[Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of exclusive SOFREP stories of what led to the MACV-SOG Bright Light mission that haunts SOG Green Beret SSG James H. Shorten (Jones) to this day. It has taken him back to Cambodia twice and he hopes to return to Cambodia in 2018 to help DPAA officials locate and return two Air Force pilots he and his recon team tried to find after the F-4D crashed May 14, 1970.
Read here: part one, part two, part three, part four and part five.]

Normally, when the First Sergeant of the top-secret MACV-SOG compound in Kontum stopped by to chat with SOG Recon Team Delaware One-Zero Shorten, it was work related, either telling him to report to S-3 for a new mission, a Bright Light, or some base security issues. He never stopped by to simply chat. So when the First Sergeant walked in, Shorten braced himself for another assignment.

Instead, the First Sergeant started the conversation with a question: “Do you like to teach?” Being a true Special Forces trooper, Shorten quickly answered “yes.” He didn’t hesitate. Then the First Sergeant got to the point quickly: “Would you like to teach (special operations) tactics at B-53,” at what was called The One-Zero School. During 1968, SOG Recon Teams had taken such a beating in missions across the fence into Laos and Cambodia that SOG brass put together The One-Zero School concept in an effort to provide special training for the Special Forces men assigned to SOG; SOG missions were like no other SF missions in Green Beret history. Shorten didn’t hesitate. He took his recon experience to Long Thành and trained SOG SF personnel in map reading, infiltration and extraction methods, while sharing hard-learned lessons with students who asked questions about survival in the deadly Nickel Steel (N. Vietnam), Prairie Fire (Laos), and Daniel Boone (Cambodia) Areas of Operation – target areas that would make SOG the highest casualty rate of the Vietnam War, exceeding 100 percent casualties resulting from Green Berets killed in action, captured and/or wounded in action more than once.

His tour of duty in S. Vietnam ended in January 1971. Shorten returned to the U.S., got married, joined the 12th Special Forces Group (Reserve) and worked in law enforcement. Divorced and bored, Shorten got an inter-service transfer to the Air Force, where he successfully completed Pararescue (PJ) training in both conventional and unconventional combat rescue operations where they work as independent teams or alongside other U.S. Special Operations troops. “I loved being a PJ,” Shorten said. “The jump missions were the best. We had one mission where we flew for 1,200 miles. They had to refuel three times one way. We parachuted down into the Pacific Ocean, aided and prepared the sick seaman. Then we hoisted him up to our chopper, where I prepped him for surgery when we landed … I received compliments from the surgeon on my pre-surgery prep.”

By 1984, Shorten had chalked up 20 years of military service between the Navy, Special Forces and the Air Force. An injury essentially ended his tenure in the U.S. military and he went to college first pursing a chiropractic degree, before spending three years in a Residency for Radiology. There, he found a knack for reading x-rays. All of that lead to him building an MRI and Diagnostic center in Arizona while building a reputation as a doctor who could be trusted to provide accurate reports on x-ray findings.

Yet, through all those years, Shorten was “haunted” by the memory of the May 1970 Bright Light mission into Cambodia to find, identify and recover the two Air Force officers from the F-4D Phantom jet, code-named Cobra 84, that crashed in northern Cambodia. “It stuck with me over all those years because we failed to complete our mission, plain and simple,” Shorten said.

A U.S. Air Force F-4 Phantom jet is guided out of its revetment, April 23, 1972 at Da Nang, South Vietnam, at the start of another bombing mission over the DMZ area and North Vietnam. | AP Photo

By 2002, 32 years later, Shorten was bored and decided to take an initiative with his own time and money — $35,000 to be exact — to “go back to Cambodia and walk through the jungle and look for Cobra 84’s crew members: Air Force 1st Lt. Eric James Huberth and Capt. Alan Robert Trent.”

On Feb. 20, 2002, Shorten landed in Phnom Penh, met with Matthew Short and his father Harlow, a former teammate of Shorten’s at ODA-502, 5th Special Forces Group, Vietnam. They had served together before Shorten volunteered to run recon at CCC in Kontum. The following day, they met with JTF-FA joint recovery teams for briefings on attempts to locate Cobra 84. The first time the U.S. recovery teams were on the ground in Cambodia they were “shot out of the area” by heavily armed bandits or Vietnamese rebels. In 1993, the joint recovery team went back to the crash site and recovered crew-related items, but found no trace of their bodies. The recovery team told Shorten that they had conducted a thorough investigation, digging a few inches down through the surface, in a 200-meter circle entering on the resting place of Cobra 84. One day, the recovery team was on the ground for 10 hours. Shorten was impressed with the recovery team’s efforts and dedication to the mission.