Soldiers in Panama


Material Information

Soldiers in Panama stories of Operation Just Cause
Physical Description:
28 p. : 2 maps ; 28 cm.
United States -- Dept. of the Army. -- Office of the Chief of Public Affairs
Dept. of the Army, Office of the Chief of Public Affairs
Place of Publication:
Washington, D.C
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Operation Just Cause   ( lcsh )
History -- Panama -- American invasion, 1989   ( lcsh )
federal government publication   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


General Note:
Title from cover.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 027806045
oclc - 21913850
System ID:

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This booklet is published as a Command Information product under the authority of AR 360-81 and i. Th, ,;..}i
intended to assist in, and enhance, the telling of the Army story to both internal and external audiences,J .E[
Intended distribution of this product is approximately 10,000 copies. Extra copies may be obtained, while ".,. ^j
supplies last, by contacting HQDA, Office of the Chief of Public Affairs, Command Information Division,: ":MA..
Print Media Branch (SAPA-CI-PMB), Washington D.C. 20310-1510; AUTOVON 227-0050 or commercial A....
(202) 697-0050 (Mr. Licatovich or Mr. Morris). Reproduction and dissemination for local needs and"-: ,..Y1
requirements is authorized. -^*:

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Table of Contents

Preface 3

Area Maps 4

Raid At Renacer 6

Taking Torriojos Airfield____________ 8

Face Of Battle 10

The Fight For Fort Amador 12

Taking The Pacora River Bridge 14

Winning The West__________________________ 16

A Night At The Comandancia 18

No Trumpets, No Fanfare_____________________ 20

Day Of The Bronze Stars______________________ 22

Conquest At Coco Solo ___________ 25

Thirteen Rounds At Ancon Hill __________________ 28

Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2013


On Dec. 19, 1989, approximately 4,200 American soldiers left bases in the United States and were
soon airborne for the country of Panama. In the early morning hours of the next day, they would take
part in a military action known as Operation Just Cause -- and so too would 21,000 other men and
women of our Armed Forces.

Months of tension, anti-American demonstrations, and harassment of Americans stationed or living
in Panama had led to a very bad situation in that country. However, in mid-December 1989, things
went from bad to worse with the killing of a Marine and the beating of a Navy officer by members of the
Panama Defense Force. President Bush ordered our Armed Forces into action to achieve the four basic
objectives of-
protecting American citizens;
securing the Panama Canal;
supporting democracy for the people of Panama; and
apprehending the Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.

American forces, at the cost of 23 of their own who were killed, achieved every one of those objectives.
They did so with minimum civilian casualties and minimum damage to the property and economy of
Panama. Examples of how the mission was accomplished, at such minimum cost, is the subject of this

What follows will be a look at some of the individual military operations that took place within Just
Cause. Through a series of short articles, the stories of some units and individual soldiers who excelled
during the operation will be told. For every story contained in this booklet, there are many others which
also illustrate the courage, initiative and daring of the American soldier. This booklet honors the deeds
of all those who took part in Operation Just Cause. It's also intended as a useful research or reference
tool for Army writers and speakers who wish to use examples of military action from the Just Cause

The source of these stories is the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL), Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
The source material was prepared from interviews and research conducted by members of the Depart-
ment of Army Just Cause Observation Team. The material was edited for publication by staff members
of the Print Media Branch, Command Information Division, Army Office of the Chief of Public Affairs.

We gratefully acknowledge the following members of the DA Just Cause Observation Team for their
contributions to this product. All are assigned to Fort Leavenworth except as indicated: Col. Frank
Akers, Lt. Col. Marshall L. Helena, Maj. David J. Buckley, Col. David Archer (Fort Lee, Va.), Maj.
David J. 3chroer, Chief Warrant Officer Gary Fulton (Fort Huachuca, Ariz.), Command
Sgt. Maj. Thomas Cruise (Florida Ranger Camp), and Dr. Robert Wright, XVIII Airborne Corps histo-

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R enacer Prison sits beside the Panama
Canal, about halfway across the Isthmus. As pris-
ons go, it's not large. The actual fenced yard meas-
ures no more than 40 by 70 meters. The prison itself
is a collection of 20 or so cinderblock and wood
buildings, all with tin roofs. By December 1989, the
Noriega regime had filled it with political prisoners,
many from the abortive coup of the previous
October. Among the inmates were several
Approximately 20 to 25 soldiers guarded
Renacer. Apparently, as a tour of duty, it held no
status in the Panamanian Defense Force (PDF).
The force included several ex-members of the elite
"Battalion 2000" who, because of various discipline
infractions, were servingpunishmenttours as prison
guards. They were armed with a variety of auto-
matic rifles, mostly AK-47s and a variation of the
U.S. M-16 known as the T-65. One machine gun was
later found among the captured weapons.
To capture Renacer Prison and take con-
trol of the inmates was one of the key missions in the
early hours of Just Cause. The primary difficulty
was the close proximity of prisoners and guards.
Because of this, there was the danger of weapons
fire hitting the very prisoners who were supposed to
be freed. The problem was compounded by the
location of the prison. There was water on two sides
and a jungle ridge on the third. The mission had to
be quick and precise, using a measured application
of overwhelming force to surprise and discourage
the enemy. If the U.S. forces did not gain control
quickly, a hostage situation might well be the re-
The core of the mission team was Com-
pany C, 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry
Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. This unit had re-
cently arrived in Panama to attend the Jungle
Operations Course at Fort Sherman and was ideally

suited by training and location for the operation.
In addition to its organic forces the unit
was augmented by three UH-1 "Huey" helicopters
from the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment.
Also attached to the unit were elements of the 307th
Engineer Battalion (demolition), the 1097th Trans-
portation Company (landing craft) and three mili-
tary policemen.
The plan of attack involved a simultane-
ous air assault and amphibious landing at 1 a.m. on
Dec. 20. Two Hueys, each carrying 11 paratroopers,
would land in the cramped prison yard. The door
gunners would engage specific targets. Meanwhile,
an AH-1 "Cobra" attack helicopter from the 7th In-
fantry Division would fire into the guards' barracks.
The assault element, which was part of the 2nd
Platoon, would immediately search and secure the
prisoners' barracks and the recreation building, the
prison's two major buildings.
At the same time, the remainder of the 2nd
Platoon would land from landing craft (LCM) on the
canal side to provide fire support and security for
the assault. This element was armed with five M-60
machine guns and 20 AT-4 anti-tank weapons for
use against buildings and vehicles.
The 3rd Platoon was also on the LCM.
Their part of the mission was to clear and secure the
remaining buildings outside the prison's wire fence.
One OH-58 scout helicopter carried a company
sniper. A third Huey, carrying 10 scouts, would land
outside the prison to prevent reinforcement by the
During the days prior to the attack, the

To capture Renacer Prison and
take control of the inmates was
one of the key missions in the
early hours of Just Cause.

teams repeatedly rehearsed for this possible mis-
sion. Trees, barracks, and cloth tape were used to
lay out a simulated prison. The unit then conducted
training operations around the prison itself. These
and similar operations were designed to show U.S.
presence and to express our determination to main-
tain our freedom of movement as specified in the
Panama Canal Treaty. Some of these operations
involved the actual landing of these teams near the
prison and having them maneuver.

The rehearsals were invaluable. They
lulled the PDF into a degree of complacency. Ameri-
can soldiers could actually "eyeball" their future
targets and gain valuable intelligence information.
They now knew the location and size of fences, the
construction of the buildings, and the size and
apparent level of training of the guard force. This
specialized knowledge gave them a big advantage
when the actual operation began.
"After those operations and rehearsals,"
said Capt. DerekJohnson, the company commander,
"we were comfortable with the actual mission."
The troops received the order to undertake
the operation on the evening of the 19th. The weather
was poor for night flying, with the cloud base at
about 500 feet There was little ambient light for the
use of night vision goggles. At 1 a.m. (the 20th) the
operation began. Two OH-58 observation helicop-
ters flew down the canal, and when abreast of the
prison opened fire on the guards. As that gunfire
distracted the guards, the two assault Hueys de-
scended into the prison yard. They were met with a
hail of bullets.
To avoid hitting the prisoners' barracks,
no one fired from
the left side of the
aircraft. But from "
the right side of iow we never got
each helicopter it All we saw were tr
was a different the side, and behin
story. The door the sde and beh
gunner, the two _______
squad automatic
weapons gunners, and a soldier with a grenade
launcher all opened fire.
"Prison guards responded," said Chief
Warrant Officer Michael Loats, the lead pilot. "How
we never got hit, I don't know. All we saw were
tracers in front, on the side, and behind us."How we
never got hit, I don't know. All we saw were tracers
in front, on the side, and behind us.wHow we never
got hit, I don't know. All we saw were tracers in
front, on the side, and behind us."
Meanwhile, other soldiers were busily
doing their jobs. The Huey carrying the scouts
landed at the reinforcement blocking position. The
LCM touched shore and the fire support element
with its machine guns quickly disembarked. The
Cobra let loose with its 20mm Gatling gun.
Despite the fusillade, no one in the heli-
copters was hit. Then, as the floodlights in the yard
shorted out, the 1st Squad of the 2nd Platoon moved
quickly to the main prisoner barracks and blew
open a metal door. One soldier was hit in the arm.
The 3rd Squad then dashed through the breech into


