Tuesday, March 28, 2023
HomeCELEBRITIESInside the Secret Mission to Evacuate an Injured Fox News Correspondent From...

Inside the Secret Mission to Evacuate an Injured Fox News Correspondent From Ukraine

On March 14, 2022, Fox News reporter Benjamin Hall was on assignment in Kyiv and reporting on the Russian invasion, when the car he was traveling in was struck by a Russian bomb. Gravely injured, he was rushed to a Ukrainian hospital, where the severity of his injuries made it clear he needed immediate evacuation out of the country. With the US military unable to set foot in the country to assist, an effort across multiple countries began to get Hall to safety. Jennifer Griffin, Fox News’ chief national security correspondent, was instrumental to the effort, connecting with her friend Sarah Verardo cofounder of Save Our Allies, an organization that helps extract people from warzones. Save Our Allies had someone in Poland who could help—a former special forces who had played a vital, unsung role in evacuating thousands from Afghanistan during the U.S. pullout in 2020. He went by the code name Seaspray.

After Jen Griffin connected Seaspray to Fox executives in New York, and got them to sign off on moving me, she turned her attention to Poland—specifically, who was going to pick me up at the border?

As soon as she got off the phone with Seaspray in Kyiv, Griffin sent an email to Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby, who was aboard a U.S. Air Force E-4B with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, on the way to NATO headquarters in Brussels. Now that I was on the move, and anywhere from ten to twenty hours from the border, Griffin needed Secretary Austin to authorize the U.S. military to set up a pickup point for me in Poland. Griffin knew the lay of the land in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

She’d been covering the War on Terror for a long time. She knew that the U.S. Army–operated Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany had treated the thousands of U.S. soldiers injured in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The medical center was staffed with elite doctors, surgeons, and staffers proficient in treating blast injuries and trauma. It was about 835 miles from the Polish border, or roughly a two-hour flight. It was the obvious place to take me, except for one thing: Landstuhl was only for members of the U.S. armed forces, military retirees, and family members.

Griffin would need to secure an exemption to have me admitted to Landstuhl as a non-military patient, and that meant getting approval from Secretary Austin. Her email to Kirby advised him that I was on my way to the border. She wanted to further update Kirby and Secretary Austin and was hoping to arrange a phone call. While she was walking outside with her earbuds in, trying to sneak in some exercise, her cell phone sounded.

“Can you accept a call from the office of the defense secretary?” an operator asked.

Kirby came on the line. Griffin succinctly filled him in on the details of the train trip and tried to convey the urgency of the situation. It’s go time, she said. We need to cut the bureaucracy. Minutes will matter.

Kirby had an obvious question—where along the three-hundred-mile border Poland shares with Ukraine was Seaspray going to hand me over?

Griffin had already asked Seaspray for that location, and he told her he couldn’t give it to her. Not yet, anyway. “I told her, ‘Here’s the deal. They gave us this extraction platform and the only thing they asked in return was we don’t say anything about the location until they feel like they’re in a safe spot,’” Seaspray says. “The whole trip was supersecret and you’ve got world leaders on the train and they don’t want to be attacked. So I had everybody constantly hitting me up, Griffin, Kirby, asking, ‘Where do we put the helicopter?’ I just couldn’t tell them yet.”

If anyone knew how frustrating that could be, it was Seaspray. He’d been on the other end of that conversation too many times to count. On pins and needles, having to wait, not knowing what you need to know. But he also knew that helicopters move fast, and U.S. military assets on the Polish side of the border could scramble to get into position on short notice. The U.S. Army’s Eighty-Second Airborne Division, which a year earlier had played a huge role in airlifting troops out of Afghanistan during the pullout, had moved over to the Polish town of Rzeszow, just sixty miles from the Ukrainian border. The Eighty-Second was in place and up and running, providing thousands of U.S. troops to help NATO with humanitarian missions and refugees streaming in from Ukraine.

What’s more, the division was under the command of Major General Chris Donahue, the last U.S. soldier to board the final plane out of Afghanistan—and someone Griffin knew well. Seaspray was confident the Eighty-Second could have a helicopter at the border pickup spot with no more than thirty minutes’ notice. “They wanted to know the location twelve, eleven, ten hours out to have everything ready, and they weren’t very happy with me when I wouldn’t tell them,” Seaspray says. “Periodically they tried to get me to change my mind, but I held my ground.”

For several hours while we were on the prime minister’s train, as few as two people on our team knew the exact drop-off location. Seaspray was one of them. Dave in Krakow was another. Dave had been recruited for the mission by Sarah Verardo, who had close contacts inside the Department of Defense. In essence, Sarah got the military to deputize Dave, who was still on active duty, to serve as the liaison between the Department of Defense and Save Our Allies, Sarah’s organization. Dave had been contacted by Kirby, who told him, “If you need anything at all, the secretary wants you to know you have our full support.”

Yet Dave couldn’t divulge the exact location, either. For the longest time Sarah and Griffin and everyone else knew only that Seaspray had a secret capability, an access point, that he called “the extraction platform.” They would have to wait to find out any more than that.

Meanwhile, Griffin still had to secure Secretary Austin’s permission to not only use the U.S. military to pick me up, but also to get the military hospital in Landstuhl to accept me. Griffin understood how the military works, and she knew that securing permission like that could involve many, many layers of military bureaucracy, and, in normal situations, likely many days. But Griffin only had a few hours to pull it off. She would need an executive decision by Secretary Austin, the only one who could cut through all the red tape. She would also need Austin to make that decision while flying over the Atlantic on his way to a crucial NATO meeting about the worsening war in Ukraine.

#Secret #Mission #Evacuate #Injured #Fox #News #Correspondent #Ukraine



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments