DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
XVIII AIRBORNE CORPS
FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA
US ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
WASHINGTON, D. C.
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
Oral History Interview
Company B, 96th Civil Affairs Battalion
MAJ John D. Knox (Commander)
CPT Keith G. Bax (Operations Officer)
CPT Daniel F. Jacobs (Team Leader)
CPT William J. Dooner (Team Leader)
SFC Charlie Cheysobhan (Assistant NCOIC)
SFC Cecil Roper (Platoon Sergeant)
SSG Benjamin Davis (Platoon Sergeant)
SPC Chandler J. Jurinka (Operations Specialist)
Interview Conducted 11 April 1990 at Hardy Hall, Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Interviewer: MAJ Robert P. Cook (326th Military History Detachment)
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview JCIT 049
MAJ COOK: This is an Operation JUST CAUSE interview. This is a group interview. I'm MAJ Robert Cook of the 326th Military History Detachment. This is 11 April [1990, at] Hardy Hall, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I'm going to ask everyone to go around the room and if you would give me your full name, rank, serial number, your current unit, your duty position, [and] your duty position if it's changed since JUST CAUSE. CPT Jacobs, please start.
CPT JACOBS: Okay. Jacobs, Daniel F.; ***-**-****; captain; Team Commander and Team Commander during JUST CAUSE.
SFC CHEYSOBHAN: Cheysobhan, Charlie; ***-**-****; Assistant NCO and now NCOIC.1
MAJ KNOX: Knox, John D.; ***-**-****; major; company commander.
SSG DAVIS: Davis, Benjamin G.; ***-**-****; platoon sergeant.
SPC JURINKA: Jurinka, Chandler J.; ***-**-****; operations specialist.
CPT DOONER: Dooner, William J.; ***-**-****; captain; team commander currently and same position during JUST CAUSE.
CPT BAX: Bax, Keith G.; ***-**-****; operations officer; the same during JUST CAUSE.
SFC ROPER: Roper, Cecil E.; ***-**-****; sergeant first class; platoon sergeant.
MAJ COOK: Thank you very much. MAJ Knox could you as the company commander just sort of start us off and give us a brief introduction of the time you all got the alert and then the events that you and your company did shortly after the alert.
MAJ KNOX: Alright. We first began to get in the queue for an alert around the 19th of December  is when the [96th Civil Affairs] Battalion went on close hold. Our major problem during this time was [that] we were in a state of flux as to whether it was just going to be Alpha Company2 (who was already down range) and the battalion headquarters, or whether it was going to be augmented by the one (maybe two) other companies, or if the whole battalion was going down. That ... that then caused numerous mustering of the company--breaking down different chalk3 patterns, things like that as far as how we were going to get down there. We went down the first day of the invasion [20 December] and that was in two ... two plane loads. They were divided: we had a small contingent with the first plane load and the rest of the Company under CPT Tim Larkin followed with the second lift. We got down the ... early the next morning about 05. Both plane loads linked up on the ground and proceeded over in battalion convoy from Howard [Air Force Base] over to [Fort] Clayton.
MAJ COOK: Thank you. Let me ... now we'll go around the room with the next question in the same order that we gave our names and ranks. Let me start with CPT Jacobs. As you arrived in country could you describe to me: one, what is your normal and expected job function (what is it that you do); and what type of mission did you anticipate or were planning on, initially?
CPT JACOBS: Okay. My team is a composite team. I think we had nine people to start. As a military police officer, my first mission (anticipated mission) was to work with the new Panamanian police force in getting them reestablished. Beyond that pretty generic statement, we weren't sure how it was going to work.
MAJ COOK: Thank you. What was ... can you describe to me your job function and role and what you first planned anticipated mission was? What you expected first to be doing?
SFC CHEYSOBHAN: My mission ... me and the CPT Larkins, we weren't sure what [we] was supposed to do, because we [were] just waiting for battalion to give us our orders, so everybody [was] just waiting. And finally we got the words and everybody deployed. They attached us to each unit up forward, up in the battle area.
MAJ COOK: To the ... already to other maneuver units such as?
SFC CHEYSOBHAN: Some of them assigned to 193d [Infantry Brigade].
MAJ COOK: Okay.
SFC CHEYSOBHAN: 7th ID [Infantry Division] and 82d [Airborne Division].
MAJ COOK: Okay. MAJ Knox.
MAJ KNOX: Basically before we left [Fort] Bragg the battalion commander gave Bravo Company4 four missions to mull over. One was running a displaced civilian [DC] camp. Another one was establishing the new police force. And the third was nation building with the new government. Look through those; game plan that out as far as which ... how we were going to array our assets that way.
