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
SSG Lloyd M. Johnson
Noncommissioned Officer in Charge, Plans, Policy and Force Development
4th Psychological Operations Group
Interview Conducted 9 April 1990 at Hardy Hall, Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Interviewer: SSG Gerry Albin (326th Military History Detachment)
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview JCIT 059
SSG ALBIN: This is SSG [Gerry] Albin with the 326th Military History Detachment. [This is] a[n Operation] JUST CAUSE interview on 9 April 1990. SSG Johnson, can you please give your name, rank, service number, unit and duty position within that unit?
SSG JOHNSON: SSG Johnson, Lloyd M.; ***-**-****; 4th PSYOPS [Psychological Operations] Group; Exercise NCO [noncommissioned officer].
SSG ALBIN: SSG Johnson to begin, can you describe your job function and your position? Your unit: plans, policy and force development--what is it and what makes it up?
SSG JOHNSON: Our section consists of ten or twelve people separated into three different sections. There is a plans section, a force development section, and an exercise section. My responsibility within the organization is to assure that psychological operations forces are able to play in the exercises and obtain benefits from exercises planned by JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] and the units.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe the organizational structure of your section--officers, NCOs?
SSG JOHNSON: I think we have--between the three sections within the PLEX--about five officers and ten enlisteds. I think it's somewhere around those numbers.
SSG ALBIN: Of these enlisted, how many NCOs are there and how many are within each section? How would you break down each section?
SSG JOHNSON: Plans section has two or three NCOs. Force development has three (I believe) NCOs; my section has myself and two enlisteds. Each section has at least two officers, I would think.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe when and how you were alerted for JUST CAUSE?
SSG JOHNSON: I guess it took place somewhere around the 19th or so. General procedures for our alert tell you where to go and who to talk to and that's exactly how it went.
SSG ALBIN: Did the three sections of the PLEX deploy to Panama?
SSG JOHNSON: Yeah. I'm not aware if the entire section deployed at one time.
SSG ALBIN: Did you deploy to Panama?
SSG JOHNSON: Yes, I was a part of JUST CAUSE.
SSG ALBIN: The ... just so we clear up the ... there are three sections within the PLEX?
SSG JOHNSON: That's correct.
SSG ALBIN: How do you refer to the PLEX, so I know what to say, the correct way to ask it? The PLEX consists of the three sections. Is it called a section or what is it called?
SSG JOHNSON: Just the PLEX. We just call it the PLEX. It's like everybody within the group knows that the PLEX consists of the three sections.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe the way that the PLEX was deployed or ... in a non-classified, safe description of how the PLEX was deployed to Panama?
SSG JOHNSON: No.
SSG ALBIN: Can you tell me what sections of the PLEX deployed and how they were deployed?
SSG JOHNSON: I deployed from the PLEX with one of our battalions. It's my understanding that when I left ... I knew myself to be the only one that was deploying from the PLEX.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe how you deployed? When you find out, what you physically did, what equipment you drew, where you went, how you deployed?
SSG JOHNSON: We were ... the normal procedure that when you go into a call-up alert, for whatever reason, you have standard issue equipment that you take with you. You are required to report to the section that you've been either attached to or that you belong to, and they give you further instructions from there. That's pretty much standard operating procedure and the way it took place.
SSG ALBIN: Did you fly over or were you inserted?
SSG JOHNSON: Fly over to where?
SSG ALBIN: To Panama.
SSG JOHNSON: Yes.
SSG ALBIN: Did you jump in?
SSG JOHNSON: Yeah, I jumped in.
SSG ALBIN: Can you tell me who you jumped in with?
SSG JOHNSON: I jumped in with the ... I was supporting the 75th Ranger Regiment.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. What chalk number were you on?
SSG JOHNSON: Chalk number ... I think it was 13 or 14.
SSG ALBIN: Where were you on the stick?
SSG JOHNSON: On the stick ... very close to the front. I don't know ... I don't recall my exact number but it was close to the front.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. How was your flight over?
SSG JOHNSON: It was excellent. Probably one of the best flights I've had.
SSG ALBIN: What day did you deploy?
SSG JOHNSON: I think it was like night on the 19th.
SSG ALBIN: What door ... where were you sitting on the plane what door did you exit from?
SSG JOHNSON: Let's see. I deployed from the right door.
SSG ALBIN: How was your jump?
SSG JOHNSON: The jump was initially ... it was a good jump. I would say that it was a good jump. There wasn't a lot of fear involved. You knew what you were going to do and what you were going to have to do, so I consider it a good jump. I had a personal problem in that the equipment that I would carry I must have jumped out wrong or something, and my equipment ended up where it wasn't supposed to be. But I quickly adjusted that and the jump went well.
SSG ALBIN: You jumped with the 75th Ranger Regiment?
SSG JOHNSON: That's correct.
SSG ALBIN: And did you have any difficulty after landing going to your assembly area?
SSG JOHNSON: No, not at all.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe the terrain on which you landed?
SSG JOHNSON: Yeah. The terrain was mostly flat. There was high elephant grass, a couple of trees; but overall very easy to maneuver, to get your bearings at, so ... .
