The Bull Simons Award is a lifetime Special Operations Forces achievement award and USSOCOM's highest honor.
Chief Master Sgt. Michael Lampe is the 2017 Bull Simons Award recipient. His 27 years in special operations were both remarkable and historic.
Lampe's career began like many during the Vietnam era by receiving a draft notice for the Army. He chose to enlist into the Air Force by chance instead in 1969, an irony he didn't fully understand at the time.
"I was drafted in 1968 into the Army right out of high school at the height of the Vietnam War," Lampe said. "I went to the induction center and the line for the Army was the longest so I tried to figure how to get in the short line to get through this process, so I went up to the Air Force and transitioned from being drafted into the Army and joined the Air Force."
He began his career as an administration specialist, a job the Washington state native and a son of a logger wasn't naturally suited to because he spent the majority of his childhood in the woods with his father learning the logging profession.
"The administrative career field just didn't excite me which drove me to research how to get into something physical, something with action," he said. "I researched special duty assignment options in the Air Force regulations and came across the Air Commando or as it was known the Jungle Jim program. You jump in ahead of a major assault, set up drop zones, have interface with special operations forces, deal with air traffic control, and call in airstrikes. All these things really appealed to me."
In 1971, he applied and was accepted to be a combat controller and was reassigned to the 1st Special Operations Wing on Hurlburt Field, Florida. He soldiered through the training and it wouldn't be long before he would take part in dangerous, real-world situations – an occurrence that would happen again and again throughout his time in special operations.
"When I cross trained I got assigned to the 1st Special Operations Wing Combat Control Team at Hurlburt Field, where I heard the guys talk about Project 404 – Laos," said Lampe.
Project 404 was a U.S. Air Force advisory mission operating in Laos out of "Lima Sites" during the Vietnam War. The purpose of the mission was to train the Royal Laotian Air Force, while American forward air controllers were brought in to supply piloting expertise and guidance for running a tactical air force. Along with the forward air controllers the advisory teams normally consisted of five to seven people from different career fields to include pilots, aircraft maintenance, intelligence, medical and a combat controller.
Then Sgt. Michael Lampe (center) in Laos, November 1972, working as part of Project 404. Photo courtesy of retired Chief Master Sgt. Michael Lampe.
"They had a classified mission in Laos at that time called Project 404, Mike wanted to go on it, but he had no experience," retired Chief Master Sgt. and former Air Force Special Operations Command's Command Chief Wayne Norrad said. "He was an E4, a three striper, but unlucky for a couple of guys who got hurt during training, there was no one left to go, so our chief, Chief Howell said 'Lampe don't screw this up.'"
Lampe set out on his first special operations mission setting the foundation for his career and would be assigned to Lima Site 20 Alternate in northern Laos, and CIA's main base in support of Maj. Gen. Vang Pao of the Royal Lao Army and his Meo tribesmen irregulars.
"When I first landed at 20 Alternate, we started taking incoming, 130 millimeter artillery and 122 millimeter rockets. It was a real eye opener," said Lampe. "Before the first day ended, I would assist in coordinating my first, of many search and rescue missions during my tour of duty there."
"While he was over there he got a taste of combat, he rescued a pilot from a burning aircraft and got an Airman's Medal for that," said Norrad. "Mike was just a great guy, someone who you could rely on."
In November of 1972, Lampe along with Master Sgt. Charles Day would earn an Airmen's Medal for their quick and brave actions extinguishing an aircraft fire caused by a rocket malfunction and rescuing a pilot. The faulty rockets fired from a forward air controller's O-1 Birddog aircraft and impacted two fighter aircraft and the air operations building. Lampe and Day rushed to extinguish the fires, disarmed 250 pound bombs and towed the damaged aircraft away from other aircraft.
"Initially when we saw the smoke and flames and the confusion with the other guys heading to the bunkers, we thought it was an incoming attack," Lampe said. "When we realized what actually happened, we knew we had do something fast because there was whole bunch people in the air ops building and potential for a chain reaction with the other eight T-28s parked wing tip to wing tip."
Following his tour in Laos, Lampe would do a two-year tour in Thailand with a follow-on assignment to the Philippines from 1975 – 1979.
"In those seven years I really developed as a combat controller and the time there added a ton of operational experience for me," said Lampe. "I brought all that experience to Brand X."
Lampe's career would next take him to a seminal moment for U.S. Special Operations Command – Operation Eagle Claw.
Americans hostages were captured in Iran on Nov. 4, 1979 and they would be held for 444 days. A rescue attempt was made on April 24, 1980. Lampe was an important part of the Air Force team known as Brand X that was part of the rescue attempt. His job with his teammates was to control the two airfields created deep inside Iran.
Col. John Carney, known as "Coach," was charged with laying out the airfield deep inside Iran. In fact, he flew into Iran with a CIA pilot and used a motorcycle to determine the landing site ahead of the mission. He was responsible for picking Brand X.
"Col. John Carney handpicked 16 combat controllers from around the world to form the nucleus, the cream of the crop, to form Brand X," Jeffery Buckmelter, USSOCOM deputy director of operations, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel and a member of Brand X.
"The reason it was called Brand X was because the guys were from all different units, they didn't have a unit designation," said Norrad. "All these different cats and dogs brought together by Col. Carney for the classified mission."
On April 24, 1980, Brand X and the rest of the rescue team were on the ground in Iran where they encountered many obstacles. Only five of the eight helicopters reached the staging area. During planning it was decided the mission would be aborted if fewer than six helicopters remained. As the rescue team prepared to leave, one of the helicopters crashed into a C-130 aircraft killing eight servicemen.
