In the 1970’s a new form of warfare was emerging: international terrorism.  Two counter-terrorist missions that America initially found itself unable to cope with were situations in which a terrorist barricaded himself inside a structure with hostages or when hostages were taken inside a tubular vehicle such as an airplane.  While the Army’s premier counter-terrorist unit, Delta Force, was being stood up, another Special Forces unit called Blue Light was created by 5th Special Forces Group to fill the gap until Colonel Charlie Beckwith had Delta ready to go.

“At the time, the thing everyone was concerned with was hijacked airplanes and barricaded hostage situations,” a member of Blue Light said. These were tubular targets, which include buses, the type that the National Command Authorities (POTUS and SECDEF) were the most concerned about. “Because we were so focused in Blue Light on the most likely primary threat, tubular targets and hostage barricade, that we didn’t get into the other mission profiles.”

Blue Light participated in a number of major training exercises that were run by the REDCOM staff in conjunction with the Ranger battalions. These were called CT-EDREs (Counter Terrorism- Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercises). These training missions took place across America, some of them including multiple objectives within the target area, but all of them including an aircraft takedown because this was the biggest terrorist threat facing America at the time—or at least this was the perception of policy-makers.

The basic template used was for a Ranger battalion to static-line parachute into the area of operations and silently form a security cordon around the target aircraft. Then, a Blue Light team would conduct a High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) free-fall jump and land inside the security perimeter created by the Rangers.

General Hennessey, the REDCOM commander, had given his staff a directive to put together a comprehensive study of all aircraft hijackings, focusing particularly on the PLO’s mass aircraft hijacking in 1970. Another case study was the French Foreign Legion and Belgian Para-Commando rescue mission undertaken in Zaire in May of 1978, in which 2,250 expats were evacuated during the course of a seven-day gun battle.
In February of the same year, PLO terrorists hijacked a plane in Cyprus. Egyptian commandos attempted to storm the plane, only to come under fire from the Cypriot National Guard. REDCOM’s analysis was that, “Egyptian emotions overcame logic and good planning,” and that Cypriot authorities were sympathetic to the PLO to the point that they quietly moved their National Guard into a concealed position to ambush the Egyptians if they attempted to intervene (Lenahan, 12). The tail number of the aircraft was 777, which became the numbered designation of the counterterrorism unit subsequently created by the Egyptian military.

One of the CT-EDREs took place in Indian Springs, Nevada, where Mark Boyatt had his men execute the first HALO mass tactical jump, meaning he put a large group of 25 free-fall jumpers off the ramp of a C-130 at once.  When preparing for the exercise, one Special Forces soldier expressed skepticism, saying, “This will never work.”

5th Special Forces Group commander Colonel Mountel simply smiled at him and replied, “Want to bet money?”

Mountel had supreme confidence in his Green Berets, placing a special trust in them which, in turn, inspired a lot of loyalty in his men.