Operation Just Cause
In December 1989, U.S. Army forces supported by the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy, participated in Operation Just Cause - The Invasion of Panama. Ground forces , consisting of combat elements of the XVIII Airborne Corps, the 82nd Airborne Division, the 7th Infantry Division, the 75th Ranger Regiment, ¼Corps elements began returning on January 12, 1990, while units of the 16th MP Brigade continued police patrols throughout Panama City area to help restore and maintain law and order in support of the Panamanian people and their duly-elected government¼
People from my Army Civil Affairs unit participated in this invasion. My immediate Army section chief served as military Governor of Colon province until proper civilian authority could be established, and we all celebrated with the knowledge that "Freedom was, indeed, on the March." We had brought Democracy back to the small and strategic nation of Panama.
Few people realize that the Panama invasion did not "just happen." It was planned, rehearsed and gamed well over a year before any shots were fired. I know, because I was one of the people that helped participate and provide this training.
It was dusty and 110 degrees in the shade at Camp Hunter Liggett. Our people were sweating as they set poles and stretched the canvas of an Army GP Medium Tent. This tent would be our office, our home and our base of operations for the next month, while we participated in "Operation Celtic Cross," a secret military exercise. We were working for I Corps (headquartered at Ft. Lewis Washington). The exercise was commanded by General H. Norman Schwarzkopf.
General Schwarzkopf was a large man, the sort of person that I could more easily picture as a foot ball line man than as a General.
Appearances can be deceiving and the people who served with him treated the General with love, fear and awe.
Schwarzkopf led. He led by example. He set the pace for the Physical Training run, and it was up to the rest of the soldiers to keep up with him. He was very considerate of the needs of his enlisted soldiers and intolerant of officers who did not care for their troops. He also had an excellent BS detector and did not have much patience for officers or anyone, for that matter, who gave him less than a direct answer.
We were involved with a secret exercise. The bulk of Hunter Liggett was sealed off and no one was allowed in or out. The officers club, the Post Exchange, the Snack Bar were "Off Limits" to most, since these facilities were also open to military or retired personnel not involved with our military exercises.
I was the NCOIC (Non Commissioned Officer in Charge) for our end of this operation. I was a Controller and Reactor. As a controller, I had run of the exercise (and the post). As a reactor, I could also play and insert myself and the people who worked with me into the exercises.
It was an elaborate exercise. We were in a mythical country called Lusanda, located somewhere in Central America. We had our own currency (Lusandian Pasadas), a mock village and a wealth of costumes. I had the opportunity to play the part of a Catholic priest, a poor farmer (with a young wife and a retarded son), a Mayor, a police official, a revolutionary, an International Red Cross worker, and an Army Colonel (I liked being Colonel Eagle). Our job was to test and to instruct the soldiers of the 7th Infantry Division (Light) in Civil Military Operations. We were to evaluate and instruct them in how to conduct themselves if the US were called to "liberate" a Central American country.
My Chauffeur drove me to the entrance of the 7th I.D.'s Prisoner of War Camp. The camp consisted of a stark expanse of land surrounded by concertina wire. It looked to be rocky, dusty, hot and with minimal shade. Armed guards stood at attention as I approached. I was wearing a checkered polyester suit and black Army boots.
I approached the guard and using a very poor Irish accent introduced myself as Liam Devlin from Geneva Switzerland. I told the guard that I was with the International Red Cross and that my job was to inspect their Prisoner of War camp.
The guard asked to see if I had any identification.
I showed him a 3 X 5 card that I filled out with a manual typewriter. I had used a red magic marker pen to draw a red cross. To me, the card did not seem very convincing, but the guard immediately snapped to and I was introduced to the Camp Commandant.
The Camp Commandant was a Warrant officer. His normal Army job was that of band conductor. Evidently the secondary job of the 7th I.D. band was to set up and run a prisoner of war camp. All of the guards were musicians.
I toured the camp with the Camp Commandant. I read to him from FM 27-10 (The laws of Land Warfare). The "prisoners" were members of a military Psy Ops unit, and they looked miserable. The camp was hot, and uncomfortable, the "prisoners" did not appear to have adequate food, shelter, or a place to sleep. I pointed out to the commandant a number of his camp's shortcomings, and I told him that I would be back later that evening with my crew of Red Cross workers.
Our visit was quite amicable.
That evening I returned with several people. We brought ground cover, blankets, sleeping bags and food. I told the Camp Commandant (using my bad Irish accent) that I would give him a formal list of all the things that he needed to correct.