DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
XVIII AIRBORNE CORPS
FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA
US ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview
First Lieutenant Keith Nappenburger
1st Battalion, 228th Aviation
Interview conducted 8 January 1990 at Building 820, Fort Kobbe, Panama
Interviewer: MAJ Robert K. Wright, Jr., Historian, Joint Task Force SOUTH
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview JCIT 017
MAJ WRIGHT: This is an Operation JUST CAUSE interview being conducted 8 January 1990 in Building 820 at Fort Kobbe, [Panama]. And if I could get you to give me your name, rank and serial number.
1LT NAPPENBURGER: My name is 1LT Keith Nappenburger. Social security number ***-**-****. Assistant S-3, battalion flight operations.
MAJ WRIGHT: And which battalion?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: 1st [Battalion] of the 228th [Aviation].
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. And what was your function during the initial D-day of [20 December 1989]?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Well, basically I was the operations officer manning the TOC [tactical operations center] on the 20th when the operation started. On the operation we started running a twenty-four-hour TOC approximately two days before, when an American lieutenant was killed down in the Comandancia area.
MAJ WRIGHT: So this would have been the 16th?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: That's correct. The 16th we initiated going to a twenty-four-hour operations; and on the 19th, the day before--prior--we repositioned aircraft to the Task Force ATLANTIC side. Approximately three CH-47s [Chinooks] and seven UH-1s [Iroquois, or "Huey"] to augment the Task Force ATLANTIC. The UH-60 [Blackhawk] elements were OPCON'd out to [placed under the operational control of] Task Force HAWK (a part of the 7th I[nfantry] D[ivision] that was down here at the time).
Coming up to H-Hour. Prior to that all the units had been notified and reports kept coming down as they pulled the seats out, get the crews ready for, you know, the door gunners locked and loaded, and have everything ready to go for combat operations. Keep going up towards H-Hour. The commander [LTC Douglas I. Smith] and the S-3 [MAJ Butch Muse] departed on a UH-1[H] command and control ship above the ... and they were in the Gamboa [and] the Renacer Prison assault.
So myself and the XO, MAJ [Larry] Santure, [we the leaders] that were in the TOC during the operations. And the operations pretty much started at one o'clock at night. That's when simultaneous[ly] they went into the Renacer Prison-Gamboa area. And we received--were receiving--reports all during this time from the different lifts. We also had flights going into [Fort] Amador, which were our [UH]-60s that were tasked out to Task Force HAWK.
MAJ WRIGHT: Were you monitoring their channels?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Yes.
MAJ WRIGHT: Just to track?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Yes, they were coming up on battalion net, giving us reports as they went in. Amador was "hot" [receiving enemy fire] going in both times. I don't believe that they received any hits in the aircraft, or at least none of the aircraft were taken out and all returned to the [Fort] Kobbe area to pick up for the second lift to Amador. So none was hit, and I think that's primarily due to the NVGs [AN/PVS-6 night vision goggles]. No one knew ... they couldn't see what they were shooting at; therefore they didn't hit anything.
Task force HAWK lost a [OH]-58[C Kiowa] that night that went down in the [Panama] Canal in the Amador area. We received reports on that. We had other reports as far as the Gamboa area and Coco Solo area. The aircraft that had been OPCON'd up to Task Force ATLANTIC spent most of that night, and I believe it was one CH-47[C] and three UH-1[H]s that spent the rest of the day, pulling out wounded and the killed-in-action from Gamboa and taking them into the Coco Solo area. As far as ...
MAJ WRIGHT: To the hospital up on Coco Solo?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Yes. They were moving that. They were also pulling some Medevac [medical evacuation] down to the primary casualty [collection] point, which was here at Howard Air [Force] Base, down on the airfield. That didn't work out real well.
As far as the TOC operations, pretty much the contingency plans that were ... that had been planned before, as far as what movements, what needed to be done, you know, for an operation like that; they were all executed. And the following day we found ourself in an area with basically resupply and medevac [missions]. A lot of those missions were aircraft that were assigned a unit on the lift, were there the next day and just did what had to be done. It wasn't a ...
