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04-11-08, 11:27 PM #1
Operation Distant Runner - Rwanda/Burundi
There were so many interesting operations in the 90's that did not cost any marines their life. Distant Runner was one of them if my memory serves me correctly. I was part of the 15th MEU and I flew in on advance party from Mombassa Kenya on a C130 to Goma, Zaire; Entebbe, Uganda; and some dirt strips in Rwanda and Burundi. It was at one of these dirt strips that I had an unworldly experience. I broke bread one afternoon with members from the German Luftwaffe, some middle eastern unit (Saudi?), and an Israeli Unit. I was sitting at one of the only benches there when German pilots who just flew in a cargo plane of relief supplies walked over and sat down to eat. They had food but little water, and I gave them each a bottle from my ruck. Next thing I know a armored vehicle rolls up and some arab speakers pile out. One of them came over and sat down; I offered him a bottle of water too. The MEU's legal officer came walking over with two members of the IDF. We all offered the food we had and everyone seemed to sample a little here and there. It seems it was all wolfed down fairly quickly and everyone departed (without a shot being fired I might add). It was extremely surreal. Anyone else part of this Op?
04-05-09, 12:44 PM #2
I read this post with great interest because I was in "E" Co BLT 2/5, 11th MEU and participated in Operation Distant Runner. I was not aware (I was only a Rifleman and a LCpl, so it isn't as though I was let in on anything) that there was any participation from the 15th MEU (I believe that they were our relief on station in Somalia and that they ultimately conducted the Somalia NEO that everyone knew was coming when we were there after the Army left).
From my perspective, the entire operation consisted of a weapons and ammo draw, a short helicopter flight to Mombassa, a nonsensical warning order (something like "5 minutes before we land we'll tell you where we're landing and whether or not you'll have to fight your way off the plane"!), a jam-packed C-130 ride into Burundi followed by a couple of days of airfield security and rumors of a NEO invloving the FR DA Plt and us (I was in the MSPF "trailer" platoon) that never materialized. Oh, and some balding MSgt from the either the MEU S-3 shop or comm plt walking around with the biggest knife I'd ever scene strapped to his side (a friend pointed out that it would come in very handy if, in fact, he got himself into a sword fight).
It was a very interesting experience until I got home and read enough newspapers to see what had happened in Rwanda. The scale of the genocide there is still hard to fathom. I wish we could have done more.
Anyway, I'd like to hear more about your experience because you clearly saw the whole thing from a very different vantage point.
Edit: I just realized that it has been 15 years this month. Wow, I'm getting old!
04-08-09, 01:27 PM #3
Eric, I was radio operator with the MEU command element. The balding MSgt you referred to was my comm chief. He was a unique character, in all the good and bad senses of the expression. Regardless, I was also a member of the CE's NEO team, and consequently had a slightly different experience than you had. Me, the MEU XO, and one other 2531 left the airfield and were transported to the US embasy in Bujumbura. Once there, we set up comms to the airport as well as the ARG, and basically hung out as the embassy security officer, the XO, and a handful of other people (I do not remember who they were) planned out the evacuation of US citizens from Rwanda.
As I recall, the way the evacuation played out was that the Americans were gathered at the US embassy in Rwanda, and then bussed into Burundi. Throughout their journey, the caravan had communications with the embassy in Burundi, which was then relayed to the XO and ultimately the MEU CO and BLT and could call in a QRF if needed (though in hindsight I think it would have been too late). I believe the two ambassadors felt it was too high risk to have Marines on the ground in Burundi, and that they could use their status as American diplomats to get the Americans out without harm.
It is hard to believe that it has been 15 years to the day.
04-08-09, 08:02 PM #4
Great to hear from another member of the "Pride of the Pacific"! Were you aboard the Peleliu for most of the float?
I remember it being a really weird time. Aboard ship it seemed like the word changed 5 times before we got on the bird to Mombasa. We even changed from desert cammies to woodlands back to deserts (hardly the right uniform for central Africa) at least once.
Do you remember the really weird meteor shower the night before we left back to the ARG? My friend Bob and I were on airfield security at the time and when we rounded the corner around the AF C-141 we saw a bunch of people standing on the ramp looking up at what we thought might have been a rocket attack. It was one of the weirdest things I ever saw.
As far as the MSgt goes, I wasn't meaning to demean him in any way. He seemed like a decent enough SNCO but the knife (there's a picture of him in the float book I just dusted off wearing the knife) seemed kind of weird to me and for some reason it stuck in my memory. I also remember the world's biggest ashtray on the second floor of the airport.
Your version of events certainly jives with my memories of the briefs we got. Life in the trailer platoon was always full of rumors and "warning orders" for imaginary missions. I think it was part readiness drills and part boredome. I suspect it was worse for the shooters in the DA Plt.
Great to hear from you, though. I wonder if anyone else on here was there?
10-14-09, 11:49 AM #5
This is an old post, but I was there with Weapons Platoon.
02-12-10, 11:23 AM #6
I was doing a search on Distant Runner and stumbled across this blog.
I also was with the 15th MEU Command Det and agree with what Joel writes as I was also there (at the Burundi Airport). The Comm Chief did carry a big knife and shotgun as I remember. Somewhere (I don't know where "somewhere is") I have VHS (C) footage of us taking a video from the top of the building we were in at the airport in Burundi. One of the Corporals can be heard in the background making sounds and fun of AFN commercials saying "this is another part of your American Heritage"....