Once we got in to ... into Panama, those missions (with the exception of the DC camp) initially fell out of the equation and we were coming over to support of the tactical unit commanders. The basic diversion of missions at first were that COL Normand the POG5 commander was down there working for SOUTHCOM,6 and also directing us--giving us warning orders as to what was coming in. And we went down as part of the JTF SOUTH,7 a separate headquarters. So that's ... that's how we were ... began to bounce at first in two directions.
Once we did get there, the missions the company picked up were support to the displaced civilian camp which we'll cover later with MAJ Mike Lewis; working with ... about five or six days later, working with 16th M[ilitary] P[olice] Brigade to establish the public force; and support to the tactical units, specifically the 193d and the 82d.
MAJ COOK: Thank you. SSG Davis.
SSG DAVIS: Yes, sir.
MAJ COOK: What ... describe to me your role or function with the company, and what you sort of anticipated was your first menu of missions and functions to do upon arriving in country.
SSG DAVIS: Okay, sir. We were going to go down and join up with the tactical units down there: the 193d Brigade out of Panama itself, and support that battalion commander or that group--brigade commander. Locating supplies, medical supplies, food supplies for civilians that were displaced out of the ... down near the Comandancia.
MAJ COOK: SPC Jurina?
SPC JURINKA: Jurinka. As far as I understood, sir, of what our mission implied was basically what MAJ Knox said. I just fell in where I was needed.
MAJ COOK: What is your normal place? What's your MOS8 and what do you actually do?
SPC JURINKA: I am an MP, sir, but my title is an operations specialist.
MAJ COOK: Okay. CPT Dooner.
CPT DOONER: Yes, sir. Initially, before we deployed, I was informed by MAJ Knox that ... to be prepared to assist in some of those missions that the battalion commander had told him we might possibly be getting involved in. And some teams were formed to gain--begin preparing for those. But as it turned out once we got down there, those missions did not come to pass, and those teams were then disbanded. New teams organized as missions arised. What I eventually ended up getting was the direct support role to the 193d with SFC Roper, SSG Davis and SPC Jurinka.
MAJ COOK: Super. CPT Bax.
CPT BAX: As the operations officer, I'm in charge of getting liaison between different units that we support and the operational assets that we can use--utilize--to perform our functions. Also the administrative side of the company: the headquarters [function] that we need to do there. And the ... as soon as I got on [the] ground, my mission was kind of like a fireman: to run around and make the liaison work with everybody of the supported units. And I finally ended up first starting with the 1-508th Infantry9 (battalion) and then moved up to the 193d Infantry Brigade as the S-5.
MAJ COOK: Thank you. SFC Roper?
SFC ROPER: Well, I was a new arrival to the unit. I signed in on the 20th and (to SOCOM10) signed into the unit on the 21st. And was in Panama that afternoon. I had very little knowledge about what our unit mission was, but I gained real quick knowledge of it once we got into country. Once there we were given a mission brief. I was attached to 1-508th, set up a residence at the Comandancia and became almost a jack of all trades. But basically we supported the battalion commander and the brigade commander and whatever he need for us to do.
MAJ COOK: Thank you. About what time did you arrive at Howard on the 21st?
MULTIPLE VOICES: Probably about 3:00 in the morning. 3:00 in the morning. 3:00 in the morning on the 22d. Yes. On the 22d.
MAJ COOK: 0300 on the 22d. What were conditions like at Howard when you got there--ramp down?
CPT DOONER: Hot. Muggy. [LAUGHTER] Spooky. No lights hardly. The plane came in [in] blackout conditions, which was something new, I think, for everybody. Stayed on the ground on the apron outside the aircraft for what 45 minutes waiting for ground transportation. And moved over to another area and waited until dawn to move off of Howard onto Clayton.
MAJ COOK: Okay were there ... did they post security around the plane when you landed?
SPC JURINKA: Whole base was secured. The whole place was.
MAJ COOK: Did you have any motorized vehicles or other equipment with you?
MAJ KNOX: Yes we did.
CPT BAX: Yes.
MAJ COOK: So in addition to ground transportation met you had to go through off-load. About what time were you ready to move from Howard irrespective of when they'd let you go?
MULTIPLE VOICES: 6:00. Something of that nature. Around six.
MAJ COOK: So in about three hours you were about ready to go?
MULTIPLE VOICES: Right. Okay.
SFC ROPER: We had to wait on the entire flight down there because, if I'm not mistaken, I think there was about six airplanes supporting our battalion alone. And then once we got off-load, take accountability, get an initial brief there, then we had to wait for the bridge that crosses the [Panama] Canal to make sure that we could go from Howard to Clayton.
CPT DOONER: Non-stop.
MAJ COOK: That would be the Swing Bridge off the Air Base?
