Len Hanson – Gulf War

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As part of his service in the Marines, Len Hanson flew with this crew in Australia. From left to right: Dave Storz, Len Hanson, Lundy Campbell, and Frank Kelley. (Facebook photo)

By Lura Jackson

The face of the military is often the soldier on the frontlines facing the enemy head-on. In the modern era, America’s military relies heavily on a system of support from the backlines – support that ensures that soldiers and their families are properly cared for, and, in many cases, that provides them with what they need to come home safely. In his role in administration and in electronic warfare with the Marines for over 20 years, Len Hanson of Calais demonstrates the importance that such support provides. 

Hanson’s story begins in south-central New Hampshire, where he was raised. After graduating from high school, he made the decision to enter the Marine Corps. Hanson’s family was military-oriented with his own father having served in the Air Force, a brother-in-law in the Marines, and an uncle in the Marines. 

Hanson received basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina in December of 1971, and completed infantry training in Camp Pendleton, California in June of 1972. He was soon given orders to go to Okinawa, Japan. 

At Okinawa, Hanson – stationed appropriately at Camp Hansen – met an old friend from high school. His friend was rotating out of an administrative tour, and he recommended that Hanson take his place. Hanson changed his specialty to administration. In that role, his tasks included taking care of Marines’ service record books, their pay, their entitlements, their dependents, and their ID cards.

“In the administrative field, I found that taking care of people and taking care of their families came out to successfully completing a mission,” Hanson said. “If I could remove from the Commander and the officers their concern for administrative matters, they could better do what they had to do.”

As an administrator, Hanson was stationed across the United States, from South Carolina to Alaska, and many points in between. During that time, he had his family with him, including his wife, Karen, whom he met in Bangor while acting as a recruiter in the late 1970s. “Every place I went was enjoyable,” Hanson said. “We designed a lot of the things that we did as a family around the kids at every place we lived. I don’t think I had a bad duty station.”

In 1989, Hanson was deployed to Iwakuni, Japan, as part of VMAQ-2, a tactical electronic warfare squadron that consisted of EA-6B Prowler jets. He would spend six months there, including one month where the unit was deployed to Australia.

On August 2nd, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait under the leadership of Saddam Hussein. The very next day, Hanson was deployed to Bahrain. His unit went with 17 planes – “anything that could fly” – and 275 men, in both cases more than double for a normal squadron. “That’s what we needed at the time,” Hanson explained.

In Bahrain, Hanson continued his role as senior administrative specialist. Among his responsibilities were handling any casualties, and he remembers standing outside at night counting the planes coming back. Alternatively, he would be watching the infrared radar, monitoring what the squadron was doing. “We got to see a lot of things that most marines didn’t,” Hanson said. “We watched the whole war unfold in front of us. It was phenomenal. People can’t understand the technology involved… Even myself, as an administrator, had no idea what we could do on the ground and in the air until it kicked off. I don’t think the world truly knew what we could do.”

The VMAQ-2 unit provided integral support to nearly all of the planes flying over Baghdad at the time. Many planes could not leave without an electronic reconnaissance specialist with them and an accompanying Prowler positioned between 25 and 40 miles away. Whenever a surface-to-air missile would approach a fighter jet, the support specialist would send a radio signal that would divert the missile to the Prowler. Since the missiles only had a range of up to 20 miles, they would run out of fuel and fall to the ground. “One pilot told me that he stopped counting at 25 missiles coming at him,” Hanson said. Unfortunately, the missiles would fall to the ground and occasionally cause significant damage to the area below them. “They thought the United States was doing it, but often it was from those missiles.”

The forces of the United States attempted to warn the Iraqi people of the danger they were facing, including at one point placing an ad in the paper showing a door being hit by a missile fired from 685 miles away. “They didn’t have any type of technology to be able to withstand what they were going to withstand,” Hanson said. “We tried to show them, we tried to tell them, but Saddam Hussein was convinced in his own mind that he was going to leave us in a heaping mass of blood.”

In March of 1991, Hanson returned to the United States and was given orders to become the administrative assistant for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Cherry Point, North Carolina, responsible for 69 administrative units and 17,000 personnel records. 

Hanson retired in July of 1992, and he and his wife and family moved to Calais. Hanson worked at Connors Aquaculture in Eastport before being hired as a manager at EBS. Later, he would work as a manager at Wal-Mart and at VIP before taking his current position at Johnson’s True Value. 

While he retired in 1992, Hanson’s involvement with the military was not yet completed. His son, Len, joined the military and was deployed to the Middle East twice between 2003 and 2006. The first time, his unit was sent to replace the one responsible for the abuses to prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, and then later to another prison where enemy combatants were kept. “They were dealing with prisoners of war, basically,” Hanson said. “They had to be on their guard at all times.”

The second time Hanson’s son was deployed, he was a weapons truck commander, running convoys in Northern Iraq. “I was concerned every day,” Hanson said. He recalls watching the news one night and learning of an ambush and ensuing firefight. The next day, he would learn that his son was in that firefight, and that he was to be awarded a Bronze Star for his bravery during the incident. “[Being in the military] was okay for me. It wasn’t okay for my son,” Hanson said, referring to the intensity of his son’s experiences and the difference in their respective environments.

Even still, Hanson strongly recommends joining the military. “It doesn’t particularly matter what service you join. We’re going to deal with the bad guys of the world.” He does not personally envision the conflict in the Middle East coming to an end, drawing from the Bible’s statement that the sons of Ishmael will always be troubled. “Mid-East peace is a pipe dream, not that we shouldn’t strive to reach it, but the reality of it is that there are dynamics over there that are beyond their ability to control.”

 

Regarding Korea and a potential conflict in that region, Hanson does not believe it will come to pass. “Understand what North Korea is. If you were going to take a picture of the world at night, that one dark spot where there are no lights visible would be North Korea. They have no infrastructure… I’m confident to know that a missile from there is not a viable military threat to the United States.”