Jobs were hard to get in West Central Florida back in 1986. With no jobs there, I saw a story in the Tampa Tribune asking for recruits for police officers in the Marshall Islands. The recruiter said it was a peaceful place and it only had a 2-cell jail and was operated by a company for the U.S. Government. It turned out a lot different.
The reality was that Kwajalein Island was the largest Island in the Atoll of 93 islands around the largest lagoon and was at the bottom of the atoll. Illeginni Island was on the west side of the lagoon and became the target for buildings on Illeginni Island. ICBMs were fired from Vandenburg AFB in California and targeted for the island about 5,700 miles away. Police officers were tasked with manning a group of uninhabited islands on both sides of the lagoon. Our duty was to keep the Russian special forces from spying on the accuracy of targets fired at Illeginni. We also did regular police duty on the main island of Kwajalein. Click on map two times to see clearly.
The big surprise was a tiny island named Gea on the southwest side of the atoll. Large ships entered and left by way of Gea. The spy ship traveled around the atoll, listening to our communications. Many on the crew were intelligence gathering and could speak fluent English. The info was bounced off of a satellite and sent back to HQ in Russia. We named the Russian ship Brand X, because we didn’t consider them up to our level. (Certainly we weren’t classifying them as incompetent.) A basketball team in the capital had named themselves Brand X.
On November 03 0f 1987 a police officer was on a patrol of Carlos Island when he noticed a white man with a long gun on Gea Island just about a hundred yards north of Carlos. You could walk there on low tide. The man had on brown clothes and disappeared into the thick jungle growth. He called into headquarters and all available officers, including me, reported for duty. The captain briefed all twenty officers.
“Early this morning an officer on Carlos (island) spotted an armed caucasian with a long gun on Gea Island. We sent a squad out and they made contact with the subject before he escaped into the thick brush.”
“You’ll join them shortly and make a sweep of the island. I don’t know what we’ve got so be careful out there. You have permission to use deadly force but only in self defense. You’ll be going out on the Q-60 (a converted Miami drug boat). The van’s out back. Good luck.”
This had already become more than was advertised. The Russians are being more careless as we have collected evidence of Russian Spetsnaz on a couple of islands. There was a lot of nervous chatter and joking as the boat pulled out for the trip across the lagoon. Every man thought about the possibilities. The swells on the lagoon were unusually high but nothing like the Pacific once we crossed the reef into open water. An inflatable, which would bring us to shore on the ocean side, bounced along in the Q-60’s wake.
I went ashore on the second run, landing on a sandbar just south of Gea. Our base camp was on the southwest corner of the island under some coconut and pandanus trees. On the north side is Gea Pass, the entry to Kwajalein Lagoon for ships of all sizes. Carlos is only a short walk south on the reef at low tide. Gea is maybe 500 yards long (with sandbars) and 125 yards wide. The vegetation, however, is very dense.
On 02 February, 1944, a small battle took place here as the American invasion of Kwajalein began. According to one report, a U.S. “landing team hit the southwest end of GEA at 0620. It headed north toward the lookout tower, where a single Japanese sentry was slain, and then combed south again. It then encountered and overcame about 20 Japanese in hand-to-hand fighting.”
Our operation was led by Lieutenant Billy Waugh, head of Special Ops (See photo, the man in the white shirt to my left). Waugh, was caught at a meeting and left without his gear. The lieutenant was a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and had a twenty-year career in special forces. Even at fifty-eight, he remained in excellent physical condition. (In Soldier of Fortune’s February 2000 edition, pp. 67,73, Billy Waugh is on a list of SOG’s bravest men of the Vietnam conflict. According to the article, ‘It is doubtful that any man in SOG fought more battles, served on more assignments, and attempted fate more often than Sergeant Major William ‘Billy’ Waugh.)
The lieutenant briefed us on the facts of deadly force and that we should use them if needed.We formed a line on the sand, twenty men stretched from lagoon to ocean. Every third man carried a radio. We loaded our sidearms, drank some water and waited nervously for the sweep to start. One man carried a 12 gauge pump shotgun. Regular M-16s would carry a long way through the islands and both adults and children could easily become casualties.
The radios crackled. “O.K. let’s move out. maintain the formation.” We hit the tree line at 1105. The heat and humidity increased dramatically in the stillness of the vegetation. Heavy undergrowth, vines and fallen, decaying trees hampered progress. The line didn’t remain straight very long. A couple of radios went dead. Communication was passed across island from man to man. My jumpsuit became soaked, and salty sweat poured over my eyes.
The subject’s camp was in a clearing about seventy-five yards in, on the ocean side. It consisted of a cold campfire, some nylon rope, a pile of husked coconuts and a homemade husker constructed from a sharpened log and a forked tree branch.
We continued on, checking the undergrowth and in the tops of trees, making as much noise as possible, trying to flush the prey out. Three hours later we reached Gea Pass. There were no footprints on the sand, no evidence at all that anyone had been here. My guess is that he had a chance to make it to the pass and escape before the sweep began and it could be closed off. There was access to the water on the east side without leaving a trail. (The Russians use underwater devices to navigate below water and return to their ship.)
After a thirty minute break, we made another sweep south with the same results. We were dragging by then and I had lost eight pounds. When the operation began, we were psyched. But the ending was a disappointment. It was a good workout, though, and we all made it back.
A note. Neither side wanted a showdown and that made it possible. At the beginning no one closed off the escape route to the pass. That is diplomacy.
We could have trapped him easily.