MAJ WRIGHT: So they weren't dedicated medevac birds, so much as they were nearest available bird?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Right. Well, right at that time, you know, on H-Hour, the 214th [Medical Detachment (Air Ambulance)], which is the Medevac unit here, which has UH-60s which are specifically designed for medevac and configured [as a] medevac bird: there were four aircraft, and you could see by having the way that they did not go through our TOC, they were set up immediately with the [joint casualty collection point] down on the airfield and they received their request for Medevac from then.
But the aircraft that were already OPCON'd to Task Force ATLANTIC, and in through things like that, the aircraft were already there. And I don't know if it was the commo [communications] between the north (the north being the ATLANTIC side) and Pacific side, where aircraft was already there, it was just a hell of a lot easier to throw the bodies in the back of the UH-1 and have them move them. Probably from that point it's maybe a twenty ... fifteen- to twenty-minute flight to get to Coco Solo, or ... . So they ... most of the Medevac that was going on up there was done primarily with UH-1s.
In Medevac down here, we were doing a lot out to Tocumen area and Rio Hato. So with four aircraft you can see they were spread thin. For this side of the operation there really weren't a lot of Medevac birds. And then you look back on the figures of the people that were wounded and/or ... plus, you know, I'm not even counting the civilians. We hauled anyone that was wounded ... moved them. So there was a lot of civilians.
MAJ WRIGHT: So you did haul civilians and P.D.F. wounded?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Yes. Anyone that was wounded at that point they did haul them out. They, you know they weren't asking for I.D. cards, and they weren't asking for, you know, names, and ranks, and serial numbers. So places like the Coco Solo area that they went into that there were large civilian populations, there were occasional wounded. I know when the first flight went into, is it Tinajitas, the area there, and our aircraft ... this was on the second day.
MAJ WRIGHT: The second day. That was the 20th?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Yes. The 20th. In the morning time.
MAJ WRIGHT: Morning.
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Right.
MAJ WRIGHT: Second phase of the H-Hour's ...
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Second phase, right. Now, the aircraft in there, a lot of our door gunners never even fired--fired a round--because on the first lift in to Tinajitas, there were civilians there waving flags, pots and pans, hitting them together, waving the aircraft in. I've seen one report where a person, they saw the person with an AK-47 standing there, but the guy didn't fire because he used his own judgment that there were, you know, too many people there.
The aircraft on those assaults were primarily UH-60s. After the first night, well, practically all the air assaults were done with UH-60s. Several of those--we lost two, as far as damage--none were outright shot down and couldn't leave the LZ [landing zone]. All the aircraft performed the way they were supposed to, they got in. Some of them did take hits. But they returned to the PZ [pickup zone] to pick up more troops, and they found at that point that it wouldn't be prudent to go on with that aircraft. But the mission could still be accomplished with the aircraft that, you know, were being used--that were still available.
The [UH]-60 with the seats out: you can carry more than the eleven that normally that we train with down here with the seats in and seat belts on. When this thing came about, they pulled the seats and the [UH]-60 pretty much lifted as many guys as you could stack in there. So you're talking about maybe twenty--well they say twenty. But I would imagine there would probably have been upwards of thirty people on them, in each one of those aircraft when they pulled out as far as just packing them in.
As far as the other operations, it was the Cimarron area, Tinajitas, Panama Viejo, all those areas. There was limited--Tinajitas was the hottest area, but they did receive mostly like some sniper fire in all those areas.
MAJ WRIGHT: From the TOC perspective, you were set up ... the XO's in charge, because the colonel is up in the C&C bird?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: That's right. He was up until probably around the end of the assault into the Gamboa area. I imagine he got, he got back probably around H-plus-four or -five hours.
MAJ WRIGHT: Back here to Kobbe?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: To Kobbe, to the TOC.
