“Olson tasked us with our first assault mission on 15 January. Ours was the first surface battle — such as it was — of Desert Storm. Eric ordered us to steam to the Dorra oil field, 30 miles off the Kuwaiti coast. The Nicholas, who had SEALs and Little Birds, maintained station 13 miles out to sea.”
What are Little Birds?
“Small helos kinda like the Loaches in Nam, except the Little Birds are more heavily armed and mainly used for fire support instead of observation. Frigates and destroyers have them so you don’t need carriers to provide air support for SEALs.”
What was the Dorra oil field like?
“Lots of second-stage oil platforms about 60 feet high. I felt right at home around those rigs, because when I was at Six with Marcinko, he’d have us work against the rigs in the oil fields off Louisiana. We’d insert on top of the rig by helo and also climb up from the water. And I mean those were some big ’n’ tall mothers. The rigs in Dorra were puny by comparison.
“Eric put us on point, and I was worried because we’d be within Silkworm range, and our Navy was 50 miles away except for the Nicholas. We steamed into the oil field with one of the Kuwaiti frigates at night on the 18th. We immediately drew fire. Iraqis had heavy weapons on all the rigs. We returned fire and withdrew to link up with the Nicholas and develop a better plan.
“CO of the Nicholas was a real go-getter, especially for a black shoe. He had Little Birds and said they would hose down the platforms with rockets and automatic weapons. After the birds made their runs, the Nicholas and the Kuwaiti ships would bombard the platforms with three- and five-inch gunfire. SEALs in RIBs would go in to clean up the mess. Four of my guys ended up going in with the SEALs on the Nicholas. I stayed aboard the Happy Duck with Colonel Nasser.
“Plan worked like a charm, even though the platforms were bunkered and mounted 37 millimeter AA and .51 cals. It was essentially all over after the helos made their strafing and rocket runs. SEALs went in and cleared the bunkers. Took 25 prisoners without any friendly casualties.”
I recall reading allegations the SEALs shot prisoners.
“That’s bullshit. The ragheads surrendered without a fight; our guys hooked them up and took them back to the Nicholas. There was an investigation later because someone — probably a flower child in the Nicholas crew — claimed that the helos ignored a white flag the rags were waving. But you gotta remember, nothing had happened yet in this war, and all we’d been hearing is that we are all gonna die because of the gas and shit, and here we are drawing fire. Nobody is thinking nothing except wipe these fuckers slick.
“Dorra turned out to be the most action we’d see for the rest of the war, but we had plenty of hairy moments, like the time we tried to disarm a huge floating mine, lost it, and thought we might steam into it at night.
“The incident began on our way out to sea after a provisioning run into a Saudi port. We were accompanied by two U.S. frigates when we spotted a floater.”
A dead body?
“No, another kind of floater — a horned mine about the size of a Volkswagen, like they used in World War II. It was dusk at the time, and not much daylight remained to neutralize the beast. The ships came to ‘all stop,’ and I got my three-man explosive ordnance disposal [EOD] detachment topside. I also had a SEAL SDV platoon onboard and called them up with the EOD.”
What’s an SDV, and why was the platoon with you?
“Swimmer delivery vehicle — it’s a mini-submarine that’s open to the sea. You take her down by flooding the compartment where three or four SEALs sit breathing compressed air from their own rigs or from the boat’s system. SEALs breathe mixed gas for long missions and at depth. We had the platoon to search for bottom mines in shallow water in case we had an amphibious landing to put the grunts ashore.”
How does an SDV find a sunken mine?
“The boat has an OAS — obstacle avoidance sonar — that’s supposed to detect the mine. The mission is difficult and dangerous. See, sonar signals detonate lots of these mines, and if that happens, the SDV guys are goners. Something that pissed me off is that three guys always went out on missions — the platoon commander and two enlisted — even though the platoon had eight operators. I asked the chief about this once, and he told me the other guys got clausty — claustrophobic — and, anyway, the three who went were volunteers. I thought that was bullshit but didn’t want to micromanage the platoon so let it go.
“One thing I didn’t let go, though, was the incompetence of the SDV guys when it came to basic skills you need to shoot, move, and especially communicate. Even your average plain-vanilla SEAL had these skills, but not SDV SEALs. All those guys knew was how to maintain and operate their boats. They couldn’t even fire our .50 cals or use a Stinger to launch a rocket.”
What’s a plain-vanilla SEAL?
“Someone assigned to a regular SEAL Team as opposed to the Jedi Knights of SEAL Team Six, which is now Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or just DEVGRU. DEVGRU is the Navy’s answer to Army’s Delta Force.
“Anyway, I got my EOD guys ready to get underway and blow that floater in place. And I got a couple SDV guys to take them in a RIB to the mine that was out about 500 meters. Before the RIB got underway, of course, I wanted a radio check to ensure I got coms with them.
“I’m on the bridge and shout at the coxswain in the RIB to turn his radio on for a check. He fools around with the radio for a while and then yells, ‘I don’t know how to work this radio!’ See, it was a UHF radio, and SDVs have VHF or something. This kid doesn’t even know how to turn on the radio, and it’s getting dark fast, and pretty soon we ain’t going to be able to find the floater.