CPT DOONER: Right.
MAJ COOK: But at this time you were all still together? Nobody had been detached or split off.
CPT BAX: Right.
MAJ COOK: Describe to me then, the, I assume, convoy over to ... Clayton was the next stop?
MAJ KNOX: Headquarters [at] Clayton. It was completely uneventful. We had MP support from USARSO11 [that] took us over there. They billeted us up in the family quarters there at Clayton of some of the people that were able to be evacuated before this started. And then it was a ... basically as missions then came down [the task] was chopping out the teams.
SFC Roper mentioned briefly [that] the people we have here mostly were with ... just assigned to the unit within two weeks of this deployment. CPT Dooner had just finished the civil affairs regional studies course over there as SWC12 and reported in about a week beforehand. SSG Davis had come down from being the Op[eration]s NCO at the S-3 shop to us. SFC Roper and SFC Cheysobhan were one day with the unit when we went down there. [LAUGHTER] And the operations officer [INAUDIBLE] was still on leave in Florida (driving back) and caught up to us right at the airfield down there at Pope [Air Force Base, North Carolina], in order to get down range with us. So that was why he used as fireman going around with the new teams initially making the introductions. Getting them oriented and then.
MAJ COOK: When you arrived at Howard is that when you started to either get briefed or get the message that some of the mission menu you anticipated was going to start to be split or did that happen later in the ... ?
MAJ KNOX: That happened at Clayton. Once we got billeted there and battalion headquarters had gotten tied down as far as what the missions were, that's when ... that's when the mission of the displaced civilian camp first came up on the docket. And that went to Delta Company13 and then it was based on our numbers versus the command finding out the priority of supporting the tactical commanders and who was going to get what. And the first mission that came up that way was with the 193d down in the Chorillo [barrio].
MAJ COOK: Did the company C[ommand] P[ost] remain at Fort Clayton for the duration?
MAJ KNOX: Yes, it did.
MAJ COOK: Okay. We can fix that as one location. Let me ask, once your ability and were becoming increasingly operational, describe to me some of the first missions and taskings that you all received. You know, on an individual basis. What were some of the first things you were sent out to do.
CPT DOONER: I think I got the first mission in the company. Myself, Daniel Williams, and SPC Stone I think. We got the ... about 1600 that afternoon [we] got alerted to go up to battalion, that about ten civilians that had been rescued and needed help. So I went from battalion to JTF Headquarters, got a real generic brief. There was a lot of confusion as to what was what. So I went over to this set of family quarters and linked up with this intel[ligence] sergeant.
And what it was were ten adults, one four-year-old child who were employed by the Sicilian [i.e., Smithsonian] Institute. They had been captured by the PDF14 on their island (I think off of Amador15), taken to the mainland, force-marched through the jungle barefoot; they took pity on them and let them go back to the island to get some clothing and some shoes and such, and during the course of that they smuggled in a couple of marine band-type radios. Then they force-marched them back through the jungle. Meanwhile I guess they were talking about "well, what are we going to do with these folks." All were excellent Spanish speakers. Some of them were native Panamanians. But there was a Chilean, a Pole; the lady in charge was an American; there was a Venezuelan. And somehow or other the PDF just abandoned them in the jungle.
So they raised somebody, which trickled it across to JTF Headquarters. They launched a mission that went and got them; brought them back to Clayton; put them up in quarters; and then, since they were displaced, called the civil affairs battalion. So I took care of them for a day and then I got another mission. But basically we met their basic needs: someplace to sleep, because we had to move them that night, personal hygiene, food, telephone calls to their families and such. Like I said, I got a different mission the next day.
MAJ COOK: What was their reaction to this? Were they still apprehensive, were they cooperative, noncooperative?
CPT DOONER: They had been debriefed by the J-2. What they ... what ... I don't know. But, initially they were real cooperative, very thankful that they were out of danger and such. And then as time marched on and they perceived that their needs weren't met they started getting rather feisty. Their immediate concern was to make some phone calls. 'Cause they already had been fed, housed and bathed; basic needs were met, now they wanted ... and then they wanted to go home. Just as fast as they could. They were given the situation that they couldn't go back to the island, at that point in time.
MAJ COOK: Thank you. Let me ask again for anyone else: what is some of the other missions the first actual hands-on mission you all drew? Or what were the support functions?
CPT JACOBS: For me, sir, it was 193d. That was after about a day of waiting--anticipated missions. MAJ Knox told me initially like I might be going up with the 7th Infantry Division. That didn't happen. But eventually we got sent over to the 193d Brigade Headquarters and at that time I arrived with SFC Roper and [ASIDE] SSG Davis, were you ... ? [MULTIPLE CONFUSED VOICES] That's right. It was myself, SFC Roper and SSG Davis [who] went over to the brigade headquarters. We were taken over by our unit and dropped there anticipating that, you know, they would either use us at brigade headquarters or either give us transportation down to wherever they wanted us. But basically we would become theirs.
