History Detective

Table of Contents

  Peering Into Polo's Past  

Article XII

It Is Better for the US Team
to Be Safe Than Sorry!

Andy Burke

Andy Burke


After finishes the original articles, I happened to think of one incident that happened that might be interesting to some? It certainly was an experience for me.

I wrote in the article that in 1991, I was honored to be selected by USAS to serve as the Chef-de-Mission for the US Aquatic Teams at the World Championship in Perth, Australia. An incident happened toward the end of the Championship that was really challenging. The plans made for the various teams had the bulk of the athletes and coaches leaving Perth at 11:30 PM on the night of January 14th for Sydney, and then out of Sydney to Los Angeles on January 15th.

This seemed like no problem, but as it turned out, Iraq had invaded Kuwait and the World was in great unrest.

The US athletes strongly favored the problems of Kuwait, and there were many badges worn by all that said “Free Kuwait”. The problem that arose was with the scheduling for the start of the operation titled “Desert Storm”; it was scheduled to begin on January 15th. Moving approximately 200 US athletes on this date presented a major target for any terrorists. When we found out that this coincided with our travel home, I contacted United Airlines and the US State Department to discuss the problem with them. They brought in the Australian government and due to the time differences between the US and Australia, I spent most of the next three days on the phone discussing how we could do this with the minimum exposure of the athletes. I would guess that I probably averaged about 3-4 hours of sleep for the last three days, as trying to coordinate between the different entities, and keeping all of our teams up to date was very time consuming.

What was finally worked out was that all of our delegation was notified that no one was to wear any clothing with USA designation on it and that all bags were to have any USA insignia taped over. It was arranged with the Australian Military that they would come in the afternoon to pick up all luggage and bring it to a secured hanger in the cargo area of the airport. At 7:30 PM, they came and picked up all those flying that night and took us to the hanger at the cargo area. Once there, all luggage was checked again to make sure that any USA insignia was taped over, and each person had to identify their luggage before it was marked for loading. At about 11:00 PM, buses showed up at the Cargo area to take us out across the tarmac to the plane that was to take us to Sydney. You can imagine the surprise of the few other passengers that had boarded the plane through the terminal when the doors opened up and our group came aboard the plane. Once it was loaded and checked, the doors were closed again and we took off for Sydney.

We landed at the domestic terminal in Sydney about 6:00 am and had to transfer over to the International Terminal; again we were met by airline personnel and moved separately from any normal transfers. United Airlines had brought in their personnel to check us in for our flight, which was about 3:30 in the afternoon. They also provided us with a check in area for any carry-on luggage, so we could come back after and pick it up and head directly for the plane as we were already checked in for the flight. I had arranged for five buses to take the group to various tourist attractions in Sydney, so that the group was dispersed throughout Sydney, rather than in one large group. The buses brought everyone back about 2:30 PM, and we were able to go directly onto the plane. United had bumped me up to First Class (which was really a pleasure after handling all of these arrangements) and when the stewardess came by and asked me what I wanted, I just said, "Give me big glass of Tanqueray Gin with a lot of ice, and wake me up when dinner is served". She did that, I drank it and went to sleep. She came by as each course of dinner was served to wake me as I would eat it and then go back to sleep.

It really was an adventure to have the pressure of the responsibility for such a large group of American Athletes which could have been a prime target for terrorists. The cooperation of the US State Department, the Australian Government and military, United Airlines and our US Aquatic Teams was just great. It was an adventure that I will never forget.

war is not safe

This article was first posted on the American Water Polo web site
and they graciously allowed the Water Polo Planet to re-post it