That was the name of the operation that had us loaded for bear and headed out west.
The weather was much colder in Utah than it was in Savannah at the end of October. As I walked off the back of the C130, the JP4 in the air caused my eyes to water and my nose to burn, a common occurrence in this line of work, a sensation never forgotten and often missed.
Moving towards the hangar the wind blew the sleet sideways and it burned my exposed skin as if I had stuck it in an ant pile.
I was sure the mission would be scrubbed on this day 18 years ago, after all we had a weather day. No airborne operation, the MH53 helicopters had not even been able to make it from their home base to Hill AFB because the weather was so bad. No way this mission is a go, looks like I’ll miss Halloween as we will be here another day. No worries, play some spades in the hanger, screw with the SEALs about their haircuts, tomorrow we would take down the objective.
Boy was I wrong. The comedy or in this case tragedy of errors that took place over the next few hours seemed to genesis from the fact that Colin Powell and the Dept. of State were on our final target and would not be there tomorrow. As was the case during most of these operations, there was some real world target somewhere that looked just like the one we were about to blow up and the people who authorize such activity wanted to ensure all the Special Operations elements could play nice together and complete the mission.
That is the kicker, because the weather was so bad we went to the words that make me want to vomit to this day “minimum force requirements”. Well, what exactly the fuck does that mean? And yes, I asked that repeatedly. I also stated how stupid I thought it was. I had a 7 man squad, I was taking myself and two others. We had a 30 man platoon, 10 of us were going.
I won’t go into all the detail of what transpired in the hangar, it was ugly. I got threatened with UCMJ and I loaded my cargo pockets with 2 squads worth of C4 to blow roughly a platoons worth of doors and headed out with my boys and my good friend Eddie Noland and his boys. We were assigned to chalk 4, call sign Merit 84. As we moved through the sleet and rain, still blowing sideways, there was a lone light by where the 4 birds were waiting for us to load up with their rotors turning. The combination of this light and sideways precipitation and the twirling blades made for a very eerie blue effect. As we got to Merit 84 we were told that there had been a change, go figure, this would make like change 500, I thought my head was going to explode. We would be moved to Merit 83.
14 of us, a mix of Rangers and Air Commandos, loaded that MH 60. To include a mini bike for the Combat Control Team. I have never been on a bird so packed. I snapped my safety line into the D ring on the floor and had to shove people back to get about ¼ of my ass into the bird with my feet out the door. My Platoon Leader looked at me and said “Sar’nt Jurena this is Hooah!”. I said “No sir, this is stupid, this is how people get killed”. I had no idea how prophetic that statement was.
At that moment out of the same eerie blue haze came SFC Harvey Moore a legend in the community and the Platoon Sergeant of 3rd Platoon. He smiled like he always did, the long scar on the side of his face crinkled, he had his normal dip of Copenhagen in, “you Rangers got any room on this bird’? “Negative, Sa’rnt , but there is room on chalk 4, we just got bumped from there” was my reply. He said “Hooah” and ran off into the darkness. A minute later we had to do a rolling take off as the fuel tanks were full and the men and their equipment put a strain on the birds.
Shortly into the Nap of the Earth flight we were notified that the Little birds leading us in were turning back, the weather was too bad. Again, Sergeant Jurena wonders to himself,”what about the weather day?” As we flew staggered trail right, I was sitting in the door , closest to the tail, I could see Merit 84 just to my half right. We were flying faster than I think I have before and the dips over the dikes that crisscross the Great Salt Lake reminded me of my days at Astroworld, riding the Cyclone. Only, I had a loaded weapon, a bunch of explosives and I was absolutely freezing as it was still sleeting and with the door open there was no hiding from the elements. And then, after what felt like one of the roller coaster drops downward, we pulled up and out to my right a huge fireball….
Our bird dumped us on a causeway and Eddie and I asked him to fly over the crash site, you could see the flames on the open water. We wanted him to use his vanilla lights and let us jump in and see who was alive. Due to the chaos that took place before take off, no one had a manifest, so we had no idea who was on the bird. The pilots refused and we considered drawing down on them, we had live rounds but they pulled pitch and left us on a causeway in the middle of the great salt lake. it was very quiet other than radios being put into operation as we tried to make comms to figure out what happened.
Eddie had just graduated pre- scuba and thought he and I should start swimming towards the flames. Judging distance, at night, over water is a bitch. There was no way to tell how far out they were. We got accountability of our men and sensitive items and monitored the radios. Another tidbit, the real world Search and Rescue bird was supposed to have been Merit 84 but instead it was burning in the distance.
it seemed like an eternity before we saw a red lens flashlight and a cry for help. Eddie and I would charge into the freezing water that was the Great Salt Lake and grab the raft that was sinking. In it were Ken Turner, Artie McCann and Doc Donovan as well as the lone survivor from that bird. Their pilot had taken them over the crash site, pushed out a raft and let them jump in. Their efforts saved the lone survivor. Somewhere in here we started hearing about who was on the bird and we were devastated.
The SEALs would do the body recovery the next day.
On the same day as we loaded the birds to fly back to Savannah, the sun shone brightly in a crystal blue sky.
"May we remind each other that these men who died doing what they loved best will not fade away. We will remember and we will pray for them forever.These were men who heard the call of freedom, liberty and justice. Men who heard a call to discipline and valor. These were men of the Ranger creed. Rangers Lead The Way". - Captain Steve Berry - 1/75 Chaplin.
RIP Brothers. Gone but never forgotten.
COL. John Kenellay- 3/75 CDR
LTC. Ken W. Stauss - 1/75 CDR
1sg Harvey Moore - 3 Charlie PSG
Sgt. Blaine Mishak
Spc. Jeremy Bird
Air Commandos - Quiet Professionals
LTC. Ronald Pexiotto
CPT. Michael Nazionale
TSGT. Mark Scholl
SSG. Steven. W. Kelly
Sgt. Phillp Kesler
SGT. Mark G. Lee
Senior Airman. Derek Hughes