So we waited around brigade headquarters for awhile. And my biggest problem was (as you already know) was that we were basically brand new as a team together as members of the unit and this was our first training and mission in civil affairs. And so really all that I knew was what I had learned in previous weeks in Special Warfare Center, there. That was all textbook stuff. What I was hoping to get at brigade headquarters was somebody to take me under their wing and explain to me what the hell was going on out there because I really didn't know. And unfortunately that didn't happen.
And as I said we just waited around for awhile and then finally we were policed up by a major. To this day I don't know who he was. I think he was the ... I believe he was the brigade S-2;16 I don't know.
MAJ COOK: What was his name?
CPT JACOBS: I don't know. He had his flack jacket on and he just said "okay, are you the guys going down to the 1st of the 508th?" We said "yeah, we guess so." He said "okay, follow me." He took us out to his truck and flew like a bat out of hell down the way to the Comandancia.
CPT JACOBS: We were taken from the brigade headquarters down to the Comandancia and I would guess, you know, placed in direct support of the 1st of the 508th. That ... that was good. I think I at least knew, from what I did see going on up at brigade headquarters, realizing that I knew virtually nothing as to what was going on in their maneuver units, that I couldn't do anything except, you know, relay messages and take up space up there. So it was fortunate that it worked out the way it did--that we were sent down to the 1st of the 508th.
When we got there we were taken inside the Comandancia and introduced to the battalion S-317 and then a few minutes later to the battalion commander.18 He ... his immediate concern at that time was the weapons turn-in program. Again which we knew very little about. And that was, I guess, the most difficult situation for me at that particular point in time because he asked us what we had in the way of equipment and personnel. I introduced him to my other two team members and myself; told him I had no communications equipment, no vehicle. And he said "Captain, what the hell can you do for me, then?" [LAUGHTER] And I said "at this point in time, sir, not a whole lot."
So I spent the next day getting back up to the battalion, letting my commander know the situation I was in down there, and fortunately he got me squared away; got me a vehicle, radios and a little bit of orientation. And I did get back down there and shortly thereafter I think we fitted in real well. Started working real well with staff there at the battalion. We got involved in the weapons turn-in program initially. And then shortly thereafter we took the food distribution or relief effort. Initially, also, there was a bit of problem in that the battalion commander was still focused on the tactical issues and concerns, and not so much the civil affairs side. But I think that (what I at least heard through the grapevine) the pressure was coming down through JTF that we need to start looking at the nation-building needs now. He saw that and started leaning on me more and more for what I needed to do for him. As opposed to what he wanted us to ... what little fires he wanted us to piss on and be useful I guess.
MAJ COOK: So there was sort of a transition in your mission as the battalion you were supporting was also having a transition of their mission?
CPT JACOBS: Exactly.
MAJ COOK: Okay.
SFC ROPER: Another thing that LTC Fitzgerald was concerned about was taking care of the local civilian population as far as food stuffs. He was scared that there could be a massive riot in that with the taking care or trying to apprehend the what was left of the PDF force that he would have to also have taken measures against the local civilians. So he was urging us to, you know, start looking at means of food distribution. We had confiscated food stuffs in the following warehouses and so we needed to find out how, when, and how soon we can start distributing these items to keep the people from pillaging through the stores and breaking in to them. But they were digging through everything trying to find food. And so that in turn probably, you know, in the long run saved a lot of the commerce there and people's buildings from being broken into. Of course it there was a lot of pillage but other than that, I thought it was good he gave that thought to it so he could eliminate some of that.
MAJ COOK: So as the ... as the taskings start, your detachments and teams are starting to deploy. You are at your ... at your CP at Fort Clayton.
MAJ KNOX: Yeah.
MAJ COOK: How many ... what you have (and have with you) that was organic to you for your command and control? In addition to yourself, who else assisted in keeping the company running?
MAJ KNOX: Basically the company headquarters, I'd say, was the first sergeant, a clerk, and me. With the Ops Officer (CPT Bax) was being positioned for a one-to-three day period with different supported unit headquarters to get the ... the initial link up started things like that. To work with the newer teams that were down range.
And then with ... transportation was the biggest problem, I mean, one of the biggest problems we had as far as getting to and from. We went down three of our six vehicles, of which one was dedicated to the company at all times. The other two went into a battalion pool of vehicles. And then based on requests from companies, they decided which missions were important enough that a vehicle could then be lent out. Which is why some folks ended up walking for days on end down there. But that problem was not a sort of the kind ... we had a lot of vehicles back here in the rear that were tasked out for normal garrison mission support that were never reclaimed prior to the deployment.
