Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mystery in Mogadishu

I’ve been to Mogadishu, Somalia twice. This serves to remind me that 99% of all Americans have no idea how good they have it. There’s one Mogadishu story that I wish I could claim I was present for, but that would not be the truth. Sometime in the 1970s, the Somali government riled that the Soviets were trying to play a game by supporting the Somali’s rivals in Ethiopia. The Somali reaction was to expel the the Soviets and make overtures to the United States. Soon thereafter, an American destroyer visited Mogadishu and the Somali government held a banquet in the captain’s honor. At the climax of the banquet, the Somali envoy made a gift of half a dozen live goats. Perhaps the captain thought, “Well, at least I won’t have to eat the goats’ eyeballs.” He was, however, flabbergasted when the American ambassador informed him that the maintenance of good relations between the United States and Somalia demanded that the ship accept the Somali gift. The captain broached the idea of accepting the gift. The ship’s crew was none too enthusiastic about sharing the confined spaces of a destroyer with that many goats, since they can be ill-tempered, rambunctious and smelly creatures.

The captain suggested that they throw the goats overboard once they’d passed the twelve-mile territorial limit. The ambassador was adamant that, if the goat carcasses washed ashore, there would be a diplomatic situation. Trying to reach the best possible conclusion, the captain called a conference, and the guys working deck force suggested that they construct a pen on the fantail of the destroyer and that they could feed the goats table scraps and any sailor who had seriously messed up would be awarded Extra Duty, being required to clean up after the goats.

(My four years in the Navy, I heard of some jobs being referred to as chicken*** jobs, but this is the first time I heard of anyone having goat****jobs.) The guys on deck force were even nice enough to cover the pen with a tarpaulin to protect the goats from inclement weather. After leaving Mogadishu, they headed north and passed a Soviet base on the island of Socratscrtia????

The Soviet practice at that point was to send a helicopter out to react to any warship passing through the area. Usually, they would just fly one circuit around the US ship and return to base. This time, however, the Russkie helo completed one circuit and then spent quite a few minutes hovering a few hundred yards behind the destroyer. They were no doubt taking photos of that strange, unidentified structure on the destroyer’s fantail. Many Soviet analysts must have spent some sleepless nights figuring out what that structure was.

P.S. When the destroyer got to the Persian Gulf, they regifted the goats to an orphanage.

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