Monday, August 13, 2007

Harold Lee Wise's "Inside the Danger Zone"

Harold Lee Wise is an adjunct professor at Elizabeth City State University.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Inside the Danger Zone: The U.S. Military in the Persian Gulf 1987-88, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Inside the Danger Zone is indeed representative of the whole in this case. It features action, first person accounts, and shows one of the major turning points of the period in question. The book is a non-fiction history of the U.S. military in the Persian Gulf during 1987 and 1988, the last years of the Iran-Iraq War, when both sides attacked oil tankers in the Gulf. For various reasons explained in the book, the United States stepped in to protect tankers belonging to Kuwait. Following a deadly Iraqi attack on the USS Stark in May 1987, the situation settled into a cat-and-mouse game with Iran.

In late summer, Iran began a stealthy mining campaign that damaged tankers and sank smaller vessels in international waters. Stopping the mine campaign, which Iran denied and the U.S. could not prove, became a priority for the Americans. Finally, the Americans took the initiative to strike back. This led to a series of operations and eventually became a quasi-war between the United States and Iran, including the largest naval battle since World War II.

Page 99 depicts the tense moments leading up to the first American offensive action of the time. In September 1987, after several weeks of waiting to catch the Iranians in the act of laying mines, a team of ultra-quiet U.S. Army attack helicopters equipped with night vision located a suspicious Iranian ship, the Iran Ajr, and reported back to their CO, Colonel Robert Codney. Codney was on the flagship with Admiral Harold Bernsen, the overall commander of U.S. forces in the Gulf as they listened to the helicopter pilots report their findings.

Page 99:

Minutes ticked by. Codney recalled, “The FLIR (forward looking infra-red) helicopter reported nothing unusual as they flew a close approach to this ship and didn’t see anything that could cause alarm. The team started to depart the area when just by luck, one of the pilots turned around and saw all the lights go out on Iran Ajr. The team lead [senior pilot] called over the radio, ‘Hey they just shut all of their lights off.’ I said if they shut the lights, then go back and see what they are doing.” Iran Ajr went completely dark at about 10:50 pm, and once again, the observation helicopter flew in close. Codney stated the Iran Ajr crew was still unaware of the presence of the American helicopters. “Because of the wind, noise of the ship, and darkness of the night, they did not hear or see the Little Birds at all.”

This time, watching in the dark using their modified night-vision goggles and FLIR, the MH-6 pilot saw something strange. Codney heard him say, “It looks like they are dropping supermarket baskets into the water, like shopping carts or something like it.” In addition, they saw six Iranians pulling back the canvas to reveal “at least ten more of these items.” The 55-gallon drums on the deck were only a cover for these mysterious objects. Iran Ajr had an eight-foot sheet-metal ramp on the starboard side and three Iranians were manhandling these heavy unidentified objects from the deck to the ramp and then over the side. The helicopter crew dutifully attempted to record this activity using infrared video equipment. Admiral Bernsen wanted a better description of exactly what they dumped in the water. Codney asked for more detail and the pilot replied, “It is a tall rectangular thing [3-4 feet high] with a large round thing on top. It is very round with protrusions all over this ball.”

That was all the information the admiral needed. Bernsen now knew he had caught the Iranians red-handed. Despite Iran’s public stance of half-denials and vague threats, here was proof-positive that the Iranian navy conducted mine-laying operations in an area of the Gulf almost never frequented by Iraqi shipping, giving lie to Iran’s claims that it only used mines in its own waters against Iraq. From his earlier meeting with Admiral Crowe, Bernsen knew the policy of the United States was that laying mines in international waters was an act of war. Indeed, it was an illegal act by any legal standard. Now was the long-awaited opportunity to strike back. One of the men in the room with Bernsen said the objects seemed, “mine-like.” The admiral responded, “Bullshit, they’re mines!” Bernsen quickly asked, “How many have they put in the water so far?” Codney checked with the pilots and reported three mines were overboard.

The admiral had no doubt about his next move. Bernsen recalled, “I felt very confident when I ordered the helicopters to take Iran Ajr under fire. I felt very confident that in fact I was doing what was right and that I would be backed up.” Bernsen turned to Codney and said, “Stop them from dropping the mines.”
Read the Prologue to Inside the Danger Zone and learn more about the book at Harold Lee Wise's website.

--Marshal Zeringue