By Guy W. Farmer
(From the “Nevada Appeal”)
Today, I want to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Operation Urgent Fury, the 1983 Grenada “rescue mission,” because it was a textbook example of a US military operation that accomplished its objectives and left the idyllic “Spice Island” better off than it was before the intervention. Some may quarrel with my interpretation of events but I know what really happened on the island because I was there.
Guy W. Farmer, a retired diplomat who writes a Sunday political column for the daily “Nevada Appeal,” in Carson City, NV, was the US Mission’s public affairs officer (PAO) and press spokesman during Operation Urgent Fury, the multinational invasion of Grenada, in late October 1983.
The story begins in late October 1983, when I was the public affairs officer (PAO) at the American Embassy in Lima, Peru. The ambassador and I were meeting with the American delegation to an Interamerican Press Association convention when I received a phone call from Washington, DC, instructing me to board the next flight to Miami and proceed on to Grenada, where a US-led multinational invasion was underway. “Why me?” I wondered as I went home to pack for an exciting adventure in the southeastern Caribbean.
As it turned out, the US military and the media were at war. Several veteran correspondents, who I knew well from my years as an embassy press attaché in Latin America, had been “captured” by the commanding officer of the Grenada invasion, Navy Vice Admiral Joseph Metcalf, who was re-fighting the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, several hundred journalists, who were confined to nearby Barbados, tried to cover the story from there. American correspondents angrily accused our government of violating their First Amendment rights and we -- myself and two US Information Agency (USIA) colleagues, Jim Dandridge and John Walsh -- were directed to make peace between the military and the media in the most daunting assignment of my 28-year diplomatic career.
We received our marching orders from then-White House Counselor David Gergen, now a well known TV “talking head.” When the three of us arrived at Grenada’s Point Salines International Airport, where a Cuban construction battalion was lengthening the runways, the situation was chaotic. Two days into the invasion well-armed Cuban “construction workers” were acting as snipers along the road that connected the airport to the island’s quaint, red-roofed capital, St George’s, so we hunkered down overnight at the airport before making the trip into the capital.
Our first task, after intensive long-distance negotiations with University of the West Indies officials in Kingston, Jamaica, was to establish a makeshift international press center at historic Marryshow House, the university’s cultural center in downtown St George’s. Our next challenge was to break Admiral Metcalf’s media embargo and bring the journalistic hordes to Grenada, where the action was.
Our public affairs operation succeeded in large part thanks to Maj. Gen. Edward Trobaugh, of the famous 82nd Airborne Battalion, a friend of mine who had been our embassy defense attaché in Madrid, Spain, a couple of years earlier. Trobaugh, who took over from the admiral, agreed to let our civilian public affairs team handle the media, and we were in business with help from military PAOs and a young Grenadian, Ashley “Sparrow” Church, who knew everyone on the island. I offered two-a-day press briefings for the next two weeks before returning to Lima. Press coverage turned around in short order and most correspondents reported that Operation Urgent Fury had achieved its objectives, and that an overwhelming majority of Grenadians were grateful for our timely intervention in order to prevent further bloodshed.
The multinational invasion took place under the auspices of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), which requested assistance from the US and other small island states, including Barbados and Jamaica, following the murders of Grenada’s self-described socialist Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and four members of his Cabinet, in an apparent hard-line Marxist coup attempt led by deputy prime minister Bernard Coard, who had close ties to Cuba.
To this day I believe that Urgent Fury was a positive example of limited US military intervention because it achieved the two main objectives established by then-President Ronald Reagan: (1) it stopped the violence within a few days and (2) it restored peaceful conditions under which Grenadians could elect new leaders. In fact, most local citizens were so grateful that they wore “Thank You, America” T-shirts and mounted public protests when our troops went home, as President Reagan had promised. Thus ended Grenada’s brief flirtation with communism.
I’ve read a lot of revisionist history about Grenada over the past 30 years, including charges that we “lied” about the threat to more than 600 American medical students who were studying on the island. Because we organized a meeting between the students and a visiting US congressional delegation led by then-Congressman Tom Foley (D.Wash.), however, I can testify that the students were virtual hostages in their dormitories when the Marxist violence erupted. In summary, we did the right thing in Grenada and our exit strategy was successful. I wish I could say the same thing about Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.