The President of the United States visited the Pentagon yesterday to attend and speak at the Memorial Service for the victims of 9/11. Security was tight, but after a solemn service and a rather uneventful day, I departed work for home via the 5th corridor entrance. As I passed the 9/11 Memorial Chapel, which sits precisely at the point of impact for American Airlines Flight 77, I paused to reflect on what this place must have looked like 11 years ago and was thankful for how it looked now and the fact that nothing untoward had transpired on this 9/11 anniversary in our great country.
When I woke up this morning, I was deeply saddened by the news of the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya yesterday. Although I didn’t know how it happened, I did know that the United States had lost a great American, an accomplished diplomat and a courageous man. In my last job at U.S. SIXTH Fleet Headquarters, I served as Operations Officer for the Libya Campaign. I will never forget some of the “movers and shakers” that made things happen during Operation Odyssey Dawn and Operation Unified Protector. Three names in particular always come to mind: LTC Brian Linville, U.S. Army, Assistant Defense Attaché in Libya; Brigadier General Abdel Salam al-Hasi, a key member of the Libyan Opposition Forces who repeatedly risked his life during the campaign, and Chris Stevens, who as Special Envoy to the Libyan Trans-National Council was one of the first Americans on the ground.
All three of these men are heroes, but I will only pay homage to one of them today–Ambassador Chris Stevens. Chris and his small team of diplomats and volunteers from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) entered Benghazi not long after U.S. and NATO airpower had pushed Regime Forces out of the city and further south to the cities of Brega and Ajdabiya. It was then still a very dangerous and uncertain environment.
One of our roles in Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn was to provide a means to get Chris and his team out if they ran into trouble. There were several possible courses of action (COA) and means at our disposal. Each one carried with it associated risks. It was our job at JTF HQ to minimize those risks. For my part, I believed we were overlooking one big factor in our planning: A personal interaction with the guy we were going to have to extract. So, I arranged a phone call with Chris. There was a lot I wanted to discuss, but I knew he had his hands full. I just wanted to tell him one thing: “Chris, if you need us, the Navy and Marine Corps have got your back!”
It was a great conversation, much longer than I had anticipated. Chris was a wellspring of knowledge about what was going on. He was direct, candid and incredibly informed. When I hung up, I told VADM Harry Harris, then the Sixth Fleet Commander–”Boss, Chris Stevens is one phenomenal guy. Now I know why State sent him!”
Since no American military boots were allowed on the ground in Libya during the operation and since we were just massing Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance assets, we were starved for real time eyes-on-the-ground information about what was happening in the Transnational Council, in Benghazi and in the rest of the country. Chris was a virtual encyclopedia. I was struck by his upbeat tone and tenor and his calm and cool demeanor. He was under a lot of pressure and challenging deadlines to show American support for the Libyan people, provide an avenue and method for delivery of humanitarian supplies and establish a sound relationship with the Trans National Council. The odds were against his mission, but Chris was full of enthusiasm and hope for the Libyan people’s right to self-determination.
As number two man at our Embassy in Tripoli before the campaign, he was plugged in. He knew the turf and the terrain. He understood the people, the demographics and the tribal politics. He knew the importance of humanitarian aid and that speed mattered — being the first responder to the needs of the Libyan people was going to pay big dividends during the campaign. He helped clear up a number of important questions for us about conditions on the ground and how we might better do our job and carry out our charter inherent in the United Nations Security Council Resolution. Chris gave me better situational awareness than any of the intelligence reports I received and in the final analysis, I was buoyed by his spirit, hope and enthusiasm.
He made me want to work just a little bit harder. He made me want to be better at my job.
Finally, I was struck by how he went out of his way to thank the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps for doing so much to plan for his safety and that of his team. Thankfully, we never had to execute those plans. Chris completed his mission and his mandate. The Libyan Campaign came to a close and the Libyan people earned the right to govern themselves. Free and fair elections took place a few months ago and moderates won the majority in government. Earlier this year, Chris was confirmed as U.S. Ambassador and returned to Libya. His selection was a “no brainer” to me, and I thought to myself, that guy is going to make a difference.
Now, he is dead… killed in the very city he helped set free. I regret that I never had the chance to meet him in person or shake his hand.
Ambassador Chris Stevens is the epitome of what Admiral Mike Mullen used to call “expeditionary government.” After 9/11, everything changed and although sending our military forces overseas was necessary, it was by no means sufficient. Along with those forces, on the front line and in the trenches, are members of so many other federal agencies–the ultimate force multiplier. Like Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Marines, our State Department and other agencies are operating by our side on the tip of the spear and assuming similar risks. My hat is off to these men and women who sacrifice much for their country.
In the case of Ambassador Stevens, he made the ultimate sacrifice. I salute him. The next time I see someone from the Department of State, I will say, “Thank you for YOUR service!” I hope you will do the same.
James G. Foggo