the barracks. All the prisoners had dropped to the
floor and covered themselves with mattresses. At
the same time, the 2nd Squad had secured the rec-
reation building.
By now the five machine guns of the fire
support element were in position. The 3rd Platoon,
disembarked from the LCM and moved through the
machine gun positions to clear the remaining build-
ings. As two PDF soldiers ran between the build-
ings, an M-60 gunner opened fire killing both.
Rehearsals and prior live-fire training were paying
big dividends.
But not everything went according to
plan. A 10-foot fence under the overhang of the office
and headquarters buildings was a surprise. Neither
grenades nor claymore mines had any effect on it.
Finally, two paratroopers crawled forward and cut
a hole in it with their bayonets.
Another squad of soldiers then moved into
the dark headquarters building. They were met
with a cloud ofCS gas. Unfazed, they moved outside,
put on protective masks, and reentered to press the
attack. The squad leader spotted a trail of blood and
followed it outside. Next to the building, and within
a few feet of other
paratroopers who
t were unaware of their
lit, I don't kn1ow. presence, he saw two
Users in front, on PDF soldiers. As they
turned and swung
US." their weapons toward
him, he fired first and
killed both.
By now, the attack was drawing to a close.
The 1st Squad of the 3rd Platoon moved up the
jungle ridge to clear a couple of final buildings. One
of these was a duplex. After they cleared one of its
apartments, the squad heard a woman cry "Don't
shoot!" They held their fire and discovered a PDF
lieutenant, his wife and child in the second apart-
ment. None were injured.
By daylight the prison was in U.S. hands.
All prisoners were unharmed. Of the PDF, five were
killed and 22 captured. Six of the POWs were
wounded. Total U.S. casualties numbered four
An accurate intelligence assessment, the
opportunity for detailed rehearsals, the element of
surprise, and the use of night operations all contrib-
uted to the success at Renacer Prison. The applica-
tion of overwhelming force by aggressive soldiers,
operating with the confidence developed from real-
istic training, carried the day. The paratroopers'
performance exemplified their regimental motto-




C company C, 3rd Battalion, 75th
Ranger Regiment, was attached to the 1st Battalion
of the 75th for Operation Just Cause. On Dec. 19,
1989, the company took off from Hunter Army
Airfield, Ga., in four C-130 aircraft. Its mission was
to conduct an airborne assault of Torriojos Interna-
tional Airfield at 1 a.m. on the 20th. There was a
three-fold purpose to the mission: to isolate Objec-
tive Bear (the main terminal), to eliminate enemy
resistance, and to prevent the Panama Defense
Force (PDF) from interfering with Operation Just
Fire sup-
port consisted ofan AS two Rangers mo
AC-130 "Spectre"
gunship and AH-6 restroom, an enem
attack helicopters. one of the stalls, wc
The AC- 130 was to Rangers.
clear three .50- angers.
caliber machine _______
gun positions and
a ZPU-4 anti-aircraft position at the airport, while
the AH-6s neutralized the guard tower.
Initially, intelligence indicated that there
were very few people in the main terminal at H-
Hour. However, two international flights had just
landed at the airport, which was still fully opera-
tional. Consequently, there were 398 civilians there.
In addition, the PDF was alert and patrollingin and


around the terminal
Three of the four plane loads of troopers
parachuted onto the runway, but the fourth landed
in the cunna grass to the west. That slowed the
assembly of the assault forces. Even so, the platoons
quickly seized their objectives.
After the jump, the 1st Platoon assembled
at a checkpoint south of the assault objective. The
plan was to move toward "battle position two" which
was the entrance to Omar Torriojos Airport. When
the squads were assembled, the platoon first moved
to the next objective, a building being used as a
restaurant. Only civilians were inside, and the
troops received no enemy fire.
The 1st Squad was then assigned to clear
the building. After scaling a chain-link fence, a
bilingual squad member told the workers in Span-
ish to open the doors and surrender, and they would
not be hurt. The workers complied. The building
was then cleared systematically, without casual-
ties, and 18 civilians were detained.
The 2nd and 3rd Squads were also busy at
this time. The 3rd Squad provided security, while
the 2nd Squad cut through two chain-link fences to
move toward battle position two. Fire from the AC-
130 and the AH-6s had killed PDF personnel sta-
tioned at the guard shack near the terminal en-
trance. The 2nd Squad then cleared and marked it.
Meanwhile, the 3rd Squad moved to the west side of
the main airport terminal and set up an observation
post to watch the terminal and parking lot.
The main terminal
On order, the 1st Platoon then entered the
main terminal and established a prisoner-of-war
collection point on the second floor. The 1st Squad
collected the original 18 detainees plus 30 more
from a rental car fa-
cility and moved them
d inside the tothe civilian detainee
ie fr from point. The 2nd and
soldier fired from 3rd Squads moved an-
nding one of the other 40 civilians to
the prisoner collection
point. The platoon
________ controlled all the ci-
vilians and prisoners
taken at the airport. Eventually, this group would
number 398 civilians and more than 30 prisoners.
On the north side of the airport, the 3rd
Platoon seized the fire station and captured about
15 of the enemy. Eventually though, the platoon
came under fire from two PDF soldiers. The troops
moved into the terminal and isolated the PDF in the
men's latrine. As two Rangers moved inside the

restroom, an enemy soldier fired from one of the
stalls, wounding one of the Rangers. Three more
members of the platoon entered the latrine with two
providing security while the other extracted the
wounded soldier.
Two Rangers then threw a grenade into
the latrine and reentered. The grenades, however,
inflicted no casualties because they exploded be-
tween stall doors. In the brief skirmish that fol-
lowed, the two resisting PDF soldiers were killed.
One was shot in the latrine and another was shot
outside on the tarmac, trying to draw a pistol.
Not to be forgotten was the work of the 2nd
Platoon. Those Rangers entered the terminal from
the south with one squad on each of the three floors.
Upon entering the third floor, the 1st Squad came
under fire. Enemy soldiers were pursued into the
airport security office, where they began to burn
papers. The 3rd Squad, taking up the pursuit,

Twenty-one prisoners and 398
civilian detainees were taken in
this operation. Not one civilian
was injured or killed.

threw a hand grenade into the office and waited for
the Panamanians to surrender. However, that
didn't happen. When the office began to burn, the
squad entered and tried to put out the fire. Fortu-
nately, the sprinkler system went on and the fire
was contained. The remainder of the third floor was
then cleared.
In the meantime, the 2nd Squad was busy
on the first floor. They cornered a group of the PDF
who were trying to flee. In trying to escape, the
Panamanians had taken American hostages, in-
cluding at least two females and an infant. The pla-
toon leader quickly had his squads isolate the area
and informed the company commander.
Hostage negotiation
The airport security manager was willing
to help in the hostage situation. He was used as a go-
between, and bilingual Rangers ensured there was
no trickery involved. Negotiations continued for
two hours and 30 minutes. Finally, the PDF freed
the hostages. The terminal was now completely
Detainees and prisoners were separated.
Prisoners were flexcuffed and closely guarded, while

civilians were asked to sit down and remain calm.
As two to three hours elapsed, approximately 10
children, who were six months to 10 years of age,
became hungry and were fed through an arrange-
ment with the restaurant manager. U.S. forces paid
for the food. Twenty-one prisoners and 398 civilian
detainees were taken in this operation. Not one
civilian was injured or killed.
At 7 a.m. on the 20th, the Ranger company
linked up with the 82nd Airborne Division. The
prisoners, detainees, and confiscated documents
and weapons were turned over to the military police
company commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Company C had completed its mission. By all
accounts, the operation was a success.




AIir assault operations are among the most
complex of military endeavors. To the average citi-
zen, they may evoke the image of high-performance
helicopters soaring over a battlefield with guns
ablaze. But for experienced soldiers the real story is
one of manpower, not horsepower. The soldier knows
the key ingredient is not technology but rather the
human beings who work together as crews. Those
crews must function as smoothly as the machines
they fly. The story that follows is testimony to that.
Company A (Talons) of the 1st Battalion,
228th Aviation, is permanently stationed at Fort
Kobbe, Panama. During the first 24 hours of Opera-
tion Just Cause, the unit fle-; its UH-60A "Black
Hawks" into combat during four separate air as-
saults. For both the men and the aircraft, Dec. 20
marked an introduction to the realities of war.
Fortunately, Capt. Bradley J. Mason knew how to
prepare them for that transformation.
Mason had assumed command of the unit
some seven months earlier, just as the political
situation in Panama entered a critical phase. While
coping with the taxing demands of maintaining his

helicopters and guiding his soldiers through the
emotional trauma resulting from the withdrawal of
families, Mason concentrated on increasing the
readiness posture of the Talons. Training schedules
were reworked to improve the unit's ability to fly at
night, as well as to conduct air assault operations
with the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 508th Infantry (1/
508 Inf.).
Mason also recognized that the individual
soldier under stress fights more to protect his bud-
dies than for lofty ideals. Therefore, he initiated
training to increase the cohesiveness and teamwork
throughout his company. He also placed a heavy
emphasis on raisingmoraleby whathe called"Gipper
Another concern was the need for recon-
naissance. Mason's experience made him realize
that there is no substitute for personal reconnais-
sance before initiating a military operation. This led
to a policy, within the constraints of operational se-
curity, of having his air crews begin familiarizing
themselves with potential target areas. Putting
that policy to practice, Mason and another officer
took a Sunday drive in civilian clothes to check out
one particularly difficult landing zone. That move
would pay great dividends during Just Cause.
Confidence level up
By early October, when the Panama situ-
ation was deteriorating, Company A had come to-
gether as a team. The soldiers had achieved a high
level of confidence in themselves, their comrades,
their skills and the capabilities of their machines.
Mason now turned his attention to planning four air