Once we got down there, those vehicles that we had ... half of them went to support the Reserve CA [civil affairs task force] upon their initial arrival and the ... . CPT Clay can brief that probably more as far as where the others went as someone internal to our next higher headquarters.
So it was basically, once the teams were out, the first sergeant and I would go into the ... the different teams that had been tasked out, on a continual basis, checking on their needs each day--what they needed. And getting those supplies back to them. One thing SFC Roper was mentioning as far as the captured food stuffs. Those things couldn't be handed out until the veterinarian checked them to clear them, and that then required kidnapping the veterinarian from the displaced civilian camp during some free time he had, to get back out there check their stuff in the 193d area and then solve that problem.
MAJ COOK: During the ... your initial arrival on the first few days: how long did you all anticipate staying in country?
MULTIPLE VOICES [WITH LAUGHTER]: Six months.
MAJ COOK: Okay. So unlike many of the line troopers that went in who thought they were going to go in and come out (and more or less did), you already had in your mind that you would be there--by the nature of your mission, you would be there for a while?
After you were relieved of the group from the Smithsonian Institution, what was your next tasking?
CPT DOONER: I spent a day at the dislocated civilian camp with eight other guys from the company and then eight other guys I think from Delta Company. And then I got the mission the next day to go be liaison officer at 16th MP Bde. I kept that mission till we left.
MAJ COOK: Was that by yourself or did you take other unit members with you?
CPT DOONER: Let's see. [I] start[ed] off with CPT Bax and myself; and then it was not really required to have two officers so 'cause I was an MP and I knew the S-3 (the brigade S-3, MAJ Nicholson, was a neighbor of mine; I knew him thru my brother), so I had some rapport there. And then one of the battalion commanders--LTC Sullivan--I knew him. I assessed the situation and figured a NCO would be good, so I got SFC Boler (another MP). He and I stayed together throughout. It really ended up two-man mission.
MAJ COOK: Okay. Thank you.
MAJ COOK: How many of you were involved in some programs such as the weapons and money exchanges? And if you were, if you could just tell me something about how did that work? How you became involved; and how it went over. CPT Jacobs, want to kick it off?
CPT JACOBS: Okay. Initially a whole lot wasn't known about the program. We started getting a lot of heat from the JTF headquarters group and staff, and then it was trickling on down. So I did some checking around to find out exactly who's in charge of this thing and came to find out there was a civilian fellow like a "GS-99" at JTF who had overall command and control of the program. He had put this document together and this plan; and it was ... somehow or other it fell through the crack and the plan was never approved--formally. And then all of a sudden I guess he took it upon himself and just started it. And then all of a sudden the general said let's go. So initially there was at least three major turn-in points. One was at Ancon Gym, which was the outskirts of downtown. One was on the back side of Albrook Air Station.
MULTIPLE VOICES: Near Chorillo Fire Station. Yeah. Yeah.
CPT JACOBS: Chorillo Fire Station.
And it was you get like fifty bucks for a hand gun; and then a couple of hundred bucks for an automatic weapon; and so much for a shotgun; so much for grenades, ammunition, that kind of thing.
SFC ROPER: That was achieved through the 4th PSYOPS people, by putting out pamphlets in Spanish that told exactly how much each item was worth.
CPT JACOBS: Flyers.
SFC ROPER: And once those flyers hit the street it was just 'look out.'
CPT JACOBS: Once they got the radio and television stations going it was broadcast on that also. I went down by Ancon one day--just out in plain view across on the side of the street all these different kinds of weapons and two soldiers all by their lonesome guarding this stuff. All the civilians starting to ...
SFC ROPER: No. They had a TOW jeep19 across the street that was set up for security and everything with an M-60 up on top of it.
CPT JACOBS: It wasn't highly visible.
SFC ROPER: No. At any one time there was probably anywhere from between 50 to 200 people in line with a variety of different weapons and ammunition. They were returning it. And the people that were recording these turn-ins had their hands full, not only with just weapons take in and the logging of different weapons by serial numbers and types, but just the security itself. It was ... hazardous at least. But they did a fine job.
MAJ COOK: Now were certain individuals designated to handle the money and collect the weapons and make the ... ?
CPT JACOBS: Well, the guys who actually paid out the money there were only certain sites for that. You were given a chit or an evidence tag and told to go to one of these pay sites. So the guys actually collecting the weapons I don't think were paying.
MULTIPLE VOICES: Yes they were.
SFC ROPER: They were paying them at the ...
