DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
XVIII AIRBORNE CORPS
FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA
UNITED STATES ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview
BATTERY A, 3d BATTALION, 319th FIELD ARTILLERY
Captain David D. Hollands; Commander
Sergeant Timothy J. Lucas; Battery Fire Direction Center
Specialist Vincent E. Pegues; M-60 Machine Gunner
Interview conducted 9 February 1990 at the Barracks of Battery A, 3d Battalion, 319th Field Artillery, Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Interviewers: Major Dennis Levin and Staff Sergeant Larry Long, 130th Military History Detachment
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview JCIT 023
MAJ LEVIN: This is 9 February . This is an [Operation JUST CAUSE] interview done by the 130th Military History Detachment. I am MAJ [Dennis] Levin. With me is SSG Larry Long, and we are doing interviews of A Battery, 3rd [Battalion] of the 319th Field Artillery Regiment (Airborne).
CPT HOLLANDS: My name is CPT [David D.] Hollands, ***-**-****. I'm the commander of Alpha Battery, 3rd of the 319th Field Artillery.
SGT LUCAS: My name is SGT [Timothy J.] Lucas, ***-**-****, and I'm a computer in the FDC [fire direction center] of Alpha Battery.
SPC PEGUES: My name is SPC Vincent [E.] Pegues, I'm a [M]-60 [machine] gunner, ***-**-****.
MAJ LEVIN: All right. Why don't we start off by discussing what kind of preparation you had for this particular operation.
CPT HOLLANDS: We were the DRF-1 battery ...
MAJ LEVIN: Which means?
VOICE: ... which is the Division Ready Force-1, which is the first battalion task force that the [82d Airborne] Division pushes out. Each brigade, when they go onto Division Ready Brigade status, has a DRF-1, -2 and -3 battalion. So we were at the highest level of alert. Everyone is on two-hour recall for the three-week period that we are DRF-1. Prior to going DRF-1, we went through a division operational readiness survey, which is all of our vehicles, communications systems, howitzers, weapons, night vision goggles, and that, were inspected by division inspectors. We scored a perfect score on that, we had no faults whatsoever, so all our equipment was serviceable and ready to go. All of our vehicles were loaded in the local area facility. All of the vehicles were loaded with the equipment, all the howitzers were loaded, prepared for air land or air drop, so that all we had to do upon notification was move the already-loaded equipment. We never touched it. Another unit took it and loaded it and prepared it for combat.
MAJ LEVIN: I see. So during this time when you were the Division Readiness Force, you don't go out on like field exercises and things like that?
CPT HOLLANDS: Generally not. Occasionally, we are pulled out for special operations and we can hone our skills to keep us up, but not ... generally we're kept in a close hold so that we can deploy at any time.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K.
CPT HOLLANDS: What things did DRF-1 mean to you guys?
SGT LUCAS: Basically, it's pretty much what you said, sir. On of top notch; first ones ready to go; eighteen-hours wheels up as the division standard. To the guys, you know, it means they're that much closer to going to war, as we did. Everybody's mentally alert and preparing themselves for, you know, what might happen--as it did.
CPT HOLLANDS: You inspected all the troops?
SGT LUCAS: Right. Gear is all loaded; make sure they have all their gear. Inspect the weapons and make sure they're all ready to go. We go out and zero our weapons. Some people qualify, and make sure the sights are all right. Generally, everything that we do is to prepare to go.
SPC PEGUES: The object to me is more or less being prepared and ready at all times, and I think we're well prepared for everything we do. I think it's good training for most of us just to be ready. Like they picked us to go to Honduras [in 1988 on Operation GOLDEN PHEASANT], we was ready and was prepared. It was something that we really didn't expect, and for us to go to Panama is something we definitely didn't expect, but we was prepared and we was qualified, as being paratroopers, to fulfill our obligations. And I think we have the best training that we can ever have ... is more or less being able to adapt to the atmosphere that you're in. Being that I'm from Chicago, so I'm kind of like used to what's going on, and I was capable of just holding in there, just standing in there.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K.
CPT HOLLANDS: Other preparations we make that are not as combat-oriented are the administrative preparations we make. Everyone is ... goes through an administrative preparation for overseas deployment where all their insurance records, their personnel files, their ID cards, their shot records, and their home town and family support information is all updated, so that when we deployed, we had to worry about no administrative details. They'd already been inspected, and everything worked out fine. That's another requirement of going onto mission status.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. Now, when did you first find out that you were going?
SPC PEGUES: When we was in the motor pool, we was going down for our daily inspection for the vehicles and guns. It was about 0900, and all of a sudden, about five minutes as we was in the motor pool, they came in and told us that the first sergeant want us back up to the battery area, and we was informed from there that we was on standby. And from there, everything was just history, wheels up, and on the way to go.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. But did you know at the time when you were notified by your sergeant that this was more than an EDRE?
SPC PEGUES: No, we wasn't informed of anything because he wasn't quite sure what was going on, himself. He thought it was just another exercise, just readiness exercise, because you encounter maybe between two or three of them during DRF time. So they was like worrying, people was worrying, they didn't know exactly was going on. And being that I was in one DRF when we had deployed out to Honduras, I was kind of like relaxed, so I just took it from there and whatever happened, happened.
CPT HOLLANDS: All the commanders, and the battalion commander and the sergeant major, and the first sergeants were all at a reenlistment breakfast. We were all talking about reenlistment, and we broke up at 9:00 o'clock, and just as we were all putting our coffee cups away the phone rang and the colonel [LTC Larry D. Gottardi] got a call and he said 'we're in an N-hour sequence.'
N-hour sequence is the eighteen-hour cycle the division uses from notification until it wheels up on the first aircraft. And at that point the colonel goes to N-plus-2 briefing at division. We had an N-plus-1 briefing here where all the commanders come together and we review the 'red x-ray message,' which is a battalion's actual notification that outlines certain procedures that we're expected to go through and it outlines some specifics that differentiate things from alerts to potential deployments. One is what type of ammunition will be loaded, whether certain specific types of ammo (like Stinger [surface to air missiles] or what not) will be deployed. Whether the minimum mission essential equipment, which is equipment that's identified for cross-leveling to the deploying units is to be transferred and what not. So the commanders and the field-grade officers met here. They put out the information that was needed, and then went back to the battery.
And we waited then for the colonel to return from the N-plus-2 briefing, which is where the division commander briefs his subordinate commanders, the entire DRB [division ready brigade]. The colonel came back, called the commanders back in, and said that we are in an EDRE, an emergency deployment readiness exercise, which is what all of our training exercises start off as. It's also often used as a cover for actual deployments. And all's that he could say is that we were going to do an EDRE, that we would be jumping on post, and to prepare people for that. It looked like just the DRF-1 battery. So, you know, he called me in his office after that and said that, this is an important EDRE, he wanted us to take it very seriously, that I should have my guys modify their packing and take out any cold weather gear and cold weather uniforms they had, to pack their light weather uniforms.
MAJ LEVIN: Which was ... was that a tip-off?
CPT HOLLANDS: He also told me that individual ammunition would be issued for the exercise. And he was not at liberty to tell us that we were being deployed somewhere, but I believe he knew that. And so he was leaving it to me to fill in the blanks of what was going on, and told me clearly that I was to tell the men that we were doing an on-post EDRE and to treat it as such.
I went back to my first sergeant and told him just what the colonel told me to tell, that the party line was we were doing an EDRE and that was what we would brief the soldiers on. And at that point we also ... I heard that there were radio broadcasts out that the President was deploying troops from Ft. Bragg to Panama. And so that rumor is running around the battery at the same time I'm trying to tell the soldiers that we are just doing an EDRE, just to keep things--that's all part of the operational security plan. If everyone knows we're going to war, they're going to try and call their wives and mothers and what not, and violation of security could cost people's lives. So we try and get them in a personnel holding area [PHA] before we give them the information. I believe we hit the personnel holding area at about 1:00 o'clock, N-plus-4, which is our SOP [standing operating procedure], and that's when I went in and told the troops exactly what was going on. I called a bunch of guys and said that we were deploying to Panama.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. Did you feel, when the colonel told you that he was ... did you feel like you were being told what was really going on, or did you really believe you were going to Panama when he called you in?
CPT HOLLANDS: I had a good feeling the EDRE was a screen. And he was trying to communicate that to me to make sure I made a more serious effort to prepare myself. He wanted me to read between the lines. He gave us credit for being able to do that. The only thing ... the tip I left for everybody else when I left was I drew my pistol and went to the PHA and told the armor to give me all the 9mm ammunition he had in there, and so he knew then I was serious about what was going on. But, you know, we tried to play the party line until we got to the PHA.
MAJ LEVIN: Did your sergeant pick up from you that this was more than an EDRE?
VOICE: My first sergeant knew, and I had to give him the half wink of the eye because he's the guy whose got to help me make decisions and make sure we do all the correct preparations--the last-minute preparations. So, I sort of gave him my gut feeling about what was going on, so that he could assist me in making any critical decisions.
MAJ LEVIN: Did you guys think that it was anything more than an EDRE by the time you got to the personnel place?
SGT LUCAS: Like SPC Pegues said before, most of us had been to Honduras. Maybe there were a few new guys. So we had a gut feeling that this might be a little bit more than that. Besides that, we were just going with the flow, doing what we were told, keeping everybody straight, and making sure everybody had their proper equipment.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K.
CPT HOLLANDS: I think mostly during the N-hour sequence that the sergeants and the soldiers ... the sergeants worry about getting the soldiers to the PHA. We had four hours to get all our weapons, personal equipment drawn, get everything loaded, and they don't have much time for speculation, I think. They can only get the guys pushed down there. And then we were right on schedule. We had no problem processing through the N-hour sequence.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. You showed up at the personnel holding area, and were you notified that this was more than an EDRE as soon as you got in there, or did it take a while, or what?
CPT HOLLANDS: It took a while. I believe all the commanders, you know, had to go to their little meetings, and the first sergeant had all the troops sit over in one certain area so we could keep track of one another. When you get down there, they basically get all the administrative necessities going. What really tipped it off is when we had to go get gamma globulin shots, which we had when we went to Honduras before, so ... .
MAJ LEVIN: You knew then this was not an EDRE.
CPT HOLLANDS: Right. You know you're not staying on Fort Bragg.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K.
SSG LONG: Is it SOP for you to go to the PHA as a unit, or ... ?
CPT HOLLANDS: Yes. We always go as a unit. We have ... because we do these EDREs routinely, and we have a designated building. We all ... everybody knows where their bunk is and what part of the building we go to. And we work with 1/504 [1st Battalion, 504th Infantry], it's the battalion that we're habitually associated with. And so they have a little slice that we always use. We billet with Delta Company. And it's a pattern; everyone, every trooper could show you just where he's supposed to stay if you took him down to the PHA. He knows the drill.
SSG LONG: I guess my next question kind of deals with your actions when you got to the PHA. Did you get there suddenly realizing that maybe you forgot something or anything along that line, and if so, what sorts of actions did you take at that point?
SPC PEGUES: Well, normally you don't have very much ... I didn't have a feeling ... you're more or less wondering if it's real or it's not real. And if it's real, you're wondering well, do I got all my common sense? And I'm going to deal with it as it comes. Then, that I've been here longer than most, most of our troops now are younger and, you know, under age than me, so I'm mostly concerned with ... my main concern was to help them understand what was going on, because the sergeants had their little routine they have to go through. It was more or less for the specialists to help them out. It was more or less everybody had to group together and combine as one, because if we fall apart as one individual, the whole group falls apart, and we got to stick together. And you know, if you stick together, we'll pull it through all in all.
CPT HOLLANDS: As far as equipment goes, we have ... when we go into mission cycle, we identify critical equipment shortages in the unit, whether we have a howitzer that's not mission-capable or a vehicle that's broken, or we're short binoculars and compasses or what not. And that's given to the S-4 and it's sent to the higher headquarters. And when that's ordered to be transferred, a unit that's in support (that's not on mission cycle), they will have that unit standing by waiting to transfer to us when we need it. So the S-4s job was to bring us that equipment. So during the time we're in PHA, he would show up with different, like if we needed a [AN/PRC-77] "Prick-77" radio, he showed up with several of those. All right, scratch those off my MME list. And he shows up with some M-16 magazines and some other little things that we needed to round ourselves out. And that system worked fine. Because we were the only battery going, there were a lot of people to draw the extra equipment from.
MAJ LEVIN: Did they know that they were drawing it for an actual operation?
CPT HOLLANDS: I don't know what people knew back here. But normally MME is not transferred unless it's a significant operation, because people don't like to have people borrowing equipment and what not. So it's generally a very serious operation or maybe a high visibility exercise that would cause that to be transferred.
SSG LONG: O.K. After you guys got the shots, what was the morale? I guess reality started sinking in a little bit, and ...
SGT LUCAS: Yes. It was pretty much everybody knew something was happening then. Everybody did stick together. The reality of it, I think it hit everybody in a different way. You could see the younger soldiers, you know, had a certain look on their face, a wondering one. And that's when you just have to come up next to them, you know, and say, hey, we're all in this together. These little cliques sit around talking, you know, just trying to put everybody there at ease. I guess that was the best thing that we could do for each other.
CPT HOLLANDS: We were fortunate in that this battery was deployed in Operation GOLDEN PHEASANT to Honduras in response to the Nicaraguan incursion there in 1988, I believe it was. So we had a corps of mostly senior specialists, like Pegues, and NCOs [noncommissioned officers], like SGT Lucas, that had been through that drill. Which is an exact ... Panama was almost an exact replication of that deployment. And I was also deployed to Honduras and so I was familiar with that. So a lot of those people could coach along the many younger soldiers and that was an advantage.
I think everybody realized the deal when we went and drew all our ammo, and they started piling guys up with M-60 [machine gun] ammo and LAWs [M-72A2 light antitank weapons] and [M-18A1] Claymores [antipersonnel mines] and tracer rounds, that they were not ... that no one was kidding.
SPC PEGUES: Especially when we emptied our ruck of uniforms.
