I finished out the morning going over the State of the Union speech with Adam Pierce – revising, reading and changing again. He left before lunch to make corrections and load it on the teleprompter.
The calm was broken by a series of emergency messages from Andy and a request for MTAC.
Moments later General Ingram and the Chief of Naval Operations were standing at my door.
”We have an incident taking place in the Indian Ocean,” the General said just as the MTAC screen went live.
”The Somalia pirates were trying to hijack another cargo ship this morning only to run into twelve of our coastal patrol ships as they were exiting the Red Sea into the Arabian Sea – Indian Ocean area,” Andy said.
They were the new ships destined for the Strait.
”The cargo ship ‘Tariq Sultan’ is a Pakistani flagged freighter which was unusual. Normally the hijackers go after tankers because the ship itself was so much more expensive because of international regulations requiring double hulls and the millions of dollars of oil on board. The owners are more likely to pay a big ransom,” Andy said. ”Something does not make sense there.”
”Another thing that set off flags was it was a Pakistan flagged ship which means it is a member of the Muslim community. Usually they go after European, South American or East Asia flagged ships,” Andy said.
”The cargo ship captain was calling for help on non-international channels but with low output, meaning the call only went a few miles when it should have went hundreds,” Andy added.
”When the JBG fast ships were within sight, the outboard stairs that went down the side of the ship to the deck was filled with men. There were eight pirate boats along the freighter and the ship’s crane was being used. The pirate ships were of the larger ocean clam boats, eighty to one hundred feet long,” he said.
”The two Blackhawks with the weapons pods full of rockets and missiles and two AT802s assigned to Mirbat also responded to calls for backup from our escort ships.”
”The two pirate ships departed the freighter headed for shore at full speed. The two 802s did a low fly over them. The pirate ships each had a large crated missile that came from the freighter on the deck,” Andy said.
”Edgar Arnold – the JBG commander at Mirbat – was monitoring the radios and ordered the pirates ships destroyed,” Andy said.
Edgar was well aware of the political climate in the area. First he was former Special Forces and had spent years in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. Then he went to work for Black Bear as a soldier of fortune in East Africa, primarily Ethiopia and Somalia. Andy and I were initially reluctant to put him in a command position.
Our interview with him changed our minds. He was like us – determined to fight terrorism and would put up with no bull from his men. He knew how the world worked in this area.
He called it our interview, “If you are running your company based on a PC culture I want no part of it. Leaders lead and the rest follow orders, regardless of their personal opinion.”
”The 802s were fired upon by small arms from the deck of the two fleeing pirate boats. The boats were no match for the Hellfire missiles sent their way. They were soon disabled, burning and exploded when the missiles went off. ”
”One of the Blackhawks flew alongside the freighter- the hatches to the hold were opened. The pilot was able see the hold contained more missiles and other military hardware and reported the observation to Edgar,” Andy said.
”The pirate ships that were next to the tanker tried to make a run for it. None of them made it. They were no match for the JBG fast ships,” Andy said.
”The freighter decided it was time to run. Edgar wanted the ship investigated by the US Navy,” Andy said.
The Navy had the authority by UN decree and was charged to stop weapons from reaching the civil war torn east Africa.
”Edgar sent orders to the fast boats and Blackhawks to stop the freighter from moving,” Andy said.
”Edgar contacted the US command ship for the area. The USS Boxer was one hundred and fifty miles away. He explained what had just transpired and requested an inspection,” Andy said.
”The commanders on the ‘Boxer’ wanted the freighter stopped as well. The freighter refused to stop saying it had perishables on board. Edgar ordered the ship’s bridge raked with one of the mini-guns from a great distance,” Andy said.
The plan being from the distance the bullets wouldn’t penetrate the steel but the noise would be enough to convince the crew the end was here – or damn close – if they didn’t obey the command to stop. One of the Blackhawks could hover and carry out the plan.
”It took three fifteen second bursts from the mini-gun bullets bouncing off the steel bridge but it worked,” Andy said.
”Edgar ordered one Blackhawk and one 802 to return to base to refuel and then return so the group could maintain continuous air surveillance until the Navy arrived. The twelve JBG fast ships were to stay as well. Six of them were sent to look for survivors of the pirate boats,” Andy said.
”The Boxer is sending four helicopters of Seals to take control of the freighter until the Boxer arrives itself,” the Chief of Naval Operations added.
”Thanks Andy, inform me when the Navy arrives,” I said.
With the Boxer still an hour away, I closed the screen.
I replied to text messages from Vicky, Jenny and Marcy before turning my full attention to General Ingram.
”OK gentlemen, what have you got for me?” I asked.
”The CV67 is being dredged free today at Philadelphia and will be towed to Newport News Ship Building. It can be ready in the time frame you want,” the Chief of Naval Operations said.
”What you are really saying is Newport News Ship Building is willing to do anything to stop the pressure on the Fordson class and prevent the cancellation of the last two ships. That and the engineers have no idea how to correct the problems in a hurry,” I said.