USSOCOM would eventually be formed because of the problems of that day. Lampe, Carney and a host of others would be part of taking Brand X and evolving it into Air Force Special Tactics.
"In those days we only had 16 combat controllers and 5 support guys so we got to really know each other," retired U.S. Air Force Col. and combat controller Craig Brotchie said. "When we built the special mission unit, Mike was in that unit for 12 straight years. He went from master sergeant to chief master sergeant, holding every enlisted leadership position. He was at the forefront of bringing pararescumen into the then combat control squadron. He and a few others really developed all the tactics, techniques and procedures making Air Force special tactics a reality."
A career involved with nearly every American crisis
|Lampe would go on to do combat jumps as a combat controller into Grenada and Panama and he also participated in Desert Storm. His combat jump into Grenada was done at just 500 feet, the lowest since World War II. He followed that up with another 500 foot combat jump into Panama.
"I always said a prayer before jumping," Lampe said. "On this jump, considering we were jumping from 500 feet and it normally takes at least 200 feet for your parachute to open completely, the reserve was really of no use. So I modified my normal pre-jump prayer, adding 'I hope the rigger who packed my parachute had best day of his or her life and followed the technical order completely.' I used the same prayer again, when I made my second 500 foot combat jump into Rio Hato (Panama)."
In between the conflicts Lampe was part of the special mission unit who responded to terrorist incidents in the 1980s. In June of 1985 Trans World Airlines Flight 847 was hijacked after leaving Athens, Greece. The hijackers were members of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad and they were seeking the release of 700 Shiite Muslims from Israeli custody. The passengers including Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Stethem endured a three-day intercontinental ordeal. Eventually, Stethem would be murdered at the Beirut International Airport, and his body thrown onto the tarmac. The hostages were released after extensive negotiations. Lampe and his team ensured the American hostages were flown home safely.
Lampe was also part of the team assigned to the Achille Lauro incident in October of 1985 where many of the hostages on the ship were American tourists. President Ronald Reagan deployed special mission units to stand-by and prepare for a possible rescue attempt to free the vessel from its hijackers. Unfortunately, the hijackers murdered Leon Klinghoffer, a retired, wheelchair-bound Jewish American businessman. The hijackers agreed to abandon the liner in exchange for being flown to Tunisia aboard an Egyptian commercial airliner. U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcats forced the airliner to land at Naval Air Station Sigonella. Lampe was on the ground during the tense standoff where the hijackers were finally turned over to the Italians.
Master Sgt. Mike Lampe (second from right) at Naval Air Station Sigonella,
Italy, the morning after the Egyptian airliner (In the background) was forced
to land there with hijackers of the Achille Lauro. Photo courtesy of retired
Chief Master Sgt. Michael Lampe.
|"Most guys get a mission or two. It seemed like Mike never missed one," said Norrad. "He comes to Brand X and gets to go to Eagle Claw. He's on the Achille Lauro mission. He was on the TWA 847 mission. He jumps into Grenada, Operation Urgent Fury, into Panama, Operation Just Cause and he was involved in Operation Desert Storm so Mike has been there and done that."
Chosen as Senior Enlisted Advisor
During all his tactical experience Lampe had developed relationships with some of SOF senior leadership to include U.S. Army Generals Wayne Downing and Carl Stiner. In fact, Stiner was Lampe's commander during several of their missions together.
Chief Master Sgt. Michael Lampe (left) and then USSOCOM Commander, U.S. Army Gen. Carl Stiner. Photo courtesy of retired Chief Master Sgt. Lampe.
|"There was a change of command going on and Gen. Stiner came over to me and wanted to talk to me," said Carney. "He wanted to know if Lampe would be his senior enlisted advisor. I said 'In my
opinion you couldn't get a better guy. He would be great. He's not spit and polish, but he's the guy who would tell you like it is. He's a down to earth kind of guy who the troops admire.'"
Lampe reluctantly interviewed with Gen. Stiner to become USSOCOM's second senior enlisted advisor.
"I told Gen. Stiner I am a tactical guy and I wanted to stay at the squadron level," said Lampe. "I thought there were other sergeant majors who were much more qualified than I and he should go with one of them. I left the interview thinking I was honored to be thought of that way, but surely he would select someone else."
Stiner selected Lampe anyway and he would go on to serve three different commanders from 1991 -1997.
"Mike worked with Gen. Stiner until his command ended. His next commander would be Gen. Downing and they had served in the Ranger Regiment together and Downing knew his capabilities and strong points," Buckmelter said. "Gen. Shelton, the fourth SOCOM commander kept him too until Mike decided he wanted to retire. So he is the only senior enlisted advisor to work for three commanders."
Lampe was not comfortable at the beginning of his tour as the senior enlisted advisor, but he really grew into and liked his new role.
"I had a great team. I had good working relationships with all the Component senior enlisted advisors, they were great
mentors and very supportive. Some I had served with in combat. Some I have not," Lampe said. "Each of the commanders really helped me to be a command chief master sergeant, a command sergeant major."
"Chief Lampe spent seven years as U.S. Special Operations Command senior enlisted advisor," Brotchie said. "I'll tell you there was no stronger advocate for the enlisted Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines than Mike Lampe."
Lampe would retire from the Air Force in 1997. The fact he retired from the Air Force while almost exclusively working for the Army during his career is not a fact that escapes him.
"In 1968 I was not patient enough stand in the long line for the Army and made my way to the Air Force line. If the Army line was shorter I probably would have had an Army career," Lampe said. "The funny thing is I ended up working with and for the Army anyway because of the special operations missions."