MAJ WRIGHT: And then he went back up in the air the next day, or after daylight?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: No ... I really don't know right now. Probably he'd be the one to ask for that. I was ... at that point I was doing the TOC operation, and at that point missions started coming in for: one, resupply; medevac; you know, a lot of requests were in for that, as far as they just needed an aircraft and direct support of them where they had something really available to move people and equipment.
Other things. There were ammunition movements and water resupply. And those were pretty much accomplished by any aircraft that was in the area. Constantly from day one, aircraft would land at the Tocumen area and sort of six people would run up to the aircraft and say, "You're here for me, right?" And our pilots are very accommodating. They went there for a specific mission, but they came down to common sense. If you're going back to Tocumen [or] to the Clayton area in a [CH]-47 that can carry so many thousand pounds, they'd take extra people, they would take the water. And it really came down to the pilot in command of that aircraft really made a lot of decisions.
MAJ WRIGHT: And then notified you in the TOC once he'd get airborne again?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Yes. Most of the time when they would be picking up missions like that, they would go through the flight following agency who would keep track of where the aircraft were and who they were for. Certain aircraft were in direct support of the units, in which case they would report directly to that unit.
MAJ WRIGHT: So this made it a challenge for you back in the TOC to try to keep your status board current then?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Yes. And then with aviation ... I don't know how familiar you are with aviation, but during a peacetime Army there used to be a lot of accidents in aviation. And, you know, I'm talking of the past, but if you look at aviation accident history.
Within the past few years it's gotten really good because what they were realizing is they were flying people into mission and just flying them ten hours. Well, when you get to ten hours of flying in a helicopter that just flies by pretty much violence--I mean, it's shaking, you'll come into the ground, it gets tiring. And also, you know, we're talking of flying under NVGs, which reduces your field of view forty degrees either way of centerline either forward, everything is a green shade, it's loud, and then when you added combat conditions.
Before this, there was always what they called a crew rest policy, [in] which you only have like a sixteen-hour duty day, you can only fly so many hours each day--prorated, you know, if it's NVGs, it's ... you can only fly so many hours NVGs' worth whereas in day light you can fly more.
Now, when this came about, I'm not going to say that it was thrown completely out the window, but it became more of a mission-oriented thing. And I was a little surprised how we got back on track with that crew rest. Pretty much after the first three days, it was the feeling, as far as I am concerned, with all the soldiers, that it was pretty much over; there wasn't a lot of fighting going on, but yet the resupply missions and any medevac things were assigned that had to be carried out.
But we really got back to the crew rest. It was like, "Why send out a pilot, you know, that is not rested up, into a dangerous condition, under goggles or into areas where, particularly talking city fighting, where there were wires and you cannot see those wires really well under goggles. So why send someone in there to do that mission when you can do it at a later time or a better time or with more, you know, with a different crew or something."
MAJ WRIGHT: Inside the TOC, there is the XO and you. Who else was in the TOC with you?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: There is SFC McDean, and I have ... the S-2 was working in there, SGT Morrissey, and some personnel from S-1. On H-Hour, in this battalion, the S-1 was on leave. The S-2 had recently departed. So there were some NCOs there. And in S-4, the S-4 was on leave. So as far as primary staff, there was the S-3 (MAJ Muse), who was the only officer who was there, and the XO and colonel.
MAJ WRIGHT: And then the rest were handled by the NCOICs [noncommissioned officers in charge] acting as if they were officers?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: That's correct. They were the only ones available. The other three were on leave at H-Hour. And they came back later on sporadically throughout JUST CAUSE. But when it initially happened, those people were the only ones.
MAJ WRIGHT: From the perspective of the TOC, how did the voices sound as the pilots were calling in? I'm thinking here specifically Amador through Cimarron.