Mason's experience made
him realize that there is no
substitute for personal re-
connaissance before initiat-
ing a military operation.

assaults in which his own company would be paired
with Company A of the 3rd Battalion, 123rd Avia-
tion. Throughout the next two months, the Talons
fine-tuned their teamwork. Mason wanted to pre-
pare them for the possibility that they soon might be
staring into the "face of battle," which, until now,
they had only read about.
Finally, on Dec. 19, the word came down
that Operation Just Cause would begin that night.
During a normal preflight meeting eight hours

before H-Hour, Mason gave his soldiers one last
"Gipper talk." Fearing that he would not have an op-
portunity to get them all together again before the
Black Hawks climbed into the night sky, he stressed
the need to follow the routines they had practiced so
often, and to approach each situation in a methodi-
cal manner.
Shortly before 1 a.m. on the 20th, the Talons
lifted off from Fort Kobbe, accompanied by their
sister company from Task Force Hawk. On board
were paratroopers from the 1/508 Inf The target
was the Panama Defense Forces' (PDF) portion of
FortAmador, ajointU.S.-Panama installation. Their
route carried them in absolute darkness over the
Pacific Ocean, safely outside the range of the PDF

Crew members of the six air-
craft observed the tracers, ex-
plosions and fires engulfing La
Comandancia, Gen. Noriega's

base on Flamenco Island. During the approach, all
crew members of the six aircraft observed the trac-
ers, explosions and fires engulfing La Comandan-
cia, Gen. Noriega's headquarters.
Rookies on target
Because of Mason's detailed preparations,
the rookie pilots were able to put their helicopters
down exactly on target. They offloaded the infantry-
men in a matter of seconds, then rallied to a desig-
nated location at Empire Range to await the word
that the 82nd Airborne Division had parachuted
onto Tocumen Airport. This would initiate the sec-
ond phase of assaults.
During the predawn hours, the now "vet-
eran" pilots tried to get a little rest. They took some
pride in the fact that they had undergone their
baptism offire without suffering any losses. Equally
important to Mason was the discipline that his door
gunners had shown. They had withheld their own
fire rather than endanger friendly forces occupying
family quarters between the landing zone and the
PDF buildings.
After daylight, word was received that the
82nd was on the ground. The two-company task
force then lifted off to the runways at Tocumen to
begin boarding a new assault force. Mason had
anticipated that the drop zone would be chaotic and

had prepared his pilots to expect such a situation.
The first wave transported by the Talons went into
a landing zone along the beach at Panama Viego.
Once again the insertion was made without loss,
although several aircraft from the 123rd received
Next landing zone
The next phase of the operation took the
aviators, along with additional troops from the
82nd, to the landing zone at Tinijitas. This was the
same place that Mason had visited on a previous
Sunday morning. This time though, the PDF garri-
son was fully alert and firing often from positions
located among innocent civilians. Twice the avia-
tors carried their passengers into a maelstrom of
fire without deviating from the prescribed course.
Each time Mason's men chose to withhold their fire
if there was any possible risk to bystanders. In-
spired by the cool professionalism of their leader,
the Talons performed the mission despite receiving
extensive hits on every Black Hawk in the forma-
After conducting one final lift into Fort
Cimarron,this time an uncontested insertion, Mason
and his crews returned to base at Fort Kobbe and
prepared for the coming day.
Throughout Operation Just Cause, the
Talons not only met the demanding requirements of
sustained high-tempo operations; they were actu-
ally able to increase their mission-readiness levels
by almost 50 percent. This was the result of team-
work, an understanding of human nature, and an
emphasis on people. Although Mason believes his
approach is simply a "basic leadership technique,"
his exceptional skills prepared the Talons to meet
and master the face of battle.







For the soldiers and families of the 193rd
Infantry Brigade, serving and living in Panama had
once been a "good" overseas tour. The weather was
warm, the living conditions not too bad. As assign-
ments go, you could do a lot worse.
However, by December of 1989 things
weren't like that any more. In recent years, soldiers
and family members had lived under the stress of
frequent harassment. The culprits were the soldiers
of General Manuel Noriega's Panama Defense Forces
(PDF). Difficult as it was, the American soldiers had
followed orders and stoically resisted the urge to
strike back. In spite of the frustration and resulting
hardships, the soldiers of this forward deployed
brigade still maintained their professionalism and
restraint. As history would have it, they soon got a
chance to loosen the restraints and put their mili-
tary professionalism and training to work.
For the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry
(Airborne), the chance to act came on Dec. 19. That
day arrived like any other, but it would certainly
end on a different note. During the day the soldiers
were kept close to the billets. Sgt. Kent Long, a
squad leader serving with Company A, wondered if
they were going to be deployed on yet another
training exercise aimed at maintaining the U.S.
treaty rights in the Canal Zone.
The answer finally came at 11 p.m. that
night. Battalion leaders were summoned, and they

received an operations order for an assault on the
PDF facilities at Fort Amador. For the soldiers of
the battalion, Operation Just Cause was about to
engulf them with a taste of very real combat.
Fort Amador was a joint U.S.- Panama
Defense Forces post jutting out into the Pacific
ocean on a peninsula. It housed American military
families (including Maj. Gen. Marc Cisneros, com-
mander of the U.S. Army South) as well as the head-
quarters and barracks of the PDF's 5th Infantry
The battalion had a two-fold mission at
Fort Amador: to secure the family housing area at
the post and also systematically eliminate the threat
of the 5th Rifle Company. The PDF facilities at the
fort were directly across the golf course from the
housing area and along one entire side of the penin-
sula. At some places, no more than 100 yards sepa-
rated American families from PDF facilities.
The plan of attack was fairly simple. In
order to surprise and isolate the enemy, the battal-
ion would air assault onto the family side of the golf
course and establish positions around the housing
area. Then, in a two-prong attack, Company A
would attack from the north end of the PDF com-
pound while Company B simultaneously assaulted
from the opposite end. Headquarters Company would
support with special teams of snipers, scouts and
anti-tank crews. Fire support would be provided by
a howitzer crew attached to the battalion.
Ready for the attack
The unit was well prepared for the attack.
Extensive readiness exercises in preceding months
were excellent preparation for the actual mission,
and every soldier knew what his job was. Long felt
very confident in himself and his men as they con-
ducted the final briefing prior to loading on the
helicopters. At 12:55 a.m. on the 20th, Alpha Com-
pany boarded the helicopters and lifted out toward
the ocean.
Almost as soon as the helicopters cleared
Fort Kobbe, they could see the fire fight at the
Comandancia (Gen. Noriega's headquarters). As
the helicopters turned inbound toward the Fort
Amador golf course, they began receiving ground
fire and several helicopters were hit. Soldiers grew
intent as the tracers flew by. Long concentrated on
the tasks to be accomplished once they hit the land-
ing zone.
The helicopters touched down and were
empty in record time. Long's squad assembled
quickly and set up local security. As the company
cleared the area, they secured the American hous-
ing area and then moved to positions behind the

Naval Headquarters to secure the north end of Fort
Amador and prevent PDF reinforcements.
At the same time, the Scout Platoon and
Anti-Tank Platoon in mixed teams had secured the
causeway to the peninsula, searched and cleared
three buildings there and were in a secure blocking
position. A second mixed team had taken control of
the front gate of the fort and were busily defending
it. They were engaged in a fire fight with a PDF bus
trying to crash the gate to reinforce the Panama-
nian rifle company. The bus was quickly stopped
and the Panamani- __ _____
ans inside it with-
drew, leaving their "They understood
weapons, equipment, just shoot and de,
and even their uni-
forms behind, sight. They work
M e a n what was necessa
while, Alpha Com-
pany had moved into ______
positions supporting
the front gate, and Long was dispatched to establish
an observation post to control the area in front of the
Naval HQ. Sporadic gunfire rippled throughout the
night. Then, as daylight arrived, Long was recalled
and ordered to clear the PDF housing just outside
the front gate. His platoon quickly cleared the houses
and moved into position to assault the PDF bar-
The Defense Forces were given the oppor-
tunity to surrender before action was taken. Psy-
chological operations (PSYOP) teams continuously
broadcast surrender demands in between firepower
demonstrations by the battalion. The concept was to
initially demonstrate American firepower on an un-
occupied building (such as the mess hall) and then
press for surrender. Following each interval, the
application of firepower was gradually increased to
emphasize the situation.
The firepower would come from D Battery,
320th Field Artillery, which had a howitzer section
attached to the battalion. The section had been
flown in and was in position to fire on the PDF
barracks. At 5:45 a.m. the order came down. The
howitzer section chief was directed to place a round
into three separate buildings. The effect was dra-
matic. As Bravo Company moved into position to
start its assault and clearing operation, several
dozen PDF soldiers moved behind the buildings,
throwing down their weapons.
While Bravo Company continued to clear
buildings at one end of the street, Alpha Company
took some gunfire during its clearing operation.
Long moved his men into position and began to
systematically clear the first building (Bldg. 1). The