CPT HOLLANDS: That's right. When you take all the unnecessary nonsense out and you fill it with ammo, really you don't even have enough room for all of that.
MAJ LEVIN: That was another thing I wanted to bring up. Was there very much pogey bait [snacks]?
MULTIPLE VOICES: No. None.
CPT HOLLANDS: Our guys, they don't pack. That's not in ... the rucksacks are packed ready to go, and there's none of the nonsense. I don't think anybody had any room in their rucksacks for any kind of non-essential equipment.
SSG LONG: And this is non-essential.
CPT HOLLANDS: Yeah. When the sequence starts, you really don't have time to go anywhere; you're always rushing to be at a certain place at a certain time to draw your weapon or whatever. So it's a pretty tight control over people.
SSG LONG: What about people's desire to say, whoops, I'm heading south, I really need to let mom and dad or girl friend or somebody like that know? I know the feeling ...
CPT HOLLANDS: The desire is strong. The division cuts off at the pay phones, and the phones in the battery are disabled, the voice emitter is taken out of them. So I don't think that many people actually got to get out any kind of notification out. I mean, some did. I'm sure there's some [that] found a way, because there are always are guys that will find a way to get word out. I don't think that that was very prominent.
MAJ LEVIN: Times have really changed since I was doing COMSEC down here. [LAUGHTER]
CPT HOLLANDS: As a matter of fact, they immobilized so many phones we couldn't even call some people that we needed. We had to send people from the battery up here, because our phones were completely cut off.
SGT LUCAS: Once you get to the PHA ...
CPT HOLLANDS: Yes, there is no telephone there except in the headquarters.
MAJ LEVIN: Were you told that this was an actual op[eration] after you drew your ammo?
SGT LUCAS: No. I knew it before we drew our ammo. The BC [battery commander] had a briefing there where he calls all the troopers together and he basically gave us, like, the rundown; just the general subject of where we were going. By that time, we knew we were going to Panama. And stuff like that. We didn't really get a solid operations order [OPORD] there until he was further briefed. But generally ... .
CPT HOLLANDS: I tried to give them just a warning order the day ... the afternoon that we got there. And we got our battery operations order the following morning at 10:00 o'clock, I think it was.
MAJ LEVIN: What was the general response to you putting out the official word?
CPT HOLLANDS: Well, I think a little bit of cheering, like yeah, and then a lot of people just sort of reflecting internally. You could ... when you're the boss and you stand there looking at the guys, you see a whole mixture of emotions across their faces.
SPC PEGUES: I think everybody really knew that we was really going. You understand, you look at the BC when he talks to you, you listen to him, you comprehend what's going on. But for me, really, when the colonel came down and the colonel had like an expression on his face like he wanted the soldiers to be safe. He wanted them to go down and do the job, and he wanted us all to return. And when he came down and made his little speech, it kind of like gave everybody a little bit something to worry about. Not in terms of getting hurt, but in terms of that we were on our way to something that's big and very important to the US. And we took that in stride, and we marched on, and we came back. We accomplished our mission without anybody really being seriously wounded, other than our lieutenant's getting shot. One of our lieutenants got shot in the leg, but nothing really severe.
CPT HOLLANDS: Before we even deployed to the PHA, I had developed a list of soldiers that I did not ... that were not deemed worthy enough to deploy with the battery, and we culled them out before we even deployed, so that every man down there was fully willing, fully willing and able to go. I think every trooper that was there, everybody there, would have trusted the guy next to him. So we were lucky. We had no real questionable troops down.
SSG LONG: Let me follow up on your statement. What particular kinds of criteria did you use in order to cull?
CPT HOLLANDS: We have two. We have several soldiers that are being chaptered out for drug abuse or what not. And basically soldiers like that that were clearly identified. The First Sergeant and I already knew if the balloon went up, these guys would not deploy with the unit.
As a matter of fact, I took sixty soldiers for the firing battery down there, and after all the haggling between the branches, we were allocated forty-eight parachutes. So I then had to cull twelve more soldiers. And that was among the hardest decisions I had to make. Was ... I personally took the roster and I personally chose who would not go. And each one of the men, I think, felt personally slighted when he was chosen not to go, because they all wanted to go with the unit. But some guys ... a couple of troopers that had brand new babies, some guys were short, you know, they had thirty days or forty-five days left. Some were just too inexperienced to have to face this kind of thing. And so I used my own judgment as to which guys I picked that didn't get to go.
MAJ LEVIN: But they weren't considerations of morale or qualification?
CPT HOLLANDS: No, definitely not qualification. Every man I took to the PHA with me was qualified to go. Some more than ... mostly the 'cherries' [new troops] were the ones I was concerned with. There was about eight guys that had not deployed with the unit to the field. And so I was concerned about them, about exposing them to such a rigorous first operation in the division.
SPC PEGUES: It had been nice to see one of the commo [communications] guys got his first jump, it would have been a combat jump. That's something that really stuck in his mind.
CPT HOLLANDS: We had a lieutenant wearing an 82d combat patch on the jump yesterday, making his cherry blast in division. There he was wearing a combat patch and had never even jumped with us. Because he was in the group that was deployed to jungle warfare school, so they didn't get to jump into the operation. So that was a thing; there were enough guys from other units that made their cherry blast into Panama. It's quite an experience.
MAJ LEVIN: I guess so.
SSG LONG: Good for a training jump.
MAJ LEVIN: Sometimes it's all the training some people get.
CPT HOLLANDS: So personnel wise, everybody was there. I didn't see anybody who was looking like he wanted to hop the fence and head downtown. He wasn't looking ... everybody there knew they were part of something of the battery that was very significant and they all wanted to be a part. The twelve guys I sent back, as they were packing their gear to go back home, I walked up to each one of them and personally tried to console them that they were not being singled out because they couldn't hang. It's that I had to cut somebody and they each had a reason why they were going home. And I'd like to think they understood, but they may not have been happy about it.
MAJ LEVIN: Now, once you were issued your ammo, did you ... you had a card, am I correct?
VOICE: IAA cards: individual ammunition allocation cards.
MAJ LEVIN: All right. When you got your ammunition, was there much mixing and swapping and stuff, or did you really take ... keep the load that you got?
SGT LUCAS: Well, we kept the load that we had, but when we got the twelve guys cut, we had a top-heavy of like ... we wanted to take the most automatic weapons. We did, so we basically loaded up on M-60s because we never knew what we would need. And, you know, one guy might carry a [M]-60 and is allocated 1,000 rounds. His buddy might grab 500 or so. But it was split up evenly, you know. Nobody jumped an enormously heavy ruck that they couldn't lift. And everybody helped each other out.
MAJ LEVIN: What was the average weight of the ruck?
SGT LUCAS: Oh, I guess most of the troopers carried about fifty-five pounds, sixty pounds.
CPT HOLLANDS: The [M]-60 gunners carrying more than that. I know that all the leaders had PRC-77 radios and Vinsons [secure devices] and ammunition. I know my ruck was about eighty pounds. I don't think there was anybody that had one heavier than that. But they were all substantial.
MAJ LEVIN: Why was yours eighty?
CPT HOLLANDS: Because I had a radio and a vincent and a block of ammunition.
MAJ LEVIN: So you carried your own radio?
CPT HOLLANDS: Oh, yes.
MAJ LEVIN: You didn't have an RTO [radio telephone operator]?
CPT HOLLANDS: No. All officers jump their radios into combat, and then we allocate them to RTOs once we get there, because there's no sense me jumping in, having my RTO not jump or land somewhere else, and not being able to communicate. So all of my officers jumped with their own radios.
MAJ LEVIN: Very good. Very good point. O.K., let's see, where are we going from here?
SSG LONG: Well, I was a little bit curious as to how the PHA is organized. Is the PHA organized such that only your battalion is there at one time, or ... ?
CPT HOLLANDS: There are buildings, there are quonset huts, and fabricated framed buildings and some quonset huts for command and control centers that can support one battalion task force, which is approximately 1,000 soldiers: an airborne infantry battalion, an artillery battery, an engineer slice, an ADA [air defense artillery] slice, some other logistical elements that come together to form the task force. There are GP [general purpose] medium tents set back that can handle an additional task force. There are latrine facilities there. They can handle up to two battalion task forces at a time.
MAJ LEVIN: And you would normally spend no more than ten hours there?
VOICE: Check. Normally the SOP has us arriving at the PHA at N-plus-4, which is four hours after notification. Normally, we would begin our movement to Pope Air Force Base about three hours prior to drop time, which is N-plus-18. So usually from N-plus-4 to N-plus-15, we'd be at the PHA. We might move out of the PHA to conduct rehearsals. Sometimes we move to open fields or other areas simulating the environment we'll be training in or operating in to conduct rehearsals. But about ten hours.
MAJ LEVIN: Did you go through the usual PLF [parachute landing fall] routines and things like that?
SGT LUCAS: A condensed version. What we did go through was, it ... they had a (what is it?) where they kept the vehicles in the PHA ...
CPT HOLLANDS: C-lack, it's called. It's a big open gravel parking lot and all the chalks did pre-jump training there. So that's pretty much routine. And again we routinely do that in the PHA.
SSG LONG: What quantities and kinds of heavy equipment did you take?
CPT HOLLANDS: Battery was allocated eight platforms. Four HMMWVs [M-998-series High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicles as prime movers] and four [M-102 105mm] howitzers. We have one HMMWV that's the battery fire direction center which has a battery computer system in it which is our primary means of fire direction. It also has three radios mounted in it. Another vehicle, which is the back up FDC, has two radios mounted in it, and a third vehicle has another radio mounted in it. A fourth vehicle is a howitzer prime mover that has a winch on it. So we make sure that we've got adequate radios and we have the winch so we can do extraction operations.
SSG LONG: How's the ammo moved?
VOICE: Ammo is loaded--there's two types of ammo; there's platform ammo for the howitzers, and there's ballast ammunition that's loaded in the back of the vehicles. Each vehicle is ... based on ... the load is tailored by what the vehicle does. The FDC has got its own equipment, plus a howitzer section of equipment, loaded in the back. They can hold usually eight boxes of ammo which is sixteen 105[mm] rounds. That's basically ... each vehicle carried about sixteen rounds of ammunition. And on the platforms ... like now, we've just reconfigured the way we rig it. We can carry twenty-three boxes of ammo, which is forty-six rounds on each of the gun platforms. And the mix of ammunition is tailored to the mission.
Usually the DRF-3 battery commander, the third guy in the row, his battery is responsible for taking our equipment from the LAK, moving it down and rigging it for us. So I never see it after ... . We deploy without ever even looking at our equipment because we know it's ready. He gets the ammunition from the, you know, the G-4 guys that deliver the ammo and he configures that the way the battalion commander directs him to, based on the mission, based on METT-T [mission, enemy, troops, terrain and time available].
MAJ LEVIN: And once you got all your stuff together, what was the procedure for getting 'chuted up and loaded?
CPT HOLLANDS: Just a normal sequence, right?
SGT LUCAS: Right, the normal thing. Go to Green Ramp [at Pope Air Force Base]. And then ... well, there was that ice storm so there was a little bit of deviation. They had ... most people chuted up on the plane itself so we wouldn't get the parachutes and reserves wet. They had some people chute on the plane; some people chute outside. Buddies helping each other out.
MAJ LEVIN: You got the word, when, that you were going in at 500 [feet]?
SGT LUCAS: When we knew we were jumping. I think everybody knows what a combat altitude is.
MAJ LEVIN: Have any of you done that at 500?
SGT LUCAS: No, not before.
CPT HOLLANDS: They were told ... I gave them an operations order at 1000 hours, just immediately after the colonel's briefing that Pegues mentioned earlier. And I, you know, I gave them the standard five-paragraph operation order and they knew the threat and our mission and what was going on and the facts about the airborne operation and the critical times and everything. That's one thing that we had adequate maps and aerial photographs of the area and all the other pertinent intel[ligence] that we needed in the operation. I know [Operation] URGENT FURY [the 1983 invasion of Grenada] people pointed out all the problems there. We ... the first night we were in the PHA, I had adequate maps to provide all my key leaders with the information. And I had aerial photographs and photographs of all the enemy vehicles and what not that I could show the troops.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. So you loaded up and you chuted up on the plane?
SGT LUCAS: Well, half did and half were forced to have ...
CPT HOLLANDS: I think each plane really ... each plane in the lift had a different approach and situation. It was a very flexible situation. The jump masters were having to make decisions on the spot because it was ... the weather was very cold. So we're standing out in the freezing rain. A lot of guys still had their cold weather gear on. They had sweaters, sweat shirts underneath, and sweaters and what not. And I know in my chalk, I was grabbing people [and] making them take off all their cold weather gear. And I recall standing in the freezing rain in my t-shirt as I was taking my sweater off. And it was very uncomfortable for a long period of time. That was a hard thing to do. Some guys I know, in other planes, ended up jumping in in cold weather gear and caused severe discomfort, in some cases heat injuries.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. We heard about the heat injuries. Did you find that most of the guys that were suffering from heat injuries had in fact not removed their cold weather gear?
CPT HOLLANDS: No. The situation was much worse, in that guys that had cold weather gear on were almost immediately heat injuries. They couldn't even move to the drop zone without overheating. But there were other factors that influenced the heat injuries. It went beyond that.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. We'll get into that a little later.
SGT LUCAS: Yeah.
CPT HOLLANDS: So in my plane, I was in chalk number 4, we stood out behind the tail in reverse chalk order. We had everybody strip off their cold weather gear. I made all my guys leave a pocket open in their ruck, and that's where they stuck their sweater into. And we walked ... we all loaded on the aircraft, the first chalk over, and they passed parachutes down from the front of the aircraft, and people began buddy rigging then. We had all the rucks, and tried to stuff them under the seats. Of course, it was very cramped. There was very little floor space. People were tired, people were cold until the heater got going in the plane.