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Amador. On Amador, being that it was close to us, they stayed up. At least one aircraft stayed up [on the] battalion net, which we had full radios in there. [People] who were monitoring the intel[ligence] net; our battalion net; the Joint Task Force PANAMA [i.e., Joint Task Force SOUTH] net; and on brigade [net] for Task Force AVIATION (that came down here as a part of us), who were our higher headquarters. Task Force AVIATION. In all honesty, it was very calm. It was very calmly stated that, you know, it was a hot LZ going in, and that they were returning to go get the [rest of the 1st Battalion,] 508th [Infantry] that was waiting at Airborne LZ [at Fort Kobbe]. I know LTC [Benton H.] Borum had come back after this thing, and he said that on their lift in that the guys in the back were screaming so loud--you know, the infantry--were screaming so loud that he could hear the infantry in the other aircraft next to him. So that they had a ... it was kind of loud going on.
MAJ WRIGHT: Get kind of pumped up?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Kind of pumped up. They had ... now, that hadn't been the first time they had flown in there. During the [3 October 1989] coup attempt, we had done a ... flown a mission into the Amador area. Because right there ... right on the one side there are houses there that have Americans, you know, living there. In fact, the flight operations officer from Alpha Company, his family is there. Lives on ... his house is on Amador. So they were flying into areas where they had been before, and they were psyched up.
MAJ WRIGHT: Did you put out a FARP [forward arming and refueling point] from this battalion, or how did you handle the refueling point at Empire [Range]?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Refueling points initially ... before, when I came in country--and I am talking months back--the only refuel capability this place had was cold refuel (which requires shutting the aircraft down, going up to it and filling it) here. And then up at Sherman there was a hot point, which we call it when we fly ...
MAJ WRIGHT: You can go with engines running.
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Yes. Drop the skim down and make the pitch flat and then take fuel on. And then as soon as they're done putting it in, you go. That was two hot points there.
Shortly after the failed coup attempt, the last one, they realized that if we ever had to do a sustained-type operation with Army aviation, that was not the way to do it. First of all, we always received our fuel from the Air Force, which ... their priority went to their heavy-lift aircraft, then their strike aircraft, then their aeromed[ical evacuation aircraft]. So we were low man on the totem pole. Shortly after that, we decided to put a FARP point out at Venado, which was the drop zone previously used by the 508th just as a drop zone.
MAJ WRIGHT: And that is where, located where?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: That is located right off ... right to the west of the Howard airfield.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. That's the ...
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Right over here [pointing to a map].
MAJ WRIGHT: That's the one at the --
MRS. DOLORES DE MENA [Historian, United States Army South]: Towards Vera Cruz.
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Vera Cruz. That's right off Vera Cruz, right on the beach there. There's a large area that they use to drop the ... to practice jumps. Then there was another one at 16 Alpha, which was on the far side up along the ditch, the Canal.
MAJ WRIGHT: On Empire range?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Right.
MAJ WRIGHT: It's range 16 Alpha?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Right. Then they put refuel points in there. Now, the 193d Support [Battalion, 41st Support] Group ... .
The FARP at Venado basically was set up by CPT Nogales, which was our air assault service officer--that's air field service officer. He set it up, and pretty much it was taken over by 193rd Support Group [i.e., Battalion] after he had done everything. The problems that I think we experienced with that is that the support group had no aviators and it took a while. This FARP was operational before H-Hour, but had no aviators in it. So some of the FARPs, this FARP, if you look at it, it fits the mold of a tactical setup. The tankers are in the tree line, the points come out from the tree line.
The FARP at Empire Range was put up by people like it was a gas station. It really wasn't set up. Now it's much better now; they've got someone in there and fixed it ... but it was put up by the 193rd Support Group out there at Empire.
Fuel, we really didn't have much of a problem. The only problem they had here in Panama being the water, and being now at the beginning of the dry season, it's not so bad, but we had a lot of fuel come up bad--it's called an aqua glow test and there's too much water in the fuel, so many parts per million allowed. And that was a continuous problem for this operation.
