By BOB PALMER
Jimplecute News Editor
Faced with the task of entertaining Russian nuclear treaty inspectors in Northeast Texas, Col. Ron Forest and his staff knew what to do. The Americans took their Soviet counterparts fishing on Caddo Lake, feasting on fried catfish in Uncertain and attending a Marshall High School football game.
“We had a mission to implement obligations under the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) signed by President Reagan in December 1987,” Forest said.
The treaty called for the verified destruction of a class of nuclear weapons by both the United States and the Soviet Union.
The U.S. sent inspectors to observe the Soviets destroy missiles and the Soviets sent their people to watch the Americans do the same thing at Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant in Karnak.
“The Russians were in East Texas on and off for a three-year period from summer of 1988 until May of ‘91,” Forest said.
Forest, who was responsible for the destruction of the final batch of missiles, had subordinates who oversaw the work and the Russians had to witness it.
“They burned a fuel pellet and when it was all burned,” Forest related, “the contractors crushed the caissons with bulldozers. It had to be recorded and signed every time they did it by my representative.”
When the last missile was destroyed, Forest and his staff threw a party in the Marshall Civic Center for their guests. There was food, toasts and the Ft. Sill Army Band.
Forest also had an opportunity to act as the U.S. representative in the Soviet Union. Once, his energetic approach caught his Soviet host off guard.
“My escort from Moscow was in his suit and carried a little briefcase,” Forest recalled. When Forest added two more inspections to the agenda, the Soviet colonel rolled his eyes.
“Later the next day I found out he didn’t have any other clothes,” Forest said. “He had his suit, the shirt in his bag and probably had no extra underwear or anything.”
The Russian had been told Forest would only do one inspection then leave.
“The guy was in this same suit shirt and clothes for three, four days,” Forest smiled at the memory.
Forest well knew what was at stake with the INF treaty.
“I had 36 missiles in the missile battalion I commanded in Germany,” Forest said. “There were nine missiles in each battery and four batteries. One battery had more destructive power than was demonstrated in all the World War II.”
Although Forest was happy to see the Soviet missiles pointed at him eliminated, he noted, “in some ways, yes, it was a little bit, it was a little bit of sad.”
Forest also knows the price of war. He deployed with the 1st Cavalry Division to Vietnam in 1965 and was involved in the Battle of la Drang featured in the Mel Gibson movie, “We Were Soldiers,” as a forward aerial observer.
“I flew with the Air Force in a light observation aircraft,” Forest said. “We were bringing in the air strikes. I was helping the pilot identify targets that we marked with rocket smoke.”
Despite his Vietnam experiences and the strain of the Cold War, Forest found he could work with the Russians.
“They were always respectful of me because I was respectful of them,” Forest said. “We had a mission to do. They always seemed to like to deal with me because I’m just a straight-forward person. They liked it.”
The Russians showed their appreciation in a tangible way.
While on a mission to Moscow near the end of his career, the Russians threw Forest a retirement party. Perhaps there may even had been some in the room who remembered what it was like to go crappie fishing on Caddo Lake.
Col. Ron Forest will speak on when the Russians came to Jefferson at the Jefferson Historical Library Thursday beginning with a reception at 6 p.m.
“I am delighted to have my long time friend and Army buddy come to Jefferson,” Weldon Nash said, “and share his incredible story of being at the center of the nuclear disarmament process in the INF treaty with Russia.”
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