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.