MAJ WRIGHT: But it wasn't a problem during the operation?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Only because we had a lot more fuel assets. We used to have them, where the test would come bad up in Sherman, that would shut those two points down up there, which was the only hot refuel capabilities in Panama, until they could get a test down here. And then they would have to recycle the whole system through the particle separator and things.
And so if these FARPs hadn't been operational before H-Hour, there is no way we could have done the Army aviation support that we did. The guys out there did a great job of keeping their systems up because no matter how many planes you have and how good your pilots are, if there's no fuel in them, it just goes to pieces.
MAJ WRIGHT: What kind of a shift did you run in the TOC?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Well, ...
MAJ WRIGHT: Continuous op[eration]s, but how did you break your people out?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: What we did was ... like I say, we started this initially when the person was shot, and at that point we realized that something is going to happen of this, whether it be a military action or they're going to keep us on PML [personnel movement limitation] Zulu and we're not going anywhere. So we, right from there, we ... that night of that thing we decided we're going to go to a twenty-four-hour operation like we had done during the failed coup attempts and other crisis times. Basically it was a twelve hours on/twelve hours off; split between the two TOC officers (one's myself and CW-2 Jones). Currently, we're still doing twenty-four-hour shifts. Normally, it's closer to fourteen hours on, because you want to get the overlap.
MAJ WRIGHT: Get the overlap?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Yes. An hour either way when the person comes in and the person leaves. So you're talking twenty-four hours: you know, fourteen hours on, and ten hours off, which you should pretty much go home, get something to eat, and go to sleep. And we've done that since the 16th until now, and we will continue to do it until the tempo slows down. Or maybe where the Army aviation support becomes something where it's very well planned out into the future, like when we know exactly what missions need to be done. Right now we're in a VIP mode: all the congressmen and everything.
MAJ WRIGHT: So you've been doing a lot of hauling of people to all the tourist spots?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: It was kind of funny. Now, our being a general support unit before this thing kicked off, we did do congressional visits (called Codel--congressional delegations). And before this thing even started, we've had ... we've done VIPs and they got the standard tour (up one side of the Canal, back down the other) showing all the points.
But pretty much after five days after this congressmen started coming down, Senators, you know, Joint CHiefs of Staff, high-ranking military individuals. And they're still coming down. I can't remember the exact number of days, but we did a ten-ship Blackhawk lift just moving these congressmen. Personally, I think it could have been better spent resupplying troops, but it was something that we had given very high priority.
Within the second day, we had two aircraft dedicated every day, twenty-four hours a day, direct support to PAO [public affairs office], which is basically press people who wanted to go somewhere, they had aircraft that they could take them there. So it was, as far as that goes, the press was given a high, you know, priority along with these congressional delegations coming down.
MAJ WRIGHT: Anything innovative that you tried in the TOC? Anything out of the ordinary? Sort of field expedient stuff you came up with?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Yes. There were a few things. Like I said, we were not deployed here; you know, we didn't jump into Tocumen [Airfield] the first night. Everyone that was here lived here either at ... my home was one minute away by car. So it wasn't like I was in the field. We did have--and we'd been here for months--we have ... the TOC is set up that if the power is gone out of this area. You know, on H-Hour they did loose power down in the hangar and caught the one unit down there that had no power, because their radio were on the power. We had it set up that the TOC would run--all the radios, the computer, the lights, and the fans in the TOC--by running two generators outside. We had two generators set up there.
MAJ WRIGHT: 10 Kw [kilowatt]?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Yes. We had two of those set up. So we were ready. We were ready to go even if we lost all the power in there.
As far as innovation, I guess you'd say the standard things worked. Everything that had worked before, and everyone knew would work, did work. As far as creative things, I don't think we ... we had been here all along. The contingency plans that were executed at H-Hour, we had flown them before. We had flown all over this area, you know. The Amador [mission] was nothing new. The Gamboa area was nothing new, right? Most of the pilots that had gone to that Gamboa area had probably within the past month, launched a fishing boat out up there to go by it and go fish for peacock bass. So as far as we were ...
