Rescues, arrests, terror scares and deployments highlight 2006 in the U.K.
RAF MILDENHALL — With only days remaining in the year, it’s time for us to detail our list of top stories in 2006 for the United Kingdom’s military community:
352nd Special Operations Group participates in the evacuation of American civilians from Lebanon
The clash between Israel and Lebanon caught many by surprise. But the RAF Mildenhall-based SOG was at the ready. Dozens of special operations airmen deployed days after the bombings commenced in July.
The initial evacuation was led in part by SOG commander Col. Brad Webb, who later led all air and ground forces for Joint Task Force Lebanon. All told, the SOG ushered hundreds of Americans to safer ground and secured key diplomatic assets that helped forge a still-tenuous peace on the ground.
British authorities foil plot to bomb trans-Atlantic flights
Britain woke up to news of a nationwide high security alert Aug. 10 following the arrest of roughly a dozen suspects allegedly involved in a plot to blow up a handful of airplanes en route to the United States from Britain.
The airlines experienced massive delays, new rules for carry-on liquids were imposed and the world was reminded of the potential for catastrophe in the sky.
Pound hits 2-to-1 to the dollar
It may be another boring business story to family and friends in the United States, but the fall of the dollar hits close to the pocketbook for families stationed in the United Kingdom. The pound’s continued rise against the dollar couldn’t come at a worse time as Christmas shoppers were compelled to avoid British retailers and the dreaded doubling of prices. Critics say the Cost of Living Allowance is not keeping up.
Bases from Iceland to Hythe close
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s plans to reorganize the military by downsizing overseas bases affected many serving in the region. Naval Air Station Keflavik, Iceland, closed this summer and the 56th Search and Rescue Squadron relocated to RAF Lakenheath. Meanwhile, the Army’s last outpost in England at RAF Hythe was also decommissioned, although only one soldier was affected. Naval facilities in London, most notably West Ruislip, also were shuttered.
Force shaping forces lieutenants out of the Air Force
Plans to decrease the size of the Air Force will affect thousands in the next several years, but in 2006 it was lieutenants who felt the pinch. More than a dozen from both RAFs Lakenheath and Mildenhall were let go in May after the Air Force determined their positions were no longer needed. Some transferred to the Army, but many others became involuntary civilians.
Airman with 48th Security Forces Squadron jailed for slaying his dog
Senior Airman Dustin Yandell drew headlines across England for the slaughter of his pet dog, Goldie, following an argument with his estranged wife in the spring. The RAF Lakenheath airman initially denied the killing. But a joint investigation by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the 48th Security Forces Squadron led a British court in September to sentence the former volunteer firefighter and combat medic in Iraq to jail.
He spent between eight and 10 weeks in a British jail this fall and is now serving in an administrative position with the 48th SFS.
Airman with 352nd Special Operations Group found not guilty of attempted murder
Staff Sgt. Lorrenzo Sanchez never denied stabbing British businessman Derek Thrower 13 times in a drunken rage after breaking into Thrower’s hotel room in March 2005. The question was his state of mind. A British jury found that he was insane at the time of the attack, but not during his trial. He was, therefore, found not guilty and released unconditionally in June this year. Sanchez has since left the Air Force while Thrower has said he plans a suit against the Air Force for punitive damages.
Airman gets 12 years in rape of teenagers
There seems little doubt that Staff Sgt. James Gardner was, as a North Yorkshire detective described, a predator. He befriended vulnerable teenage girls at a British state-run home, plied them with alcohol at his apartment and raped them while they were unconscious, prosecutors said. His youngest victim was 13. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison in July this year. Less clear is what job Gardner did at RAF Menwith Hill, home to a National Security Agency installation. Neither the Air Force nor Menwith Hill officials would provide his job title.
Airmen deploy around the world
Airmen from RAF Lakenheath deployed to Qatar, 100th Security Forces airmen served in Iraq and Kuwait while members of the 352nd deployed to Africa, Lebanon and beyond. Nearly every week airmen from across the United Kingdom Air Force community say their goodbyes and ship off for at least four months overseas. Deployments may be commonplace five years after the military launched its so-called Global War on Terror, but that’s no less strain on the families left behind.
A dozen U.K.-based airmen are questioned about narcotics ring
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations launched a probe in the spring that led to 11 airmen with the 48th Fighter Wing and one 100th Air Refueling Wing airmen being questioned by investigators about their alleged involvement in a ring to distribute marijuana, cocaine and Ecstasy throughout the dorms on RAF Lakenheath.
Two British civilians were also questioned. No formal charges have been filed in connection with the alleged ring.