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40th Anniversary of Scott Defenders Deploying to Grenada

  • Published
  • By Kris C. Matthews, 375th Air Mobility Wing Historian

“The only thing I know for sure is that MAC cops must be doing something right.  I am continually amazed at the high spirit and degree of professionalism that is displayed by the Security Police of our command. From the leadership in the field to the lowest-ranking trooper, we are the best – and that’s not bragging, that’s a fact.”

- Lt. Col. Charles R. Piver, 375th Security Police Squadron Commander (Grenada After Action Report, 1983)

National Police Week, which grew from President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 proclamation authorizing Peace Officers Memorial Day, commemorates the American law enforcement community.  While we may frequently think of traffic stops and other policing tasks when we think of our own local “police department”, the 375th Security Forces Squadron, we sometimes forget the unique niche that our Defenders fill.  Four decades ago this year, Scott deployed nearly 20 members of the 375th Security Police Squadron along with Defenders from multiple Military Airlift Command (MAC) bases to support Operation URGENT FURY, which took place in the Caribbean island country of Grenada.

This was America’s response to an October 1983 coup by a Communist group named the People’s Revolutionary Government, which overthrew Grenada’s government and led to the assassination of its prime minister.  Hundreds of Americans attended a medical school on the island, and President Ronald Reagan feared a hostage event similar to the one in Iran a few years earlier.  The plan incorporated Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, and allied nation elements to seize various targets around the island and eventually topple the revolutionary regime of Grenadian and Cuban troops, who were being advised by military personnel from the Soviet Union, Libya, East Germany, and North Korea.

With the amount of Mobility Air Forces resources involved, the Air Force had a significant footprint in the region that needed to be defended, leading to a large deployment of MAC’s Security Police, even including the instructor cadre from MAC’s Air Base Ground Defense (ABGD) training center, Volant Scorpion.  In addition to performing resource security and air base ground defense in an austere environment, Security Police were also tasked to control a large population of enemy prisoners that were captured.  The 375th performed exceptionally from the moment the order was given; within 90 minutes of notification by MAC, the squadron’s deploying personnel were ready to go. 

The 375th SPS commander, Lt. Col. Charles Piver, deployed as the commander of the 1776th Security Police Group (Provisional), headquartered at Point Salines, Grenada.  Lt. Col. Piver, a Vietnam veteran and former SPS commander at Osan Air Base in Korea, was no stranger to the ABGD mission; nonetheless his leadership was tested by the terrain, enemy, and the U.S. military’s infamous bureaucracy.  A major source of frustration was inter-service friction with the Army.  According to his official after-action report, “The Army command could not understand what we were doing… it was an uphill battle to convince them we were a viable combat force.  This we did.”  As the mission wound down and Army units redeployed, Security Police found themselves as the sole ground defense force for the entire airfield and surrounding area, which was the only remaining air link in Grenada.

Lt. Col. Piver’s Defenders also faced resistance from the Air Force itself for support, as their requested resources were also earmarked for any potential war with the Soviet Union in case the Cold War, or the supporting agency decided they didn’t need it, since URGENT FURY was supposed to be a small, short-duration mission.  The Security Police found themselves as the unofficial main suppliers of all Air Force personnel deployed to Grenada, locating supplies however they could.

Those Defenders that remained at Scott found themselves contributing to the success of URGENT FURY as well.  With manning impacted by the deployment and two of their three assigned officers gone, the 375th SPS continued to execute the home station mission with excellence.  Further impacting the unit was the need to increase security for MAC commander General Thomas Ryan, Jr., who received threats due to his importance to the Grenada mission.  The 375th provided close-in protection bodyguards, drivers, and increased military working dog support.  Due to the exceptional performance of the 375th SPS at home and abroad during Operation URGENT FURY, the squadron received the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for this time period.

Many lessons were learned as a result of Grenada from every military branch and element; the Security Police were no different.  The upkeep of weapons, equipment, personal hygiene, and troop morale were all strained in this environment.  Additionally, the task of defending air bases in a joint situation in this challenging terrain was shown to be a monumental trial, although the success of URGENT FURY did lead to improvements in Army-Air Force policies regarding ABGD responsibility.

Since 1947, we have been protected and defended at home and abroad by the Air Police, Security Police, and Security Forces.  While we may only consider close examples such as the local gate guards when we think of Defenders, we should also remember the dual nature of their profession: provide safe, courteous security at home while being ready to deploy at a moment’s notice to provide robust, lethal air base ground defense capability.  URGENT FURY is a perfect example of how Scott Defenders can, have, and will do both. Upon his return from Grenada, Lt. Col. Piver put it best:

“All of our hard training paid off.  We did the job, and we’re ready to do it again.”