CPT JACOBS: Ancon was one of the pay stations.
SFC ROPER: But that was one of the problems because a lot of the times the Class A agents would not be on time at the place due to either delays in picking up money or traffic problems or delays of just overcome by events. And we ourselves being in the mid-stream of society there would be approached by different people (the locals there) and want to know "where is the man with the money today? I've got weapons I want to turn in." And a lot of them would approach the soldiers (you know, the line troops) that were there, and the line troops knowing "hey, I don't want this guy out here in my area--in my little zone--with all these weapons." And they would take pieces of paper and say, you know, "I received X amount of weapons and ammunition from this guy" and they'd tell him "now you take this little notebook scribbling to this Class A agent and he'll pay you." Well a lot of them didn't get paid. So this became a black eye for the United States Army. But in then ... they turned right around and we informed ... CPT Dooner informed LTC Fitzgerald that this was happening. And that we needed to resolve this issue before they stopped taking faith in us and say "well, I'm not going to take nothing to them no more (you know) because they're not being true to their word." So apparently LTC Fitzgerald made some points somewhere and the people started paying them for these little for these receipts if they were, you know, if they were valid. And that helped us a lot.
MAJ COOK: Did you find any individuals who were turning in more than one weapon at a time and making something on it? [LAUGHTER]
CPT JACOBS: We didn't we don't know if this is factual or not but it we do know that it's factual [that] there was a case where there was a fifteen-year-old child that went up to the Class A agent and asked him what the rates were. And he had told him. And he said "I'll be back in a minute" and he came back with a cache of weapons and received $5,000 for it. Also one of the last days that we were there, the team that I was in, we were driving through the downtown area and found ourselves in the middle of the parade that eventually ousted [Manuel] Noreiga, and people were trying to give us grenades. And there were grenades laying in the grass and LAWs20 and what have you. So ... .
MAJ COOK: How many of the teams that you took into country ... what was your linguistic capability? [LAUGHTER]
MAJ KNOX: In our company?
MAJ COOK: I take it from the number of new people coming in, were you low on ... ?
MAJ KNOX: Spanish-speaker?
MULTIPLE VOICES: Yeah. Spanish-speaker. Yeah.
CPT DOONER: Yo speako mucho Espanol. [LAUGHTER]
MAJ COOK: Okay. That's compounded by your mission is not necessarily foreign speaking?
MAJ KNOX: Our company's mission is the support of the Pacific Command.
MAJ COOK: Okay. How did you get augmented with Spanish speakers?
CPT BOX: Well both of those units down there had a lot of Spanish people already assigned to ... like the 193d, there were Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Hispanic personnel. It was easy to link up with one of those guys and say "hey I need your help; can you understand this guy; can you help me out with this?" And, you know, there's a lot of Spanish speakers in all the units that we worked with. And even [in] our own unit, Alpha Company--all their personnel are all Spanish speakers.
MAJ KNOX: On the civic and the church side of the house, CPT Dooner, SFC Roper, SSG Davis worked with them. A lot of them also spoke English. Because I think of all the theaters we could go into, SOUTHCOM is probably the easiest as far as language capability goes. Because most of the guys had enough high school Spanish to just be polite enough, but then the person would speak English back to you.
CPT DOONER: Really it was not a problem as far as the organization or programs that we got going. We were able to find enough local civilians who are more than ready to step forward and help us. That it ... you'd find a few people who spoke English in a church or a health center or whatever, and then they would become your counterpart in whatever particular effort you were pushing and at that particular point in time. The only time it was a problem was just in an immediate situation [when] you're out on the street and somebody comes up to you and is trying to tell you something--whether it's about weapons or, you know, PDF hold up in some building or something. And really you can't understand them. And you're trying to just get them to stand fast until you can find somebody else on the street who speaks Spanish and English to tell you what's going on.
MAJ COOK: Okay.
CPT DOONER: Overall it was not a problem.
SFC ROPER: We were augmented by people there, especially in the churches and the local parishes, father, elders ... had people that were basically almost like a duty roster on who was going to help us on a day to day basis.
MAJ COOK: And this was one of those Panama City parishes?
CPT DOONER: Right.
MAJ COOK: How did you--while we're on that--what interface did you have for cooperation, support, or whatever with the church structure in Panama City?
MULTIPLE VOICES: On a daily basis.
SFC ROPER: As a matter of fact, it was due to a lot of their extraordinary help that we were able to accomplish a lot more than what we actually did. I mean, they came up and said we've got a guy who's going to loan us a truck so that we can go and pick up food sources. I've got seven or eight young children or young boys--young men--from the local church here that's ... that will be with ya'll all day to help you distribute food, to help in the crowd control. Because we don't (always) had enough MP or military personnel support to maintain crowd control. And language support. So we had a ... the churches just went all-out to really help us--help themselves, was what they were doing.