And we had a shortage of jump masters. We had a lot of troops. I'd say there were two primary jump masters, maybe an additional four or five of us, and we got two guys that were not going to deploy that came out to assist us and JMPI-ing [jump master's personal inspection] the troopers. That was important. That was a very trying time for everybody, I think, as we worked to get it done. Everybody had their mind on their own mission. And especially the jump masters. They feel the need to exhaust themselves trying to get all this done, though we were really working against the clock. It was a trying time. But everybody handled it because the guys are trained. They'll handle whatever is thrown at them.
SGT LUCAS: It's something--even on the training jump sometimes that happens when there's not enough jump masters. And all the jump master-qualified people just get up and start JMPI-ing whoever needs it. Have to make station times.
MAJ LEVIN: So everybody ... did everybody have ... ?
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE 1]
MAJ LEVIN: This is Side 2 of Tape 1 of the A Battery interview.
All right, we were mentioning just before the tape went off on the other side [that] everybody who was on the plane had their gear inspected by someone who was jump master qualified, whether or not that person was assigned as a jump master for that drop.
SGT LUCAS: Right. Exactly.
CPT HOLLANDS: That is SOP that all jump masters are used to JMPI troopers for a jump. And normally you have a higher ratio than we had here, because there is a high ratio of troopers that you have in an operation like this.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. "JMPI" stands for?
CPT HOLLANDS: Jump master preinspection. For every trooper's harness and rucksack and parachute is inspected by a qualified jump master.
MAJ LEVIN: What kind of chutes were you using?
SGT LUCAS: T-10 Charlies, I believe. T-10 Charlies, I believe.
MAJ LEVIN: All right. Now, is that a steerable parachute?
CPT HOLLANDS: No, it's not. That's the Army standard parachute. We rarely ... in the 82d we rarely jump steerable parachutes, MC-1s.
MAJ LEVIN: Why is that?
CPT HOLLANDS: One, they don't have the inventory to support the number of jumpers the 82d uses. Also, with a mass ... on a mass parachute drop, it causes ... it increases the likelihood of entanglements. Often you have troopers that are not that experienced that can steer the thing the wrong way. The special operations guys that use them are generally much more experienced than parachute operations. The T-10 is ...
MAJ LEVIN: The T-10 just puts you where you are?
CPT HOLLANDS: Yes. And at 500 feet, you don't need a steerable parachute.
MAJ LEVIN: That's true.
SGT LUCAS: And if you yank on the risers hard enough, I think you might steer it.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. Now, once you got on and you got harnessed in and everything, that was a lose rig at first, right?
CPT HOLLANDS: Right.
SGT LUCAS: Yes. I don't think we put our rucksacks on until so far out.
CPT HOLLANDS: And what happened on our plane, everyone was rigged properly. I mean, we rigged everybody, you know, snug but comfortable is the standard. But all the rucks were underneath the seat. And the designated safeties on the airplane went back and they started ... they hooked up, after everyone had been JMPI'd without their rucksacks, and then sat the people back down. As much ... it's very uncomfortable to have that many people come on the plane with their rucksacks, especially heavy ones, piled on top of each other, because they've got to pile across the peoples' knees in the section--it's very cramped.
MAJ LEVIN: Did you have your whole battery on the same plane?
CPT HOLLANDS: No. All units were tactically cross-loaded. There were usually ... I think I had five people from the battery on each of the first ... four or five on each of the first twelve chalks. I had people on chalks one through twelve.
MAJ LEVIN: Were you all on the same chalk?
MULTIPLE VOICES: No.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. What chalk were you on?
CPT HOLLANDS: Four.
MAJ LEVIN: You were on chalk four?
SPC PEGUES: I was on chalk ten.
SGT LUCAS: And I was on chalk eight.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. Were you able to sleep on the way down?
SPC PEGUES: Nope.
SGT LUCAS: I believe some people did. Most people, if you looked at their face, you could just seem them staring off and wondering what was going to happen to them. But some people 'caught some zees.'
MAJ LEVIN: Food? When you at the PHA, were you fed anything?
SGT LUCAS: The infantry we supported, they brought in mermite cans full of meals.
CPT HOLLANDS: We had A rations [fresh food].
SGT LUCAS: A rations.
CPT HOLLANDS: Our first meal was dinner, the first night we were there, and we got breakfast and MRE [Meal, ready-to-eat] for lunch the next day. And they were given an MRE to eat on the plane if they wanted to, for their dinner meal.
SGT LUCAS: Plus three that we jumped in our ruck sacks.
CPT HOLLANDS: Yeah. Every man took three meals for his first day's rations.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. So you carried with you four meals, one to eat on the plane.
MULTIPLE VOICES: Right.
MAJ LEVIN: What about water?
SPC PEGUES: We had plenty of water. BC emphasized maintain a big supply of water because we was going into a hot environment, so he didn't want none of us to have any type of heat stroke or anything.
MAJ LEVIN: Were you able to get to your water while you were on the plane?
SPC PEGUES: Yes. They had water on the plane, itself. They had a big water cooler in the back, and they had one in the front. So it was real easy to get water. They'd bring it to you; you didn't have to climb over to you ...
CPT HOLLANDS: They'll get a little firemen's chain of cups going down the line. As the water in the coolers is generally cold, versus the tepid water in the guys canteens, they prefer to drink that. But prehydration is important when you jump into a climate like Panama. And I think water was available. I know in my plane, water was available to hydrate people. That's something we encouraged the whole twenty-four-hour period prior is the guys to drink more than they want to ensure that when they get there they don't suffer from shock of immediate dehydration.
MAJ LEVIN: Doesn't that kind of create problems on a long flight?
SGT LUCAS: The bathroom space on a C-141 isn't that big.
CPT HOLLANDS: But if the people really have to go, they can make their way back to one of the little cramped latrines there. Often, that's the first thing guys do when they hit the ground is remedy the situation.
MAJ LEVIN: Hopefully in a voluntary way. [LAUGHTER] All right. Now, were you told anything about the flight path or anything that you were going to follow, or you just said, this is ... when they open the door and turned the light green, this is what you're going to be over? Is that really all you're told about it?
SGT LUCAS: That's all that we were told about it that I know of, unless somebody else got ... ?
SSG LONG: Did you know the flight route or the flight path?
SGT LUCAS: No, I didn't know anything like that.
MAJ LEVIN: Did you know like, for instance, you were coming in from south to north, or ... ?
SGT LUCAS: Oh, that way.
SPC PEGUES: We're always informed in what direction a flight was going in where we're supposed to assemble. We're always informed that. Because if you fly over and you don't know where you're at, it's like a big 'cluster fuck,' as we call it, and it's something that's of major importance because you've got to get all your men together and you want to go on together and just move out.
MAJ LEVIN: Do you have any idea about the wind direction or anything?
CPT HOLLANDS: It's SOP that if the guy can get a wind reading from the ground, then they'll call it to the pilot. The pilot will call it to the crew chief, and he'll tell the jump master, and they'll sort of relay it back. I don't recall getting any. And really the winds ... when you're going in at 500 feet and you know you're going into combat, the winds are irrelevant. It's not like a training jump where if it's over thirteen knots, we're going to be no go. As far as the briefing of the drop zone, I know that I briefed and showed an overhead--an aerial photograph of the drop zone showed the direction of the flight. And also the troopers all receive a MACO briefing from the ...
SSG LONG: What is a MACO briefing?
CPT HOLLANDS: That's an acronym I use so often, I don't even know what it is. It is the briefing that the jump master provides all his troopers that outlines the mission, the operations mission, the fundamental characteristics about the airplane, and the drop zone, and the assembly plan. And it's part of his pre-jump preparation for the troops.
MAJ LEVIN: You were all in [C]-141s [Starlifters], right?
CPT HOLLANDS: Right.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. Do you prefer the [C]-141 over the [C]-130 [Hercules], or would you rather go in the [C]-130?
MULTIPLE VOICES: [C]-141s.
CPT HOLLANDS: Everybody has their preference. For a longer flight, definitely a C-141. They ride a lot smoother.
SPC PEGUES: There's a lot more room, too.
MAJ LEVIN: What about the jump, itself?
SPC PEGUES: Then we just walk out.
SGT LUCAS: It doesn't make a difference.
CPT HOLLANDS: The C-141 is easier because the troops can just walk out. On a C-130, you've got to focus on the door and make sure you make a proper exit to avoid being a towed jumper--entanglement.
SSG LONG: How long were you physically on the plane? I mean, like sitting on it before it took off until you jumped?
SPC PEGUES: I don't think we was on there no more than about forty-five minutes to an hour.
CPT HOLLANDS: I'd say forty-five minutes before we left, and the flight time was about an hour ... [correction] five hours, I believe.
SPC PEGUES: Four; four and a half; something like that.
CPT HOLLANDS: We left at approximately 9:45. I know I was in the first group of airplanes that left. I know some of the airplanes left at staggered times. We left, I think about 9:45, and dropped at 2:10.
SPC PEGUES: We jumped in about the same time, then.
SGT LUCAS: The rumor was that not all the birds were in chalk order. Like he said, chalks one through twenty, or whatever. The rumor we got was that on the way in, everybody got mixed up or something.
SGT LUCAS: Some birds left at different times.
CPT HOLLANDS: I got from reading the report and watching the planes come over the drop zone, there were definitely groups of planes coming at different times. And they helped guide you to the drop zone as we were working our way through the grass and the jungle area there.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. You didn't have any problem at all on the exit?
SPC PEGUES: None at all.
CPT HOLLANDS: My only concern was that I wouldn't make it out for some reason. That's all I wanted to do is get out the door.
SGT LUCAS: Everybody wanted to get to the door.
SPC PEGUES: I think everybody had three prayers. I prayed that I'd get out the door, prayed I'd hit the ground, and prayed I'd get to the assembly point. Once you made it through that, all of your prayers have been answered.
MAJ LEVIN: I'd hate to think I ran out of prayers.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. Let's see, there was one other thing I was going to ask you, and it just went by me. O.K., do you have any recollections of the jump itself?
SGT LUCAS: It was a pretty quick jump. I mean, 500 feet really doesn't give you much time. I just recollect the runway going underneath my feet and sort of drifting off; seeing the elephant grass come up. I didn't know it was elephant grass at the time. And went into a PLF [parachute landing fall] and crashed twelve feet to the ground and landed on my behind. And it's not what I preferred to do but ...
MAJ LEVIN: A little tough to gauge?
SGT LUCAS: Oh, yeah.
SSG LONG: Did you know you were jumping into elephant grass? I guess you didn't, apparently.
SGT LUCAS: Well, we ... I didn't know it was elephant grass, you know, at a certain position.
CPT HOLLANDS: Yeah. I briefed that ... you know, we showed the diagram where the stuff was built. But you can't really tell from the aerial photograph whether it's just low bushes or what not or elephant grass. And there was a grassy area. It was really ... our assembly plan was to get up on a grassy strip. And I don't think anybody really expected the terrain that we jumped in. I know I cam out [and] I wasn't even over the flight [line], I was over wooded terrain when I came out. I could see lights from the airport off to the west and then I drifted. I could see I was going to ... I made a tree landing. I could see I was going to land in trees, and I noticed ... the first thing I looked for were the red lights which marked the heavy drop platforms. That's what we assemble on is the guns. And of course, I didn't see red light one that looked like a gun platform out there.
SSG LONG: What kind of trees were they?
CPT HOLLANDS: They were about thirty feet high.
SSG LONG: Thirty feet high?
CPT HOLLANDS: I don't know what the type of trees they were. They were ...
SSG LONG: Were they tropical trees or ... ?
CPT HOLLANDS: No. They were deciduous trees, but I've never seen anything like them before. It wasn't like a triple canopy jungle or anything. There were stands of trees, and there'd be rows of trees, and the ground was broken up in clear area and swamp and groups of trees, and then wide swaths of twelve-foot high grass and bamboo stands and what not.
SGT LUCAS: That was closer into the airport itself. Where the RV [?] section of runway they had a big strand of ...
CPT HOLLANDS: I landed I estimate about two kilometers to the east of the runway is where I went in, and it took me three hours to make my way through the swamp and the elephant grass and what not, to get to the air strip itself.
MAJ LEVIN: Is this, on the map that I have here [the Panama Special 1:12,500 map of Panama City and environs], this swamp, is this, is this kind of the area where you went in, or was there more swamp?
CPT HOLLANDS: O.K. As you can see, all this ... this is all low land here, very low. There are swamps and streams and what not running all through here. I think I landed somewhere in this area down here, and worked my way back.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. That's east and slightly south of the center of the runway.
CPT HOLLANDS: Yes. Just about. If I had just been moved over in line with the runway, I'd have landed right where I expected to. I was the twelfth jumper out the door in chalk four. So I was ... the whole group was just off-line.
SSG LONG: What route did the plane take as it was flying in?
SGT LUCAS: South to north?
CPT HOLLANDS: It was coming south to north, roughly south to north. It had a heading of like 30 degrees, I think. And people up at ... the Rangers around the airfield said that it banked off just short of the runway, based on, because of some tracer fire it was receiving. That's what the guys that were there at the airfield told me happened. Whether or not that ...
MAJ LEVIN: Did you see any evidence of tracer fire when you got to the door?
CPT HOLLANDS: There were no tracers coming in the air where I was, but there was ground fire and there was AC-130 [Spectre] firing when I was descending. And I moved to the sound of the guns, what I used to help, you know, get me ...
MAJ LEVIN: So there was an AC-130 that was circling?
CPT HOLLANDS: An AC-130 was supporting. I didn't see it at the time. It was, you know, it was very dark then. But I knew he was supporting the Rangers, and their ... most of the fighting was taking place at the northern air field.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. Once you got down then, you were in a tree?
CPT HOLLANDS: I landed ... I was suspended about three feet off the ground. So it was an easy tree landing. I just got out of my harness and got to the ground.
MAJ LEVIN: Did you have fairly good visibility?
CPT HOLLANDS: No. I was in a stand of briars beneath the tree, so I couldn't see anything. I had about three foot visibility span.
MAJ LEVIN: So it was hard for you to tell how far up you were?
CPT HOLLANDS: Yes, I could see the ground from where I was, so I knew I wasn't that high in the trees. That was the first tree landing I've ever made, so I was glad I didn't climb down my reserve or anything.
MAJ LEVIN: And where did you land?
SPC PEGUES: I landed maybe about 300 meters from the runway. It wasn't too bad. It wasn't too bad for being out there in the dark, and all of a sudden you hear some Spanish speaking and like, O.K., they're over there now. So we've got to go this way to come around them so, more or less, it wasn't too bad.
MAJ LEVIN: Were you trying avoid those Spanish speakers?
SPC PEGUES: I was trying to avoid them because we wasn't informed about anybody on the runway at all. And we learned later that it was PSYOP [psychological operations] guys that was down there speaking.
CPT HOLLANDS: Yes, a lot of people were confused. We had ... the PSYOP guys were blasting music, or not that but Spanish things--you know, surrender or what not--from this area east of the airfield. And so a lot of people were initially confused by that. And nobody wanted to bump into any enemy in that grass, because normally they were in groups of ones and twos.
SPC PEGUES: We had a group of like five, a five-man team.
CPT HOLLANDS: By the time I made it to the flight strip, I had assembled a squad of people that I was taking control of.
SSG LONG: Did anybody land close to where you were? Or were you alone?
CPT HOLLANDS: I found my buddy, the guy, the trooper that I had jumped with who was my identified buddy and I matched up about two minutes after I landed. And we just sort of, we were just whispering for each other in the bush, and we matched up. And we moved forward and met some infantrymen. And I was the first officer they'd seen, so they of course just followed right in, and we just moved our way forward. Took turns hacking through the elephant grass. That's no small chore.
SGT LUCAS: That's totally different. See, I landed it in the elephant grass, itself, and visibility was like nil, maybe your hand in front of your face.
MAJ LEVIN: How did you know which way to go?
SGT LUCAS: As I said, when I was descending, I oriented myself towards the runway. I knew I had to get to the runway to the heavy drop platforms. And when I landed, it's impossible not to make noise in the elephant grass. And I heard the Spanish voices, too. And you're just thinking, where's your buddy at. But I don't think too many people linked up in the elephant grass; maybe in the more open areas.
MAJ LEVIN: How long did it take you to recover?
SGT LUCAS: Recover?
MAJ LEVIN: From the landing?
SGT LUCAS: Oh. I was on my feet in maybe ten seconds--not even. Pretty quickly trying to get my weapon into action and listen for movement or whatever around me, you know, let my senses get accustomed to it.
SSG LONG: You made the comment, hacking through the elephant grass. What, in fact, did you have anything to hack with?
CPT HOLLANDS: Sometimes we used our M-9 bayonet which is the best thing we had. Sometimes it was just a matter of one guy would go and throw himself in the thing and just lean down, especially in the bamboo stands. I mean, the stuff was sometimes an inch in diameter and you had to actually lay down in it and use the weight of your rucksack and your body to flatten out. Then you'd get back up, or somebody would pull you up, and you'd step on it and sort of use it as a plank and walk forward into the next stand. It was very difficult movement, and it was about seventy-five degrees, even at night then, and you're carrying a heavy load. It was a ... we consumed all of our water, the group that I was with, about half way back, and we found a vehicle, a heavy drop vehicle, that we got more water from, or we'd have been in pretty dire straits for the last half of our movement back, it was about three-hour movement through conditions like that, moving it, you know, feet per minute. It was very slow.
SSG LONG: What time of day did you jump in?
SGT LUCAS: I probably jumped between 2:10 and 2:30.
SPC PEGUES: Between quarter to 2:00 to about forty-five after.
SSG LONG: And you were at what time?
CPT HOLLANDS: 2:10. I was ... we were in the first group that went out. I think 2:10 was the first 82d drop.
SPC PEGUES: 2:10?
CPT HOLLANDS: Yes. And, again, I don't know what birds made out with the first group.
SSG LONG: Did you encounter any people that had not been fortunate enough to orient themselves with the runway like you did?
SGT LUCAS: On the landing I was fortunate that I landed only about 200 meters to the east of the runway. So I didn't encounter anybody until I got on the runway itself.
MAJ LEVIN: Were you one of the first ones on the runway?
SGT LUCAS: No. There ... the Rangers had their jeeps there going up and down the runway. You could see forms in the dark.
MAJ LEVIN: Was there any shooting?
SGT LUCAS: To the north, yes, to the north. I couldn't ... I didn't know exactly where the firefight was going on.
MAJ LEVIN: Were you ... did you land to the south of the main terminal?
SGT LUCAS: Yes, southeast.
MAJ LEVIN: Did you see any evidence of shooting around the terminal when you came in?
SGT LUCAS: Yes, I saw explosions. They lit up the whole sky. I didn't know what it was. But I just tried ... headed for my assembly area.
MAJ LEVIN: Did you see any tracers?
SPC PEGUES: We saw plenty of tracers.
SGT LUCAS: Yes.
MAJ LEVIN: What kind?
SPC PEGUES: Really, it was hard to really ...
MAJ LEVIN: What colors?
SPC PEGUES: Like orange.
SGT LUCAS: Green and orange.
MAJ LEVIN: Green and orange?
SGT LUCAS: Right, exchanging fire.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. Ours are orange.
CPT HOLLANDS: AK-47 rounds are normally green.
MAJ LEVIN: So you knew some bad guys were out there. O.K. And you heard some explosions coming from the terminal area?
SGT LUCAS: You could see them. I mean, they lit up the whole sky and you'd lose your night vision for a few seconds.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. Once you got on the runway, what did you do?
SGT LUCAS: Well, everybody was previously informed where they were to assemble. Like we assemble on our equipment, and we were told that it would be on the southern edge of the runway.
MAJ LEVIN: And?
SGT LUCAS: And so unfortunately it wasn't, but when I got to the runway that were artillery, also, and we headed off towards the southern end of the runway, asking people here and there if they'd seen any howitzers or any vehicles like that.
MAJ LEVIN: No luck?
SGT LUCAS: Well, we did find one of our vehicles that had landed on the runway, and I had found the Air Force CT [control team] crew that was talking to the airplanes, and I asked them where the heavy drop came in, and they like pointed east of the runway into the jungle and the grass.
MAJ LEVIN: Could they see the lights?
SGT LUCAS: Oh, I don't think so.
CPT HOLLANDS: The stuff was ... again, once ... about 20 feet from the east edge of the runway is where the elephant grass began. It was just a wall of 12-foot high grass going out. As I was coming back in, I found several vehicle platforms that were there, including some from our battalion that weren't from my battery. So I knew that all he heavy drop was out there and we were going to have problems. When I got back to the flight strip, I found one little cluster of my soldiers and gathered them up, and got ... . And they had found a vehicle. We had one of the first vehicles from the 82d that was operational. So I was cruising up the runway and found a second cluster of my troops and got them all together at one point and established a perimeter.
And then we ... I made the decision that--this was about 5:00 o'clock now, about 30 minutes to an hour before dawn--that sending the guys back out in the dark into the elephant grass trying to find our heavy drop platforms was probably not a very good idea. So we waited until it got light, then got NCOs grouped up with half a dozen troops, and they went out and began finding the platforms.
MAJ LEVIN: All right. You were supposed to get air lifted out of there.
CPT HOLLANDS: We were going to do a wheel convoy. The infantry guys were to begin airmobile operations, I believe, at 3, 5 and 7 [A.M.], were the three operations. First 2/504 [2d Battalion, 504th Infantry] was going to go to Panama Viejo, followed by 1/504 [1st Battalion, 504th Infantry] into Tinajitas, followed by 4/325 [4th Battalion, 325th Infantry] into Fort Cimarron. And my job, my mission was to get the battery up to support the Fort Cimarron operation. I knew I was going to have to do a wheel convoy up to the vicinity of the Pacora River Bridge. And we had made plans and rehearsals with the 4/325 Delta Company to conduct that operation.
I knew, when I got there, that all ... none of the heavies were out there, so that 4/325 wasn't going to be able to do its mission. That the infantry battalions hadn't even begun assembling yet. And it was 5:00 o'clock, and know that the first lift hadn't gone and it was already time for the second one. So I knew that we had some more time to get together. So as soon as light came, I sent my people out to begin recovery. And I found the battalion commander and all the headquarter people at brigade so I could get a new time line and reestablish what we were going to do.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. At that point, though, you didn't know the status of your guns at all?
CPT HOLLANDS: No. I didn't know, you know, if things had 'no dropped' or what the story was. I knew that some equipment was out there, though.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. What did you do when you got to the airstrip?
SPC PEGUES: Well, once I got to the airstrip, I was with SSG Smith, and I just followed with him, and I'm hoping by him being a leader, he's showing his leadership, which he did. We found a group of soldiers. We went to the airstrip looking for our soldiers, and we collected maybe four or five of them until we ran up again ... and I think we met up with you, then, didn't we, sir? We met up with BC and he took us to the assembly area and all that. And from there, we stayed there until light came, and we went out looking for our guns and vehicles. And that's about it.
SSG LONG: How long was it from the time that you were physically on the ground and ... well, let's say from the time that you got to the airport until you had all your troops accounted for?
CPT HOLLANDS: The troops were accounted for at I'd say about 8:00 o'clock ...
SSG LONG: In the morning?
CPT HOLLANDS: In the morning we had 100 percent of the troops accounted for.
SSG LONG: And when did the last four or five of them make the jump, what time was that?
CPT HOLLANDS: I don't even know what the last time was, so ... . But I was pleased that, at that time, we had everybody accounted for--by 8:00 o'clock. I think that was reasonable, given the situation and the fact that, when you don't have ... when your primary assembly aid goes down, it makes it very difficult to pick people up. Guys were straggling in from all directions. And some jumped late, also, so it was good.
We didn't get our first gun up until about 10:30. I left the battery position, left my executive officer and first sergeant in charge of gathering up all the equipment and getting the troops taken care of, getting the defensive positions dug and what not, and I was off with the battalion commanders. Now we redesigned our mission. When I came back at 10:30, they had a platoon of howitzers ready to go, and I got my order to move, and we moved about 11:00 o'clock to link up with 4/325 and prepare to support them.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. What were you using for your mover? Did you have a HMMWV to tow it?
CPT HOLLANDS: We had ... three of our HMMWVs had been located, I think, and two of them were operational, and two of the howitzers were operational. So I took two HMMWVs, and my chief of firing battery loaded up with as much ammo as they can carry, which is ... . We basically carry forty rounds of HE [high explosive] rounds and other standard weight munitions and twelve RAP rounds (they're rocket-assisted projectiles) to give us additional range. And we maxed out the vehicle, which ... that exceeds, well exceeds, the capacity of the vehicle. And in addition to putting on that, you have to get ten soldiers on the vehicle and all their gear, and any other supporting gear. So our vehicles look like gypsy trains when they roll out, and they are about three times their weight capacity.
MAJ LEVIN: Did they handle it?
CPT HOLLANDS: They did. They all had ... all the suspension systems had to be redone when we came back, but they managed to handle it. We had to go very slowly. But we're used to that. We never get enough frames to carry all the things we like to do comfortably. That's just the nature of our business in the artillery, working with airborne.
MAJ LEVIN: Did your computer survive?
CPT HOLLANDS: The computer vehicle landed upside down. And that vehicle was not recovered for several weeks because of the shortage of aircraft.
SGT LUCAS: Nine days later.
CPT HOLLANDS: Nine days later it was recovered. I guess we're not ... the airframes ... that was not a priority mission for the use of the limited helicopter assets they had.
SSG LONG: You could probably compute manually faster than using the computer, couldn't you?
SGT LUCAS: We had a little portable.
CPT HOLLANDS: We have a backup computer system and the manual system. The BCS is a very valuable piece of equipment, and we would have loved to have that, but it was not to be. And we have numerous redundant systems to back that up. We had two BUCs and several firing charts.
SSG LONG: What's a BUC?
CPT HOLLANDS: A back up computer system. It's like a hand-held calculator that does all the firing computations.
SGT LUCAS: A Hewlett-Packard.
CPT HOLLANDS: It's a Hewlett-Packard designed system. And all of my troops are proficient at that, so that's a ...
MAJ LEVIN: Everybody knows how to operate it?
CPT HOLLANDS: All of the fire direction people can operate it and all the officers can operate it.
SSG LONG: Do you still use the GFT?
CPT HOLLANDS: GFT and TFT, which are some of the manual components.
SGT LUCAS: Like I'm an NCO in FDC and myself and Dunlap--there's two other NCOs--we always ... we all jumped in a little jump chart, we call them. We make a little jump chart; we in BUCs, GFTs, anything we need to compute what we call a DZ mission.
CPT HOLLANDS: So as long as any one of them makes it to the platform, we'll have a full system of computations, even if one of the other troops makes it or one of the officer makes it, we can improvise a firing chart.
MAJ LEVIN: Did you bring a surveyor?
CPT HOLLANDS: We brought a surveyor with us with a theodolite. That was ... we brought a survey chief, he's an E-7 [sergeant first class].
SSG LONG: One?
CPT HOLLANDS: One. The normal survey that we use is PADS, which is the Position Azimuth Determining System, which is mounted on a HMMWV--which they're not adequate airframes to bring a PADS into the theater, so we relied on manual survey. Which was better than hasty survey and map spots. It is valuable to have them there.
MAJ LEVIN: What was the condition of the guns?
CPT HOLLANDS: The guns all made the jump fine. We didn't have any damage to guns in the heavy drop.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. But you only got two of them up?
CPT HOLLANDS: We only got two of them up before I had to depart to support 4/325. I left my chief of firing battery and XO back to continue recovery. I took my first sergeant and my gunnery sergeant forward, with two of my gun chiefs and eighteen people to support the operation. Left the rest there to move. We had to recover ammunition from the platforms, we had to recover all the equipment from the back of Alpha-1 that was upside down. We had to find the howitzers, find all the bundled ammunition: the CDS bundles--containerized delivery system--it's a big platform that just has ammunition on it. And so we were hauling that into our position. And since it was in a ... there were no roads and no way to get vehicles in there. Most of it was being carried by soldiers. So that contributed a lot to the rash of heat casualties that we had. Because the guys that were working very hard to bring that stuff out in a very time-sensitive situation.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. With the heat casualties, how were they treated?
SSG LONG: Before you get on heat casualties, if I got a few seconds here, and I'm probably showing my ignorance when I ask you this question. Does MET [meteorological] data have much of an impact on use of the 105[mm howitzer]?
CPT HOLLANDS: It can. I mean, we prefer to have meteorological data to correct for non-standard conditions in the atmosphere and wind direction. But throughout the operation, it was not available to us.
SSG LONG: Well, that was going to be my next question. Did you have MET correction data available?
CPT HOLLANDS: No. The MET team, I don't think that the 82d would allocate space on the airplanes for a MET team until they had probably several battalions in the theater. We normally do not get that support.
SSG LONG: So if none of your computers had been available, how would you have adjusted? Because, let's face it, the air density and all that sort of stuff is different here.
CPT HOLLANDS: We would probably have had to conduct a registration to correct for non-standard conditions. That would have been ... we first would have fired a howitzer to see how it was impacting on the firing, and I would have made a decision at that time whether I was going to require them to conduct a registration to refine our accuracy. Every commander's got to make a call on that.
SSG LONG: Did you in fact have to do that, or ... ?
CPT HOLLANDS: No, we didn't fire enough rounds to have to make that determination.
SSG LONG: O.K. Let's change the tape.
MAJ LEVIN: All right.
[END OF TAPE 1]
MAJ LEVIN: This is Tape 5 [i.e., 2] of the interview and this is the A Battery of 3d Battalion 319th Field Artillery (Airborne) Regiment. And I'm going to have the individuals identify themselves again.
This is MAJ Levin. With me is SSG Long. And:
CPT HOLLANDS: CPT Hollands, the Alpha Battery Commander.
SGT LUCAS: SGT Lucas, a computer in the FDC in Alpha Battery.
SPC PEGUES: SPC Pegues, [M]-60 gunner, 4th section.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K., now where were we? We were talking about MET data.
SSG LONG: Yes, and we established the fact that we didn't really need it.
CPT HOLLANDS: There are several systems that support the field artillery to enhance our accuracy. And one is survey. And we didn't have the best of possible survey which is PADS, I mentioned before, but we had a survey chief, an experienced surveyor with a theodolite, which is a device he can use to use astrological bodies and the sun to determine direction, to give us a known direction which is better than using a map spot or a compass. And he can also, using the survey tables that we took with us, determine our direction accurately using survey points that the Panamanians had put in, that the United States had put in, or using resection techniques from various geographic locations. So he enhanced our directional and positional accuracy.
MAJ LEVIN: I understand there was a problem with some of the survey points.
CPT HOLLANDS: We had trouble finding some of the survey monuments that were on the map. And I guess that's to be expected; the maps are somewhat old and things had built up around the area since they were made. So that's not uncommon to not be able to find everything.
MAJ LEVIN: Now, let's see, specialist, did you stay behind to recover equipment or did you move up with the guns?
SPC PEGUES: Negative. I moved up with the rest of the firing battery.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K., and sergeant?
SGT LUCAS: I stayed back and helped recover.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. Let's talk a little about the recovery operation. How long did it take you to locate the other two guns?
SGT LUCAS: I'm not quite sure because I was on a detail that was looking for our prime mover, O.K.? So I'm not exactly sure how long. I'd say about another hour, hour and fifteen minutes.
MAJ LEVIN: After daylight?
SGT LUCAS: After ...
CPT HOLLANDS: After we left there.
MAJ LEVIN: After daylight?
CPT HOLLANDS: We left about noon, so it would late ... it would be afternoon of the first day.
MAJ LEVIN: So you located it about 1300?
SGT LUCAS: Right around there.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. How many people did you have involved in that?
SGT LUCAS: Approximately about, I'd say, about twenty people maybe.
CPT HOLLANDS: There were thirty people in the battery left behind.
SGT LUCAS: Thirty people.
CPT HOLLANDS: And they were in packets out in the woods or maintaining local security, moving ammo around.
SGT LUCAS: I'd say there was about twenty people. You know, we'd divide them up into teams, and the NCOs took maybe two or three men, four men apiece, and just went out in the bush and started looking.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. There wasn't anything out there to give you a reference point?
SGT LUCAS: No. Nothing.
MAJ LEVIN: Like a parachute hanging?
SGT LUCAS: Well, there were plenty of parachutes.
MAJ LEVIN: But a cargo chute is distinctive, isn't it?
CPT HOLLANDS: Not from a distance. They're the same color, the same material. You can distinguish maybe one in a tree. But there were plenty of vehicles, too. And there were 2,000 personnel parachutes tangled out there also.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. And there was no chopper coming in saying, hey, there's one on the ground over here?
SGT LUCAS: Not on the first day, no.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. Now, when it came to recovering the ammunition, how many people were involved in actually hauling that stuff out?
SGT LUCAS: Basically, just the people that were on those teams. The heavier stuff, like 105[mm] ammo, we didn't try humping it out from ... I'd say we moved about a click [kilometer] east of the runway, and then we found, I'd say, a couple vehicles weren't even ours.
MAJ LEVIN: What was the general feeling of the men when they found the equipment so far from the runway?
SGT LUCAS: They were pretty discouraged because there were like swamps and everything. Most of the vehicles were bogged down. You couldn't even see some of the platforms, they were so deep from hitting as they did. We found a [M-551] Sheridan tank that was buried all the way up to its turret, it had 'burned in.' There was another one right next to it, and all its tracks were busted off.
MAJ LEVIN: So they didn't have a real successful drop?
SGT LUCAS: No, no. The equipment didn't look too healthy.
CPT HOLLANDS: They had to blow some [one] of the Sheridans in place. All the ammunition inside was damaged. They couldn't even move them. So an EOD [explosive ordnance demolition] team kind of blew the thing up.
SGT LUCAS: The Sheridan we saw was beyond repair. But besides my vehicle which was upside down, I didn't see any other vehicle that was in that sort of position. Most, like I say, were stuck in the mud or in the elephant grass or wherever.
MAJ LEVIN: So you had to carry the cases of ammo about a click back to the runway?
SGT LUCAS: Oh, yeah, I'd say at least ...
CPT HOLLANDS: Sometimes we could get them to a place where a vehicle could ... there were little corridors where vehicles could travel through the vicinity.
SGT LUCAS: Right to the edge of the elephant grass, and then, you know, we'd have a guy wait there with the ammo and have a vehicle pick it up when we did extract another vehicle.
SSG LONG: Since we're on that topic, what kinds of advice would any of the three of you have for people who had to recover equipment and vehicles from that kind of a situation?
CPT HOLLANDS: Aviation is critical to an efficient operation. Having a helicopter that can spot the platforms. And then even better is if you had a helicopter that can drop off teams at the platforms to derig and move the stuff out. Eventually, aviation became available to do that, on like day two and day three, as they continued to find more equipment. They were looking, they were searching for vehicles, I mean, for the first week or two. And looking for stuff. And so having an aviation [element] as dedicated to that would have brought a lot of weapons systems into it ...
SGT LUCAS: On the first day, definitely on the first day, we could have had most of our equipment up and operational right then.
MAJ LEVIN: I understand that you did not have, you had reflective tape on your heavy drop but there wasn't any IR [infrared reflective] tape on it.
CPT HOLLANDS: No. We do not routinely put IR tape on it.
MAJ LEVIN: Is there a reason for that?
CPT HOLLANDS: It's never been made an issue before, really, or even suggested. This is the first time I've heard it. The only thing that would detect the IR tape would be the AC-130, and I'm not sure that, from his perspective, that he's going to be able to drive people accurately. We don't have a com[munications] link with them. So I'm not sure that he could do too much for us, and he probably has more priority missions than that. It's a thought, though. We could ... I mean, it would not be difficult to put a strip of glint tape onto the vehicle. And maybe we'll have to explore that as an option.
SGT LUCAS: But in that environment, too, I mean, it was impossible to move at night in an organized manner, and locate a vehicle, and then reorient yourself to get that vehicle out.
CPT HOLLANDS: So to have an AC-130 talk somebody to a vehicle would have been, I think, a little unreasonable.
MAJ LEVIN: You all had IR tape on you, though?
SGT LUCAS: Right.
CPT HOLLANDS: For the duration of the operation everyone had it taped around his left sleeve with the American flag.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. How long did it take you to fully recover the two guns?
SGT LUCAS: I think the howitzers couldn't be moved. One, I think one, got out by a vehicle. We backed a vehicle in there and mowed down the elephant grass. Another one, we had to wait for air assets to come in and move it. They were pretty far off the runway where, you know, nothing but an air asset can move it.
MAJ LEVIN: Did any of the vehicles that you did recover have a winch?
CPT HOLLANDS: Yes. One of the vehicles that went forward with the first group had a winch.
SGT LUCAS: But we used other vehicles that we found, even though they weren't ours. We initially used them to recover everything.
CPT HOLLANDS: As far as the rule of the heavy drop operations, is what you find is yours.
SGT LUCAS: Right
CPT HOLLANDS: Yours until somebody claims it.
SGT LUCAS: Right. So we basically, I think we had a Delta Company vehicle and we were like just shuttling the ammo back and forth and people, too. Drop them off at a certain point and send them out into the jungle. Because these guys had already seen the platforms and they knew where they were. So they led other guys to them.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. Is there anything else you want to add about the recovery part of this?
CPT HOLLANDS: Well, to go back to that ... one of the big problems we had eventually were heat casualties, which were at the group that was in the back recovering the ammo suffered a significant number of heat casualties.
SGT LUCAS: Right.
MAJ LEVIN: What do you call significant?
CPT HOLLANDS: I'd say that at one time there was maybe six guys having IVs administered to them. The battery jumps in with one medic, one junior enlisted medic, and I of course took him forward with the lead group. So that left ... I had about eight combat life savers-trained soldiers that were back with the rear group. I had about a dozen combat life savers in the battery. I think there were maybe six or eight back there. And they were forced to take charge of the situation. I think one, SPC Davis, took charge of supervising that phase of the operation back there. He supervised all the combat life savers administering IVs to soldiers and monitoring the patients' condition.
SGT LUCAS: The system worked really well. I mean, they knew how to ... where to give the IVs, and what to do, what symptoms.
CPT HOLLANDS: Everybody knew the symptoms but the ...
SGT LUCAS: The combat medics.
CPT HOLLANDS: The troops have a good confidence in the program. I've always supported that program wholeheartedly. That's why we have so many guys, and the battalion has had a good program of maintaining their currency. I think annual, or every six months, they have to do refresher training to keep their skills current. And all the guys have been through all that training. The troops trusted their buddies to give them an IV or take are of them. I think that was a strength of the battery. Some guys could have been severely ...
SGT LUCAS: Well, we did have one severe case where there was a PFC there, and he had some cold weather gear on. And I guess he didn't get it off in time, and he was really pretty far along. At one point, they said he stopped breathing. I wasn't there myself, but SPC Davis was there. And we got our vehicle and hurried up and shuttled him over to the aid station which was set up at the terminal itself. But, uh ...
CPT HOLLANDS: Was that Chesterman?
SGT LUCAS: No, it was PFC James. It was an invaluable asset, the combat life savers. In that one instance, it could have saved that guy's life. So it was worth having men who knew what they were doing.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. And has that had an effect on troop morale in these operations?
SGT LUCAS: Oh, I think so. You know, it's just like CPT Hollands said, knowing your buddy's going to take of you, you know, he's not going to slice your wrist or anything.
CPT HOLLANDS: We train a lot. We've just done some training during our intensive training cycle right before mission on increasing our ability to treat casualties and move them out. We did several casualty evacuation exercises where all the combat life savers are brought in to man the battery casualty collection point, and we simulate taking incoming rounds and have a mass ... a large group of casualties. And we triage them, and treat them, and move them out.
MAJ LEVIN: What takes priority with the combat life savers, because these guys already have a primary mission?
CPT HOLLANDS: Normally, if a medic's in the position, the medic will take the situation. He will let a battery leader know if he needs augmentation. And normally ... most of the combat life savers are either in the FDC section or the battery section, the cannon section, which have redundancy. They have more men than are needed at any one moment to operate the howitzer. That allows us to maintain twenty-four-hour operations and battery external security. So we can almost always free up several troopers to assist that situation.
MAJ LEVIN: I see. Even on an operation like this where you had to short change yourself a little bit?
CPT HOLLANDS: Well, actually, operation like this, we took more troops than is the minimum needed to operate the guns. We could have maintained four cannons shooting if I had five men per gun which is twenty soldiers, probably a five-man fire direction center, and a three or four man headquarters element (myself and the first sergeant and the chief of firing battery). So with thirty people, we could have run the battery on a shoestring. But we had forty-eight people so that I could maintain a high level of security; that I had plenty of replacements for combat losses. I had extra people like the surveyor and the medic and what not. So we were fairly fat of personnel. We did what we normally expected. I would have taken all sixty of my people if I had had the parachutes. That just enhances my security and the redundancy of replacements.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. How long did it take. I asked this before, and I guess I never gave you a chance to answer, but how long did it take to get both guns out of the swamp?
SGT LUCAS: I'd say by the evening of the first day, we had both guns out of there.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. And did you have any prime movers for those guns?
SGT LUCAS: We had one prime mover, and the other prime mover was upside down actually.
MAJ LEVIN: So you could only actually move one of those guns?
SGT LUCAS: Right. At any given time, right.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. And the ammo load would have been restricted by the bed of the truck?
SGT LUCAS: Right.
MAJ LEVIN: Let's move into the other operation when you went north. You went towards the northern end of the runway, and what did you experience when you went out?
CPT HOLLANDS: What I ... the brigade headquarters was set up in a fire station which was set up really between the Tocumen Airfield and the Torrijos Airfield. And so that's where the battalion headquarters was. I went up and found my battalion commander. He linked me up with Brigade [S]-3, and he said that 4/325 was preparing to move out. I went and linked up with their battalion commander and said, I'm ready to go; what do you want to do? He told me to come up, to deploy up to the northern area here and wait for his convoy. He was waiting for Sheridan tanks to escort me at that time.
