Conspiracy at Desert One
By Bernace Charles
Kevin Keller was in a state of gloom. The exercise in Arizona hadn't
gone well. The navy helo pilots weren't up to the task. With his mind running
in overdrive, Russ Camron, a C-130 pilot, walked in Colonel Keller's direction.
Reaching him Camron said, "Colonel, if they want this exercise to
fly right these helo jocks better get their act together. Another screw-up
with these guys and we're going to end up dead." Captain Camron wasn't
happy with a near accident as he made his landing approach. A helo lifted
to fly straight through his line of sight and damn near caused a disaster.
The accident would have killed both crews.
Keller said, "The Navy's out. We're going to bring in the Marines."
Camron asked, "Have they considered using Air Force pilots. Surely
there are enough of them around with better low level training."
Keller appreciated Camron's insight. He was a pilot in Special Ops and
knew how to fly a C-130. He said "I don't know, Russ, we'll have to
wait and see. We can't use our Sea Air Rescue pilots because they serve
an international purpose. They're the ones to do the job. Politics will
"Colonel, we just need the time to rehearse this until we get it
right. If they bring in Marine pilots, maybe they'll do better with this
Keller answered, "I sure as hell hope so."
A week later
He used the code name Carousel. He met Fred Southgate at a freeway maintenance
yard. It was along the Potomac River near the Key Bridge-Whitehurst Freeway.
They knew each other since being classmates at Georgetown. During those
years, the world presented a clearer definition of what one battled. The
man with the code name Carousel worked in The Puzzle Box. He was slender
built, presented close cropped, brown hair, and intense eyes. He said,
"It's been a week since replacing helicopter pilots and their crews.
The C-130 crews continue to practice blackout operations. They estimate
they need six C-130s with eight helos. If they drop below six choppers
there's little chance they could continue."
Fred asked, "The Joint Task Force feels they can pull this off?"
"I'm afraid so."
Fred said remembering NAM. "They don't know the Arab mind. Do they
honestly believe a damn gunship is going to frighten the students off the
street while a group of Americans walk away with the hostages?"
"I don't know. I only know the state of readiness. The blue-suiters
are back at Hurlburt while the C-130 crews continue to work with the night
vision goggles. For now, they're fine-tuning the landings. They're studying
the possibility of a couple of lightly used airfields."
Fred said, "We're going to have to send someone into Tehran. The
minute you know what airfield or other landing zone they might use get
it to me. This is going to make for a tragedy." Southgate paused and
stared at the river. He added, "Several of our NATO allies have come
on board. They'll support the president's threat of retaliation if they
kill any of the hostages."
Carousel, a man in army green, with multiple service ribbons, and wearing
airborne wings said, "These people will be back to Yuma next week.
It's a matter of getting the right helo crews."
"Men didn't learn in NAM until it was too late. The Middle East
is no less remote. There's another agent in Tehran. It was set years ago
through a company that contracted the Asian Highway. He keeps up a home
that belonged to Laleh's grandparents in Darband. She can stay there where
he can keep an eye on her. We also have a man north of Qazvin."
Carousel was part of the War Staff's unconventional warfare branch.
He had left the Pentagon fifteen minutes earlier. He asked, "Can you
"I can only hope so. If I send her to oversee the sale of the property,
possibly it'll wash with the militants. She'll also be on assignment with
"What weapons are in the country?"
Southgate knew one's betrayals gave a different interpretation from
the angle viewing them. He said, "There's a sniper's rife with night
sight and flash suppressor. We built it into a motorcycle. The motorcycle
is at a home outside Qazvin. It's complete with a starlight scope. If I
can get her in with a couple of thermal blankets she might pull something
off at any refueling site."
Carousel stared hard at Southgate, "And why do we have this motorbike
"You spent too much of your time in Southeast Asia. We placed it
there in case we needed to take out the shah. It would have been easy to
blame it on a fundamentalist group or the Marxist. The man reaching the
Peacock Throne didn't turn against the west. The bike also has the latest
radio. If we get the coordinates for refueling maybe we can stop this."
Southgate turned his eyes to the water of the Potomac River. As he did,
he thought of sending Laleh to Istanbul. Laleh was weapons trained and
an excellent shot. He turned back to Carousel and added, "If we machined
an explosive projectile it would kill a chopper's transmission. Anything
going wrong in Iran will remain a mystery. It's the mystery we need."
"We don't want anyone getting killed."
"There wouldn't be. I was on several choppers shot down in NAM.
The crews survived. If all eight choppers make it in, she could hit three,
while they're on the ground. They'd have to pull out." Fred now knew
how he would stop the rescue force from reaching Tehran. A transmission
of a helicopter would make an easy target.
Carousel said, "I pray this comes out right. I'll let you know
the coordinates if there's a decision. I hope to hell she'll know what
The face of Carousel was expressionless. He only asked, "I wonder
if it's possible to pull this off?"
"I don't see why not. We bring the choppers below their needed
"How was the bike taken into the country?"
"We paid a student to drive it across Turkey and to Qazvin."
"It might work. It just might work."
"It'll work because it has to work."
Carousel said before he turned to his car, "I'll meet with you
Fred remained at the river edge. He missed Laleh, and he missed Roya.
As he turned away, Fred knew he couldn't risk going to Istanbul to spend
time with Laleh there. Laleh would have to fly in and out of New York on
a near revolving door schedule. Lost in these thoughts, Fred entered his
car to drive from the maintenance yard in the direction of the Whitehurst
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