MAJ WRIGHT: That was a cover?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: No.
MAJ WRIGHT: Or was that just natural?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: No, that was ... no, the fishing is just really good down there. And, you know, we were stationed here. So beforehand, with the Canal Treaty, there was a slice of land called the canal operating zone that we flew in. And basically the flying was Route 1, 2, 3, and 4, and that would go from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And that was really all we flew. So we were well prepared as far as going into Gamboa, the Amador area, Tinajitas.
I would be willing to bet that a lot of the pilots do not even have their maps out because they knew the area. So they didn't need a map.
MAJ WRIGHT: Anything from back at Fort Rucker, the training you got back there, that you feel particularly worked well?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: As far as me and the TOC, no. In the TOC, pretty much common sense rules. That's the way to keep order. It's got to be something ... just common sense and the people that are working there have to know what the limit is. Knowing the area helps a lot; knowing all the points of contacts.
One interesting thing throughout the whole thing was that our telephone lines were ... well, we never had any problems with the telephone lines. So as far as communications directly with Task Force AVIATION, probably I'd say sixty to seventy percent of communication with them was done via phone. Now, it was a secured phone, a Stu-III [secure telephone unit, type III] type, where you punch up, and it's a secure line so you can talk about classified (secret), that type. But as far as using the FM radio, we really didn't use it that much for communicating because it was a hell of a lot easier to use the phone.
MAJ WRIGHT: That's an interesting point. It's a luxury you enjoyed by being prepositioned.
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Yes, it is. It's a luxury. You know, I feel we could have executed without it. In fact, it probably would have made it simpler, with all the calls that they sent down for stuff that really should have taken a low priority, but ... . Someone up there said, "Well, I need the names of all the pilots and their readiness level status at whatever." Which at that point no one needed to know, they could have gotten that later in the after-action.
MAJ WRIGHT: Do you have, speaking of names of pilots, do you have, and did you consciously develop, a list of--by aircraft, by tail number--?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Yes.
MAJ WRIGHT: Who the flight crews were for the initial assaults?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Yes. On the initial assault, we had every crew that was up--by pilot, copilot, and any flight engineer, crew chief, door gunner--and that's throughout the spectrum: OH-58, CH-47, everything. That was for the first two days. We did have that. After that, maintenance got to a point where we had the companies track that, and as the aircraft departed our AO [area of operations], they would call up with their call sign and tail number. So if ... in case of an accident, we would know ...
MAJ WRIGHT: You knew who was on it?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: The company had the real names. We didn't need to ...
MAJ WRIGHT: To track that?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: We didn't need to manage down to a company level. I didn't need to do a platoon leader's job. I did need to know where the aircraft were, though.
MAJ WRIGHT: And you never had any particular problems on tracking where your aircraft were?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Yes, we did, actually. I think that goes back to where we were here before. A lot of the pilots were familiar with the area. As far as the danger in flying, I bet there was no real fear of flying down here as far as ... we were in a combat situation, yes, but you got to remember these guys have been flying this area for so long, they knew the areas that were on the P.D.F. list. You know, we knew where the line was drawn on Albrook Air Force Base, on Amador; we knew where the Comandancia was. We knew the areas of San Miguelito where the P.D.F. dignity battalions were particularly strong.
So I don't think the pilots had that fear of flight following. I think a lot of them got just flight followed internal, being they were given multiple ships together and if something, if an aircraft went down and you're flying in formation, the way I am going to find out if when they're using the other aircraft to already extract the crew or do maintenance on it, which is the most expeditious ... that's common sense.
MAJ WRIGHT: Any other observations that ... ?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: My personal observation is, as far as this whole thing, looking at aviation, standing back looking at aviation, [is that] all the bad press that night vision goggles got before this thing (and I'm particularly talking about there were a lot of accidents with night vision goggles). But on that first assault there were ZPU positions, which is an antiaircraft weapon that fires a .51-caliber (very large) piece of lead. There were two of those in place at Amador, they had one at the Comandancia, they had them at, you know, places that were already, you know, the S-2 already talked about. In those areas they went in that night under goggles, and those aircraft did not receive any hits, you know, and those weapons are made to take out aircraft.
