Troy D. Carpenter
I was assigned to Iran on an accompanied tour, and upon arrival on 1 October 1966, we stayed temporarily at the Prince Hotel in Teheran. Sometime after my first TDY deployment, we moved into a small apartment in Northwest Teheran, where we resided for about seven to eight months. We then moved to the Saltanatabad section of North Teheran. We moved to a small house located on one of the narrow streets of Saltanatabad. It was a typical mid-scale Iranian house, surrounded by six-foot high walls with steel bars on the doors and windows. It contained two small bedrooms, a small kitchen and bath, and a larger living/dining room area. A small patio type area with a small fish pool and trees comprised the back yard. For heating, we used kerosene type heaters and the kerosene was bought and delivered through the Air Force housing office. Prior to moving into the quarters, they had to be approved by the US Air Force housing office in Teheran.
During my tour, the unaccompanied enlisted personnel resided at the “Topo House”, located about a five to 10 minute walk from our house in Saltanatabad. It was a large two-story house that was surrounded by a large wall that also had a large outside patio/garden type area. It also had a large swimming pool or garden type pool located within the compound. The troop’s quarters where on the second floor, and the bottom floor consisted of a common area, a small dining room, and the kitchen and workers area. There was also a partial basement area of the building adjacent to the pool where the lounge/bar area was located. One of the assigned Topographic Surveyors was assigned duty as NCO/Supervisor (House Mother) to oversee the operations of the “Topo House”. This person managed the entire operation of the facility from the cleaning, maintenance, kitchen/dining room operations, re-supply of kitchen and bar, and the bar operations. One of the unit’s small shuttle vans was used to transport the troops from here to the Gulf District compound and back each day. After duty hours, the van was stationed at the “Topo House” to provide transportation for anyone assigned to the unit.
TOPO HOUSE Front view.
The Lounge/Bar The lounge was remodeled while I was there.
All food and beverages where normally obtained from a commissary store operated by and at the US Embassy in Teheran. An initial sign up fee of $50.00 US dollars was required to join the commissary. This was reimbursed upon departure. During my tour, the Topographic Training Team personnel where paid by the US Air Force Finance office located at the Gulf District compound. All pay was made in the local Iranian currency (rials). Each member of the unit was authorized $25.00 US dollars each month to purchase stamps and mail packages through the US Air Force APO. Of course in many cases (around Xmas), this would not cover the mailing costs, so a lot of trading/exchanging took place. The Topographic Training Team had a surveyor assigned as the unit mail clerk who acted as a laison between the unit and the Air Force APO.
A large all services/rank NCO club was open in the western section of Teheran. Dining services, lounge/bar services, swimming pool, and other recreational services where available there. I frequented the club on special occasions, etc. when I was in Teheran. At the Gulf District compound, there was also a facility that had a kitchen and served lunch each duty day. This facility was also available for special functions, parties, and showed movies at times during the week.
I was on TDY field duty over fifty-two (52) percent of my complete tour in country. In Teheran, at the Topographic Training Team offices located inside the US Army Gulf District compound, I was normally involved on our astronomic position/azimuth observation computations and adjustments. During my tour, there where three rotations of personnel on the astronomic team, so I was kept busy on the training of new personnel and the astro equipment maintenance. The survey requirements took our team to almost every section of the country, even within a stone’s throw of the then Russian border. We used Army vehicles (3/4 ton and 2 ½ ton) to transport the astro team personnel and equipment throughout the country. The Topographic Training Team had an aviation section with small helicopters and some fixed wing (Otter, etc). These aircraft where primarily engaged in supporting the then ongoing gravity program, supply, mail, equipment, and providing support for other US military units in Iran. Only once did we attempt to use the unit helicopters to fly our equipment and personnel into a site. This proved to be not feasible due to the amount of our equipment and the elevation of the astro survey points.
During the tour, I observed/computed eleven modified first order astronomic positions in support of a Geoidal profile project. This also included two second order astronomic azimuth observations. This project had just began when I arrived in Iran. Mr. George Williams of the Survey Division at the Army Map Service had been assigned the project, but he was transferred to Ethiopia soon after I arrived. The astro team also completed three first order astronomic positions and azimuth and eight modified first order astronomic positions supporting/strengthening the cross country first order triangulation arc. In addition we observed three first order astronomic positions and azimuths in support of the Northeast mapping project as well as assisting on that projects traverse measurements. I was also involved as an observer on a second order level line in western Iran. The line began at a Tide gauge located at the Port of Bandar Abbass. For training and equipment testing purposes, the astro team also observed a first order position at the Iranian Army Geographic Department in Teheran.
