View Full Version : Daring evacuation was ’90s brush-fire mission

03-24-05, 06:41 AM
March 21, 2005

The Lore of the Corps
Daring evacuation was ’90s brush-fire mission

By Keith Milks
Special to the Times

In a “float book” that commemorated the 1996 deployment of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, a pencil drawing of the African continent slung beneath a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter perhaps best summed up the spate of missions that kept the unit busy throughout the 1990s.
Embassy reinforcement and non-combatant evacuation missions in such locales as Liberia (twice), Sierra Leone, Zaire, the Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic tested the MEU’s ability to respond rapidly and effectively to crises that threatened American interests and residents of these nations.

Of all these missions, perhaps the least known but most daring is the May 1996 excursion into the Central African Republic that was dubbed Operation Quick Response.

Trouble in the Central African Republic began that February when public servants, including soldiers, went unpaid because of an economic crisis. Eventually, a group of soldiers mutinied, and this resistance blossomed into full-scale rioting and protests. The harsh measures used by the government to quash these problems escalated violence in the capital, Bangui, and forced the U.S. ambassador to call for help.

The closest military force able to respond was the 22nd MEU, which was conducting Operation Assured Response, a massive evacuation and security operation in nearby Liberia. Upon hearing of the mission, the MEU went to work.

Maj. Norman J. Robison, a former tank officer sent from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to augment the MEU for operations in Africa, assumed control of the 35-man force that would execute the mission. The bulk of this force consisted of riflemen from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, the MEU’s ground combat element.

On May 21, Robison and his leathernecks boarded helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 162 bound for the airport in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Once there, Marine KC-130R Hercules transport aircraft flew the detachment to Bangui, where State Department officials were waiting with dozens of evacuees. As soon as the Marines offloaded the aircraft, the anxious civilians, including Americans and third-country nationals, were hustled aboard and flown to safety in Yaounde, Cameroon.

Back in Bangui, the security team secured the U.S. Embassy and oversaw subsequent evacuations. For several days, the Marines stood their ground as warring factions battled in the streets around them. In time, a second rifle platoon was flown in to bolster the initial security element, and despite errant rounds that often landed around their positions, the Marines and the civilians under their umbrella of protection were never overtly threatened.

Eventually, the Central African Republic’s Presidential Guard, backed by an influx of French paratroopers, restored order in Bangui.

From their arrival until the last Marines left Bangui on June 22, 448 non-combatants, less than half of whom were Americans, were evacuated from the Central African Republic aboard Marine and Air Force transport aircraft.

The writer is a gunnery sergeant stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. He can be reached at kambtp@aol.com.