"It Got a Little Scary at the End" by Hap Walker

When I first got to Asmara I was in HHC assigned to water driver duty for a few weeks. I think the rains probably started right about the time you left, but they were enough to finally fill the wells, and get us off water hours. Never had anymore water trouble while I was there so it was nice being able to shower when you wanted etc. At the end of the water crisis I was sent to B Co ASA, and was Supply Clerk/Armorer.

Got to Keren once before we abandoned the place. It was because of increased ELF fighting there. Some friends went up there just before it shut down, and they came upon an ELF ambush of an Ethie Army convoy taking place. Automatic weapons fire, dead guys in the road, burning deuce and a halfs etc. They stayed back, and were going to turn around and leave when someone in the pinned convoy blew a whistle and shouted something into the hills. There was a response, and shooting stopped, an Ethie Lieutenant ran down the road to their cars and told them in English that they had a 5 minute cease fire to pass. They drove around the bodies and smoking trucks and on towards Keren. When they were over the next hill the shooting started again. Too bad, Keren seemed like a nice place. As far as I know the Ethie Air Force in Asmara bombed it after the ELF took over.

For a while we could drive to Massawa at almost any time, but eventually we were forced to start convoys because of all the hold ups. I was held up a couple of times for cameras and money. Got ELF chits in return and turned them over to either JAG or Provost Marshal (I don't remember who) and they would reimburse us for the loss. I was even in a convoy of military vehicles coming back up the hill from Massawa that was held up. We were armed, but only with M-14's. They had the road blocked, and when we stopped you could see a lot of guys in the bushes that seemed to have British Bren guns aimed at us. Luckily no one got trigger happy, and after getting some things to eat they let us pass. We were returning from meeting a ship from the states, and were hauling a lot of stuff for the commisary. The last year we were open it was common for people to hitch rides with convoys and act as guards in the trucks because for a time it was not allowed to drive a POV down the hill unless you were taking it for shipment. This meant the only way down the hill was on the convoy, by Ethie airlines, or on one of the Hueys. We got the Hueys less than a year before we closed. There were two or three of them painted white and orange. I think they were there to spot for convoys mostly, but I got a few rides, and it was neat seeing the countryside from that perspective. I liked stopping at the Italian owned bars on the way down the hill so I disliked the convoy system because they went straight through.

There was an incident about 10 miles inland from Massawa where an MP PFC was murdered. He had been in country for around five months when he was shot and his Pentagon Federal Credit Union account was already maxed out at $10k. He had several thousand in cash on his person when found, and there were several thousand dollars in cash in his room when they did the post mortem inventory. If memory serves I think PFC's were making around $160/month at this time so it looks like he was doing some kind of drug dealing or black market stuff. He was in the Massawa MP van when killed, and the assailant shot him in the back as he sat in the drivers seat while the van was being supposedly unloaded. After the incident a buck sergeant friend of mine from Guard Co. was sent down there to take over which was a good deal for me as he had a room to himself with an extra bed I could use whenever I wanted to.

Other bad incidents were the Company Clerk from HHC commited suicide on his Ducati 440 down at the Menelik circle where the street to the base meets Queen E. At least I think it was Queen Meneliks statue in the circle. This kid was a southerner that had a fundamentalist preacher father and the boy fell in love with an Ethie. When he asked his family how they felt, the old man responded that he would rather see him dead. The kid went out despondent and got drunk, a few that saw him said he told them he was going to "end it all" but no one believed him. He was heading back to the base from downtown, and when he got in sight of the statue he went to max throttle in the downgrade towards the statue. He hit the wall behind the statue going flat out at around 90 and was killed instantly. We in B Co lost a kid right in front of the Stratcom sight. He was drunk and missed a curve on his Yamaha at night. He hit one of those steel utility poles on the Tract C road. He hit it so hard that he bent it at a 45 degree angle to the ground. The way he hit it he was cleaned off the bike and slid up the pole but the bike was just scratched and the right side of the handle bars were broken. I mention this because he was telling his family all the time he had been there that there was a shooting war going on with a lot of CIA type things happening. When he bought it they did not believe that he had died because he was drunk and hit a pole. When we contacted them about what to do with the bike, they wanted it shipped as is to their home. When they saw how little damage to the bike there was they were sure we were lying, and we ended up jumping through all kinds of BS hoops for some Congressional investigation types.

One of my closest friends died in an accident where he asphyxiated from natural gas fumes while he was taking a bath. The gas there did not have the nasty smelling stuff added that we do in this country, and he was living in town with his wife when it happened. The fire went out in the heater and he just went to sleep. This also happened to a dependent wife in one of the other companies, possibly Navy.

When the ELF started to get stronger and take on the Ethie Army they sent word to the base on a Wednesday or Thursday that effective the next Monday any tactical vehicle in olive drab paint would be fired on while on the Massawa road. I spent that weekend with some other folks painting deuce and a halfs desert sand with 2'x3' US flags on the doors. We even put small American flags in guidon holders on the front bumpers, and when they left for Massawa on Monday morning it looked like a Veterans Day parade. But no one ever got shot at after we switched colors. That's most of the sad stuff.

Truly earth shaking events were when the Top 4 became the Top 5. Big time pissing contests erupted here because it meant that all the non-lifer SP5's could join the Top 4 now. Lots of hissing and snarling, and even a ridiculous attempt to say that buck sergeants could join, but SP5's had to stay at the Oasis Club. The old "hard stripes" bs again. Anyway the reason this happened was that the Top 4 was going bust because the place was drawing down, and they did not have enough members to support the place. It was bad for a time because you had to get a sponsor to get in the Oasis if you were an E5. Finally there were so few people left that they closed the Oasis and just had the Top 5 for all ranks towards the end. I hated to see the Oasis go as I had a kind of love/hate affair with the place. Also I felt like the Ethies at the Oasis were a better bunch of guys.

I got to go down to Addis Ababa and Nairobi, and that was nice. The folks at the Military Assistance Group in Addis were pretty much the biggest bunch of dickheads that ever lived, but other than that it was a great trip. One of our guys and his wife went on a trip to Lake Tana. They were on an Ethie DC-3, and it was hijacked after takeoff from Addis. They ended up at Khartoum in a hostage standoff that ended peacefully. When they got back they had to spend more time with the debrief goons than they had in captivity, and he was actually restricted from the work sight for a while. This was a big eye opener for me, because prior to this I thought it impossible to get this kind of shitty handling by your own people if you were straight, and a victim of circumstances. Soured me on a few things, especially DOD civilian inspectors and JAG types.

One other weird incident. Two HHC Master Sergeants and an Italian businessman were killed in a plane crash. They were on their way to scuba dive at Massawa and the plane disappeared. I do not remember who owned the plane, possibly the Italian or a flying club. Anyway it went missing and there was a big search, and a reward offered for finding it. Finally an Ethie spotted the wreckage and the bodies were recovered using the Hueys. Rumor was that it was shot down by the ELF, but I never believed that. They were carrying oxygen in the tanks and were all smokers so it could have been an O2 explosion. I never heard the official explanation


All materials, pictures, whatever, except where noted.
©Copyright Rick Fortney 1998 All Rights Reserved