CPT DOONER: What I found in the church was that we had this food and relief supplies that we wanted to get out to the people and we (that is, the four of us) could not physically do that and do it well. So we needed to find local civilians that we could rely on to assist us. The problem is who can you trust, because there's plenty of corruption there. And you turn food over blindly to some organization, you don't know what they're doing with it. So we at least felt with the church leaders we had people we could trust and work with and they would get food into the hands of the people who needed it.
And that's the other point, is that they also know far better than we do who were their people who needed it and who were the people not to give it to because they were going to turn around and sell it, you know, for beer or whiskey or whatever. So we were able to find the people that we needed and that we could trust to work with in the churches. On the other hand, you know, you would think that you had found somebody that you could trust to work with and somebody would pull you aside and say that person used to work with the PDF.
Yeah. One of the priests, for instance, in one of the churches down there ... we were told that he used to say Mass down at the Comandancia. You know, it turns out later on we found his ID card down in there. So we stopped doing business with him and just reported it to the battalion that this guy was working with the PDF.
At one of the health centers, we were working with the director about getting supplies in. And somebody just came up to me on the street and said "that guy is ... you can't trust him." I started checking around with some of my other contacts who I thought were more reliable; they confirmed that. You constantly have to check the people that you're working with as best you can under those circumstances.
MAJ KNOX: Just like when I was in Grenada. They did the same thing. They used the ... used to tell us these guys that were with the PRA21 and they could have turned them in, and they would take their jobs after they were turned in and everything. So you'd them up and take them out of G-2 or S-2 and reinterrogate them. While they were gone being interrogated they would be ... the other person would take over there as part of their job, you know, and everything. So then they would be getting paid by ... and losing pay. Same thing happened in Panama.
MAJ COOK: Approximately how many weeks were you all down there? About when did you were you all pulled out?
MAJ KNOX: About four weeks.
MAJ COOK: Did you come out in the same groups that you went in or did you come out in pieces?
MAJ KNOX: We came out basically as a unit. We were able to ... as mission wore down, well we got CPT Dooner's group back early so they could start their Valid[ation] Course for the Philippine area concentration for our real ... for our normal mission.
MAJ COOK: Okay. Let me ask in ... as you look back on it, either now or as you look back on it as you were coming out of country, what do you think ... or give me an example of one of the things that you think was the most significant contribution you made to Operation JUST CAUSE in your civil affairs role.
SFC CHEYSOBHAN: I think, to start off, the major thing we were very lucky that it was Christmas time there because the food supplies that were available to us were Christmas bags for the PDF soldiers that we confiscated and gave to the civilians. So if that food wasn't there and it wasn't Christmas time we wouldn't have had supplies to give to the civilian population at least for two weeks after we got there. Because the resupply missions coming in from the States was totally screwed up for at least two weeks.
CPT JACOBS: The PDF had cached enough stuff, not only food but toys.
SFC ROPER: Toys.
CPT JACOBS: I worked down at the police station and as I came to work one morning out comes about a hundred bicycles all brand new being taken out to be given away to the kids. So as they found toys and other like, you know, nice Christmas stuff to take to the distribution centers and pass it out. So ... .
SSG DAVIS: That's good, too. And the other reason the other supplies that would have not came out as the medical supplies we went into the PDF side of Albrook Air Base, and they had a whole warehouse full of medical supplies. So we busted the locks off the doors, got the medical supplies out, and distributed them down to the clinics. And that had to come from the top down, from MG [Marc] Cisneros22 to do that. We got the medical supplies out and that wouldn't have happened either ... we wouldn't have accomplished it.
SPC JURINKA: I kind of feel, sir, that what we did in our area, anyhow, was nothing was going to have a long-term positive impact on Panama or the people of Panama. But what can you do in three weeks that would have that kind of long-term impact. But I do feel that what we did and the way we worked closely with them built some good will and confidence and mutual trust between them and us that hopefully we made some ground work for the follow-on (the Reserve civil affairs folks) and the permanent party down there. And for the new government. That they can get in there and start developing the infrastructure and the long term development that's needed. So we just basically laid some ground work.
SFC ROPER: I think one thing that we've done. We made them realize that they had to help themselves. Because with the massive registration program that the church has set up you know that opened a lot of their own eyes. God we didn't realize that this many people that really needed help. And what turned out at first to be on one little area--church--there, I said "well, if we only need to feed about 200 or 300 people." Two days later they realized we need about if we can feed a thousand; our registration program it just unreal. And they had had people working day and night you know listing forms. We're not talking about somebody that's got massive computer capabilities. They're sitting down there with a pencil and pen and writing. You know here's a group of women and men--young men--just writing all day and all night, registering people that are real need[y]. And they realize, you know.