We departed from Kenya and flew in C-130 Tankers (I wanna say they were KC-135's but Im not a wing bubba and we were extremely cramped inside with the fuel bladders taking up most of the space) and had (3) Ch-53's tag along with us that were in-flight refueled (no FARP). We had one 2531 satcom operator that was attached to the C-130 det hanging out in Kenya who was coordinating most of the C-130 operation to the LFOC.
During the flight, I remember flying over Tanzania into Burundi. At no time did our planes land in any other country other than Burundi, so I am disputing the landings at Uganda and Rwanda claim mentioned above.
The evacuees were mostly missionaries that caravan-ed from Rwanda to Burundi. We established comms with them using HF via the Radio Recon bubbas and directed them to us. There was much discussion on sending the Force Recon guys to meet them at the border and escort, but was decided by the MEU CO as not needed at the time.
As I recall, it was extremely low key. Addition to the Company of grunts, I know we had the Force Recon Det, a plt of Corpsmen from MSSG and the BLT Sniper guys (who were set up on top of the building we occupied).
The evacuees were debriefed by the MEU S2 and some radio Recon folks. I saw some of the pictures that the missionaries took of burning and mutilated bodies, not pretty.
I also remember seeing my one and only asteroid shower that lasted about 20 minutes and was the coolest thing ever. The night was crystal clear and you could see the asteroids streaking overhead, like a light show is best I can describe. I only wish someone captured pics of that (and if they did would love to see them), truly amazing!
Prior to our departure, we were visited by the Ambassador and had a group pic taken with him.
One moment that sticks out (I actually have a couple), is when the MEU CO got on the SATCOM with Euro Command and told them if they don't control the AF birds coming in, he will. He was a little peeved at them not taking instructions very well.
We were the first foreign force to come into Burundi since they gained their respective independence and to them that was a big deal. The people at the airport were very nice to all of us and we traded a lot of for their currency and other stuff. Truly a memorable experience.
02-12-10, 11:31 AM #7
I made an error and was unable to "edit"... I was with 11th MEU during this operation! Folks, I've been on 4 WestPacs, so had to go to my **************** site to double check what PAC was what...
02-25-10, 01:07 AM #8
I deployed twice with 1/4. 13th MEU in 96 and 11th MEU in 98.
02-25-10, 07:52 AM #9
03-10-10, 10:16 PM #10
10-31-10, 03:59 PM #11
During the mid 90's the 5th Marines alternated with 1st Marines on PACs. I was part of the 11th MEU in question we departed San Diego in the fall of 93 on the Peleliu, Duluth, Fredrickson and I can't remember the other ship. The Fredrickson had some trouble when we hit rough seas and stopped in Hawaii (if I heard right I wasn't on the Fredy but just watching her was enough to turn your stomach) before catching up in Singapore. Once we got to Somolia the ARG was split with elements going to Rwanda/Burundi and some where in the Gulf (?Yemen? I'm not sure but I remember talk of Yemen as something was going on there at the time). I got to spend some time in Kenya while we were there. We stopped in Perth on the way back. We followed 1/1 and were followed by 3/1 I think. 2/5's deployment before that was to Okinawa but it ended prematurely (some of you will remember why). I think the plan was to have 3/5 do a PAC before the 5th returned to UDPs.
01-08-12, 01:16 PM #12
The Master Sergeant that carried the shotgun and had the huge pig sticker was MSgt Harry Karr with the MEU Comm Det
07-26-12, 04:30 AM #13
I was a crew member on the birds that brought ya'll "in". I was a flight mechanic on the KC-130's. KC-130's are Marine Corps refuelers, the KC-135's are Air Force. My bird was my CO's aircraft during this trip and the MEU CO, a full Bird Col was on there too. That was one weird trip as I recall. We were told we wouldn't be gone long so we just left, no clothes, tooth brush, nothing. I remember sitting there at night with that MEU CO and we had set up the SATCOM. He spoke straight to Joints Chief. I also recall him argueing saying he didn't want those Air Force C-141's landing from where I recall came from Germany. The CO said we had enough aircraft, Helo's and Marines to accomplish the mission without further help from the Air Force. In short order he was told to let them land. He wasn't happy. I recall he told the 141's when they landed to shut down their A/C's and generators and said if his Marines couldn't live like that, they weren't, OORAH. We would make coffee on the tarmac by using a metal container filled with dirt and pouring JP fuel on it and lit it to heat the water. I also remember a 1st Sgt that used to be in our community and gave it up to go to the Grunts, never knew why! :-) He used to be a Flight Engineer, we saw him there with his unit. Before we deployed to Burundi my Flight Engineer had me cut up broom handles in small pieces and sharpen them, they were to plug holes in the fuel tanks in case we were to take rounds. Good times....
08-11-12, 08:41 PM #14
VMGR 352 KC-130s
Took a bunch of mean muthahubbards into Burundi and tanked a couple of 53s en route. Lcpl Brewster and I deckloaded as many marines as we could get in a tanker. Sat there for four days while the Chairforce ran their GTCs so they could have air-conditioning. The last night there I removed my flight suit and daisychained cases of water off a pallet. I needed something to do... then the most spectacular meteor shower happened. Those marines from the MEU were true badasses; sniper rifles and all.
08-14-12, 10:41 PM #15
Hey, Duffy! Those were some great memories. I recall a SSgt sitting on the crew door with a rifle case, I wormed my way through grunts fully geared out sitting ******* to belly button on the floor to see what was in that case. It was a .50 cal single shot (I believe) bull barrel rifle. He told me a story or two when they were in Mogidishu.
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