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe the location that the 75th Rangers jumped into?
SSG JOHNSON: The location was ... I believe it would be northwest of Panama City I believe. I always get the bearings wrong because the [Panama] Canal runs east to west or north to south but it was above Panama City.
SSG ALBIN: Describe your actions immediately after landing. Where did you go, when did you get to your assembly area, what did you do?
SSG JOHNSON: First thing you want to do is get your weapon in operation, so that didn't take long. Then we rendezvoused at our assembly area, took a hike into the jungle about 200 meters, approached another group which was in contact with their objective, secured that area, and continued the mission.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. In a safe, non-technical or non-classified way, can you describe your mission in support of the 75th Rangers.
SSG JOHNSON: Yeah. We were basically there to support the Rangers and basically ... whatever they wanted us to do in order to keep them from having to hurt people, I would say. Of course that's our job, as a loudspeaker person. And we did that. Of course it was inevitable there would be some contact made, and there was, but overall, after the initial contact took place I would think that our team did a very good job in bringing people out where they might have had to go in and get them.
SSG ALBIN: And the equipment that you took with you on the jump: can you describe ... any problems, everything go well? Can you describe that?
SSG JOHNSON: Yeah. We didn't have any problems with our equipment. We had what we needed. It lasted for the period of time that it was ... the period of time that we were down there and we didn't have any problems with it at all. It served its purpose and there were no malfunctions when we put the equipment into operation.
SSG ALBIN: You mentioned that you were the only member of the PLEX that deployed to Panama and you also jumped in with the 75th Ranger Regiment.
SSG JOHNSON: I was the only member that I know of. Someone might have gone after me or before me but I'm not sure.
SSG ALBIN: You were one person that deployed with the regiment. How were you supported from the Ranger regiment to accomplish your mission?
SSG JOHNSON: The Rangers took care of us pretty well in putting us up, getting us our special equipment that we needed--i.e., the special coverings for the helmet, the ammunition that we needed. From our departure point it was pretty cool. Blankets was provided to keep us warm--that sort of stuff. Overall I was pretty pleased with the support that the Rangers gave to us when we linked up with them.
SSG ALBIN: Can you compare for me how you conducted your mission in the real world with the Rangers, versus how you were trained for your mission?
SSG JOHNSON: Well it's pretty easy because we learned about the systems we took in. And it's like riding a bicycle: once you learn the system you pretty much use it the same way every time you use it, unless it's a brand new piece of equipment--something that you're not familiar with. Which wasn't the case in this situation. The equipment as far as the way we were trained to use it, it was used in that way. And we didn't have any ... there weren't any ... there weren't very many differences in the way we were trained to use it and the way we used it in the field. With the exception that there was live ammo surrounding us, so it went pretty good.
SSG ALBIN: Did you have any pre-operation rehearsals here at Fort Bragg with scenarios or things like that to prepare you for this?
SSG JOHNSON: No.
SSG ALBIN: During this operation did you follow strict doctrine or, in a real-world environment, did you create new tactics and methods at that time ... as needed?
SSG JOHNSON: I guess with just about any situation you're going to do what's needed at the time. Bearing doctrine in mind to make sure that you don't make any serious mistakes; but pretty much you do things the way that you were taught. And if you have to improvise, you do so.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe the linguistic support that you received in the real-world operation with the 75th Rangers?
SSG JOHNSON: What do you mean linguistic support? Maybe I don't understand your question.
SSG ALBIN: You had mentioned that your mission was basically to save people's lives. That requires Spanish-speaking linguistic support or Panamanian Spanish-speaking. Can you describe the linguists that you had.
SSG JOHNSON: I was the linguist. Myself and my partner; there were two of us on the team and we both speak Spanish. And that's what we did. And I also speak it very good. But the situations where ... where there was need for a native speaker ... needless to say in all sectors of the Army you can find someone that speaks Spanish, so you grab them and make use of them. But I don't recall any of our team that had to go outside of ourselves in order to speak the language.
SSG ALBIN: Did you find ... did you find the material that you used--scripts, things that you said--as part of a loudspeaker team--adequate? How could you tell if it was effective?
SSG JOHNSON: Yeah, I thought that it was good for situations that ... preplanned situations. And we could tell by the number of people that came out, pretty much. You have your scripts and you read your scripts, or you have a choice of scripts you choose one that's appropriate for the situation and if that works, fine. And if it doesn't and a commander has something special he wants to say, he'll tell you--he'll write it up. Does that answer your question?
SSG ALBIN: Okay. Going on a time line, starting from ... let's see, you jumped in to Panama on the 20th?
SSG JOHNSON: That's correct.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe how your mission progressed on a time line starting on the 20th, until the time it began to wind down--things began to settle down, you know, and a day time line: after three days, after five days?
SSG JOHNSON: Well, we won't get to five days because I was injured on the fourth day and had to come back. From the very beginning. We jumped in on the 19th [actually early on 20 December]. We secured our objective early morning on the 19th, later on. [Correction], we secured our objective on the 20th--early morning on the 20th. That afternoon we were we were doing loudspeaker operations in support of the patrols. Once it was determined all was secure, we went back. The Rangers did whatever that command does. They knew where we were and if they needed us they'd come and get us. The day following that, we were out there doing more appeals. And on the fourth day we were out doing more appeals. On the third day we were doing more appeals and then on the fourth day I was injured.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe the circumstances regarding your injury?