And then when we'd get the food, the parish priests and stuff would say, you know, "we will take care of this because this is our problem." And that was one the true sentences or actual sentences that Father Ellis said. He said, you know, "it's hard to believe that we've let ourselves get this far without taking a stand and it takes somebody from another country to come down here and say ya'll need to take care of this yourselves." And he was very influential in saying "guys we've got to do this ourselves."
MAJ COOK: And what parish was he at?
MULTIPLE VOICES: Santa Ana.
MAJ COOK: What (along the same vein) ... looking back on it, what was the most memorable--either in terms of humorous, anecdotal or ... what was your best group war story?
SSG DAVIS: Well, the best thing was walking patrol with CPT Bax. 'Cause he's about six [foot] six [inches] and I'm five [foot] eight [inches], so I knew that the first shot would take him out; it wouldn't get me. [LAUGHTER]
SFC ROPER: The ... one of the missions that LTC Fitzgerald gave us was the massive clean up. I mean the place was just a habitat for every form of virus, fungus, disease, germ you could imagine. Because rubble and garbage were everywhere. He wanted to quickly get the place back into a living environment where didn't have to worry about contracting every known type of disease or illness. So he asked us to start putting together a work force in support of him and that unit, and also that community, to get the place cleaned up.
Of course we had no money to do this so what we had to do was we had to hire folks off the street and pay them with food. Sometimes it would be MREs,23 sometimes it would be cached food that we had found. So on this one particular day our mission was to help clean up the (what do you call that little strip of land?) the causeway at Fort Amador. So SSG Davis and I are going through the streets like we did for the last two or three weeks and we'd ... at 7:00 in the morning and we'd pull up our vehicle and stop, get in the back end of a deuce and a half or a pick-up truck or whatever it was, and you'd look up there and within a matter of seconds there--probably three to four seconds--there would be anywhere between five to a hundred to a thousand people. Poof, they're there; before they weren't, and now they're there. And they're wanting to work because they're starving.
So we'd tell them "how many people here can speak English?" and every hand would go up. [LAUGHTER] So they'd usually put them down. So here's what's going on. You find somebody that can speak English and you tell them "say, hey, tell them this is what we're going to do, this is what we want, and they'll be paid with food. How many people want to work?" And just about everybody there would want to work. So we told them we can't take all of you we're sorry this is how many people we need, you know. I mean you just start picking. And you try to not pick the same people as you did the day prior to give everybody a chance to get some food.
So anyway we did that and we only picked I think it was ten that day or twelve. So we said "alright, thanks very much, that's all." So we put them--those individuals--in the back of a pick-up truck. Had the little camper or the canvas cover over it. And off to Amador SSG Davis and I'd drive. Well, we get through there and we'd go through the security. They say "who's the people in back?" "They're cleaning crew." "Okay no problem." So we go back to the battalion headquarters to check in--let them know we're here. Because we're going to drop the civilians with them, and they got privates who want to be all they can be--you know, are going to supervise them. So anyway we go through (that's what LTC Fitzgerald said).
So anyway we get there. And I say "you can go ahead and tell them to get off the truck." SSG Davis said "we might be here for a little while while we're at battalion headquarters." So then I go in; they don't know we're here; how many people we got? And I go back outside and SSG Davis says "son, how many people did you pick up this morning?" I said "twelve." He says "we got over twenty-five here." So what they were doing as we were driving off these people were piling in the back. You know. [LAUGHTER]
MAJ COOK: Self-recruiting.
SFC ROPER: You bet.
MAJ COOK: Let me wrap up with a question to ... an open question to MAJ Knox. What, sort of in sum, as you look back on either the mission and various missions the company took on or in relationship to the way they performed the mission, especially in light of new personnel, in light of this was not necessarily your geographical area of the world: how would you sum up what you all did?
MAJ KNOX: Basically the key thing for the folks from Bravo Company was making sure that the transition of the humanitarian relief and normal law and order, service-related stuff, all got transferred from the military channels back over to that of the Panamanians as SFC Roper was highlighting there. The fact that the corridos, the church, the local civic organizations, their version of ... it's Casa Lions or Covenant House were all coming on line and beginning to take care of the folks. Then that got the tactical units out of the business of handing out the MREs on the corner and things like that. And they could be pulled, either continue to chase the PDF further out into the hinterland or else, in the case of the 82d, they could come back and become part of the rapid deployment force again. And that I think is the key contribution we made--was getting the tactical units disentangled from that situation.
MAJ COOK: Thank you very much.
[END OF INTERVIEW]