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Diego Garcia Air Force Base in Action

On the right of this photo are the first 3 B-52s to deploy to Diego Garcia for an OPERATION.

Just like the Greeks at Marathon, the Men and Women of the PROPEOPDEMREP Save Western Civilization from the Persians!
(with a little help from The US Navy, MAC, and Strategic Air Command)


In September 1980, Iraq attacked Iran, starting a war that lasted eight years.  During the war, both Iraq and Iran attacked neutral shipping in the Persian Gulf, attacking 71 ships in 1984 alone.  International diplomatic efforts to stop the attacks failed.

In 1986, Kuwait asked President Reagan to use the US Navy to escort it's oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.  Since only US-flagged ships could be escorted by the Navy, the Kuwaitis renamed and reflagged 14 tankers in early 1987 under the American flag, using US crews.

In early 1987, the only US presence between Greece in the Med and DG in the IO was a small flotilla based in Bahrain,
and an AWAC detachment in Saudi Arabia to support Saudi efforts to control it's airspace and stop airborne attacks on it's shipping in the Gulf.

Then, on 17 May 1987, the Iraqi Air Force attacked the USS STARK (FFG-31) with two Exocet missiles, killing 37 US Sailors.  Thus began the buildup in the Persian Gulf area that we are familiar with today.

The Iranians, meanwhile were busy mining the Persian Gulf.  The UN Security Council passed Resolution 598 on 20 July 1987, attempting to end the Iraq/Iran war, and demanded the cessation of hotilities at sea.

US Navy escort operations for the reflagged Kuwaiti tankers were to begin in late July 1987.  To clear the shipping lanes of mines to allow safe passage of "US" shipping, President Reagan initiated OPERATION EARNEST WILL.  Among other things, this required moving mine-sweeping capability from Virginia to the Persian Gulf, via Diego Garcia.  The directive to do so was dated 20 July 1987.

They were a little late, as during the very first escort mission on July 24, 1987 the reflagged tanker BRIDGETON struck an Iranian mine.

Then, on 31 July 1987, the first C-5 took off from Dover AFB in Delaware, flew to Norfolk NAS, and picked up the first load for the movement of Navy Minesweeping Helicopter Squadron HM-14 to Diego Garcia.  By 3 August, HM-14 was on Diego Garcia, and was being loaded onto the USS GUADALCANAL (LPH 7) for movement on to the Persian Gulf.

This is the untold, little known, and less-cared-about story of MAC's
JCS Priority 1B1 Special Assignment Airlift Mission 2101
(The only higher priorities were carrying nukes or the President)

See the UNCLASS MAC Mission Directive - HQMAC/DOOMS 201146ZJUL87.
See the UNCLASS 22AF Supplement - 22AF/CRC 210430ZJUL87.

The idea was to take the Navy minesweeping gear and RH-53D helos from the C-5s & C-141s and put them on the Guadalcanal,
then take the USMC CH-53s and Chinooks from the Guadalcanal and take them back to MCAS Cherry Point.
It rained steady for the offload from the states, and I didn't get many good photos.  Above you see some sleds coming off a C-5 and the RH-53Ds on the Guadalcanal.

Below you see the C-5 line after the intial offload.  At one point in the evolution we had 12 C-5s, 10 C-141s, 6 KC-10s, and 3 B-52Gs on the ramp.

 The sun came out for the retrograde, and that's what you see below.

A C-5 ready to be loaded (above).

Getting a Shithook up to the "mouth" of the C-5 (above).

ABOVE:  Each C-5 could hold 2 CH-53s or 3 CH-46 Shithooks.  No matter which load, it was a tight fit!

BELOW:  The Guad's Marines had to break down their own helos for shipping, and they had to live in tents beside the flight line while they did!  The Marines on the left above take a break after prepping two CH-53s, before getting the next line ready for the next loadout!  They had to do the Chinooks too, and load them.  The right photo is a CH-53 inside the C-5.

Want to know more about OPERATION EARNEST WILL?  Read the book!

Inside the Danger Zone:  The U.S. Military in the Persian Gulf 1987-88
By Harold Lee Wise; Published by the Naval Institute Press; May 2007; 272 pp., 25 photos, map, diagram, 6 x 9 inches, cloth.
ISBN 978-1-59114-970-5.

It's got it's own website:
You can buy it at

From the website:

"Inside the Danger Zone is the untold 'first chapter' of the ongoing United States military involvement in the Persian Gulf.

"In May 1987, an Iraqi plane fired two missiles into USS Stark, a lone U.S. Navy frigate on patrol in the Gulf. The missiles severely damaged the ship and killed thirty-seven sailors. This deadly attack, which Iraq claimed was accidental, brought heightened attention to the Persian Gulf, and heralded the beginning of a new era in U.S. Middle Eastern policy. From then until the end of the Iran-Iraq War, American forces carried out an unprecedented series of military operations in the Gulf. A planned tanker protection mission evolved into a naval quasi-war with Iran and culminated in the largest sea-air battle since World War II.

"Inside the Danger Zone is a history of the U.S. military involvement in the Persian Gulf in 1987 and 1988—a time of burning ships, air strikes, and secret missions—the prelude period to Desert Storm and the most recent U.S. invasion of Iraq. Based largely on first-hand accounts from veterans of that era, it is an up-close, detailed report from the front lines of 'a guerrilla war at sea.'  Many of the dramatic incidents of this period are told in depth with new information and details never before seen in print."

From: []
Sent: Thursday, December 14, 2006 10:48 AM
Subject: Diego Garcia-Ernest Will Operation in 1987

A friend set me the link within his interest in the recent B-1B which landed "gear-up" on Diego Garcia.  Having been somewhat involved with Operation Earnest Will in 1987-88, I looked over the link.  Some corrections for your photo descriptions:
   - Those are RH-53Ds, not CH-53s on the deck of the USS Guadalcanal.  The minesweeping helos of HM-14 were ferried via C-5s from Norfolk, then built-up and loaded onto the Guadalcanal.  I am a "Plankowner" of HM-14, and back when we were formed in 1978, we were flying RH-53Ds.  Additionally, I was AIMD Officer on the USS Okinawa, and we came over from San Diego in November 1987 and HM-14 cross-decked to us from the Guadalcanal.
   - If my memory serves me correctly, it was Operation Earnest Will, not Ernest Will.  But I could be wrong.
Bob Heinicke


Thanks for taking the time to document what went on.  I served onboard the Guad from 1985 to 1988 and was there for the mine sweeping operations.  I still have pictures of our SEAL team onboard the Iran Ajr before it was scuttled and video of mines being exploded in the gulf.  It is one of the proudest moments of my life and now there is a book about it.  Again, thank you.

Aaron Goodrich <>
Former YN2
Captain’s Office
USS Guadalcanal LPH-7

What happened to the USS GUADALCANAL (LPH-7)?

While conducting minesweeping operations in the Persian Gulf after leaving Diego Garcia, US forces spotted the IRAN AJR laying mines at night.  "Night Stalker" AH-6 Helos from TF-160 flying from the USS JARRETT and the USS LA SALLE attacked the IRAN AJR, and troops from the GUADALCANAL boarded and captured the ship the next morning. This was only the second time since the war of 1812 that the US Navy captured a ship on the high seas.  Remarkably enough, the other was the German U-Boat U-505 and it was captured by the Escort Carrier USS GUADALCANAL (CVE-60).

Our GUADALCANAL (LPH-7) was decommissioned in 1994, stored with the James River Reserve Fleet, and sunk as a target in March 2005.

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