clearing was done without the usual use of fragmen-
tation grenades in order to reduce damage and
prevent needless casualties on both sides. Working
this way greatly increased the tension, but the
soldiers understood why they were doing it, accord-
ing to Long.
"Everyone was really professional," said
Long. "They understood we didn't want to just shoot
and destroy everything in sight. They worked hard
at doing only what was necessary."
As the morning hours waned away, the
__________ ~temperature rose
and the day began
ce didn't want to to get hot. Both the
-oy everything in heat and the ten-
sion affected the
hard at doing only soldiers, but they
7 continued the tedi-
ous mission of
________ clearing each build-
ing room by room.
The loudspeaker teams preceded each assault, and
gradually only a few snipers were left holding out in
the last buildings.
The battalion commander decided to call
on armor support to aid in the clearance process. He
brought in two armored personnel carriers (M 113s),
attached from the 5th Infantry Division, to move up
and assist in eliminating the sniper positions. This
maneuver proved effective. Following several bursts
of fire from the APCs' .50-caliber machine guns, the
snipers were silent and were gradually convinced to
Finally, the job was done. With the last
building cleared, Companies A and B linked up and
secured the area. A detailed search of each building
was already underway and local security was in
place. The soldiers of the 1st Battalion were at last
able to take a breather. The families of Fort Amador
were out of immediate danger.
The results of this action showed that
practice and detailed planning had paid off. The
PDF 5th Rifle Company had been eliminated as a
threat. The 1st battalion had not incurred any
casualties. The American families were safe, and
Fort Amador had not been turned into a bloody
What was the secret of the battalion's
success? Essentially it was a matter of firepower
and manpower. The mission was accomplished with
the measured application of the immense firepower
at the battalion's disposal. The manpower of the
unit did thejob well. Each soldier understood his job
and, more important, the commander's intent to use
force only when absolutely necessary.






The mission of Company A,
3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne),
was to secure the Pacora River Bridge and deny
enemy access to it. The mission was tactically es-
sential to prevent the enemy from sending troops,
ammunition and weapons to reinforce the Panama
Defense Force at Tocumen International Airport,
where the Rangers and the 82nd Airborne Division
had mounted an effective assault.
The company carried out this mission,
aided by the fire support of an AC-130 "Spectre"
gunship from the 7th Special Operations Wing. It
succeeded because of dedicated professional sol-
diers determined not to fail
Joint operations.
But this is not a story of individual
heroics. Instead, it is an excellent example of joint
operations carried outby well-trained, competently-
led teams of expert soldiers. With surgical preci-
sion, they applied only the firepower necessary to
accomplish the mission. These soldiers overcame

many last-minute changes, the confusion of receiv-
ingfire on departure, and enemy contact that threat-
ened their mission and lives as soon as they reached
the objective. Their success can be attributed to
their flexibility as much as to any other single
On Dec. 18, 1989, Maj. Kevin M. Higgins,
the commander of Company A, received orders to
make final plans for action at the Pacora River
Sg Bridge. Originally planned as a 3-man reconnais-
sance, the mission now required taking and holding
the bridge as part of a new contingency plan. To do
[ e this, a 16-man element would be inserted at H-Hour
Sby two UH-60 "Black Hawk" helicopters.
li Isolated, the force continued detailed plan-
ning and rehearsals for the mission until 8 p.m. on
Dec. 19. A final briefing was held at that time.
r a c During the final inspections Higgins re-
ceived notice that an additional Black Hawk would
fly the mission. His executive officer quickly made
C /r adjustments and incorporated an additional six
e r men into the new loading plans.
As the Special Forces teams began loading
the helicopters at 12:10 am. on Dec. 20, they were
g fe fired on by unknown elements outside the fence
around Albrook Air Station. Higgins was told to
move up H-Hour by 15 minutes, requiring immedi-
ate departure. Helicopter engines running, he
quickly briefed the pilots as the ground fire and the
loading operations continued.
The pilots adjusted their routes to reduce

With surgical precision, they
applied only the firepower nec-
essary to accomplish the mis-

flight time. This was difficult because of the density
of air traffic in the area just prior to H-Hour. They
inserted the team on the far side of the bridge at
12:45 a.m. H-Hour. Although the near side of the
bridge had been selected for the landing zone, the
uneven terrain there, and the addition of the third
helicopter, required a last-minute change of plans.
The helicopters made their final approach to
the landing zone. The crew spotted a convoy of
military trucks, more than 400 meters north, mov-
ing toward the bridge. The Special Forces quickly
deployed, cleared the area to the road, and estab-
lished three security elements. Then they set up a
blocking force position on the steep 35-foot embank-

ments on either side of the road.
The convoy came within 100 meters of the
bridge, and Higgins organized a firing order within
the blocking force. The terrain around the bridge
required the gunners to stand in the middle of the
road across the bridge to bring fire on the enemy

Three gunners moved succes-
sively to the center of the road
and fired anti-tank weapons,
stopping the lead vehicles of
the convoy.

convoy. As other members of the blocking force
provided covering fire, three gunners moved suc-
cessively to the center of the road and fired anti-
tank weapons, stopping the lead vehicles of the

At the same time, an Air Force technical
sergeant made radio contact with the orbiting
Spectre gunship and prepared a fire mission on the
convoy. After receiving Higgins' clearance to fire
with only marginal safety limits, the gunship crew
engaged the enemy. The Air Force technical ser-
geant was on the far flank of the position, just on the
edge of the firing area, where he could best give
instructions to them.
Gunship fire was effective. The soldiers in
the vehicles deployed, then began firing and moving
toward the Special Forces position on the far side of
the bridge. As the Special Forces engaged the
enemy, the AC-130 continued reporting on enemy
movement and providing infra-red illumination to
enhance the Special Forces night-vision equipment.
Several enemy soldiers tried to cross the

bridge. But because of Higgins' planning and excel-
lent placement of forces, they were observed. The
Special Forces fired on the enemy soldiers, killing
one and injuring one.
Vehicles in the distance
As the fighting continued, vehicles were
seen in the distance, moving toward the bridge.
Unable to determine whether the vehicles were
civilian or military, Higgins directed his flank secu-
rity force to fire tracers over them. Because of this
contact, and enemy movement under the bridge, the
technical sergeant requested and was granted a
second Spectre gunship. The approaching vehicles
finally stopped and turned around.
Meanwhile, a Ranger threw several gre-
nades under the bridge. The sounds of movement
stopped, and by 1:30 a.m. the situation began to sta-
bilize. Higgins made some local security probes to
confirm that no enemy forces had crossed the river
to the friendly positions.
At 5 a.m., an enemy corporal tried to cross
the bridge by bicycle and was quickly captured. By
6 a.m., the quick reaction force arrived to reinforce
Higgins and sweep the destroyed convoy.
Enemy wounded were treated by the
Special Forces medics. Several were captured hid-
ing in houses off the road. Meanwhile, weapons and
munitions were collected and prepared for move-
ment out of the area. Local security around the
bridge was established, and checkpoints were set up
to inspect vehicles for enemy soldiers and weapons.
Prisoners were processed and initially
interrogated while their evacuation was coordi-
nated. At 2:30 p.m., a scout platoon of the 82nd
Airborne Division, on its way to Cimarron, linked up
with the Special Forces position. By late afternoon,
the Special Forces and their prisoners were airlifted
back to Albrook. The teamwork of joint operations
and the skills of expert soldiers resulted in a fully
successful mission.




O n Dec. 22, 1989, Maj. Gilberto Perez,
commander, Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Special
Forces Group (Airborne), received a warning order
to prepare for operations to pacify the districts of
Herrera, Codcle, Los Santos, and Santiago Veraguas.
His mission was to operate in conjunction with
elements of the 2nd Brigade, 7th Infantry Division
(Light), to negotiate the surrender of the cuartels in
these districts. (Note: "cuartel" is the generic term
used throughout Latin America for a military base
of any kind. It is often a walled enclosure around an
area the size of four to six city blocks.) The intent
was to gain the surrender with the use of minimal
force to limit the number of both U.S. and Panama-
nian casualties.
Perez initially coordinated with the 2nd
Brigade commander atAlbrook Air Station. He then
flew his company to Rio Hato to begin the detailed
planning of the operation. Perez developed a con-
cept for the operation and called it the "Ma Bell
Approach." There were two phases.
First phase
In the first phase, he planned to insert
Special Forces elements into the towns of Santiago,
Chitre, and Las Tablas. Close air support would be
provided by an AC-130 "Spectre" gunship. An infan-
try company from the 2nd Brigade would be avail-
able as a quick reaction force should a cuartel resist.
Perez chose the airfield in each of the
towns as the initial landing zone of his element. He

planned to contact the commander of each cuartel,
by telephone, from the airfield. The commander
would be told to come to the airfield to discuss the
terms of surrender. There were three such terms.
First, the surrender would be unconditional. Sec-
ond, all weapons would be placed in the arms rooms
of the cuartel. Third, the entire garrison of the cuar-
tel would assemble on the parade field.
Perez and the Panamanian commander
would then fly over the cuartel to make sure the
terms were being followed. If the cuartel resisted,
Perez would have the AC-130 fire into an unoccu-
pied open area near the cuartel to demonstrate that
he was prepared to use considerable force, if neces-
sary, to gain the surrender.
The second phase of the operation had
Perez's Special Forces elements deploy into the
cuartel to search the compound and process the
Panamanian soldiers. The infantry company would
quickly occupy the town and establish law and order
in the community. Its mission would be to prevent
looting as well as any reprisals the population might
wish to take against the Panamanian soldiers who
surrendered. To Perez it was critical that all avail-
able means be used to gain a peaceful surrender of
each cuartel. He realized that being forced to fight
for every cuartel would result in many casualties on
both sides.
At 2 p.m. on Dec. 23 the mission began.
Helicopters from Task Force Hawk of the 7th Infan-

