Monday, October 12, 2015

Prompt Return

So, There I was…* In receipt of orders to depart my hardship tour at CinCPAC headquarters, Camp Smith Hawaii and proceed to what to what would be my final assignment in the Air Force.  Others referred to the location as Fort Fumble, still others the Puzzle Palace.  I, with the true force of loathing, referred to it as the Northern Virginia Penitentiary for Wayward Fighter Pilots. Yes, some folks refer to it as the Pentagon, they are either non-Military types or if they are military, have sold their soul for their careers.  People I have no use nor any respect for.  But, now that I have gotten that off my chest, I will cease and desist with that digression vector and discuss where I PCS’d from.

But Juvat, you were assigned to Camp Smith, didn’t you PCS from there?  Technically, yes, but I actually left from Wake Island.  So, let’s get to that bit of oddity.

Back in the first term of Billy Jeff, before Monica, the United States actually attempted to enforce Immigration Laws.  (I know, I know.  How very Racist of us!).  As part of that enforcement, the US Coast Guard would board suspicious ships that were approaching the 12 mile limit.  Boarding them before reaching that limit was important, especially off the West Coast, because, even then, Liberal Judges would issue an injunction prohibiting their deportation until they had a chance to plead their case.  Those proceedings were always delayed and delayed….Thus ensuring that the Democrats had additional voters Justice was served.

The problem is complicated by what the CinCPAC Commander at the time referred to as the “Tyranny of Distance”.  It’s a 6 hour plane ride from SFO to HNL, and depending on the winds, a 10 to 12 hour plane ride from HNL to Tokyo.  The USCG intercepts a ship carrying illegal aliens.  What does it do with them?  If they bring them ashore in the States, they’re home free.  Taking them all the way back to their home country ties up that Coast Guard asset for a long time.  An option is to find a Non-US territory that is willing to take them in until the illegal alien’s country of origin makes arrangements to recover them.  The US had some limited success in paying some friendly Pacific Island nations to do exactly that.  

China, of course, was the primary starting point of the illegals.  After a few ships were intercepted, (I am under no illusion that all, let alone most, were intercepted, so let’s settle for a “few”), China changed the game by insisting that the “refugees” were repatriated from “US held territory”.  They did this knowing full well the problem of bringing them into the US.

My job at CinCPAC HQ was to provide an augmentation team and train them in Joint Task Force planning and operations.  I drew my team from the Combat Commands on the island (PACAF, USARPac, CincPACFlt and MARFORPAC).  When activated, we’d deploy to one of the designated three star billet commands in the Pacific.  At the time, those were 6th 7th Fleet, 3 MEF and I Corps.  We’d join with their Command Staff and become a JTF.  The concept worked pretty well, at least in exercises.

It’s around the 1st of July, when I get called in to the CincPAC J-3s office, a Marine 2 star.  He tells me to ready the team and that sometime during the next week we’d be deploying.  No idea when or where, or to whom as yet.

I get the notification process started and attend the initial briefing.  Seems that a small Chinese fishing boat had been intercepted off the coast of California with 118 illegals aboard.  The State Department was negotiating with the Chinese for their return, but the Chinese were insisting that they be returned from US Held Territory.  Saipan and Tinian were not going to be acceptable.  Hawaii with its very Democrat infested liberal court system was definitely not an option.  We considered Midway, but discovered that also fell under the Hawaii’s District Court.  Finally, we found that Wake Island was an “unincorporated territory” of the United States.  
Wake Island

According to a Citation in Wikipedia (I know, Suldog) an unincorporated territory is one "where fundamental rights apply as a matter of law, but other constitutional rights are not available".  Bingo.

The boat and escort are directed to Wake Island.  The JTF is to be created with the main manpower coming from one of the Army Battalions from the 25th ID.  They would include an infantry company, and some MPs.  A BG from the Division would be the CJTF.  My team would be the JTF staff.  PACAF would provide medical and dental support and personnel.  CincPacFlt would provide construction support.
The yellow line is 4500 miles long

It was going to take the boats about 2 weeks to transit and Wake’s facilities were not ready for a few hundred people to arrive.  It had been hosting a small team that supported launch activities from Kwajalein.  So there was some rudimentary facilities, a small clinic, dining hall and airport support.  The rest we’d have to bring or repair.

