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Patriotic Article
War and Tragedy
By Van E. Harl

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Don't Mess with the Geese
(February 10, 2010)

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I was the operations officer for the Security Police Squadron at Elmemdorf AFB, Alaska, a couple of years prior to the loss of the AWACS aircraft and crew. I was trying to deal with what caused the crash, long before the Canadian geese won. I was not a member of the BASH committee that met regularly to address the “bird” question, but I attended some of the meetings because it fell to my “cops” to try and deal with the birds on a daily basis.

The birds were the problem, but the State of Alaska and the Federal wildlife enforcement officials were also part of this equation. In Alaska the wildlife officers are State Troopers, with all the powers that implies. We tired to get help but were told to leave the birds alone. We even went so far as hunting the geese legally during hunting season. We were told to stop because we airmen
 

Van E. Harl
Van E. Harl

really just wanted to get rid of the geese – not hunt. When word was received about Troopers possibly arresting airmen for illegally hunting the geese, even though the wing wanted us to, you were hard pressed to find anyone willing to continue goose hunting on base. I got so tired of it I stopped attending the BASH committee meetings. But, the “cops” still responded whenever there were geese on the flight line. We dispatched security units with lights and sirens onto the flight line, to scare off the geese.
Elmendorf AFB is the stopping off point for most military aircraft on their way to the northern Pacific. I was concerned that we were going to lose an aircraft full of people at some point. You have a lot of military stationed in Alaska, but very few have any extended family in the state. I knew if we lost an aircraft with multiple deaths, there was going to be major logistic concerns dealing with memorials and bringing up families from the lower 48 states. Because of that, I formed a committee called FamCAT (Family Crisis Action Team.) This was a team, designed to help with the care and attention needed for the many extended, family members who would be coming to Elmemdorf AFB in the event of major loss of life. The truth of the matter was nobody, was really interested (to include myself) in sitting on yet another committee, so FamCAT did not progress too rapidly at first. Not until the first Gulf War started.

As soon as that war broke out, I was able to get people interested. Now we were talking about combat losses. If you could not foresee bird-strike related major human loss, we the big Air Force sure could understand air combat loss of life. So FamCAT started making plans on how to take care of the needs of large groups of family members. And then, the war ended and we never needed FamCAT. After leaving Alaska, I honestly do not know what became of the FamCAT. I did hear unofficially from old friends in Alaska, that a lot of what FamCAT planned to do in the event of a major loss of life was implemented.

But the crash of that E-3B Sentry should not have happened because of the geese. Within hours of hearing about the crash, I called a friend at the Pentagon. This person worked very close to the Chief of Staff and had been in Alaska with me. While the plane was still smoking I told my friend what happen and why the aircraft went down, without me every examining the crash site. My friend was skeptical about my theory and advised me I was most likely wrong. No one would knowingly allow the endangerment of aircrews because of geese and the unofficial fear of the Alaska wildlife law enforcement efforts. You will never find any official records to this effect.

Later, I saw parts of an accident report with highlighted areas spelling out almost exactly what I had known. I understand the vice-wing commander got fired and I guess that there was and is, a lot more emphasis placed on bird issues. But you know what, all those American and Canadian family members who made that sad trip to Anchorage probably could careless about the new and improved BASH committee. It was the damned geese and we were afraid of them and the laws that protected them.

Who protected the aircrews?

By Van E. Harl
Copyright 2003

About Author:
Major Van E. Harl, USAF Ret., was a career police officer in the U.S. Air Force. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. Major Harl is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School, the Air Force Squadron Officer School and the Air Command and Staff College. After retiring from the Air Force he was a state police officer in Nevada.

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