Perez developed a concept for
the operation and called it the
"Ma Bell Approach."

try Division and 617th Aviation Company moved
Perez's force to Santiago. The force landed at the
airport and quickly captured three people. Perez
then attempted to contact the commander of the
cuartel but was unsuccessful. He decided to fly to
the cuartel with five members of his unit. Mean-
while, the Panamanian forces were prepared to sur-
render and were assembling on the parade field.
When Perez landed, one Panamanian fired
upon his party but was quickly subdued without
casualties. Perez called the remainder of his com-
pany forward, and they searched and cleared the
cuartel. The infantry company commander was then
placed in charge of the cuartel, and a Special Forces
detachment was left with the company. They were
to provide linguistic capability as well as assistance
in working with the local community.

Perez left the company commander with
our missions. First, he was to gather intelligence on
he location of weapons caches and those personnel
f the Panama Defense Force (PDF) and dignity
battalions who had not surrendered. Second, he was
o assist local government officials in reestablishing
he civilian infrastructure. Third, he was to assess
he public utilities, medical facilities, and law and
rder capabilities in the area. This information
would be used to establish the working priorities for
he follow-on civil/military operations. Finally, he
vas to conduct joint U.S. and Panamanian patrols
throughout Santiago in order to reestablish law and
rder in the community. The infantry company and
he Special Forces detachment accomplished all
our missions.
On Dec. 24 at 6:30 a.m., Perez launched
he second mission into the town of Chitre. He
captured one prisoner at the airport and then con-
acted the commander of the cuartel, who surren-
lered without resistance. The procedure followed in
'hitre followed that established in Santiago. All
missions were accomplished without incident.
On Christmas Day at 9 a.m., Perez went to
as Tablas. There, he was forced to land in an open
ield. He immediately went to a housing area, where
Le called the cuartel commander by phone. The
commander surrendered. Perez and his forces en-
ered the cuartel.
Aiberator not conqueror
When the cuartel was secure, Perez no-
iced that a large number of the local population had
gathered outside. He then decided to assemble all
J.S. and Panamanian forces on the parade field. He
called them to attention, commanded"present arms,"
nd raised the Panamanian flag. His intent was to
how that the United States was not a conquering
rmy but a liberator. The act showed respect for
'anama and its people and gained overwhelming
support for U.S. efforts in the area. The Panama-
iian population cooperated fully, and willingly pro-
ided valuable information to Perez and his unit.
At this point in the operation, the 2nd
Irigade was deployed to David to relieve the Rang-
rs. A lieutenant colonel of the 7th Infantry Division
ias made U.S. commander of the districts and given
. small force to secure the area. Perez served as his
advisor and interpreter. Together they visited all
he cuartels and towns in the region, making liaison
nith all the new commanders and the mayors.
Their first priority was to establish a
working relationship between the former PDF and
Dcal government officials. This was no small task.
becausee of the history of abuses, there was great

distrust of the former PDF. Nevertheless, it was im-
portant that a positive relationship be established
so that law and order could be maintained by Pana-
manians, allowing U.S. combat forces to be with-
Maintaining law and order
With this goal in mind, they convinced the
local governors to allow the new Panamanian secu-
rity forces to carry weapons. This would allow them
to begin their task of maintaining law and order.
They also established programs to train the security
forces in their new role as a protective police force
rather than a dominant military force.
Perez felt there were insufficient U.S. forces
present to properly pacify the region. He continued
to receive much information from the local popula-
tion. He knew he should act on this information, but
did not have the forces to do so. This concerned him
because he wanted to show the local governors that
the United States intended to keep the area secure
from any hostile forces.
Perez flew to David and convinced the 2nd
Brigade commander to redeploy a battalion to Rio
Hato for a reconnaissance in force. This operation
resulted in the capture of several weapons caches,
along with former PDF and Dignity Battalion per-
sonnel. Perez also continued to conduct strike op-
erations as he had done in Santiago, Chitre and Las
Tablas. He uncovered several weapons caches and
captured 180 members of the Macho de Monte.
(Note: This was the name used by the 7th Infantry
Company of the PDF. This unit was instrumental in
putting down the October 1989 coup attempt and
was responsible for Noriega's continued presence as
a political force in Panama.)
The actions of the Special Forces and the
7th Infantry Division pacified a large area of Pan-
ama and established the foundation for follow-on
civil/military operations. The actions of Perez dem-
onstrate the unique skills that Special Forces pro-
vide in the military. By the use of his language
capabilities, his knowledge of the area, and his
appreciation of low-intensity warfare, Perez pre-
vented unnecessary casualties and still accomplished
the task at hand.






One of the military objectives during
the initial hours of Operation Just Cause was to
cordon off and capture the Comandancia. Located in
Panama City, the Comandancia was the military
headquarters of Gen. Manuel Noriega and his
Panama Defense Forces. For two Army aviators
involved in Just Cause, the headquarters would
become more than just a building seen from the air.
During the early morning hours of Dec. 20, 1989,
they would re-

ceive a personal,
close-up look at
the Comandan-
cia. This is their

Horsley noticed Kun]
culty pulling the airc
run, so he grabbed t

C h i e f sist. The aircraft di
Warrant Officer
Fred Horsley and
Capt. George Kunkel crested Ancon Hill as flight
lead for the AH-6s that supported operations around
the Comandancia. As they neared their release
point, they began to encounter heavy ground fire.
When the crew finally did arrive on sta-
tion, they began their mission of suppressing snip-


ers and weapons positions on the 16-story high-rise
apartments which overlooked the Comandancia.
Well aware of the rules of engagement, which were
to use only the minimum force necessary, they used
mini-guns to engage the enemy seen on the rooftops.
With the rooftops cleared, Kunkel and Horsley then
turned to fire at the Comandancia itself.
On their approach, Horsley noticed Kunkel
having difficulty pulling the aircraft out of its gun
run so he grabbed the controls to assist. The aircraft
did not respond. Despite their best efforts it contin-
ued toward the ground. With limited response from
the aircraft's controls, the crew attempted to aim
the helicopter toward an open spot they observed on
the ground to their right. The leveled aircraft
slammed into the ground, slid across a courtyard
and stopped when it hit a concrete pillar.
Soon after impact, the aircraft caught fire.
Horsley, blocked by a wall on his side of the aircraft
and by debris that entangled his vest and uniform,
struggled momentarily to free himself from the
wreckage. Once free, he scrambled out Kunkel's
side of the aircraft and joined him forward of the

Changing locations
They made a hasty assessment of their
situation. They were unsure of their exact location
but moved, in the shadows of adjacent buildings,
away from the heavy firing that they heard. Both
crew members attempted to contact friendly forces
with their PRC-90 radios but were unsuccessful.
They changed locations several times to avoid en-
emy contact and to locate their exact position. Knee
board schematics aided their navigation and loca-
tion efforts.
Kunkel and Horsley also feared being
caught in the target area when the AC-130 "Spectre"
gunship began its attack on the Comandancia. The
AC-130 would start
its firing quite a dis-
kel having diffi- tance from them,but
raft out of its gun they realized that
they had to clear the
he controls to as- area quickly. Enemy
not respond. fire from several lo-
cations forced the
aviators to abandon
their initial attempt to move to a corner of the
compound and scale the wall. The weapons fire
slackened inside the Comandoncia as fire outside
the wall increased. Both crewmen correctly guessed
that the heavy fire outside came from Task Force
Gator, the 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry (4/6 Inf.) This

force was assigned to cordon off and isolate the
The gunfire from the AC-130 and from the
enemy frustrated several plans to escape from the
area. Finally, at about 2:15 a.m., there was a lull in
the firing. Kunkel and Horsley decided to make
another attempt to reach the outer wall. They
moved between buildings and reached a wall topped
by a single strand of concertina wire. Concerned
about being accidentally shot by their own forces,
the aviators decided that one of them should go over
the wall, unarmed, and approach friendly locations
yelling "bulldog," which was the password.
Just then Horsley heard movement from
nearby bushes. He turned around quickly, prepared
to shoot. Emerging from the bushes, with hands
raised, was a PDF soldier who explained that every-
one who had not been killed had run away. He
himself wanted to surrender and accompany the
Americans back to their lines.
Going over the wall
Kunkel, who had one tube of his night
vision goggles still operational, then threw his flack
jacket on the concertina and went over the wall. He
moved carefully along the edge of the street and
cautiously made contact with Task Force Gator.
After a few tense minutes, with Kunkel speaking
English and the infantrymen speaking Spanish, the
troopers recognized the pilot as American and al-
lowed him to return for Horsley and the Panama-
As Horsley assisted the Panamanian over
the wall, the AC-130 opened fire. Immediately,
Horsley vaulted over the prisoner to safety. When
the firing ceased, the two aviators pulled their
prisoner from the wire and returned to the friendly
The crew passed the next three hours in
the command track (armored personnel carrier) of
Company D, 4/6 Inf. When the fighting subsided,
the infantrymen evacuated the aviators to Balboa
High School where they contacted their unit.
Throughout their ordeal, Kunkel and
Horsley relied upon their knowledge of the overall
plan, their limited visual reconnaissance and their
schematics to guide their actions and their deci-
sions. Once they survived the crash, they felt that
their chances for survival were excellent.

