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by Barry Kamhoot

A little known deployment in 1979 of Rescue resources was an integral pawn in a high stakes US political situation in Nicaragua. The details of this Communist takeover of the Nicaragua government have long been forgotten. The basic thrust was the Communist backed Sandinistas over throw of the US friendly General Anastasio Somoza government. The concern of our Government was for the American Embassy, and a mass genocide of the many Americans living in Nicaragua, those friendly to the United States, and the Somoza family.

The ARRS piece of the US response was a classified short fuse deployment of four HH-53’s, HC-130’s from the 55th and 41st Rescue Squadrons and HC-130’s from the CA ANG. The 41st SQ/CC, L/C Butler, aircrews and aircraft joined the 55th crews and HH-53’s at Bergstrom AFB, TX for a non-stop flight to Howard AFB, Canal Zone on 23 June 1979. The maintenance personnel and support equipment and Lt. Col. Flournoy, the 55th SQ/CC followed by C-130’s. Col. Prince, the 39th WG/CC deployed with the initial task force to be replaced by myself as the Deployment Commander.


The bed down was assisted by an old Jolly pilot, Col. Heeter, the Howard WG/CV. An alert was established and evacuation planning continued while the political process continued. In the meantime ANG C-130’s were evacuating selected personnel from a remote landing strip on the Pacific coast west of Managua, Nicaragua which was identified as Gen Somosa’s secret hide-a way. The details of this operation were never shared; however, on one of these shuttles Flournoy, Butler and I went along on the mission to recon the site as a possible FOL for the potential Embassy evacuation. About 75 people met this C-130 for a minimum ground time engine running on load and were returned to Panama.

As political tensions grew and the Embassy evacuation threat elevated, we were tasked on 9 July to deploy two HH-53’s and a small security force to Llano Grande, Costa Rica, an airstrip just across the border from Nicaragua.



 We were not welcome and the Sandinistas were sharing the same airfield. On 11 July we were politically kicked out of the country. The flight back to Panama was over the Pacific as we were not permitted to over fly Costa Rica.

No sooner back at Howard AFB, we were tasked to deploy to the USS SAIPAN, a Navy helicopter aircraft carrier operating out of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base on the 12th of July. We departed Howard AFB in marginal weather in over grossed H-53’s carrying all the parts, guns, bullets and maintenance personnel we were going to have for an undetermined length of time on the ship plus a 30man Modified Infantry Platoon of the 193RD Infantry Brigade.

As we approached the SAIPAN and checked in as Air Force helicopters, the Air Boss responded, “we will turn the ship into the wind and you approach the boat at 1,500 feet from the blunt end to the pointed end and I’ll talk you down.” The first time carrier landings went well and the helicopters were chained to the deck before we know what happened.



 The ship had a minimum crew as they were doing a maintenance shakedown of ship and only one aviator (Air Boss) and no aircraft were on board. The ship’s track was north and south on the east coast on Nicaragua in international waters but close enough that we could make a round trip flight to the Embassy in Managua without refueling. We were considered hostile by the Sandinistas and our evacuation mission plan included the air cover by four ANG A-7’s for a day and two AC-130 gunship for a night evacuation of the Embassy. The Navy deployed a destroyer as escort for the carrier as we had an unfriendly submarine tailing the SAIPAN and each night Cuban aircraft overflew the ship.

Living on the ship was confining and the tensions ran high. The security was very tight and there was no communication or contact with the outside world.

Weather and sea state were always a factor with new intelligence daily. Our participation and variations of it depended on the option the Ambassador elected. Late on the eve of the 28th of July, a C-130 landed in Managua and evacuated all but two of the Embassy staff left to keep the Embassy occupied. Our evacuation mission was canceled and on the 29th SOUTHCOM Army C-47’s rendezvoused with the SAIPAN for their deployment of the Army Rangers, our equipment, personnel and myself back to Howard AFB. Lt. Col. Flournoy became the OIC of the HH-53 aircrews who stayed on the SAIPAN now ordered back to Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. Unknown to Captain Murphy, Captain of the USS SAIPAN and crew, the PJ’s painted two large green footprints on the bow of the carrier that night while underway. The HH-53’s launched prior to the ship reaching Cuba and after a ‘SAWWAA-DEE’ pass down the port side of the ship with smoke flares strapped to broom sticks billowing off the ramp, the Jollys headed for their home.




Fortunately the feared bloodshed in Nicaragua did not happen. The Embassy was evacuated and General Somosa departed the country without incident. I wrapped up the redeployment business at Howard AFB and as the Vice Commander of the 39th Wing returned to Eglin AFB, FL.


John Flourney, Barry Kamhoot,  ??.



The attached story, “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” is about the female helicopter crew chief that was on this mission and her unique experience.   http://www.usafhpa.org/experiences/alice/AliceS.htm