MAJ LEVIN: Did they materialize?
CPT HOLLANDS: Yes. They showed up after a while. What we did is went back, gave the first sergeant the instructions I wanted carried out. Told him the package I wanted loaded. And he got the chief of firing battery and loaded the ammo. Picked the chiefs who picked, hand-picked their sections. And the FDC chief hand-picked the people he was going to take forward. I limited number of people because we didn't have that much transportation. And we moved out.
We got up here. We set up in a firing status in the northern end of the airfield, waiting for the guy to come. Whenever ... most of our vehicles were lined up in convoy status waiting to go. Artillery is never held in reserve, so whenever I have the opportunity, I set up and prepare to fire. And so we waited about an hour, I'd say, and I went up and made further coordination. We rehearsed the battle drills that the unit would go through on the convoy. I talked to their company commander to make sure we understood their route of march and whatnot. Then about an hour later, we departed the airfield.
We went on a gate located out in front of the main terminal and we went out into the local populace. It was the first exposure we'd had to the people outside the airfield. This is at about noon, between 11:30 and noon, on the first day. So we got out here, we saw there were Rangers manning a checkpoint as we entered the main road. We turned off ... .
The convoy consisted of two Sheridan tanks in the lead, two HMMWVs with .50-cals. mounted on them in front of me, and my two vehicles which would be HMMWV with ten soldiers on it and a howitzer, and another HMMWV with ten soldiers on it and a howitzer, and trailing the convoy were two more .50-cal. HMMWVs.
MAJ LEVIN: Was there any indication of any kind of firing taking place?
CPT HOLLANDS: Not as we departed. There had ... every convoy that had left the airport that day had been fired on. Some merely by snipers, some by serious attacks with grenades and automatic weapons. So we were all tense. Everyone knew that we were doing some serious work here.
MAJ LEVIN: Is your HMMWV a cargo, or is it ... has it got the Kevlar body fitted?
CPT HOLLANDS: All of mine are cargo. I made my troops take every piece of canvas off the vehicle. They had no canvas on the top. Everybody was exposed so everyone could fire at once. Each vehicle had two M-60 machine guns and at least one M-203. And the [M]-60s [were] oriented one to each side, and the twos [M-203s] oriented at a 360-degree arc around the position. We had things piled up on the sides as high as we could. It's very difficult because the ammo was loaded almost to the level of the [seat] backs. The troopers are sitting on top of it. They are propped very high up in the vehicles, which is not the optimum situation but, you know, we have to make do with what we have.
As soon as we got out in the town, people were set back in the buildings. They were watching very warily. I mean, they had just had a major change in their 'life situation' and they were very unsure what was going on. So there was not a large amount of people. The roads were fairly empty. The SOP for the convoy, for the security element, was to stop every single vehicle, force the people in the vehicle out onto the ground until the convoy passed by. We were very concerned about drive-by shootings, about grenade attacks, and what not.
We'd be going for about five or ten minutes, we reached a little intersection, a little square, in the town. And one ... a small white car, a subcompact type with two guys in it, were not obeying the instructions of the guy in front of me. He was about ten feet in front of my vehicle. He was not complying with instructions. I stepped out of my vehicle. I had my weapon drawn and I directed everybody else to train their weapons on the vehicle. Two infantry soldiers, one on each side of the vehicle, were telling the guy to stop and get out of the vehicle. He wasn't complying. He just feigned like he didn't understand what they were saying. Then I saw the guy inside the vehicle begin turning his wheel and he swiftly accelerated between the .50-cal. vehicle in front of me and my vehicle. And as he turned, one of ... the infantry guy on the far side fired a shot at the driver, and I shot the passenger with my 9mm [pistol]. And then a [M-249] SAW [squad automatic weapon] from the infantry fired, and every ... as soon as I fired, everyone in my vehicle fired. Everyone in the vehicle behind me fired. So we put, in the space of twenty seconds, 2,000 rounds in this car. An infantryman put a [M]-203 [40mm] grenade into it. And we think another grenade the guy was holding in his hand went off inside the car, also.
MAJ LEVIN: So these guys were armed?
CPT HOLLANDS: I was unsure when I fired. I had that first ... I'd never shot anyone before. And I don't think anybody else in my truck had ever shot at people before, so I think everyone had that doubt in their mind. And Pegues can tell you that, I'm sure [that] he was there cranking out a few rounds himself. But I had a severe doubt in my mind. I hoped there was something real about this because it was just an instinctive reaction. I was really surprised how quickly all my troops fired. No one hesitated. And they ... I was pleased in that they didn't have the hesitation, and everyone ... in fact, I had to stop them from firing, they were so wound up.
So we immediately moved out. I looked around to see if there were any civilian casualties. All of the civilians had scattered and everything. There were no casualties ... we did not hit any civilians that we know of. We ... and promptly the convoy moved out to get out of the area, because if these guys were there ... . I heard on the radio, later, they put me at ease, they said the guy--the passenger--had a hand grenade in his hand. There were hand grenades on the seat and there were two AK-47s in plain view. So that really put my conscience at ease. And I let everybody know that when we got to the next position that the guys had been armed and that it wasn't a ... that we didn't just blown off the thing. And that was a very big concern of mine in the minutes following that incident.
MAJ LEVIN: You know you hit the passenger?
CPT HOLLANDS: I believe I hit him. I saw a red spot appear on his head as I fired. Then a bunch of red spots appeared from rounds fired from the other side. I mean, these guys were a mess. They were riddled from SAW fire and then from all the weapons fired from our vehicles. But I believe that I shot him in the head. It was about ten feet.
MAJ LEVIN: He didn't feel much.
CPT HOLLANDS: Exactly. From there, the rest of the convoy ... obviously everyone was extremely tense now, and if they weren't paying complete attention before, I think everyone was paying complete attention after that.
Why don't you describe what you were experiencing, Pegues, because I have a different view.
SPC PEGUES: It's hard, it's hard to really say. When it all happened, it's just like a sudden impulse ... just ... . You had your hand on the trigger. BC told us to put it on safe, and all of a sudden, you know, when the vehicle ... everybody saw the vehicle was veering off towards one of us, so we automatically flipped it [the selector switch] up and once everybody started firing it was just automatic--just all of a sudden your mind just clicked and the trigger just started going. And it seemed like everybody shot in this one area at the window, and the windshield, the front windshield, broken out and the door wouldn't even hold. It seemed like everybody had the direct target and went straight into it.
CPT HOLLANDS: I was surprised. There were no rounds ... I saw no bullets going anywhere but right into the passenger's window. And everyone had their weapons pretty much trained on the ...
MAJ LEVIN: How far did that vehicle get?
CPT HOLLANDS: The situation with the convoy is about like, the road curves around like this.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K., we're drawing a diagram here.
SSG LONG: What convoy intervals did you use between vehicles?
CPT HOLLANDS: We had about ... in the town we were about twenty-five to thirty meters. As we stopped, we had a slight natural closing. There were still twenty meters between the vehicles probably. And the vehicle traveled from along the driver's side of a HMMWV; he crossed between my HMMWV and the one in front of me; and finally came to a stop. You knew, even after the driver and passenger were killed, the vehicle continued forward on its own momentum for about another fifteen or twenty feet, then came to a stop. And the inclination of the troops behind me, I think, was to continue firing because they saw that the vehicle continue to move.
I knew within the first five seconds of the engagement, maybe within the first two seconds, that both people were dead, because I could see the driver had been shot by the initial infantrymen, and I and the SAW gunner had killed the passenger. And everything else was going on.
MAJ LEVIN: Where was the vehicle at? The infantry guy, did he have them come to a complete halt or they just kept coming?
CPT HOLLANDS: He was halted right here.
MAJ LEVIN: He was coming the other way?
CPT HOLLANDS: Yeah, he was coming the opposite direction of our convoy and he was in the opposite lane. We had staggered, we covered the entire road. Our vehicles were staggered right and left. And he had pulled ... he was like on the shoulder of the road and he was pretty much inching forward. He never came to a complete stop. I think he was sort of inching forward through the guy, did not obviously have a lot of control, then he sped right around the back of the other vehicle, right in front of my vehicle.
MAJ LEVIN: Do you think he was trying to escape or he was trying to attack?
CPT HOLLANDS: I believe he was trying to escape, though he was prepared--thought he was prepared to fight if he had to. He didn't ... I don't think he really realized what he was getting into. I think he ... I don't think he expected to find an army convoy coming down that road. He was probably heading to reconnoiter things towards the airport.
SPC PEGUES: That's what we all thought.
CPT HOLLANDS: I don't think he was expecting to attack us, he just got caught in a bad spot. And, you know, when you've got AK-47s in, you know, your passenger compartment, and hand grenades in your hand, and infantrymen are there, you're not going to get very far at that stage of the game.
SPC PEGUES: I think one of our soldiers did something that really nobody really recognized. One of our soldiers, when the firing started, he jumped down and grabbed a little boy that was in the middle of the fire. I don't think you, did you know anything about that?
CPT HOLLANDS: No, that's the first I've heard of it.
SPC PEGUES: A little boy was in the way. He grabbed him and he pushed him to the ground because he was just standing there, just looking. And the firing just kept going. And this little boy, when we left, he looked at us and waved. And I don't think too many people, you know, remembered that.
CPT HOLLANDS: Who was the soldier?
SPC PEGUES: I can't remember who it was. It was on SGT Redding's vehicle. So that's the only ...
SSG LONG: What time a day did this happen?
CPT HOLLANDS: Noon.
SSG LONG: Around noon?
PT HOLLANDS: Noon; a quarter after twelve. As I said, the people were very standoffish. Later in the week as we drove that same route, I mean, people were out partying and all the stores were open and commerce was going on, and people waved to you, and there was a very different tone that first day, very different.
SSG LONG: Were there any other particular acts of interaction with some of the folks with some of the indigenous citizens?
SGT LUCAS: At the airport. Later on in the week, not the same day, because the security was beefed up. But later on in the recovery process, we worked hand-in-hand. Eventually they hired some of them, I believe, to, you know, go help recover parachutes. And we were out there looking for vehicles and actually we worked hand-in-hand.
CPT HOLLANDS: The first day there were no Panamanians in the airfield complex other than prisoners. And, again, the people were fairly sparse along the roads and in the housing areas there. We were ... again, this was in a, you know, a very poor village--a lot of clapboard houses and small store fronts and what not--where this took place.
SPC PEGUES: People were very friendly, though.
CPT HOLLANDS: After things go going, yes.
SPC PEGUES: During the recovery, we had some soldiers who was translators, like SGT Redding. He talked to a few of the soldiers and he asked them how they felt about Noriega, and they ... they like ... if they could get their hands on him, they'd cut his throat. So they was very proud of us. They was happy that they was free at last. And it made you feel that you did something that was worthwhile to help others.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. You were going to add something about the convoy?
CPT HOLLANDS: Well, I think we summed up that phase up to that ... again, this is the first five minutes of our convoy we've gone through this whole thing.
MAJ LEVIN: Was that below that first intersection or above it?
CPT HOLLANDS: It is ... I've never gone back and actually pinpointed ... . O.K. This is where we entered the area right here, and it was ...
MAJ LEVIN: This is almost directly north of the northern airstrip.
CPT HOLLANDS: Check. That's where we went through that gate there, made the turn out, and I think it was in this vicinity right here.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. Right near the major road junction at Cavoia.
CPT HOLLANDS: O.K., before the Caboia intersection.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. Now after that, did you pick up speed or did you slow down?
CPT HOLLANDS: We quickly ... we got the convoy organized again. It was really a matter of me radioing to the head guy to move the tanks out again, because they had all halted up there. They moved out and we just redoubled our security watch. And watched while everybody now was very, very alert as to what was going on. We didn't have any other serious incidents.
MAJ LEVIN: So you got across that next bridge without any problem at all?
CPT HOLLANDS: Check. We made it out to the major highway here, and we cruised along there seeing very few cars and having very few encounters with locals.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. Then you have an underpass under the Panamanian Highway.
CPT HOLLANDS: Yes. None of that was of any significance. We had no problems there.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K.
CPT HOLLANDS: Then we proceeded out ... this is the major highway, I think it's (you got the designation?) ...
MAJ LEVIN: Panamanian.
CPT HOLLANDS: Panamanian highway, and it was about ... we moved about seven kilometers on the highway up towards the Pacora River Bridge. There's another intersection here. This area about two kilometers west of the bridge was the area I'd selected to find a firing position.
MAJ LEVIN: That's below Loma Colorada.
CPT HOLLANDS: Check. So I did not really know ... you can do map reconnaissance but that doesn't really tell you how things ... . We need very flat terrain to put the howitzers, the base plates of the howitzers, in; it's got to be almost perfectly level. And also, as I was choosing a site, I wanted to make sure we could get a position that was not very visible from the road to minimize the chance of a drive-by shooting.
We came up to this vicinity here, stopped, and my first sergeant and I got out of the vehicles. The guys in the vehicles established local security. The infantry moved up to the Pacora River Bridge with the tanks, and secured that, and held all vehicles--did not let any vehicles come through there. And the rear .50-calibre vehicles moved up and secured our rear. Two other vehicles secured this intersection here.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K. And that's the intersection at Benchmark 29?
CPT HOLLANDS: Correct. So we began surveying the field. I eventually chose a position that was about 500 meters due east of Benchmark 29. And we cut through a barbed wire fence and pulled the battery ... we had to go through a small drainage ditch which is difficult, again, often times you get off the roads into flat areas. So we pulled ... this ground is lower than the highway and there was a high fence, so that you're not really visible to the highway, you cannot really see the battery from the highway. I thought we were fairly secure there.
MAJ LEVIN: How did you cut through the fence?