He turned around quickly, pre-
pared to shoot. Emerging from
the bushes, with hands raised,
was a PDF soldier who ex-
plained that everyone who had
not been killed had run away.





It was once said ofGen. Nathanael Green,
the Army's Quartermaster General during the Revo-
lutionary War, that no soldier had done more, with-
out recognition, to win the war. Green's methodical,
measured actions were not impressive on their own
and did not lead to fame. However, when viewed as
a series of actions, they proved critical, and Green
proved to be one of the profound leaders in our fight
for independence.
A modem day counterpart to Green may
have come to light during Operation Just Cause.
Col. Jorge Torres-Cartagena, commander of the
1109th Signal Brigade and the J6 (Communica-
tions) for the Commander in Chief of Southern Com-
mand (USCINCSOUTH), proved resourceful in a
number of actions that greatly contributed to
American success in Panama.
The story begins
The story actually starts three years ear-
lier when Torres-Cartagena arrived in the Panama
theater as the senior signal officer. He had the re-
sponsibility to direct all signal planning and opera-
tions, as well as lead, plan for, and train all opera-
tions signal units within Panama.
The challenges of that responsibility were
great. Torres-Cartagena faced a system that simply
was not combat capable. He quietly set out to correct
that. Among the problems were poor organization
structure, too many noncombatant personnel, no
joint communications plan for war, a very small and
antiquated secure telephone system, and numerous
other shortcomings.
Each problem by itself probably would not

have had a fatal impact on U.S. tactical operations.
However, when combined, the results could have
been disastrous. If those problems had not been
corrected it's very possible communications in
Panama would have failed during Operation Just
As the J6, Torres-Cartagena first imple-
mented a state-of-the-art secure telephone system
throughout all United States Southern Command
(SOUTHCOM) units. That created a reliable, though
redundant, system that matched with communica-
tion links already in place. His next major under-
taking was the preparation and publication of a
SOUTHCOM Joint Communications Plan. An ef-
fort of that nature had never been seen before in the
Panama theater. The plan was disseminated, thus
allowing appropriate units to incorporate their
portion of the plan in such documents as Mission
Essential Task Lists (METL).
After assuming command of the 1109th
Signal Brigade, Torres-Cartagena began an inter-
nal reorganization in the unit so it would be combat
ready. Faced with noncombatants in key positions,
such as the chief of operations, he began to realign
the unit structure to give him deployable leaders
and staff members. Without this move, Operation
Just Cause would not have had uninterrupted
AUTOVON and local telephone service, and the
print plant would not have been manned and opera-
tional at H-Hour.
Preparations continue
In November 1989, Torres-Cartagena was
reappointed to the position ofJ6 SOUTHCOM while
continuing to serve in his command position. This
allowed him to quickly implement plans and settle
issues. As the situation in
Panama began to deteriorate, Torres-Cartagena
continued to prepare the communications infra-
structure for any eventuality.
In consideration of operational security
practices, he quietly began moving weapons and
ammunition to his major communications site should
fighting break out. It was fortunate that he did.
Otherwise, his soldiers would have had to draw
weapons at a site two miles from their work loca-
tions and travel back with the weapons. Such move-
ment before H-Hour certainly would have provided
opposing forces an indication of possible attack.
As added preparation, Torres-Cartagena
had all class B and C unsecure telephones pro-
grammed to be switched off, allowing only internal
phone calls on an installation. This was done to
minimize off-post telephone calls at H-Hour, which
would have overloaded the controlling computer
system. Additionally, as prescribed in the Joint


Communications Plan, a Joint Communications world. Some sort of replacement was necessary.
Control Center (JCCC) was formed to help in the Therefore, Torres-Cartagena directed that radio/
overall control of deployed and static signal ele- satellite communication capabilities be set up and
ments. made operational. This would present President
Simultaneously, Torres-Cartagena di- Endara and his newly-formed government with the
rected local training exercises for the deployable capability to communicate within the Republic of
signal elements. They were trained alongside their Panama as well as with international leaders.
combat arms counterparts. In doing this, he was But the responsibility ofTorres-Cartagena
able to familiarize his soldiers with their deploy- was not limited to just the restoration of communi-
ment areas, rehearse his go-to-war plan, and exer- cation capabilities. He also had to consider the
cise the JCCC. denial or interdiction of those capabilities from the
Then, on Dec. 19, 1989 a very low key enemy.
recall of military personnel began. Torres-Cart- In one such instance, he had to assist other
agena quickly notified his civilian print plant work- U.S. government agencies in the interdiction of a
ers that they would have to come to work that night key telephone trunk route. As a result of his in-
to print a special issue of the command newspaper. depth knowledge of Panama and its telephone sys-
But with Operation Just Cause now underway, a tern, Torres-Cartagena--with the use of city plans
newspaper wasn't and blueprints--
the real mission for After entering the building, they saw was able to locate
these workers. They enteringthe properjunction
actually would be re- that the phone equipment had received box and lines, all
quired to help pro- extensive damage. The exchange was located in the sewer
duce safe conduct system ofthe neigh-
passes and amnesty inoperable. borhood. Without
flyers in an attempt ___________________ hesitation, he en-
to save lives. Thus, tered the sewer
Torres-Cartagena was able to bring in the civilian system and sloshed off to accomplish the mission.
workers without jeopardizing the mission's opera- Then, a few days later, he was again called
tions security. A similar cover story was used to upon to interdict another key telephone trunk route.
bring in civilian telephone operators who would That mission proved to be critical and eventually
prove to be critical links as the battle raged, saved countless lives while leading to the culmina-
From then on events moved quickly. At tion of our mission in Panama.
about 11:30 p.m., Torres-Cartagena directed that In the great scheme of Operation Just
all class B and C telephones be switched over through Cause, the various actions taken by Torres-Cart-
automation. That limited phone calls only to the agena might seem insignificant. When viewed sepa-
installation on which the caller was located, rately, none of them appear to be critical to combat.
In the early morning hours of the 20th, Such is not the case though.
Torres-Cartagena, together with two civilian em- When his actions are viewed as a whole, a
ployees and a soldier from the 154th Signal Battal- different picture is painted. These actions did make
ion, went to the civilian telephone exchange in La a difference. And they did so because one leader
Chorillo. It was the exchange that provided service possessed the insight, forethought, dedication, and
to the Panamanian General Assembly. After enter- initiative to have everything in place to provide
ingthe building, they saw that the phone equipment communications support "just in case."
had received extensive damage. The exchange was Well, that"justin case" became Just Cause.
inoperable. And while the maneuver units received a great deal
Torres-Cartagena, realizing the strategic of attention and glory for their individual engage-
importance of the exchange, began immediate ac- ments, the support soldier also played a key role.
tions to get the equipment operating again. To- Col. Torres-Cartagena, like Gen. Green some 200
gether with the others, he tried to use available U.S. years before him, methodically and quietly won
equipment to quickly restore service. However, that engagement after engagement without so much, a
proved impossible. He determined that it would word. It was because of men like him, that Opera-
take quite some time to restore service, tion Just Cause was a success. That, of course, is the
Loss of the exchange was not so much a traditional story of our Army soldiers who do
military factor as a political one. Without it, the new their job, and do it well, whether in peace or in war.
Panamanian government would lose much of its
ability to communicate effectively with the outside







