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Preparing for Air Force Basic Training

Enlisted History, Part 3, Post-Vietnam Conflicts


Continued from Part 2


Post-Vietnam Conflicts

Operation Urgent Fury—Grenada (1983)

In October 1983, a military coup on the tiny Caribbean island nation of Grenada aroused US attention. Coup leaders arrested and then assassinated Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, imposed a 24-hour shoot-on-sight curfew, and closed the airport at Pearls on the east coast, about 12 miles from the capital, St. George’s, located on the opposite side of the island. President Ronald W. Reagan, who did not want a repetition of the Iranian hostage crisis a few years earlier, considered military intervention to rescue hundreds of US citizens attending medical school on the island.

Twenty-six Air Force wings, groups, and squadrons supported the invasion by 1,900 US Marines and Army Rangers. Airlift and special operations units from the Military Airlift Command (MAC) comprised the bulk of the Air Force fighting force. AC-130 gunships in particular proved their worth repeatedly, showing more versatility and accuracy than naval bombardment and land artillery. Several Air Force enlisted personnel received special praise for their efforts. Among them, TSgt Charles Tisby saved the life of a paratrooper in his aircraft.

El Dorado Canyon—Libya (1986)

In 1969, a group of junior military officers led by Muammar Qadhafi overthrew the pro-Western Libyan Arab monarchy. Since then, Qadhafi’s relations with the United States and most Western European nations, as well as moderate Arab nations, have been confrontational. By the mid-1980s, Libya was one of the leading sponsors of worldwide terrorism. In addition to subversion or direct military intervention against other African nations and global assassinations of anti-Qadhafi Libyan exiles and other “state enemies,” Qadhafi has sponsored terrorist training camps within Libya and supplied funds, weapons, logistical support, and safe havens for numerous terrorist groups.

Between January 1981 and April 1986, terrorists worldwide killed over 300 Americans and injured hundreds more. With National Security Decision Directive 138 signed on 3 April 1984, President Reagan established in principle a US policy of preemptive and retaliatory strikes against terrorists. On 27 December 1985, terrorists attacked passengers in the Rome and Vienna airports, killing 19 (including 5 Americans) and injuring over 100 others. Despite the strong evidence that connected Libya to the incident, the US administration determined that it did not have sufficient proof to order retaliatory strikes against Libya. President Reagan imposed economic and other sanctions against Libya, publicly denounced Qadhafi for sponsoring the operation, and sent the 6th Fleet to exercise off the coast of Libya.

In Berlin on 5 April 1986, a large bomb gutted a discotheque popular with US service members. One American was among the dead and an additional 75 Americans were among the over 200 injured. This time President Reagan had the evidence he sought.

By 14 April 1986, all Air Force forces were gathered and ready. At 5:13 p.m. Greenwich mean time, the tankers began launching in radio silence, with the F-111Fs and EF-111s following. The aircraft flew and refueled entirely in radio silence to preserve tactical surprise. The nighttime silent air refueling was difficult because few of the fighter crews had experienced receiving fuel from the KC-10 tankers, which were relatively new in the European Theater.

The Bab al-Aziziyah barracks in Tripoli provided the target of nine Air Force F-111s. Located in the densely populated city, Bab al-Aziziyah served as a command center of the Libyan terrorist network. Although receiving fully half of the attacking Air Force aircraft, it proved most difficult to hit. One aircraft aborted over water before it reached the target, one crashed in the ocean killing its two-man crew, and one was not in position to launch its attack, having flown in the wrong direction following the attack group’s refueling. Three more of the often unreliable F-111s aborted over the target due to equipment malfunction. Two aircraft bombed the barracks, causing significant damage, but the third aircraft dropped its ordnance off target.

Other attacks proved more successful. The three F-111s assigned to hit the Sidi Bilal naval commando-training complex damaged several buildings and sank a number of small training boats. The remaining aircraft struck the military side of the Tripoli airport, with a specific objective of hitting several Soviet-built IL-76 aircraft used to move terrorists and their weapons. One aircraft aborted before hitting the target, but the other five struck several buildings and destroyed or severely damaged five IL-76s.

Operation Just Cause—Panama (1989)

Since Panama’s declaration of independence from Columbia in 1904, the United States has maintained a special interest in the small Central American country.

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