He tapped Walton on the leg and said, "Stop him!" The training kicked in.
During Robert Walton's first deployment to Iraq, the soldiers' hands were not yet tied by the government. They were freely able to eliminate threats. He lost his first friend in a Bradley rollover accident. He was in the vehicle and it was his first big scare.
In Robert Walton's unit, there was a soldier who was held back from deploying to Iraq for medical reasons. He appealed and was able to join the rest of the outfit in Iraq. He wasn't even there a week when tragedy struck. For Walton, the war just got personal. (Caution: Graphic Descriptions)
The power plant was supposed to be clear, but when Robert Walton was walking through, he heard voices nearby and they weren't speaking English. It turned out to be not much of a threat. What was a real threat in Iraq was the huge amount of munitions stockpiled by the insurgents to use in IED's.
During his first deployment to Iraq, Robert Walton saw a gradual change in the populace. The people became less hostile and more welcoming, sharing meals and information on insurgents. It was still very dangerous, with convoys being hit with IED's every day.
Being home after a year and a half in Iraq was good, at first. But Robert Walton wasn't ready to deal with civilian life, so he secured a place in a different National Guard outfit and did an individual mobilization from home, joining the unit in Iraq.
During his second deployment to Iraq, there was the same danger from IED's, but Robert Walton had to deal with a new problem. His own military leadership had decided that there would be strict rules of engagement going forward. Not only that, but a financial shakedown of Iraqi vendors was creating more terrorists.
His second tour was coming to a close when Robert Walton was approached by a sergeant major from a California National Guard unit that was coming over to Iraq. Would he be interested in extending with them? His knowledge of the Iraqi roads and his combat experience were highly valued.
He extended in Iraq to help a green unit get on it's feet, agreeing to two months. Robert Walton ended up staying for a year. He had a job to do. When he returned home, it was only a few months before he decided to volunteer yet again. The civilian world did not have the structure and discipline he craved.
Why would you volunteer for a fourth combat tour? For Robert Walton, one reason was the illogical world of civilian hiring. He possessed many qualifications and certifications, but they weren't good enough because they were in a military setting.
Four combat tours and he knew he was done. Robert Walton needed to spend time with his ailing parents and he needed to start dealing with his PTSD. What he didn't need was the static he was getting from the VA.
As if four combat tours weren't enough, Robert Walton went to a Georgia National Guard unit to train new soldiers. It was one last chance to pass along his knowledge and experience to the Army he loved.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the tragic events at Desert One, planning began for another rescue mission. Parallel with this was the decision to create a permanent and robust special operations structure. Keith Nightingale was right in the middle of this difficult effort which involved all the services.
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.
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.)
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Clowns in action. That's how Keith Nightingale describes the confusion and snafus during the initial Grenada operation. Most objectives were quickly achieved but there were some difficult battles, including one with a Cuban unit. When the Rangers got to the medical school where American students were waiting, they found out about a second campus with more students. Part 2 of 3.