Monday, November 02, 2015

Finesse of the MACO

A C-141 takes off from Point Salines on October 25, 1983. 
DOD Photo.

In the early hours of the battle for Point Salines, a lone US Air Force MACO (Marshaling Air Control Officer) stood alone on the tarmac with a set of headphones on his head. 

He had the longest hair that I had ever seen on a serviceman in the armed forces, and he carried an absurdly small HK MPK submachine gun under his armpit. His real weapon was the radio on his back. 

This lone Airman had a pair of orange batons in his hands, and where he stood was the control tower. He was a one-man control tower, and he pulled off the most amazing feat of coordination under fire that I ever saw. 

The control tower overlooking Point Salines was shot to hell, and it was still contested terrain at that time. There was no way that I wanted to go up there. None of us did. Besides, this Airman had no ground crew. He was it. 

Task Force 160 Little Birds at Point Salines, later in the morning of 25 October, 1983. DOD photo. 

This particular MACO jumped in with the Rangers, with one of the early sticks. He had C-130's and C-141's stacked up over Point Salines, orbiting at different altitudes, and he brought them in, one by one, landing them and directing them to aprons where they unloaded. 

I remember watching him, he would talk to a pilot through his head set, directing him to an open space on the tarmac with his orange batons, then he would talk to another pilot, this one still orbiting his bird out to sea in the pattern, and then he would bring them in, one by one. 

He had planes coming in every ten minutes. 

USAF MACOS attached to 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions during Operation Urgent Fury. 

Those MACOs that jumped with the Rangers have their aircraft numbers noted. 

Back row, left to right: Greg Capps (2d Battalion, Aircraft #2). Rick Caffee (2d Battalion, airlanded). Ray Heath (2d Battalion, Aircraft #4). John Scanlon (2d Battalion, airlanded). Tony Snodgrass (2d Battalion, Aircraft #4). Mike Lampe (2d Battalion, airlanded). Jerry Jones and Bob Kelly (1st Battalion, Aircraft #3). Johnny Pantages and Bob Reyes (2d Battalion, Aircraft #1).

Front row: Dick West, Jack McMullen, Doug Phillips (all 1st Battalion, Aircraft #1), and Mike McReynolds (2d Battalion, Aircraft #1).

Missing: Evitts (1st Battalion, Aircraft #1), Buckmelter (1st Battalion, Aircraft #1), Brown (1st Battalion, Aircraft #1), Palmer (2d Battalion, Aircraft #1), Griffin (2d Battalion, airlanded).

As soon as planes unloaded and turned themselves around, engines roaring, the MACO cleared the decks and they flew out of Point Salines, back to Barbados, or back to the states, to pick up the 82d Airborne, or more equipment. 

The MACO did all this while the 1st Ranger Battalion battled Cubans at Little Havana a couple thousand meters away, and two SeaCobras supporting SEALs besieged at Government House were shot down while two others flew gun runs over his head. 

Nightstalkers flew Blackhawks and MH-6 Little Birds through the air space, Spectre gunships orbited overhead, pounding targets "danger close," and A-7 fast movers swooped through, dropping CBU bomblets in close support of 1st Ranger Battalion fighting on nearby Goat Hill. The MACO was impervious. 

Rangers of Company C, 1st Ranger Battalion advance North towards the True Blue Campus of the St. George’s School of Medicine, adjacent to the runway at Point Salines, liberated Grenada, 25 October, 1983. 
DOD photo courtesy of Gunny Joe Muccia.

Ranger snipers traded volleys with Cuban “construction workers,” Ranger mortar teams dropped rounds along the ridge lines, and bullets whipped past the MACO. He was heedless to it all, focused on the remote voices in his headset, talking to pilots, being the control tower. He was the MACO.

It was a smooth, orchestrated performance, and I was in awe. All that I could think at the time, as I hugged dirt, and bullets cracked, and he stood alone in the open, bringing the birds in, was “finesse, sheer finesse.” 

I never learned his name. I believe that he is depicted among the Air Force personnel in the photo above, but several others who also participated in Urgent Fury are not in the photo. 

The success of the early hours of the invasion rested on his shoulders, and he carried the weight like he personally managed the invasion of small countries all the time. 

Maybe he did. 


Blogger SharePoint Ranger said...

I will always remember that day and the follow on days of the operation. I will always be very proud to say, "I was part of making Ranger history (twice)."
Frank (Doc) Morales

1:55 AM, November 04, 2015  

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