CPT HOLLANDS: With our M-9 bayonets. I have the only M-9 bayonet in the battery, because the other ones that I have all go to my FIST, my fire support personnel. Everybody else has M-7s. So I cut the fence myself, and the NCO took the vehicles in and set up.
We had ... we could not establish communications with the 4th [Battalion] of the 325[th Infantry] at that point. And they were ... some elements were already forward at Camp Cimarron. And there were some intervening crests that blocked our radio transmission, I think. And I think they were also in such a predicament there, they did not have the ability to set up any other than their short whip antennas because they were in fire fights. They were on the back side of a hill. So in that area, again, we were unsure ... we found some locals that were in a little tavern here. We rousted them out and then searched that area. And we were very ... after the ambush incident, we were very unsure of the local populace.
Eventually, the infantry got called up forward to Cimarron to assist the attack, and they left us to secure ourselves, which I was not real very happy with because we had coordinated for infantry support. And they had to go on a higher priority mission, so we just dug in a little deeper and made sure our [M]-60s were set up and put up some more Claymores.
After a couple hours, after about an hour of trying to get commo, establishing field expedient antennas, directional antennas, nothing worked, I took my communications chief, I took the one vehicle that had the communications in it, and another soldier with an M-60, and we drove up to the top of the hilltop by Benchmark 29. There was a water tower up there, and a vehicle. That was the highest ground in the area. He and I went up there, and we spent the night there. We ringed ourselves in with Claymores and spent a whole night trying to get communications with 4/325 and were unsuccessful. We talk back to the rear, we could talk to the rear detachment and we could talk to brigade and to our battalion, but none of them had commo, you know, either with them. And so we never established a good patch then the whole night.
MAJ LEVIN: If you would have had one of your vehicles with a radio, would that have made a difference?
CPT HOLLANDS: Well, I had a vehicle. The vehicle I was in, I went to the top of that hill with a vehicle with a radio.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K.
CPT HOLLANDS: And we put up ... again, we used every antenna technique that we knew, and there were many styles that we tried to use to get communications, and ...
[END OF SIDE 1, TAPE 2]
MAJ LEVIN: This is Side 2 of Tape Number 5 [i.e., Tape 2].
CPT HOLLANDS: We were discussing occupation of the position by the Pacora River Bridge and support of 4/325. I was saying that we had difficulty establishing communications. I had been up on top of Benchmark 29, which was a hill [where] I could look down over the battery. I think the battery was pretty much just sitting down preparing their defense. I had a radio to talk to them, and I was also talking to ... and I talked forward. No one had any idea what was going on up there at the brigade. I couldn't talk to them. I found out later, again, that they had not ... were not able to get up any kind of improved antenna just because of their posture. And also I found out that they had wanted fire support from me, but were unable (because they couldn't talk to me) they were unable to call for it. Which was obviously very disheartening to me since my sole job was to give them fire support when they wanted it. And I wasn't able to get communication with them.
But the next morning, as soon as ... again, I was very anxious about the position. As soon as morning broke, I took, I picked up another two men and we drove forward across the Pacora River Bridge to a ridge that was about five kilometers forward. And I felt we were taking a big security risk. My first sergeant didn't want me to go forward because he didn't want me to go with the group. But I decided to go take these guys forward and we set up a communications position on a forward ridge in the vicinity of Buena Vista on the map. And from there, I was able to make communications with the battalion. Because by this time they had established a foothold at Fort Cimarron and they had run an improved [RQ]-254 antenna up a telephone pole and their communication posture had improved drastically.
In crossing the Pacora River Bridge, there were three Panamanian (P.D.F.) deuce-and-a-halfs that had been (I learned later) were destroyed by a Special Forces ambush and an AC-130 the night before. One of the teams from Task Force BLACK had infiltrated in before the attack and set up an ambush at the bridge. The deuce-and-a-halfs were ... I think there were originally five deuce-and-a-halfs coming from Fort Cimarron to conduct a counterattack at Omar Torrijos Air Force Base. And the Task Force BLACK guys destroyed three trucks with the use of AC-130 and inflicted severe casualties on them. It made me happy to see that since that's where I was the night before.
MAJ LEVIN: Were there any casualties still there?
CPT HOLLANDS: There were no bodies there. I don't know how they were disposed of. I expect that the Special Forces guys that were still in hiding around there had brought all the bodies in. The night while I was ... that afternoon while I was sitting up at Benchmark 29, I saw three CH-47s [Chinooks] come in and picked up all the Special Forces guys. They probably took the bodies out with them then.
They also took out my fire direction officer, 1LT Cornejo, who was wounded at the ambush. He got ... I believe he got a piece of fragment from he vehicle. When the hand grenade went off inside the vehicle it went into his leg. My first sergeant gave him emergency first aid at the ambush site and the medic treated him, gave him an IV at the ... our next position. We linked him up with the infantrymen, who linked him up with the Special Forces guys, who extracted him back to Howard Air Force Base.
MAJ LEVIN: How did he feel about getting evac[uat]ed? Did he want to go?
CPT HOLLANDS: I did not get a chance to talk to him. I was very busy at that occupation and what not, so I never spoke to him until we returned from Panama. I didn't ... based on the wound description, I did not expect that he would be evacuated. I thought he would be treated, maybe stitched, and sent back to me. I think the nature of the casualty system was that anybody who was hurt at all they were pretty much sending back to the States. So after I established communications, I got word that they were going to send a convoy back to pick me up and escort me up into the Fort Cimarron to the infantry battalion's perimeter the next day. A CH-47 came out and gave us some resupply. We requested an emergency resupply of IV bags, because our medic only had several that were with his medical case. We needed more of those. And we got additional ammunition, and we got some water, and other things for the infantry delivered there, also, that the convoy picked up when we moved forward.
So that morning at about eleven o'clock, I think we linked up with Delta Company and moved up into Fort Cimarron. We had a misfortune pulling out of the position. Going back through I found a flatter way into the thing, into the area, through another opening in the fence that I had created, and one of the vehicles moved through a ditch and one of the howitzers broke an axle, which reduced my ability to fire by one-half. When a howitzer breaks an axle, there's no way it can be towed. So I was then forced with ...
MAJ LEVIN: Could it fire from the place where it is?
CPT HOLLANDS: No. It was at an angle and it couldn't be towed into a flat position. It was half in the ditch. The thing was broken.
MAJ LEVIN: Is that a common malady with these howitzers?
SSG LONG: No.
CPT HOLLANDS: No. That's the first axle that's been broken in my fifteen-months as a commander. And because it doesn't break very often, we of course don't carry a spare axle with us. So I was forced to face that with ... in fact, the infantry guy wanted to leave immediately because he didn't like to be sitting there. He wanted me to go. I had to make a decision of what I was going to do with my howitzer. And so my options were: to permanently disable the howitzer and abandon it; I could have temporarily disabled it and accepted the risk that somebody wouldn't come and take it off and fire it at us, you know, the P.D.F. wouldn't take it and fire it at us later; or I could leave people there to secure it to make sure that it wasn't pilfered or damaged by the locals and wait for it to be extracted by air, either back to the rear to be repaired, or forwarded to me where we could set it into a permanent position and fire it.
And I weighed the options of leaving people behind to secure themselves in a hostile environment versus the losing fifty percent of the fire power that I had permanently, which ... . I thought almost positively the Hondurans would pilfer it or damage it just by wanting metal. They would take anything that they can find. They were taking the metal part, they would have taken the tires off to put on their vehicles, they would have got it all. It would have been pretty unserviceable if we'd abandoned it alone, I think. So I decided to leave a five-man team. I left the howitzer section chief and four soldiers with two M-60s, a Spanish speaker, an M-203, as many Claymores as they could carry, and they fortified themselves in that position there. And we called to the rear to say we had a critical need for a helicopter to lift this gun out. And with a great deal of anxiety, we then moved out and left these guys behind to secure the piece.
We got up to Fort Cimarron and moved our section of battery into a soccer field in the middle of Fort Cimarron area. The whole ... that base had been hit pretty hard with AC-130 fire, with the Sheridan fire, and what not when the infantry had taken it over. They had damaged a lot of things in attacking it. We set up in the soccer field and I took command of the battalion's 81mm mortars to form what we called team support. Where I get them fairly closely located and then as a senior fire supporter, I take control of them, make sure that they get things done. I coordinate all the fires for the battalion.
Later that afternoon, we got word that a helicopter was bringing in my gun. They in fact got a CH-47[C], and went and picked up the crew and lifted the gun out. As soon as we left the crew had first rigged the howitzer to be extracted by air, and then established their perimeter. And the bird came; they flagged them in and got ... picked up the crew, extracted the howitzer using self-extraction technique and later went up there. So the chief did a very good job in a very tense situation there. We set him down and he was operational from then on. We had two guns ready to fire. And we dug in our defense there with the mortars and the ... probably surrounded by infantrymen--the base.
SSG LONG: What use, if any, did you make of cover, concealment or anything else?
CPT HOLLANDS: Now the soccer field was surrounded by hedges of trees, so we had concealment from long range visibility. We ... also the ground was raised slightly all the way around it, and that's where we put in our defensive fighting positions primarily. And the mortars also augmented us on one flank with some position. There were buildings--barracks that were two stories high--up to our flanks that were stationed with infantrymen, Alpha/4/325 [Company A, 4th Battalion, 325th Infantry], and they covered our external security. We were really ... if anybody made it through the infantry's perimeter, that's when we would have to worry about firing. Of course, our primary mission was to supply them indirect fire support.
We adjusted in a defensive target for one of the--for Bravo Company, I believe it was--which ended up being the only rounds that we fired during the campaign. We also adjusted some mortar rounds, some mortar targets, and some mortar illumination targets. And the 60mm mortars also adjusted in defensive targets. So we had the area fairly ringed with targets that were adjusted, that we could have fired at a moment's notice.
CPT HOLLANDS: Was there any concern on your behalf in the area of camouflage? Were you in a situation that required that?
CPT HOLLANDS: Everyone was completely camouflaged for the first seven days of the operation. And that was a continuous ...
SSG LONG: You're talking about personal camouflage?
CPT HOLLANDS: Yes, personal camouflage.
SSG LONG: What about camouflage ... ?
CPT HOLLANDS: We did not have camouflage nets because that was not ... we did not have adequate space in our loads to bring them forward at that time. So we were pretty much out in an open field with just individual fighting positions dug for our camouflage. Again, I did not ... again, we were not really in a position where a sniper could see to get a long range shot at us, and I wasn't worried about aerial observation. So we could afford to accept a degree of risk in the concealment area as long as we had positions that we could fight from against a dismounted force.
That night ... night settled. During the daylight people were much more comfortable with situations than they are at night. So I think as night came on, things got a little tense. People are ... we practiced doing stand-to and stand-down, and maintaining our defensive perimeter at night. And I think everyone was very alert the first night.
Pegues, why don't you describe what happened from here. I've been talking long enough now.
SPC PEGUES: It's hard. The first night we was there, the infantry found two or three people coming in at the gate, front entrance, and they tried firing upon the infantry, and the infantry just opened fire with a .50-[cal.]--excuse me, with a [M]-60. And it kind of like it got carried away and you could hear their platoon sergeant hollering at them, telling them to "cease fire, cease fire," and they just constantly letting go. And, you know, later on that evening, everything settled down and everything, you know, just blended in. Everybody stayed conscious and everybody stayed alert. I don't think anybody really got any sleep all that night.
Later that morning, early that morning, one of the infantry guys came in and told us they found the guy that was out there, found little pieces of him, but it was enough to let them know that someone was out there. And basically, the whole time we was out there, we was secured. Didn't nobody try to infiltrate the camp at all. And we just stayed there until it was time for us to leave. We had much water. We had everything we really needed. We utilized everything, all the facilities around us like the latrines. Some of us looked around in the area and where the infantry confiscated some of the weapons and radios and it was like, you know, these guys in the infantry, I think they're crazy, you know, but I knew a lot of them that stayed. That's why I call them crazy. They were like hollering, howling, you know. Night fall they was quiet as a bird, you know. They was just out there.
I think we held our composure and, you know, once in a while some of us, we'd get a little carried away, you know, talking, but not something that would really put us in danger. We left what, two, three days later, sir? We left, we took the convoy back, back to the airport. And we ran up with the infantry and they told us they had sniper fire earlier that day, and three or four people had been hit. So we had to take more cover. And we ... some of our men spread out on more vehicles, we had spread out on other vehicles. And so we continued on in the convoy, and one of the tires on one of the vehicles blew out. And we had heard that they had had sniper fire up front ahead of us. And the vehicle ... we kind of like speeded up a little bit. The BC's on the phone telling them "you're doing all right, the vehicle's all right, the tire's just ... ."
CPT HOLLANDS: The deuce-and-a-half ahead of me had lost three of its four rear duals. It rode in on the rims. And it was loaded with ... . What had really happened, after they determined that they had neutralized all the soldiers that were at ... all the Battalion 2000 soldiers at Fort Cimarron. AC-130s that had been circling the area had determined that there were no large groups of ... no concentration of soldiers anywhere in the area. So the mission then became evacuating Fort Cimarron and taking with it all the usable military hardware, of which there was a significant amount. I think they captured about 8,000 weapons. There were a thousand soldiers stationed at Fort Cimarron I believe, in that area, and captured about 8,000 weapons.
MAJ LEVIN: They were a little heavily armed!
CPT HOLLANDS: Everything from four-deuce [4.2"] mortars, US four-deuce mortars; there were 82mm mortars, 81mm mortars, 60mm mortars; and then everything ... every automatic weapon from .50-cals., .30-cal., M-60s; piles of foreign made M-16s [T-65s], AK-47s, Uzis, .38 [cal. pistol]s, .45 [cal. pistol]s, 9mm pistols; a wide assortment of sniper rifles and antiquated rifles, SKSs; lots of munitions. As a matter of fact, we picked up ... we inspected some of the 81[mm] ammunition. The 81[mm mortar] platoon [of Headquarters Company, 4th Battalion, 325th Infantry] picked up a new tube to replace one that was damaged. There were a thousand soldiers' worth of TA-50. The infantry had gone through all the barracks, inspecting--checking all the barracks, checking all the lockers and pouring all this stuff out on the street to clean the barracks out. Anybody that had lost TA-50 [items] found small items that they could use.
