Looking Back: Exercise BRIGHT STAR 82

  • Published
  • By Robert Vanderpool
  • OSI Command Historian

Forty years ago, the Office of Special Investigations participated in Exercise BRIGHT STAR 82, marking the first time in OSI’s history that the organization participated in an overseas combined joint exercise. Conducted from Nov. 9-24, 1981, the exercise was a “Rapid Deployment Force” operation designed to support United States interests in the Middle East. The exercise involved the deployments of Army, Air Force, and Navy personnel and equipment to Egypt, Somalia, Sudan and Oman. 

The purpose for OSI participation in the exercise was to help refine the organization’s rapid mobilization and deployment capabilities while also providing an opportunity to perform OSI’s wartime counterintelligence mission. Additionally, the exercise served as an opportunity for OSI to remind its Air Force counterparts that OSI remained not only a part of the overall Air Force structure but that it also performed a wide variety of mission sets beyond criminal and fraud investigations.

In this regard, Capt. Francis X. Taylor, exercise participant and OSI Headquarters Squadron Commander, commented in the month after the exercise: “I got a lot of comments on being in uniform and having an OSI patch on my fatigues. People don’t understand that OSI people wear uniforms and that OSI was an Air Force organization and had patches and the same sorts of things that everyone else has. I think people associate us with our criminal and fraud role and have very little understanding of our counterintelligence mission.”

The OSI footprint during the exercise was very small, in fact it was just one person. Taylor received notification that he was tasked to deploy as the sole OSI participant just one week before the exercise began. Initially, Exercise BRIGHT STAR 82 was constructed without a counterintelligence role. However, the Oct. 6, 1981, assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat convinced exercise planners that adding a counterintelligence component would help warn of any potential real-world threats to the exercise and its participants. 

When asked the reason for deploying just one OSI agent, Taylor responded: “That’s all we were asked for actually. Plus, I think we were learning, too. We didn’t know what we needed and so you send one person and make an assessment.”

Overall during the exercise, the Air Force was tasked with deploying forces to an austere location in the Egyptian desert and establishing a “bare base” that would support aircraft operations involving helicopters and both fighter and transport planes. Upon Taylor’s arrival, the base commander made him responsible for keeping watch of anything happening outside the base perimeter that might have an impact to exercise operations or its participants. Armed with a camera, 20 rolls of film, a couple manuals, and a small crime scene kit, Taylor assumed his charge.

“I didn’t take weapons, but certainly in a hostile scenario, a weapon would have been useful,” Taylor commented further. “Perhaps body armor for high threat situations if we got information concerning an attack against the Air Force commander. Those are the kinds of things you think about in hindsight. They may be considered in the future for any sort of fly-away kit.”

The “bare base” built up by the Air Force eventually grew to number approximately 1,100 personnel. Taylor partnered with the base security forces contingent serving as an observation and assessment expert for anything going on outside the confines of the base as well as an advisor for anything else that might be going on inside the base. Exercise BRIGHT STAR 82 concluded following a combined live-fire exercise involving United States and Egyptian forces. 

There were no significant real-world threats to the exercise observed or noted.      

When asked after the exercise was over whether one OSI agent was enough, Taylor responded: “No. It depends on the mission. There are criminal things, fraud things, counterintelligence things.  I think it would have been a helluva burden in a real-world situation with just one person.”   

Taylor first entered the Air Force in 1970 as an ROTC graduate and an OSI agent trainee.  He served as a Branch Chief and Detachment Commander before commanding OSI Headquarters Squadron.  Following Exercise BRIGHT STAR 82, Taylor returned to OSI Headquarters Squadron and later served as an OSI District Commander, an OSI Region Commander, and as the OSI Director of Special Investigations. 

He retired in 2001 at the rank of Brigadier General having spent 24 years of his 31 year active duty career with OSI. His last assignment in the military was as the 13th OSI Commander from 1996 to 2001.

Editor’s Note: Following his retirement from active duty, Brig. Gen. Taylor, a University of Notre Dame graduate, was named an executive fellow of the Global Policy Initiative in the Keough School of Global Affairs at his alma mater in 2017. The Keough School prepares students for skilled, effective and ethical global professional leadership.