The T4 theodolite set up on one of the astronomic stations near Bandar Abbass.
T3 theodolite set up on one of the astronomic stations near Bandar Abbass.
Camp "CHAH RIGAN" at an astronomic station in SE Iran. 1966
Wild T4 and Wild T3 Theodolites at Astro Station North of Bandar Abbass, Iran 1966.
A typical TDY trip to the field would last from two weeks to two months depending on the location and weather. The sites where scattered throughout the country, and about half required a long pack into the site. Except for travel to and from or between the field locations, the astro team’s quarters where either hex tents or small wall tents. All our food was obtained from the Commissary store operated by the US Embassy. More than once, due to delays, etc we ran out of food, and had to use the local economy to supplement our rations. When possible we also pulled a water trailer to provide water, but at times we only carried 5-gallon water cans and again supplemented our water with local supplies. We also carried extra vehicle gasoline, as it was sometimes hard to find in different areas of the country. For a trip to the south-central part of Iran, it was normally a two to three day drive. The astro team would RON in one of the larger cities that had decent lodging (Isfahan, Shiraz, Kerman). Once near the project site, we normally would perform a reconnaissance of the site to recover the survey monument/area. This may or may not involve local guides. Once we where certain of the site location, I would then proceed with the hiring of local packers/donkeys/horse/mules. The number would be determined by the distance and difficulty to reach the site. Once we had completed the observations, I had to reverse the procedure and pack off the site. Our highest elevation was a site in the North of Iran, which was over 10,000 feet. This particular location took the packers three or four days to pack all our equipment up. In addition to the US members of the astro team, we sometimes had one or two Iranian Army NCO’s accompany us as drivers. On about half of the trips, we where also accompanied by an Iranian Army Officer. These personnel where assigned to the Iranian Army Geographic Department in Teheran.
A typical pack off one of the astronomic stations in SE Iran.
The T4 theodolite at an astronomic station in central Iran.
Packers, donkeys, mules, and horses packing the astronomic equipment to a station in central Iran.
Myself, with the horse, on the way to an astronomic station in central Iran.
The weather in Iran varied in the extremes from extremely hot to extremely cold, and it seemed that the wind never stopped blowing, and the dust storms where very bad. More than once, we had our entire camp blown completely away during a windstorm. The flies (Iranian National Bird) during the summer months in some locations where terrible. During the tour, twice scorpions stung me. Once in the Persian Gulf area, and once in Eastern Iran. The second incident did cause some nausea, and a general unwell feeling, but it dissipated within twenty four hours.
One of the larger mules with the astro team’s generator.
A frequent downpour during the rainy season in south-central Iran.
Throughout the tour, I performed quite a bit of minor vehicle repairing, and a lot of flat tire changing. I maintained the astronomic teams survey equipment as well as possible, and was responsible for the team’s communications and logistics while in the field. I performed most of the astronomic observation reductions and computations prior to forwarding the data to the Army Map Service/TOPOCOM. I arranged/organized/paid for local packers to pack the astronomic equipment to and from the survey sites. I was supplied with empress funds to pay for this and we where issued gas coupons to purchase gas on the local economy when possible.
Performing the field computations at an astronomic site in central Iran.
Driving in Iran was quite hazardous, and during my tour, there where several vehicle accidents, two or three which proved fatal. In the larger cities, Teheran especially, the traffic was very heavy and no one seemed to obey any traffic laws/rules. Outside of the cities the highways/roads where all two lane, and the vast majority at that time where dirt/gravel. Large trucks and buses traveled all these roads at breakneck speeds, and on the dirt roads the dust became terrible. The unit lost two of its Iranian civilian drivers just to these conditions. They where driving a ¾ ton vehicle and where passing a truck or bus on a dusty dirt road. Apparently because of the dust, they couldn’t see an oncoming bus, and crashed head on. Both men where killed in the crash.
I had two near misses during my tour. The first did occur on one of the rare paved roads that ran north from Bandar Abbass. A truck had stopped on my side of the road, and as usual, had just stopped in the driving lane. I pulled over into the oncoming traffic lane to proceed past. There was a man on the truck’s running board apparently talking to the driver. Then just as I approached the truck, the man suddenly stepped down and into my path. In an instant, I veered left onto the left shoulder, and the trucks right bumper just scrapped by him. He was quite upset but not harmed. The second incident occurred as I was passing through a small village heading toward Isfahan. At the approximate center of the village, the dirt road sloped downhill, and one of the numerous buses had pulled over to the left side of the road at a teahouse. Fortunately I had slowed down to proceed through the village, and just as I was almost past the bus, a small girl suddenly darted out from behind the bus and into our truck’s path. There was nothing I could do except slam on the brakes as hard as possible because of the trucks location. The girl’s head disappeared under the front of the truck from my viewpoint. With luck, she had continued to run at an angle, and just made it across as the truck stopped. I was quite upset at this very near miss, and an older Iranian man came over and apologized for the girl.