People were trophy hunting. I mean, you're talking about ... it's like if an army had captured the Fort Bragg barracks intact, there were certainly many things that people would like as little mementos that they'd destroyed the mighty 82d Airborne Division. So people were gathering up flags and T-shirts and hats and bayonets and patches, and somebody went into the battalion commander's wall locker and cut all the patches off his uniform up there. Those were major trophies. Because we captured the whole thing intact--they hadn't evacuated anything out of the compound there. All the trophy hunting of course ended up for naught because we didn't bring anything back. We ... I ordered all the troops to put them back in boxes, and we left it all down in Panama. But it was nice for the time they were out there looking for things.
We were up there for about ... let's see how long we were there. We arrived there Thursday which would be the 21st, and we departed Saturday. All day Friday, we were trying to fix the howitzer's broken axle that had come up to us. We had parts sent from the rear which turned out to be the wrong parts. And we worked ... my first sergeant worked to try and do a field expedient repair job which was un ... he was unable to do it. The axle is such a critical part, you really can't improvise very much on it. So we were not able to get that going. So we were evacuated Saturday. Again, I left my first sergeant behind with five troops, and we got a helicopter up to pick them up and bring them back. They were not in any danger. They were still secured by the infantry so that was not a critical situation to leave them behind.
When we got back to the rear--to Omar Torrijos Air Base--I set the battery up, I finally linked up with the rest of the battery. They had two guns set up providing fire support for security of the airfield complex. As soon as I arrived back, I went to see the battalion commander. He took me up to division G-3 and I was given the mission of division reserve, which is a pretty non-standard mission for an artillery battery, but the division had no combat forces uncommitted and I was the only combat force that was uncommitted at that time in the entire division. So I was given the mission of securing all of Torrijos Airfield. It was finally at 2000 hours that night that they finally gave me that mission. So my first sergeant and I had to recon the perimeter after dark, issue warning orders to my troops, organize teams, pick outposts, and mount the security forces after dark. Which is no small task for trained infantrymen; it's even more difficult for people that are not used to--that don't practice that as often.
My first sergeant is very skilled in that area. I feel that I'm competent to do it. So we tackled the task and we stationed two M-60 machine gun teams on top of Omar Torrijos Airport, overlooking the high speed avenue of approaches to the front. We picketed ... we found two artillery batteries of the 7th Infantry Division that were set up in the airhead that people were not aware were there. I'm sort of stumbling over all these units in the dark that are on my perimeter.
MAJ LEVIN: Where did those batteries come from?
CPT HOLLANDS: They were airlanded that day, but somehow the information hadn't made it to all the people that were briefing me that they were going to be there.
MAJ LEVIN: Were they OPCON to you, then?
CPT HOLLANDS: No, they ... I worked them into my perimeter scheme and got them into my communications network, but I don't know who ... I think they worked. The 7th ID was not really working for the division headquarters at that time. They were sort of an autonomous command. They were all ... their headquarters was stationed right next to the division headquarters, because I had to station troops on top of their headquarters.
MAJ LEVIN: I see. I see.
CPT HOLLANDS: But they had already had their mission. They were going to move out the next day, so they were distracted on that. They had local security set up and they assisted me in my security efforts.
I set two guns up just to the west of the airfield. One laid out an illumination target out to the front where we had heard that there were demonstrations and organized mobs of people out there. The other oriented for direct fire down the runway. I stationed an OP [observation post], a four man OP, down about a kilometer down the runway. And their job there was to just to provide early warning and then to stay low if we started firing rounds down the runway. Another gun was set up for direct fire across from the terminal, pointed mostly, again, down the runway and across the runway for any infiltration that came from this way. All these guys had night vision devices, automatic weapons, Claymores, LAWs, and of course the firepower from the howitzers. So we pretty much ringed the whole southern area and guarded the external guard on the airfield. We tied in to our left with 1/504 which had its rear detachment here. They had about 50 soldiers here.
MAJ LEVIN: The northern end of the field.
CPT HOLLANDS: They manned the very northern end of the airfield. And the Rangers were responsible for the security at Tocumen Airfield, and we meshed in with them just behind brigade headquarters. So those were really my flanking units: were the Rangers to the very north and 1/504 to the extreme north of the airfield. And I had all the rest of the sector myself. So we maintained indirect fire capability and direct fire sectors and we carried that mission from Saturday night through Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. And Tuesday we were relieved of the security mission and we moved on to other missions.
Some of the things that went on there. We also began picking up a requirement to conduct parachute recovery operations. During the daylight hours, I'd provide twenty soldiers each day to go pick up parachutes in the area we described earlier, which was not received particularly well by my soldiers who had come down there to kill Panamanians and provide fire support. That was a very disheartening role for us to play. You know I ... as a leader ... and my subordinate leaders all made the point, made it understood I think, that our job was to do whatever mission we were assigned and do it well. I think after a bit of grumbling, we settled into that role. People took on what was a very nasty job in the extreme heat, walking in some very nasty terrain, picking up parachutes, and of course then having to carry the parachute back through this terrain to a place where a vehicle could pick it up. At times we had helicopters supporting the extraction operation.
Well, I'll let some of the guys who actually did some extracting talk about extraction operations.
SGT LUCAS: They had ... we developed teams, maybe eight guys or so. We all got on the Huey [UH-1H]. They'd take us out there and fly us around and pinpoint where a large concentration of chutes were. And he'd drop us out there. We'd disperse and get the chutes, bring them back to a central location where he could land again--the LZ where he dropped us off. And he'd come back and pick up the chutes and fly off, and basically we had to make our own way out. The helicopter rarely came back to pick us up. So we basically made our way out, and he'd fly us back out there again, and drop us in another location. We'd collect the chutes and walk back in.
MAJ LEVIN: Not something to help you be consumed with your own importance, right? [LAUGHTER]
CPT HOLLANDS: While twenty guys who were doing the detail, the other twenty-eight guys were manning all the security points and manning the howitzers. So these guys would come back from detail and immediately they might wash their face off from the sweat, they'd grab their MRE, grab their M-60 machine gun and night vision goggles, and be posted on OPs. Or back to the machine gun positions.
SGT LUCAS: Twenty-four hour operations every day.
CPT HOLLANDS: So it was a non-stop thing and very little rest going on. It was a very stressful time for a lot of the troops because, one, they were disheartened over their lack of involvement in the big missions; and two they were being ... they were doing work that was unpleasant at best, but necessary. After ... even after the first week pretty much of doing this, they recovered like 500 or 600 out of 2,000 parachutes. It was a very slow process. Not only were they recovering parachutes but a large quantity of equipment that had been lost out in the area there. So we were recovering a lot of valuable stuff for Uncle Sam. That was an important role. They may never have understood the importance of the role, but they woke up and did it every day.
MAJ LEVIN: Were you on that one, too, Specialist?
SPC PEGUES: Check. To me it wasn't too bad of a deal except when the pilots in the choppers would drop us off they'd drop us out in the weirdest places. They dropped us off in one area where there wasn't nothing but just swamp. And one ... you'd wave them in. They'd come in and pick up the chute and he'd look at you and look at you, and then go in the opposite direction of you, so you'd pack up the chute and just keep going until you found another one. And then you'd get to that area and just said, 'well, this is going to be the assembly area. We're just going to bring everything and just pile it up right there, and then we're going to make him work.' Leave it out there and just march on in, so they'd have to work too. Because all they did was pick us up, drop us off, and just look at us. So we made them work a little bit too, since we was out there sweating a little bit.
But like the BC said, you know, we took the mission in stride and continued on. And as time went on, we all gradually came together and started joking. And when everything was over with, you know, it was just more or less us getting back now. And we all said the quicker we get this done, the quicker we can get back home.
CPT HOLLANDS: Actually, the detailed turned from being the worst thing a guy could be picked for everyday to they found out eventually a little shop, a little cafe thing opened up near the parachute assembly where all the parachutes were dropped during the day. And after about ten days I'd down there, I started realizing there were more guys going out on detail than I was telling sergeants we had to send. So I finally realized then was this little cafe down there where the guys were able to get cokes and food and whatnot which had not been available before. And I had to start pulling people off vehicles to keep from decimating the entire battery to go on the detail.
Some little things of significance. On Sunday the 24th I see in my log that our executive officer was able to scrounge some cokes from the Air Force which was well endowed with all kinds of creature comforts of which we had none. So that Sunday, they got their first little treat, which was a coke for Christmas Eve. And we didn't get enough for all the men. We just got one for like ... two or three guys shared a coke. And that was still a major morale boost. Also, MG [James H.] Johnson, [Jr.], the Commanding General of the 82d, visited our position that night and he gave some coins out to soldiers that had been doing a good job, some division coins, and talked to the troops and let them know what an important job they were doing and what not.
SSG LONG: Can you show me what a division coin is? I'm not familiar with them.
CPT HOLLANDS: It's a coin that's about the size of an American silver dollar and it's got the division crest on the side. Normally, they're given out to soldiers for an outstanding job during barracks inspection by the division commander. All officers in the regiment carry a regimental coin. It's got various insignias. It's a tradition. I don't know where the tradition comes from. Most Airborne units and other elite-type forces all have distinguished coins. The officers all carry one as a member of the regiment. Troops are given them as rewards for outstanding performances.
SSG LONG: It looks like another one with Panama on it. That's nice. Have you seen one of those?
MAJ LEVIN: No, I've never seen one, and I was in one of those special units.
CPT HOLLANDS: One of the traditions that goes with a division coin is that if someone pulls a coin check, either at the officer's club or what not, anybody that doesn't have a coin in their possession is obligated to buy a round. Now, if you make a coin check and everyone there has got their coin, you of course become obligated. That's one of the small traditions surrounding that.
MAJ LEVIN: O.K., this is 86. This tradition doesn't go back terribly far. It goes back to probably when they began reestablishing the regimental system of the 82d.
CPT HOLLANDS: In the other armies, the tradition is slightly older.
So then Sunday ... Monday was Christmas day, and I held a battery Christmas service. It was more of a sharing thing. My executive officer was an extremely good procurer of exotic items. He came up with a fully decorated Christmas tree and a ham. [LAUGHTER] And we took the Christmas tree and put it on top of a box of ... crates of MREs, and wrapped M-60 linked ammo around the base to make a skirt, and with that as a back drop and a UH-1 helicopter that was parked on the flight strip next to where we were blasting out Christmas carols at my request, I gave a small service just to have people reflect on families back home and things that we had and the comrades that we lost there, and some of the other things that I thought people wanted to hear, just to bring everybody together and recognize that it was a special day. The XO carved up the ham and everybody got a little piece of ham and we took a battery picture, and that was a very moving time for me, mostly, because I was trying to make normalcy out of a situation that was very abnormal. The impression that I made on the soldiers is ... I'll never know, I guess, but it was a very, it was hard for me to do.
SGT LUCAS: I think for everybody there it was something pretty good. I mean, if you look at the pictures now that are posted in our orderly room, somebody has the pictures. You have the pictures here. Everybody reflected in their own way about what their families might be doing now, and how you missed them and everything like that. It was a morale booster for sure.
SSG LONG: If it's possible to get a print of that?
MAJ LEVIN: Make a note for Bob [Dr. Robert Wright, XVIII Airborne Corps Historian].
CPT HOLLANDS: I had a camera that I liberated from some ex-member of Battalion 2000 that I used to document ...
MAJ LEVIN: Oh, how gracious of him to donate that.
CPT HOLLANDS: I didn't think that he was going to need it any more. I documented the battery's travels through the ... Panama, somewhat.
MAJ LEVIN: Did you see any ... when you got up to the Fort, did you see any casualties still around?
CPT HOLLANDS: We did not see any bodies there. I think the infantry had evacuated them the previous day. I'm not sure if there were that many casualties. I think they may have had a half a dozen killed up there and about twenty-five prisoners, if I recall right. I'm not exactly sure about the numbers, but it was not a very sizeable force.
MAJ LEVIN: Right.
CPT HOLLANDS: Nor were there that many casualties.
MAJ LEVIN: My understanding is that most of that battalion had already exfiltrated down towards Panama City.
CPT HOLLANDS: What I learned in later time is that they had been ... they did it almost every other night ... is that they would exfiltrate from the camp to assembly points outside the camp in expectation of American attacks on them. They had a drill they would go through and often times spend the night outside the camp just for situations like this.
Also, Christmas day, I found out that I'd become a father. My wife delivered a baby on Christmas Eve. That was the first of four babies that were born to deployed soldiers in my battery. We had quite a few deliveries there.
MAJ LEVIN: Did you have any ... O.K., that brings up one thing that I wanted to get into a little bit. There's a family support network that's established, and how well did that work?
CPT HOLLANDS: I think it worked very well. We ... all units pretty much sustain a family support network. We have what I think is a particularly strong one. My wife has organized a very strong group of ladies. We will usually count on fifty to sixty percent participation in any activity we have, any kind of a coffee or get together of the wives to discuss operations, which is three or four times more than I think most company-size units. We have forty-five married people in the battery and we can always count on twenty or twenty-five people showing up. We have ... and they are a very strong group.
My wife was obviously laid up for a part of the deployment having the baby and her second-in-charge took over the organization and kept the information flowing. The battalion executive officer who ran the battalion rear detachment, he's the Army's link with the wives' group. Also the battalion commander's wife is also a part of that link with the higher support agencies. And my wife talked to ... my phone rang off the hook. The people who were down staying with my wife said they'd come back from the hospital when my wife was in there and there'd be twenty messages on my answering machine--women mostly asking questions or needing a ride somewhere or having some problem or what not. And I think it worked very well.
MAJ LEVIN: What kind of feedback did you guys get when you came home about the family support network?
SGT LUCAS: Neither of us are married. But my girl friend through another member in my section's wife, they had invited her to the meeting, just to find out--even though she wasn't--
[END OF TAPE; END OF INTERVIEW]