I’m sitting there looking at this operation knowing that I’m PCSing from this unit I’d trained. I also knew it was going into what was their first “real world” operation. I wanted to go, bad!  But I also knew that I had to be in DC by the end of August.

We have our initial meeting with the CJTF and he starts laying out the command structure.  I’m taking notes as fast as I can write.  He tells the Army Lt Col Battalion Commander he’s the Ground Forces Commander.  Lays out the Support Command structure and then starts on the JTF staff.  He looks at my replacement  (AF) who’s just been selected for O-6 and has been shadowing me for about a week and tells him he’s going to be the Chief of Staff.  Then looks at me and says “LtCol Juvat, you’re going to be my J-3.” (COO in civilian terms.)  I tell him about the PCS and he says “do you want to stay or go with us?”

“I want to go.”

“You’re in.”

Now, I’ve gotten most of the prePCS paper work done, but we’re now approaching that point where Physics is involved.  Physics being the actual moving of People and things.  To further complicate matters, my wife has already PCS’d to DC.  Fortunately, we had a live-in Nanny, who took care of my kids.  I deployed about 3 days later, while gone, she handled the movers, the clearing of quarters, the shipment of cars and the transportation of two unaccompanied minors. Talk about stepping up!  Kim, if you’re reading this, I still have a hard time believing you pulled it off.  And,even after all these years, thanks does not begin to express my gratitude.

The operation has two critical areas that are needed for success.  We have to restore facilities so they are fit for human habitation and we have to find enough Chinese linguists to communicate with the illegal aliens.  The first is constrained by time and the second by availability.

Wake had several buildings that had served as barracks in the 60s, so on arrival we selected the one in the best shape as the dorm for the illegals.  Best shape should really be least worse.  But the engineers got to work and by the time the boat arrived, the plumbing, lights and electricity all worked.  Bedding had been replaced.  It wasn’t the Hilton, but it beat the cargo hold of a fishing boat.  

We also had to come to terms with what we were going to do about the Enforcers.  They were a group of 10 men who were charged with bringing the illegals to the US.  The Coast Guard told us we would have to keep them separated from the rest of the group.  So we restored a separate facility and surrounded it with concertina.
To the best of my recollection, Top Left was the building housing the illegals, top right was for the enforcers and bottom was JTF operations.  

The boat and escort arrived.  We’re using the marina and a WWII landing craft to transport the illegals and their enforcers ashore.  The illegals are brought ashore first,  and given a quick in-processing, basically asked their name and given a quick medical check for anything serious. Then they were given a bus ride around to the other side of the island and checked in to the barracks.
This was high tide.  Low tide and the boat was 5 or 6 feet lower.

We handled the enforcers a little differently, upon advice from the Coasties.  We’ve selected low tide for when this would happen as we didn’t want the enforcers to have a chance to scope out the arrival facilities.

The Coast Guard had kept them bound and on deck for essentially the entire trip.  Upon inspecting the fishing boat and hearing the stories of their actions, I’d have been tempted to troll for sharks with them.

At low tide, the water level in the marina, put the landing craft below the dock, so the occupants couldn’t see anything behind the edge.  We had a greeting party that took the names at the front.  That greeting party had been told at the first sign of resistance to move out of the way.  

Sure enough, we’d brought 3 or 4 of them up the ladder, hands bound in front, feet free when one of them starts to do the kung fu stuff.  The greeting party moved away, leaving the Bruce Lee wannabe face to face with a squad of infantry, bayonets ready in a cordon around the docking area.  Problem solved.

By now the illegals are in their dorm and have eaten.  The enforcers are in their area, have eaten and it’s getting dark.  Shortly after dark, I get a call saying we’ve got a fire in the enforcer’s area.  That was one of the scenarios we’d gamed out.  The security team had sheets of plywood and breeched the concertina with them.  Again, with bayonets out, they herded the enforcers into one corner of the concertina away from the fire while another team put the mattress fire out.  

After the fire was out, we confiscated all the fire starters and cigarettes.  We also took away the remaining mattresses and put them back in their smoke damaged rooms.  It was quiet from then on out.

