Kagnew Station Patch

Kagnew Station's Final Days
by CWO3 Todd D. Conley


It ended as we flew north toward Athens, Greece, our final destination as a group. A portion of our route taking us what, at the time, seemed a very low altitude over the Sahara Desert. I distinctly remember gazing down at the yellow-orange glow and late afternoon shadows from the desert sands. We were on our way out of what was to become personally my most harrowing and unforgettable experience ever. I was one of a tiny group, who made up the very last Americans to exit Asmara, and possibly the last to leave Ethiopia under our particular circumstance.

Only a few short hours earlier that day, we were back at Kagnew Station with a couple, maybe three, trucks loaded down with communications equipment and a very small amount of personal belongings. The tension was boggling and things were fairly chaotic, but we were ready to make the brief ride from Kagnew to the Asmara International Airport. I say chaotic, because, even though we were ready logistically and way more than ready psychologically, there were a few crucial diplomatic rough spots to be smoothed, most of which were unknown to my friends and me. We weren't weren't in a position really to be privy to all the inner workings of what it was taking to get us to the airport so we could load the waiting aircraft and take off.

Our situation was extremely tense; we were genuinely uncertain of what would happen from one moment to the next. It had been just six says since the Ethiopian Provisional Military Government (EPMG) had officially notified us to close our operation and depart the country. This meant that a group who originally served a protective role on our behalf had suddenly become adversarial. In so many words, we were given four days to get out of the country with little more than the clothes on our backs. The date was April 29, 1977, officially the final day of Kagnew Station. I was just 21 and extremely interested in the future. I was one of 13 U.S. Navy personnel and a small group of other Americans who were attached to the Naval Communications Unit and American Consulate in Asmara.

This is but a minute glimpse into a portion of a single day that ended the most incredible week of the most remarkable year and a half of my life. I was a Radioman Seaman (E-3) at the time and my tour of duty spanned October 1975 to April 1977. With Rick Fortney's assistance, I'll attempt to provide you with the most accurate, unembellished account of what occurred during those last months at Kagnew Station. Please understand that I'll do my level best to graphically depict these 20 year-old events from memory with unfortunately very little documentation. I invite anyone who may have been at Kagnew Station, or in Asmara during this same time, to offer their perspective. The more accurate we can make this, the better it will be for us all.