Members of the astro team and myself where also almost shot at a couple of times during my tour by “Friendly Fire”. The first occurred right in Teheran. The astro team was observing an astronomic position at the Iranian Geographic Department, and where returning to the Gulf District compound approximately 1 to 2 am in the morning. When we entered the compound, the guard commander asked us if he could ride with us to our office, as he wanted to check out his guards. As we approached the Topo Training Team office area, suddenly an Iranian Army soldier ran to the middle of the street and dropped to his knee. I hit the brakes to stop the truck, and at the same time I heard the soldier lock a round into his rifle which was pointed directly at me. The guard supervisor, who was on the running board, began to yell, and he jumped off the truck and ran toward the guard. The guard hesitated, as I don’t believe he could see well with our truck lights on. Then he apparently understood what was happening, and lowered his rifle.
The second incident was actually quite similar. Again we where working nights on astronomic observations east of the city of Mashad. For logistics purposes, we had decided to lodge at one of the remote Iranian Army bases. As far as we knew, all the cognizant Iranian personnel where aware of our schedule. For the first few nights, we had no problems, and we where simply waved through the base gate. Then on this particular night, apparently the word of our presence/schedule had slipped through the crack. I was driving, and approached the gate and slowed down as usual. At first I saw no sign of a guard, then suddenly one was in the road center with a rifle pointed at us. The guard immediately loaded a round and yelled something to us. I had by this time stopped. Then an Iranian Army officer appeared and approached the truck, and after a brief discussion, he realized whom we where and let us pass. The next morning that same officer came to our small barracks room and apologized for the mix-up. He said the guards had orders to shoot any vehicle attempting to enter the base after dark, and our schedule had not been passed on to his watch.
One potentially dangerous incident occurred on the astro team while we where deployed to the field. We where working at a site near the small city of Birjand. The astro site was located at the top of a long low ridge and it was approximately a 30 to 40 minute pack from where the vehicles had to park. We occupied the site and had made some of our observations, when we where forced to leave because of the weather. We had returned to the site to complete the observations. To reach the site, it was a fairly easy walk/climb up a long sloping canyon, then a short climb up to the top of the ridge. After several days of attempting to complete the work, we awoke one morning to a raging snowstorm. I decided it would be better to go ahead and pull off the site, and decided to send down for packers. Over the time we had spent at the site, all the astro team members had been back and forth from the truck’s locations several times. The astro team computer had volunteered to hike down to the trucks, and arrange for packers. I accompanied him in the snowstorm to the top of the ridge, and told him we would see them tomorrow. The next morning, the snow had stopped, and we packed up all the astronomic equipment in preparation for the packer’s arrival. By dark, no one had arrived, so early the next morning I departed the camp and walked down to the trucks. I inquired of our drivers where our other team member was? They answered they had not seen him. We immediately became concerned and launched a search effort. I drove into Birjand to the Topo Training Team field classification house and radioed Teheran. We got the local Gendarmes involved, and they sent out notices to their field units. We also began a foot and vehicle search but had no luck. Then on the next day, one of our drivers picked up a trail in the snow going in the opposite direction of the truck park area. He followed the trail as far as a small dirt road in a valley north of the site. Late that evening we returned to the Classification house, and found our computer was there tired, but safe and sound. He explained to us what had happened. Just a minute or two after we had separated, he reached the ridge top, then instead of turning right down the hill into the canyon, he turned left down the hill and entered into a similar canyon that ran north. He said it was about an hour or two before he realized something was not right. By then he was not sure where he was and in which direction to proceed. After dark, he could see lights at a distance in the valley below, so proceeded in that direction. It was very cold, but sometime during the night he was out of the snowline. Distances are deceiving in the desert, so the lights where apparently very far off. Sometime late the next morning, he came across a dirt road and made an arbitrary choice to follow it in one direction. After walking for some hours, a truck approached him. He said at this point, he simply just stood in the middle of the narrow dirt road and the truck had to stop. He was able to understand the driver was going into Birjand, and he offered him all his Rials for a ride in.
For the last several months of the Iran tour, I worked at times on the Northeast mapping project, which had began in mid 1968. This project was well underway when I departed the unit in July 1969.