Panama La Vieja, on the eastern side of
Panama City, was established in the 1500s, later
burned by pirates and then rebuilt of stone in the
1600s. Now, reduced by the years to skeletons of
stone, the ruins stand on a scenic point of land
looking out across the Bay of Panama. With light
breezes and beautiful palm trees, it is a very pleas-
ant place.
The ruins were also the location of a Pan-
ama Defense Force (PDF) barracks occupied by
about 250 soldiers. One hundred eighty of these
were from the 1st Cavalry Squadron, a unit that
provided guards for Gen. Manuel Noriega's resi-
dence and also ceremonial support. The squadron
had 48 horses at a nearby stable.
The remaining 70 soldiers were members
of UESAT, Noriega's apti-terrorist unit. These
highly trained soldiers were originally stationed at
a base on Flamenco Island. However, the October
coup attempt against Noriega showed that base to
be too remote, and they were moved to Panama La
Well-armed forces
These PDF forces were armed with a wide
variety of weapons. Included were Uzi submachine
guns with night sights, anti-tank rockets, sniper

rifles, an automatic grenade launcher, and state-of-
the-art body armor. One room of the barracks
contained explosives. For added defense, a .50-
caliber machine gun was mounted on the roof, and
a Soviet-bloc, four-barrelled anti-aircraft gun (ZPU
23-4) sat on the shoreline aimed out over the water.
The mission to seize and secure Panama
La Vieja fell to the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute
Infantry Regiment (2/504 PIR). This unit, which in
World War II gained fame as the the "Devils in
Baggy Pants," was under the command of Lt. Col.
Harry Axson. After a flight from Fort Bragg, N.C.,
and a nighttime parachute assault onto Tocumen/
Torriojos Airport, the battalion was to assemble
near the airport runway and conduct an air assault
by UH-60 "Black Hawks" into Panama La Vieja.
Planning was conducted at Fort Bragg by
the battalion and in Panama by the Army aviation
units. The goal was to accomplish the mission
through the measured application of overwhelming
force, not to apply full firepower indiscriminately.
Accordingly, the area would be cordoned off by the
2/504 PIR rifle companies, and the PDF then would
be given the chance to surrender through the use of
loudspeaker teams from the 6th Psychological
Operations (PSYOPS) Group.
Two landing zones were to be used for the
operation. Landing Zone Bobcat, immediately north
of the objective, was covered in grass which was
higher than the heads of the troopers. The second,
Landing Zone Lion, was on the south side along the
Movement and linkup
As quickly as possible after the air assault,
the battalion's anti-tank company with HMMWVs
(trucks mounting .50-caliber machine guns), and
two Sheridan tanks, would move from the airport to
link up with the main body at Panama La Vieja.
AH-1 "Cobra" helicopters from the 7th Infantry
Division (Light) would escort the Black Hawks.
These Black Hawks were provided by both the 7th
Division and the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regi-
ment, stationed in Panama.
Five hours after leaving Fort Bragg in
freezing rain, the paratroopers jumped into the
black, hot, humid Panamanian sky. Five hours
after leaving Fort Bragg in freezing rain, the para-
troopers jumped into the black, hot, humid Pana-
manian sky. Many landed in the high grass, marsh
and trees south of the airport. In the distance, the
fires at the Comandancia and tracers laced the ho-
rizon. The troopers assembled near the runway,
prepared their equipment for the air assault, and at
7 a.m. boarded the helicopters.
Unknown to the 2/504 PIR, the PDF sol-


diers had moved around on the evening of Dec. 19.
Eighty of the Panamanians departed to defend fixed
sites throughout the area. By 6 a.m. the next day,
many others moved to nearby civilian buildings.
Only about 20 or so remained in the barracks vicin-
The first lift touched down on both landing
zones, sparking intense automatic weapons fire
from the PDF soldiers in the barracks and civilian
houses. Despite the fire, the Black Hawks held a
steady formation, helping the paratroopers main-
tain unit integrity. In order to prevent unnecessary
damage or injury to noncombatants, the Cobras
avoided firing except at very clear target.
Landing Zone Lion proved to have a unique
twist. The Black Hawks landing near the sandy
beach had no problem. But other aircraft dis-
charged the troops over the deceptively firm-looking
mud flats. Many sank to their armpits, fighting to
pull themselves out. Seeing the peril, several pilots
hovered, despite PDF weapons fire, while soldiers
grabbed the landing gear and were pulled free.
These soldiers also got help from another source. In
a notable display of courage, Panamanian civilians
quickly set up a human chain to pull out other

In a notable display of courage,
Panamanian civilians quickly
set up a human chain to pull
out other troopers from the

troopers from the mud.
Meanwhile, things were just as hot at
Landing Zone Bobcat. Automatic fire from AK-47
assault rifles and pistols sprayed the area. In the
tall grass, the troopers had a very difficult time
finding each other, not to mention the source of the
hostile fire.
Sgt. Michael Alexander of Charlie Com-
pany was finally able to locate the PDF weapons. He
called for a grenade launcher and fired several
rounds. Under a hail of gunfire and at great risk to
himself, he then directed machine-gun fire, which
neutralized the PDF and allowed his unit to move
off the landing zone. For his actions, Alexander was
later decorated with the Bronze Star for Valor.
The Panamanian soldiers not caught in
the cordon withdrew from the barracks area into
civilian buildings. Evidence showed they withdrew
rather quickly. While searching the barracks,

Company A paratroopers found a dining area with
half-eaten breakfasts on the tables and a weapons
room in great disarray. The ZPU anti-aircraft gun-
ner fled without firing a shot as a Cobra flew toward
him. Remarkably, some PDF members still did not
know this was a combat zone. Many were detained
as they arrived in cars to go to work!
Meanwhile, the danger to battalion sol-
diers continued throughout the day. Cars full of
armed PDF soldiers or dignity battalion members
began to drive up to the fighting positions of the 2nd
Battalion and let loose with automatic weapons fire.
Nine such vehicles were stopped or destroyed by
weapons fire. Battalion snipers were credited with
one such success. In another instance, a PDF V300
armored car was knocked out by an AT-4 anti-tank
rocket, and three others were destroyed by Apache
(AH-64) attack helicopters from the 82nd Airborne
Division. Intermittent PDF sniper fire continued,
and three PDF mortar rounds slammed into the air;
they did not cause any U.S. casualties, however.
Marching to Marriott
About 8 p.m., the battalion was ordered to
seize and secure the Marriott Hotel and 29 hostages
held by Panamanian forces. After some quick plan-
ning and reorganization, Company B, with an engi-
neer squad and the brigade surgeon, moved out and
headed down the street leading to the hotel. They
got no farther than 150 meters before being am-
bushed by four PDF members. The four were killed
without injury to the paratroopers, and the march
Up to this point, the battalion had weath-
ered snipers, drive-by shootings, mortar attacks,
sustained automatic weapons fire, a night para-
chute assault, and an opposed daylight air assault.
They were now marching to rescue hostages at a
luxury hotel. It had been a full day of combat
activity, but the variety of lethal action was not over
just yet.
Scarcely 300 meters past the ambush

scene, a very large truck suddenly careened onto the
semi-dark street. With three machine guns and two
AK-47s blazing wildly, it maneuvered along the
entire length of the column of marching troops. In
the truck's cab, a passenger fired a pistol and threw
a grenade as the truck accelerated. The grenade
missed its mark though, sailing over the troops and
into the water of the bay.
Two troopers were wounded during the
attack, neither one seriously. Then, the full fire-
power of the entire company bore down upon the

The oncoming truck by now
was moving at about 35 mph.
Stepping directly into the
truck's path, Spec. James
Smith took aim with his M-203
grenade launcher and let fly.

truck. American weapons raked the huge truck and,
in the words of the wounded battalion S3, soon
turned it into "a cone of fire."
Meanwhile, up the street, the 3rd Platoon
heard the commotion and saw the oncoming truck,
which by now was moving at about 35 mph. Step-
ping directly into the truck's path, Spec. James
Smith took aim with his M-203 grenade launcher
and let fly. The round detonated on the passenger
side of the cab, disabling the pistol-firer. But the
truck continued to close fast. Smith stood his

ground, loaded a second grenade and fired once
more. This time the round exploded on the driver's
windshield, causing the truck to swerve and crash
into a nearby building. The company quickly moved
on toward its destination. Smith would receive the
Bronze Star for Valor.
During all of this, Spec. Richard Lucas,
one of the battalion's radio operators, was driving a
white civilian van seized for use as an ambulance.
He began a series of trips delivering wounded back
to Panama La Vieja. During one of these trips he
was ambushed, with the van's windshield being
blasted away and his assistant wounded in the leg.
Lucas continued though, making three more trips
before the brigade commander stopped him because
of the danger. Lucas, like the others, was recom-
mended for the Bronze Star.
The paratroopers continued to the Marri-
ott Hotel, where they secured the building and freed
the hostages. That is a story in itself. In the end,
these soldiers were angels to some and devils to
others. To the hostages, the troopers were the good
guys with angel wings. Of course, the soldiers of the
PDF had a different view. Just as the Nazis found
out in World War II, the paratroopers of the 2/504
PIR were truly "Devils in Baggy Pants"!





