Iran 30 Years Ago153, 9/1/2010
As lived and remembered by Dave MIKKELSON
On the 30th anniversary of Dave MIKKELSON getting asked by the Ayatollah Khomeini to leave Iran John OLSON asked short and simple questions, "When did you leave? How much currency had to be destroyed? These questions motivated Dave to relive some of those days that many of us remember parts of very well. Thanks Dave for sharing this response. J. Claud
Well, hello John - Thanks for your interest. You've got a pretty good memory. Indeed it was 30 years ago. 1979 was an 'exciting' year for us following a wonderful 2 years in Tehran, Iran.
Our whole family, Bonnie and 2 boys, were with me in Germany over the Christmas 1978 holiday. We were to return to Tehran via Lufthansa (personally paid for round trip tickets for them, I was on TDY and then 'vacation' leave) on January 2. We learned that school was not going to reopen in Tehran so we were able to transfer 'credits' for the Lufthansa flight for them to TWA to take them to New York and on to Minneapolis to be picked up by my sis and bother-in-law and then on to my mother's home in South Dakota. Bonnie returned to Tehran with me. All other dependents who had gone out on US military planes that Christmas season were not allowed to return. We were greatly fortunate to be chosen in a lottery (of 100) who were authorized to ship one crate of household goods without PCS orders. It was 'critical' for Bonnie to be there to make the decisions of what went and what stayed. She then left on the last USAF plane to take out dependents and other civilians wanting to leave the end of January.
The revolution 'happened' on/about Feb 16 and everything 'shut down'. Our administrative compound where my finance office was located was about to be 'overrun' and my commander ordered evacuation of the compound and the burning of all my currency. I was not able to get in to work that morning because of roadblocks, etc. Those that were there had stayed overnight for 'security' of themselves. We were forbidden to be armed and had no weapons relying on the Shah's guards to protect the compound. The finance guys that were there acted superbly, got document destruction barrels from the adjacent 'spook' organization in the compound, stuffed all the money in it - and torched it. The destruction certificate was written with a pencil on the cardboard back of a paper tablet and certified by an AF officer who happened to be there. My AF disbursing NCO did get the cash blotter and several other important documents packed into a Samsonite suitcase we had propositioned just for that purpose. He ultimately was able to get that up to Germany when we were later evacuated.
It was over $2 million dollars destroyed - most in Iranian currency (Rials) and about $175,00 in US cash. We accumulated the Rials in conversion for folks having massive 'yard sales' of their household goods prior to the revolution. More stories about that I won't relate here.
Several of us 'grouped' together in various 'home' locations and rapidly established a telephone 'tree' and roll call. Phones and all utilities continued to function very well. I left our relatively insecure area and joined our support group Chaplain and 3 others at his apartment in a safer neighborhood. (Another story on how I got there). A few days later, the embassy was overrun, about Feb 20, and the Ambassador, MAG CG, and all them at the embassy 'captured' in the first (little known) 'hostage situation'. The next day they all were released and allowed to return to 'duty' at the embassy - now under security of the Revolutionary Guard - not the Marines. (I don't believe it was ever really reported with emphasis that an Embassy is considered as 'soil' of the parent country, and an attack on one of those is an attack on the parent country. This has happened several times since, in other areas of the world.)
The US Government then made the 'bright' decision that Iran was not 'safe' for most of us and the Iranians agreed to let us leave, but US military planes would not be allowed back into Iranian airspace. The USG quickly contracted with Pan Am to come take us out. Pan Am people volunteered for the missions and 2 flights of PA 747 made the round trip from Franfurt/Rhien Main AFB to Tehran and back for about a week until all who were able to leave - left (evacuated). A 'stay behind' staff to 'clean things up' remained. Those who remained into October were then taken 'hostage' in the 'second' Embassy 'capture'. The one most folks are acquainted with happening.
We 'constructed' my finance operations in Germany. Col John BAIN'S Central F&AO in Heidelberg assisted in NAF and Mil Pay issues. Accounting and Commercial Accounts went to LTC Bob GOETZ 7th F&AO in Stuttgart. I became a 'special' staff officer to COL J. Claud WALLACE in USAREUR HQ in Heidelberg. By the end of March, I'd done all I could do and came back to the Finance Center at Fort Harrison attached to LTC Phil ANDERSON in USAFAC Field Operations to assist in sorting out a myriad of dependent travel and per diem issues, continuing currency conversions, etc., PLUS dealing with my cash blotter and a $2M+ loss of funds. By July there was not much more I could do in Field Operations and I was assigned as Director, Foreign Military Sales Accounting Policy under COL Terry ARNDT and Mr. John COOLEY. In mid-December I received a 'reimbursement' check for the $2M+ loss paid out of 'frozen' Iranian Military Sales Deposit Funds controlled by DOD. What a great Christmas present to finalize my statement of accountability to the US Treasury as of the end of December 1979 with ZERO accountability!
Bonnie went back to South Dakota and stayed with my mother and the boys until May. She joined me to search for housing and 'miraculously' we were assigned COL quarters on Lawton Loop (I was a LTC at the time). The boys flew out from SD to join us in early June when school was completed for them. While in SD Bonnie was able to purchase household furnishings from relatives in the furniture business at a deep discount. Army had movers pick all that up and move it to Fort Harrison for us. Our Iran crate shipment arrived later and we had a place to put it. The Army claims process was very fair in settling the many items that we were not able to sell in Tehran and had to abandon.
Obviously God's hand was busily working in all of this for us. Praise His wonderful Name - JESUS
More than you asked about - but I'll just use this opportunity to record some of it. Have a much longer piece written about the finance details, an 'after action' type report. But don't recall doing a summary such as this.
Blessings - Dave Mikkelson
There is a little more to be said that Dave did not mention. He failed to take credit for some very timely, accurate and necessary planning. As I recall, on an earlier staff visit to Heidelberg Dave told me that things were heating up in Iran and asked what he should do in several situations. I believe that what I told Dave, after discussing several likely actions, was something like this: "You are on the ground and will know what the real situation is. Consider that you have the authority to do what is necessary and I will swear that I gave you that authority." On that Sunday Morning I was called from the War room and told that the Commander in Iran wanted to know the procedures for destroying currency. I said that Dave had the authority and knew the procedures, however I repeated the procedures for relay to my classmate from C&GS. (We later found out that Dave's AF NCO had followed the plan and the currency was already burned.) I love it when a good plan comes together. J. Claud