SSG JOHNSON: We had been on the objective about three days, three days and nights, and coming back from a broadcasting mission when I took a step and stepped on an explosive device which injured my foot. The severity of the injury dictated that I be evacuated from the area, and I was immediately taken back. And the end result was that I was sent back to a medical facility in Texas--I think it was Brooke Army Medical Facility.
SSG ALBIN: Do you know who took your place on the mission with the 75th Rangers?
SSG JOHNSON: My partner was there. I don't know if he was supported after that.
SSG ALBIN: Who was your partner? What was his name?
SSG JOHNSON: SPC Black.
SSG ALBIN: And he continued?
SSG JOHNSON: He continued the mission.
SSG ALBIN: He continued the mission with the Rangers. Can you describe what happened after you arrived at the medical facility in Texas? Where was that?
SSG JOHNSON: San Antonio, Texas. I ... prior to going to Texas I was taken care of at the field hospital down there close to Panama City. At that hospital the doctors determined that it was necessary that they remove two toes. So they did that and did a pretty good job from what I understand. I'm walking today so ... then they sent me back to Brooke Army Medical Center for additional treatment there. They de-bleeded the wound a couple of times and after a couple of weeks there, sent me back to [Fort] Bragg.
SSG ALBIN: Did you ever learn the nature of the explosive device that you stepped on?
SSG JOHNSON: No, not really. I'm still trying to determine what it was, but it might have been ... from people that I've talked to refer to it as a toe popper. It's designed to do exactly what it did, and to take someone out of the play of the game. So as far as nomenclature, no. As far as finding out what kind of device it was, I guess it was just a toe popper.
SSG ALBIN: And how long did you stay at the medical facility in Texas--San Antonio?
SSG JOHNSON: I stayed there about two weeks, I guess, arriving back here at Fort Bragg on the 4th of January. I really got lucky, in my opinion, because the doctor that originally took the toes off down in Panama was the OIC [officer in charge] of the orthopedic section here at [Fort] Bragg['s Womack Army Hospital], so I had continued treatment from the same doctor. I was pretty pleased with that. So about two weeks over there, and I was in the hospital here for a skin graft about a week. And everything went real well--there was no infection, no additional damage was found, so ... I think it went real well.
SSG ALBIN: And how soon after you arrived at Fort Bragg ... you said on convalescent leave here ... basically how soon did you go back to your duty section and begin supporting?
SSG JOHNSON: To my section?
SSG ALBIN: Yes.
SSG JOHNSON: I've been back to work about ... just about three days now so about 60 days. I had 60 days convalescent leave.
SSG ALBIN: To your knowledge are there still members of the PLEX over there or have they all returned?
SSG JOHNSON: I don't know.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. Okay. If you had to--this is the way we normally conclude our interviews--but, if you had to describe and anecdote or an incident or something that happened to you, whether it was humorous or touching or emotional--something that happened to you in connection with JUST CAUSE, what would it be ... whatever it is? Something that you really would like remembered.
SSG JOHNSON: Because there were no journalists or photographers with me, one of the things that I thought was pretty touching but that no one will probably understand is, that when we went out on the mission, on these patrols, part of our job was to broadcast in Spanish and to convince people to come out so that we wouldn't have to break down doors and stuff.
Well some people responded to that. Eventually the mayor or one of the officials of the town heard our appeals and he came up to one of the Rangers and talked to him for a while. And we let him go back into the village with the understanding that he was going to go and talk to the people and bring them out. Thirty minutes later he comes up the street with about, oh, 50 or 60 people and they began coming in, you know, like that. And eventually we had about 200 people that had heard our appeals or related to this person who we considered our key communicator; and they were coming up and surrendering, you know, women, children.
Well, the Rangers and myself and my partner were watching--overseeing as the individuals were searched as our procedures ... searched and separated. And I remember one of the Rangers (who had become a magnet) standing there in full battle gear, camouflage on his face, headgear on, weapon, grenade and ammunition hanging all off of him. And this little girl who was crying ... and perhaps some people didn't understand what she was saying, but she was scared. She was saying "they're going to kill us, they're going to kill us."
And the thing that was touching about it was that there was this all-powerful Ranger with his arm around the little girl, leading her down the street, trying to comfort her in English, telling her that "we're not going to hurt you," and offering her his water and things like that in order to comfort the kid. And there are no pictures and being that not very many people there spoke Spanish, they probably didn't even understand what the little girl was saying.
But I thought that was kind of touching that here's this individual, who indeed had the power over life and death at the time, trying to comfort this little girl, assure her that she was safe.
So I thought that was pretty touching.
SSG ALBIN: Thank you SSG Johnson. This concludes the JUST CAUSE interview on 9 April 90 with SSG Albin with the 326th Military History Detachment, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
[END OF INTERVIEW]