In 1988, I was assigned to a U.S. Navy Warship as the ship’s dental officer. We were sent to the Persian Gulf for a six-month deployment. At the time, the Iran/Iraq war was raging. In May 1987, the USS Stark had been mistakenly targeted by Iraqi warplanes. It was hit by two antishipping missiles and 37 sailors perished. Because of this, our ship was on a very high state of readiness for the entire deployment.

The U.S. Navy was in the gulf to keep the shipping lanes open. An enormous percentage of the world’s oil passes through the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz. If Iran, or any country, could stop the flow of oil out of the Persian Gulf then the economies of the world would come to a grinding stop.

Iranian small boats were harassing oil tankers while we were there. These boats would speed out to a tanker and fire rocket-propelled grenades or machine guns at the defenseless ships. In an effort to ensure the free flow of oil through the gulf, President Reagan authorized some tankers from Kuwait to be reflagged as American registered tankers. U.S. Navy ships would escort these enormous ships out of the Persian Gulf. The ships were so large that they were confined to something called the “Q” route. It was a channel in the gulf that was wide and deep enough for them to pass.

On April 14, 1988, the USS Samuel B. Roberts hit a mine in the Q route. The route had been clear just a couple of days prior. Other mines gathered after the incident were linked to Iran.

The mine nearly broke the USS Roberts in two. Both of her engines were damaged and nine of her crew were seriously injured.

Reagan authorized a retaliatory operation against Iran. Marines from my ship attacked an oil platform in the Persian Gulf on April 18. The platform had been used by Iran as a military base. In response to this strike, Iran sent her navy out to face the Americans. This was a mistake. U.S. Navy attack aircraft sank one frigate and severely damaged another. Iran also lost one gun boat and three heavily armed speed boats.

The Iranians learned a lesson in 1988 — not to tangle with the U.S. Navy. Today, Iran is suffering economic penalties because of support for paramilitary forces like Hezbollah and for violating the Iran Nuclear agreement. In response to the economic sanctions, Iran appears to be targeting tankers using bombs applied to the sides of the ships. This ensures the ships will be damaged but U.S. Navy ships will not be harmed.

The world still needs the oil that passes through the Persian Gulf. Iran is still a nation that instigates conflict in the Middle East. By threatening international shipping, Iran hopes to have economic sanctions lifted.

Even after over 30 years, Iran is still causing trouble in the Persian Gulf. Unfortunately, this is nothing new.

Douglas Wright lives in Rockingham.

(5) comments


To all: thank you for reading and commenting on my article. I usually do not respond to the comments but there are a couple of things that need to be said. First, to Sbsheridan; There was no treaty with Iran. Our constitution requires a treaty be put to a vote in the senate for approval. The Iran nuclear deal was never subjected to a vote in the senate. This 'deal' was never a treaty. Secretary Kerry made a very loose, unverifiable agreement with some very devious people. Iran's belligerence towards the US started with their revolution in 1979 and has not changed since then. To Captain Poplar, it is incredibly hard for me to explain to family and friends the pressures we faced in the Persian Gulf in the 1980's. I was very concerned about my surface warfare colleagues on the USS Trenton. The heat was hard on everyone and it caused numerous equipment casualties, the operation tempo was incredible, the pressures the officers and men were under were enormous. No one on my ship was working harder of carried more weight than our XO. Your service as XO of a Destroyer in that environment is above and beyond. I will never forget what "Bravo-Zulu" means and will always take it as a high compliment to receive a BZ from an officer line you. With respect.


Does Mr. Trump know there was no valid treaty with Iran? (I admit, I did not know it had not been approved by the senate.) If he did, why did he complain about Iran's violations and make such a show of "withdrawing" from the treaty? Also, didn't Iranian belligerence toward the US start long before 1979? US support allowed the Shah to gain and maintain power, even as he brutalized his people. It's a complicated matter.


I cannot help but think that some of Iran's current belligerence arises from Trump's unilateral decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Treaty negotiated with that country during the Obama administration. If the treaty was deficient, why not work to improve it? Was it necessary to destroy it and face the consequences were see today? There was no evidence that Iran was violating the treaty when Trump withdrew. The current tense situation is, in part, due to Trump's decision to stir this pot. So much for progress toward peace.


No MS Sheridan, the Iranians are acting the way they are acting because they are terrorists, and because President Trump’s economic sanctions have crippled them, and they are desperately. President Trump was right to tear up the nuclear ageeement with Iran. It was a bad deal.

James Poplar

EXCELLENT letter, unfortunately how soon we forget. Was there with you and XO of USS "The Warship" Waddell DDG 24 and saw this firsthand. Tyrants only understand force. Lets not forget our hostages were only released the day Ronald Regan took office from Jimmy Carter because they knew he would not wring his hands but take swift and decisive action. In Navy terms "Brazo Zulu" (well done) for your letter ! /S/ James R Poplar III CAPT USN (ret)

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