Things got pretty boring at that point.  The illegals were getting their three hots and were getting medical and dental care.  Their trip across the Pacific had been hellish.  Stuffed in a 500 square foot fish hold with a 55 gal drum for a toilet.  They’re only time on deck was when they were brought up to “entertain” the enforcers.  All of them were used that way.  Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Girls, Boys the entire group. 

Their medical condition reflected that abuse as did some of their dental problems. 

As I said, routine set in and the highlight of discussion was when was China going to accept them back.  It was about the 10th of August when the CJTF calls me in and says I should take the next 141 back.  

We had been redeploying the stuff and people we no longer needed and I now fell in that category.  I handed off the J-3 responsibilities to a Navy Commander who’d been in that shop.  She was very sharp and I wasn’t worried about the job not getting done.  As far as I can tell, she was the first female J-3.  Well done, Darah!

I flew in the 141 from Wake to Travis, hitched a ride from my Aunt to SFO and from there flew to Washington Reagan.  Met up with my wife and kids and the following Monday reported in at the Northern Virginia Penitentiary for wayward Fighter Pilots and began my sentence.

On August 12th, the Chinese relented and sent a DC-10 to pick up the illegals.  Transfer to the airliner went without a hitch.  And JTF Prompt Return was over.  

Later, when I transferred from the Air Staff to Current Ops on the Joint Staff, I worked next door to the Pacific section. The guy we had communicated with from Wake was still there.  I asked him what had happened to the Chinese when they had arrived in Beijing.  He said the illegals were sent home.  The enforcers were knelt down on the tarmac and shot in the back of the head.


A few months later, I received a memo saying that I was authorized to wear the Humanitarian Service Medal for participation in JTF Prompt Return.  I had a few rows of brightly colored cloth on my uniform when I retired.  That was the only one that gave me any satisfaction.

On a side note, if I ever decide to move to Rhode Island , I’m eligible for Veteran’s property tax relief.



  1. Great story, thanks for sharing.

    Sometimes it is the little, or not so little, things that really matter.

  2. Really good story about a little known area of vital activity. Something tells me we're not doing that stuff anymore? Minor niggle--I'm sure you meant 7th vice 6th Fleet in your organization list. See, I DID read carefully :-)

  3. A most interesting story Juvat. I had no idea that we actually used to enforce our immigration laws.

    Not a happy outcome for the enforcers. Sometimes that's the only way to solve a problem. Very little recidivism with that!

    1. The initial interviews were tough. As I said, we canvassed the services for Chinese speakers and needed them in a hurry. Many were not trained to interview people and most were not prepared for what they would be told. Many of the Chinese were reluctant to talk about their experiences with a member of the opposite gender, so we had some issues with some of translators breaking down upon repeating the story to us. As I said, I have no problems with the outcome and respected the Coast Guardsmen's restraint in not seeing how long the SOBs could tread water.

  4. I enjoyed the story a lot. Thanks Juvat. I had no idea this kind of thing went on. I have been partitioned and protected by those, like you, who gave a full life to the cause. I do have a Zippo from the BX in Wake. We stopped there on the way to Korat in '65. Glad the tankers found it for us in those days.

    1. Thanks
      Yeah, I know what you mean. We did a drag from Moody to Hickam to Kadena with the last one being the long one. Flew directly over Wake. It was pretty nice seeing a runway after about 7 hours or so. I have a coffee mug and a T-shirt from the (squinting real hard when I say this) "BX".

  5. Get any time off on Wake? I suppose not. Stopped there a few times during a few TRANSPACs. Great fishing, as long as you can reel in the line faster than the sharks can get to it.

    1. Once things got settled down, we had some down time. I don't remember why, sharks maybe, we were told not to swim in the lagoon and outside the reef was very dangerous with currents. So, I walked around and looked at the various points from the battle, some were interesting, some were very poignant.

  6. @juvat/

    Like Dave, above, I had NO idea about the existence of such programs, thanks for the insight..

    1. Little did I know that when I got to the Joint Staff, Guantanamo would be one of my responsibilities for exactly the same reason. Repatriating illegal immigrants for unicorporated US Territoriy.


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