”That pretty much sums it up,” he said.
”What about planes and crews if all the carriers come together at the same time?” I asked.
”We are running the numbers on the reserve units and we will may pull some F18s out of storage if necessary,” the Chief of Naval Operations said.
We talked a while about the escorts ships needed and other things. Then I sent the Admiral to get the latest update on the Boxer’s position and arrival time to the freighter.
General Ingram and I discussed the consequences of today’s action. It was sure to hit the media any time. We decided the Navy should be the one to do a press release about the cooperation of the Boxer and the JBG ships in the hijacking of the freighter.
An hour later everything changed. Rear Admiral David West was on MTAC with the Joint Chiefs and me. West was the Navel Commander for the Indian Ocean; his command headquarters was on the USS Boxer.
”The freighter Tariq Sultan was flying under a false flag and crew. It was an Iranian owned freighter delivering Iranian made antiaircraft and cruise missiles to the rebels in Somalia. Along with the missiles were small drones, RPGs, two thousand new Russian made assault rifles and one hundred thousand rounds of ammo,” the Admiral said.
”The hijacking call on the low output frequency was the contact call and a cover. The JBG fast ships were in just the right place and right time to intercept the call,” he said.
”The first two boats that were destroyed carried many of the Iranian techs who were to teach the rebels how to use the missiles and drones,” he said.
”What happens to the crew and weapons on the ship?” I asked.
”The crew members are in custody; they were all Iranian. Samples of the rockets and missiles will be brought to selected sites for evaluation and testing,” he said.
”The rifles and ammo will be dumped overboard,” he said.
”Put five hundred of the rifles and ten thousand rounds on the JBG ships. They may come in handy for special ops,” I said.
I sent Andy a text for a heads up about the rifles and ammo. ‘‘Keep them in one of the armory’s in the Strait and locked up.”
”What is going to happen with the ship?” I asked. I had no clue of how something like that was handled.
”It will be towed to an anchorage near the Indian coast until the powers decide what to do with it. Iran may get it back at some point. There will be an international process,” the General said.
At 1400 the news broke about the seizing of the freighter and arms delivery. The Navy released pictures of the freighter, the weapons captured and a lengthy news story.
Statements to the US Navy by the JBG ships’ crews about their part in the apprehension and pictures of our Coastal patrol ships were included; all twelve of them and several close up pictures of their weapons. There were even pictures of the Blackhawk and AT 802s. The Navy started taking pictures as their helicopters arrived on the scene with many making the news.
The national news picked up the story for the only one reason; it was connected to JBG and me.
Iran’s Ambassador to the UN issued a statement calling the JBG ships pirates and called for a resolution condemning JBG and the US. Of course they demanded the ship released and crew freed.
Iran was still going by its plan to expand its influence by the weapons shipment to the rebels. With the JBG base at Mirbat they were going to need a new plan. I was sure this was not the first time they had used this freight or this scenario.
I wondered if it was done every time the Boxer was at the far end of its patrol. That patrol was a loop that started off the coast of Mogadishu sailing north/northeast to a point off Sur Oman then south/south west to Mogadishu.
The UN mandate was multinational. The US supplied the command ship with Britain, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Greece and Turkey were to rotate ships to add the second ship in the area. Their ships were to be on station for three months.
The second ship that was to be in the area with the USS Boxer for its tour was a frigate ‘Adrias’ from Greece. It was sitting in an Egyptian shipyard on the Red Sea with an engine failure. A boiler had exploded injuring thirty seamen and disabling the ship.
The General and Chief of Naval Operations were still in my office, watching the reaction from Capitol Hill. As usual Senators and Congressmen were lined up for the free time on TV.
”Until the Greek ship makes an appearance, do you want a squadron of the JBG coastal ships to report to Admiral West and the Boxer? That is if you think the Iranians may be taking advantage of the gap,” I asked.
”I’ll discuss it with the chiefs and let you know,” he said.
Troy and I talked about tomorrow morning’s meeting with Jack Carol, Dirk Blake from the Agriculture Department and Ruth Packard. They were told to bring all the reports from the nutrition programs and grants for their agency.
Adam was back for one more run through of the speech. This time I would use only the teleprompter. When I finished it was supper time. I made a few more notes on the paper version for Adam to make changes tomorrow morning.
Then there would be one more run through tomorrow afternoon before the 2000 national broadcast.
I did a VCATS with the girls and another one with Andy. With the girls I set it up for the family to be here at 1600 for supper and to help me relax before the State of the Union speech. Mom and Dad were also coming.
Now that Mrs. Thomas was back in Kansas there were plenty of rooms in the White House for all my family to stay overnight. Bedrooms had been set up for all of us and there was even a room with two beds for the boys and two rooms with cribs for Sara and Takeo. And still there were four other guest rooms.
Edit by Alfmeister
Proof read by Bob W.