The flight into Tinajitas, which was for some reason delayed until the morning-time assault in, aircraft took hits and we lost aircraft due to battle damage. It may be a little more dangerous to fly with them, but when you're in a low intensity conflict (where no one has a radar, or a heat-seeking, you know, type of thing where they can--or a passive infrared system that they can pick you up on), that's the way to go. It's one of the probably single biggest piece of technology that we used here that kept aircraft up in the air.
MAJ WRIGHT: What about, from your perspective, the maintenance crews? How did they perform?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Going into, as far as the operation, maintenance, crews.
The UH-1s, the OH-58s, the aircraft that flew into the Gamboa assault--you need to speak Beatty Masono on this one for exact details--but each one of those airframes that flew into the Gamboa assault, the UH-1s were Vietnam ... Vietnam-era airframes. I am talking 68 through 73 airframes; the actual aircraft were around at that time. So those things have been maintained for a lot of years.
Looking back on the maintenance flow chart that we flew ... and since H-Hour to now, excuse me, yesterday which was the 7th [of January] at twelve o'clock, we've flown over 2,460 hours. And that's about a tripling what you normally expect for ... tripling or quadrupling, in some cases even fifteen times (for like the Medevac), the hours that you would normally fly.
I don't know if we could have sustained the op[erations] tempo the way we were these first three days, but the maintenance that was done, it's obvious to see that those guys did a super job. An aircraft, and particularly ... particularly a helicopter, is something that is very maintenance-intensive. And it takes a lot. You have to know what you're doing when you have to do the services; and there's a lot of paperwork; and it boggles the mind. No one knows ... you know, guys that have been into this for ten years ... and it still amazes me that they keep those things running.
[END OF SIDE 1]
MAJ WRIGHT: This is Side 2 of 1LT Nappenburger's comments. Continue, please.
1LT NAPPENBURGER: The [CH]-47s right now, after all this is over, we're flying probably about over half of them into phase, which means they will have to basically rebuild them. Right prior to this, the operation, the UH-60s were pretty much grounded because of an oil cooler fan problem. We had an aircraft crash here right off the end of the active on the runway, probably about ... it was the day that GEN [Maxwell] Thurman came down and took over at SOUTHCOM. We had a Medevac bird crash right up here at Coco Beach, and we lost some soldiers in it. We went back and looked and found it was a cooler fan problem. All of our aircraft had it. It looked like a ... corrosion, I believe, it was the problem. There was a problem with that cooling fan. So right prior to this they grounded them. And, I mean, we had maybe four or five flyable Blackhawks. And they geared up down here to get these Blackhawks flying and there could be--you know the supply system way it is. And it really cranked up to this operation. I was impressed how the maintenance parts got here. There are units in the States that have aircraft that are probably going to stay down for months because it just doesn't have one part. And down here that wasn't the case.
MAJ WRIGHT: Anything else you can think of?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Not really.
MAJ WRIGHT: Commo was never a serious issue because of the land line redundancy?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Yes. They also put in, like I said, our TOC had four radios. In it there's a direct line that ... if I pick up the phone, it dials for me directly to SKYWATCH, which was the flight filing agency. Had a direct line that goes right to the ODCSOPS [office of the deputy chief of staff for operations], which pretty much J-3 Air took over. And I had two Stu-III phones in there which were enabled to talk secure for classified or secret material. And also I had four other phones in there. So I had plenty of lines and commo redundancy.
MAJ WRIGHT: Plenty of people calling you up giving you advice?
1LT NAPPENBURGER: Yes. There was never a shortage of advice or information that they had to have at that moment.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K., lieutenant. I thank you very much for your time.
1LT NAPPENBURGER: You're welcome.
[END OF INTERVIEW]