When the operational orders for Operation
Just Cause came down, the soldiers of the 4th Bat-
talion, 17th Infantry (4/17 Inf.), had several mis-
sions to perform. They included protecting the lives
of U.S. citizens, establishing roadblocks at the neck
of the Colon peninsula and on the Boyd-Roosevelt
Highway, protecting the Galeta Island facility, and
disabling multiengine aircraft on France Airfield.
They also had a job to do near the city of Colon -
neutralizing a naval infantry company and captur-
ing Panama Defense Force (PDF) boats at Coco
Colon is a port city on Limon Bay, which is
on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. The
population is about 60,000. The city lies at the
northern tip of a half-mile-long peninsula com-
monly referred to as the "Colon Bottleneck." One-
half mile to the east, across an inlet, is the town of
Coco Solo. Right on the bayshore is a former joint-

use facility, two identical buildings running north to
The northern building is Cristobal Junior/Sen-
ior High School. The southern building housed the
1st Naval Infantry Company (PDF), a garment
factory and a Chinese restaurant. The docking area
for the PDF's five patrol boats was two hundred
yards to the west, behind the PDF building. A U.S.
housing area was located fifty yards to the east. This
was a street with about two dozen homes, many of
which were unoccupied by Dec. 20, 1989.
Company C of the 4/17 Inf. was garrisoned in an
unused wing of Cristobal High School. Since mid-
November, they had been patrolling and protecting
the lives of U.S. personnel living in the Coco Solo
area. Each day they had to ignore the sneers and
degrading gestures of the naval infantry soldiers.
During this period of security duty, the company
commander, Capt. Christopher Rizzo, developed his
detailed plan for the neutralization of the naval
infantry company.
His plan was simple. First, seal off the area with
military police and a rifle platoon. Then, assemble
an infantry platoon in front of the naval infantry
barracks. This platoon would be armed with rifles,
machine guns, anti-tank weapons and a Vulcan
20mm cannon. A third platoon would be placed at
the rear of the high school to cover the back door of
the PDF barracks. This platoon would also assault
the docks and capture the PDF patrol craft. A fourth
platoon would position an assault element to clear
the PDF building after the initial assault.
The commander planned to initiate the attack
with two minutes of Vulcan and anti-tank weapons
fire, followed by a call (over a loudspeaker) for a full
surrender. If the Panamanian soldiers refused to
surrender or if they returned fire, Charlie Company
would complete the mission.
American forces
At his disposal Rizzo had about 200 soldiers.
These included his three rifle platoons, plus a rifle
platoon from the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute In-
fantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. Addition-
ally, he had two Vulcans from the 2nd Battalion,
62nd Air Defense Artillery, a signal detachment
from the 127th Signal Battalion, and a platoon from
the 549th Military Police Company. The remainder
of this story follows the path of the 2nd Platoon of
Company C the platoon charged with clearing the
PDF barracks.
Charlie Company had been in Panama less than
two months when it was swept into Operation Just
Cause. It arrived in Panama in late October 1989
rotating there as part of the 7th Infantry Division's

augmentation to U.S. Army South. When Dec. 19
arrived, they were ordered to put Operations Plan
(OPLAN) 90-2 into effect. It was time for Just
The order to execute the OPLAN affected the
soldiers of Charlie Company in different ways. Sgt.
Chance De-Wayne Brooks had been a squad leader
in the 2nd Platoon for two weeks. He was sergeant
of the guard on the 19th. About three hours into the
shift, his squad was called back to its barracks in the
high school. Once there, the squad was issued its
combat load of ammunition.
Sgt. David Rainer had just come off shift when
he got the word. During his shift, his platoon leader
had called him to a guard post in front of the naval
infantry barracks. The two did a recon of the area.
He was then told to go back and write a plan for his
squad. Later, during the shift, he heard a rumor
that the President had given authority for military
action in Panama. When his replacement arrived
with full loads of ammo for the weapons, he began to
put two and two together. The last indicator was the
issuance of new call signs.
Cpl. Joseph Legaspi, a recent graduate of the
Ranger School, had just joined the unit. He was the
a team leader of the 3rd Squad. When he sensed that
something was about to happen, he decided to treat
himself to a big meal at the mess hall. After dinner
he returned to the barracks to write his wife. He was
interrupted twice: first, to get new call signs and
frequencies, and again for an operational briefing of
the upcoming action.
During the next several hours, as anticipation
grew, a number of things happened. First, the
announcement came down that H-hour would be 1
a.m. All of the men had thoughts of their families,
but, as Rainer said,"It took a little time to sort it out,
but once I did, I was able to concentrate clearly on
the task at hand."
Remembering families
Legaspi recalled that someone took out a video
camera and made a tape of people saying hello to
their families. Some wrote letters. Others put on
more camouflage paint than they had ever worn
before. A few even wrote tLe names of their wives
and kids, or caustic messages, on their T-shirts.
Just a few minutes past midnight, the eight
American families living in the housing area di-
rectly across from the PDF barracks were evacu-
ated. They were taken to other quarters close by. At
the same time, two Vulcan systems were positioned
as they had been each night from several months.
Everyone in the company suited up for combat
and adjusted to the additional weight of their Kevlar

body armor and a full load of ammo. Plans were gone
over one last time. The chaplain said a prayer and
the unit was ready to go. From someone's tape
player the Hank Williams Jr. tune, "A Country Boy
Can Survive," rang out.
The soldiers of Charlie Company thought they
still had 15 minutes to go when the first shots were
heard. These shots were answered immediately
with M-60 fire from the platoon en route to the dock

His squad was called back to its
barracks in the high school
Once there, the squad was is-
sued its combat load of ammu-

area. Rizzo gave the order to open fire with the Vul-
cans a two-minute sustained fire of 10-round
bursts. The 2nd Platoon's mission was to cross the
gap between the high school and the naval bar-
racks, enter the building through the Chinese res-
taurant, and work its way through the building to
the main part of the barracks.
The spearhead
Brooks took up a position on the second floor
where he could watch the 1st Squad's movement
across the gap and into the building. It was the
spearhead of the operation. Brooks launched sev-
eral grenades into the courtyard of the naval bar-
racks to suppress enemy gunfire long enough for the
spearhead element to enter the building. The sol-
diers didn't need much encouragement to move
"Everybody's blood was pumping," according to
Rainer, "and we all ran across the gap at Olympic
record-breaking speed."
By this time gunfire was coming from all around
the barracks. The air was alive with the colors of
tracer rounds. Rainer recalled seeing tracer rounds
flying past him and between his legs. When the
Vulcans opened up, Legaspi said the ground shook
with the sound. He looked forward to the loud-
speaker announcement that would invite the PDF
to surrender. But things wouldn't be that simple.
Instead of surrendering, the Panamanians renewed
the fight. By this time, the entire platoon was in the
building and clearing operations had begun.
The first obstacle encountered was a 17-member
Chinese family that lived in the garment factory.
Even though total confusion abounded, the soldiers


of the 2nd Platoon never fired a shot without check-
ing their line of fire. By doing so, they managed to
get the entire Chinese family out without a scratch.
As Rainer's squad moved toward the PDF por-
tion of the building, they encountered a locked door
separating the factory from the naval infantry
company. They used C-4 to blow open this obstacle.
Trainer then crossed the fiery entrance into a dark-
ened gymnasium and quickly got his squad onto the
stairs at the other side. Meanwhile, the 2nd Squad
continued to guard the entrance and the Chinese
family to make sure no problems were encountered.
A second volley from the Vulcans encouraged
the Panamanian forces to reconsider their position.
They began yelling for surrender. However, Rainer
would not accept the surrender until he was sure
that the platoon had fully cleared the building. Once
he was certain of that, he accepted the surrender of
the Panamanian captain in charge.
Testimony to success
With the mission completed, the numbers bore
out Charlie Company's success. In the four hours it
took the soldiers of the 2nd Platoon to clear the
naval infantry barracks, they did not sustain a
single casualty. Charlie Company captured 27 of
the enemy, and the 2nd Platoon contributed 11 to
this total. Only two members of the PDF sustained
injury. No one in the Chinese family was hurt.
Unfortunately, the fire that started as a result
of the explosion destroyed the Chinese family's
residence in spite of the platoon's best efforts to put
it out. But housing was quickly found for them, and
they were given help to recover their belongings.
But the company wasn't through with Just Cause
just yet. It also assisted in securing the other objec-
tives of the battalion. Damage to civilian property
continued to be minimal because of detailed plan-
ning and the measured application of combat power.
The soldiers were eventually given a hero's welcome
when Colon was finally secure. Whether or not they
felt like heros, they certainly felt good about their
"We did the right thing" said Legaspi. Both
Rainer and Brooks echoed those feelings. According
to Rainer "it felt like the liberation of Paris," while
Brooks said it made him "so proud to be an Ameri-
Coco Solo for the soldiers of Charlie Company,
they came, they saw, and when it became necessary,
they conquered.

A second volley from the Vul-
cans encouraged the Panama-
nian forces to reconsider their
position. They began yelling for






It was dawn, Dec. 20, 1989, on Ancon Hill,
overlooking the Comandancia headquarters of
the Panama Defense Force. Two Sheridan M551
tanks of Company C, 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 73rd
Armor, were positioned on the hill.
When the light enabled the crews to see their
targets, they engaged three of them the first with
two rounds, the second with five rounds, and the last
with six rounds. In all, they fired thirteen rounds,
each on a well-defined enemy target.
Those thirteen rounds probably contributed
very little to overall combat operations in Operation
Just Cause. The tanks surely had the capability and
time to fire a great deal more. Why didn't they?
"We didn't fire because we couldn't see the
Comandancia clearly, and we didn't want to cause
collateral damage," said PFC Marcus A. Davis
His words echoed the care and restraint so
typical of the thousands of American soldiers who
took part in Operation Just Cause. Davis, an M551
Sheridan gunner in Company C, was a crew mem-

"We didn't fire because we
couldn't see the Comandancia
clearly, and we didn't want to
cause collateral damage."

ber of the four-tank force whose mission was to fire
directly on the Comandancia.
Two factors greatly limited the action of these
tanks when the firing began. First, engineers had
failed to clear trees in the line of sight between some
of the firing positions and the Comandancia. Sec-
ond, the Sheridan tanks lacked a night-acquisition
and fire-control system. Therefore, gunnery relied
on visibility, and visibility was often blocked by
smoke and fire, even by early daylight.
Even so, U.S. soldiers understood the mission,
and they obeyed the rules of the mission. They knew
that when the fighting ended, a new government,
partly comprised of former enemies, would lead
Panama toward democracy. Under the conditions,
restraint was the better part of valor.


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