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US Army in Iran (and a bit about Ethiopia) in the 1960s
Images include my own, and some taken by Chris Jensen.
This is a trip down memory lane for me. My military days actually began in 1964 when I joined the Navy at age 17 after high school graduation. I tested for, and was able to obtain, a spot in nuclear engineering, in exchange for a six-year enlistment. It was for a 1-year school, with possibly more. I said my goodbyes and got on a bus for the induction center in Los Angeles, where I had a physical and things went sideways. Seems I had albumin in my urine. They kept me 3 days with multiple tests, some showing albumin and some not, then sent me home with the diagnosis "ortho-static albuminuria" which meant it only happened if I'd been standing for a while.
I saw a urologist to make sense of it, and he said it was not uncommon in skinny teenagers, and I would probably grow out of it, but the military wouldn't take a chance, particularly for a special program, that I might have a kidney problem.
When I turned 18 and registered for the draft, I was classified 1Y, which is sort of a watered down 4F and meant they could only draft me if we declared war. In 1966 I was working on a survey crew for the LA County Road Department in Palmdale when my draft board in North Hollywood got hard up for bodies and among other things called in all 1Ys for retesting. No albumin. Kept me a couple of days, no albumin. So, I went home classified not just 1A, but what they called 1A acceptable meaning I was on the short list. I was taking a couple of Junior College classes, but not enough for a student deferment.
I made the rounds of the recruiters, and the only one willing to guarantee anything was the army, who committed to giving one of 3 specialties in exchange for a 3-year enlistment. I chose Construction Survey, Topographic Survey, and Cartography; I ended up in Topo. After basic at Fort Polk, Louisiana, I went to the 8-week Topo school at Fort Belvoir, VA. Because I had surveying experience, even though it wasn't extensive (about 1 year) I was made an assistant instructor, and when classes ended, I was held back while most of the class went to Vietnam; I'm told, but have no direct knowledge, that they made them into forward observers.
I hung around the school for a couple of months as the low man on the totem pole, and orders to stay at the school never came. Then in October of 1966 I got orders to go to Tehran, Iran! I'm not sure I could have told you much about Iran at the time. The 64th Engineer Battalion had done mapping surveys in Liberia and Libya, and were in 1966 doing so in Ethiopia and Iran, with Ethiopia being a much larger operation. Arriving in Tehran I was taken to "Topo House" which was a big former residence that housed personnel when they were in Tehran. There was a bar in the basement, and I was treated to an initiation where I had to drink a couple of steins of mostly hard liquor. First alcohol in my life, and I'm lucky I survived it!
The next day I was ushered in to the commander's office, where he told me I looked like hell, and that I was immediately being shipped to the field to conduct Gravity Surveys. We had one day of Gravity Survey instruction at topo school, so I vaguely knew what it was about. The trip down was in a twin-engined Beechcraft, the only time I flew in that one as far as I recall. I didn't know at the time, but I think Kerman was the first Gravity basecamp, so the program was just starting.
I've added a map at the bottom, with all of the basecamps I worked from circled in blue. Click to open full-sized map in a new tab. Kerman is in south-east Iran on the western fringe of the Dasht-e-Lut, one of the two big deserts in Iran. The map below calls it Kavir-e-Lut, but we always called it Dasht-e-Lut and I see that Wikipedia agrees with that naming. Kerman is best known for the quality of its Persian carpets.
From each basecamp we spread out in all directions measuring gravity - more on that in the section of my images on the topic. The sequence of basecamps as far as I recollect them was Kerman, Bam, Zahedan, Iranshahr, then looped back up, around, and down, to Bandar Abbas. I think we were longest there, then up to Rasht on the Caspian, Tabriz in Northwest Iran, then back down to Esfahan. At that point I got booted out of Iran and sent to Ethiopia, more on that in the appropriate sections. After 6 months I was back, and I think the next two basecamps were Shiraz and Bandar Bushehr. I don't remember where they worked out of during the 6 months I was gone.
My final few months in the army were spent mostly in Tehran. I was put in charge of the operations office because for various reasons the people who were supposed to run it (an officer, a sergeant, and an operations clerk) were not available. I made the most of my time by organizing everything "the Bradner way." When the new operations clerk arrived, I was sent out to Mashhad, but in about a week they brought me back because they couldn't find anything.
My original tour of duty was supposed to be 18 months, but fairly early on I knew it was a good posting and applied for an "overseas out" which meant I would stay there until my 3 years were up, and get out in Iran instead of going to Fort Dix for separation. Working in the operations office I sometimes was tasked to help US contractors who needed mapping and other topo services. In one case I spent a full day with a crew from Westwood Research (Los Angeles) who were starting a DOD contract to conduct a "Waterborne Traffic Analysis" of the Persian Gulf. That night I got a call "You said you were getting out here in a couple of weeks, do you want a job?"
Thus I spent a year working for them as a research assistant, including traveling most of the length of the gulf in a Gendarmerie cabin cruiser, and flying the entire length in a Gendarmerie Cessna taking low-level oblique photographs of ports and landing areas.
After the contract ended, I hung around Iran for another 3 months before heading home, traveling by bus to Trabzon on the Black Sea, then tramp steamer (deck class) to Istanbul, and train up through Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Austria and into Germany. I spent a week in Munich with a guy who had been a civilian advisor in Iran, then went on to Stuttgart to visit a nephew in the army, and finally flew home from Frankfurt.
The rest of this site contains scanned slides and commentary on their content. There is very little on the internet about either the Iran Topographic Training Team or the Ethiopian mapping mission. At one time there was a site called ethi-usmappingmission.com, but it went defunct in 2019. It covered Iran, but was highly Ethiopia-centric as the name suggests. I have much of that site's content, but no permission to use it, and the site owner has effectively disappeared. There is also a book called Cold War Mapping Mission that bills itself as a preliminary, but it came out in 2014 and hasn't been updated. It is also heavily Ethiopia-Centric. I would love to hear from others who were there, and (no promises) I might be convinced to add the content that others have.
Enjoy the ride, and comments very welcome to the e-mail address at the bottom.
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