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
CHAP (CPT) William L. Underwood
4th Psychological Operations Group
Interview Conducted 5 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 064
MAJ COOK: This is MAJ Robert Cook of the 326th Military History Detachment. This is a [Operation] JUST CAUSE interview with Chaplain Underwood of the 4th POG [Psychological Operations Group] on 5 April 1990. Chaplain would you give us your full name, serial number, unit, and duty position, please?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: William L. Underwood; the Chaplain for 4th Psychological Operations Group; ***-**-****.
MAJ COOK: Chaplain Underwood, could you tell me when you first heard of the operation, and what you were doing, and what were some of the events that followed after you found out about this?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: First heard of the operation the morning of the operation. I was called in to minister to the soldiers and see to the needs of the families that may be effected by the operation itself. I came in early that morning, I don't remember the exact time frames, but I do remember watching the news and seeing all the information coming through CNN [Cable News Network] and other news reports; getting set up--prepared--to minister to families through the different battalions, through their family support groups that were there. Also prepared, should the commander call for me, to go to Panama if need be. The main need of my ministry was here with the soldiers and ministering to the families.
MAJ COOK: Now this would have been on the 19th or the 20th?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: The operation occurred when?
MAJ COOK: 01 on the 20th, so the news reports you would have seen that morning would have been on the 20th?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: Okay.
MAJ COOK: Could you tell me could you expand it a little bit more, and sort of fill me in on what entails a ministry to the family and some of the parts where you interface with the family support mission?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: Okay. We covered many different types of ministries for the families. Some were financial needs, as some of the soldiers left and didn't leave any money; and it was that quick, and it was right before Christmas.
Many of the battalions had scheduled Christmas parties and this kind of thing, and all those got preempted. Several of the support ... family support groups and the battalions went ahead with their family--with their Christmas parties. Which I thought was nice. They needed to do that. It gave them a support group for those families deployed, as in the 1st [Psychological Operations] Battalion, 96th Civil Affairs [Battalion], for sure. Those did.
We had financial needs some of the families and we met some of those through "Operation Helping Hands" here at Fort Bragg. We had some of the soldiers came to JFK Chapel ... their families came, and we were able to support them with a food locker that we have there for some of them that needed food. At the same time frame we're going on passing out some gifts and things that had been collected, and so we continued to do that.
And thinking of all the different types of ministries to the families. The biggest ministry didn't come through to myself it came through the other wives who were there. The battalion commanders' wives, who were saying "look my husband's gone just like yours, so I know what you're going through." And that, I think gave, the ladies more support than any other that could have happened at that time. One support group met on a weekly basis at first. They'd have a covered dish. Folks would come in and just ... she would have two or three people to maybe give a talk, tell what was going on as best they could, give them an upbrief for things that were happening to their husbands. Possibly when their husbands might be coming home; and at the time no one knew for sure when they would be coming home. Those first two weeks were kind of iffy for everyone.
MAJ COOK: Were there a lot of rumors among the families?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: All kinds of rumors. Then the telephone system started working and the wives were telling what all was going on from their husbands on the telephones. This was kind of interesting. As one company commander, who was a rear detachment commander, stood up and told what was going on and one wife said well actually it's like this, the PXs are open, their husbands are going to the PX every once in a while and spending money. So it was nice to see some of the differences and the wives did keep us straight with the information. We had several of the wives who were real strong and giving a lot of support to the other wives. And that was probably the key factor that made the family support group so strong. As their maturity level and years of experience of being married to a military ... to a soldier, it paid off and it showed through the ranks that were there.
MAJ COOK: Did you have any special services or is that a normal part of your duties in the group?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: We did. Well I do conduct services as an alternate pastor there ... a preacher for JFK Chapel. I had one service for Christmas Eve, a special service for the soldiers who were deployed and their families that were here. My expectations would have been 80 to a 100 people and we had well over 150 show up that were there. So I was very pleased with the turn out and the families ... it was just a short service you know mainly to say we care and to lift up prayers for those deployed that God would continue to watch over them and keep them safe.
MAJ COOK: Was there any interfacing with projects with churches and congregations off of Fort Bragg?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: No. Not through my office anyway. I know some churches were holding services for that but I did not ... .
MAJ COOK: No joint operations? [LAUGHTER]
CHAP UNDERWOOD: No joint operations.
MAJ COOK: Tell me something about how the family support groups worked? Well let's start ... were you familiar with how they did the calling right off the bat when the alert came down soldiers were moving out I've noticed that some of the other units there was a designated individual who does the calling to the families who are aware of what's happening. Did you get into any of that or observe any of that?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: No. The phone calls that went down were normally through what's called an alert roster and went straight to the soldier. And then after the soldier has already gone there's the chain of concern, which opens up a lot of avenues, normally filtered from the battalion commander on down to the company commanders. And each company would have their own ... like if a company commander was not married, then the first sergeant would probably be married and that wife automatically accepts that role to fill in to that. So that's basically the family structure or the structure of the chain of concern, and if someone had a problem that was kind of at the bottom of the chain of promotions (anyway) they would call the next person and on up the chain until they got some help. Normally they would call immediately to the company commander's wife if it was an emergency. And they would then, in turn, either call myself or the rear detachment commander for that battalion. And we would be able to take them through Army Community Services (the ACS) or wherever their needs may be met the quickest.
MAJ COOK: Do you ever, and I'm asking this out of total ignorance, do you ever get involved in planning chaplain and ministry activities for contingency events? You know, sort of in the planning sense the rest of the unit goes through its planning.
CHAP UNDERWOOD: There are plans that we do with that and it depends I guess on the type of mission. For Operation JUST CAUSE there were no prearranged plans (at least on my level) that were there. We did have contingency missions: if, like, the balloon goes up then it's time for the chaplain to be called in and minister to soldiers: passing out bibles and having prayers with the soldiers before they deploy--that kind of thing. It doesn't always happen that way and I guess it depends on the type of mission.
MAJ COOK: And it didn't happen that way in this one I take it?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: For partials ... the initial soldiers that were sent, no, it did not. But the ones that were leaving after that, I was able to see and passed out Testaments. Not one soldier refused a Testament by the way.
MAJ COOK: Do you think he should of? As one of the things to look back and how you would have done it ... ?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: It's a lesson learned. I believe it probably would have helped at least for the soldiers. You know there's some of that that doesn't play into effect for security reasons. So if at all possible, yes, I would recommend it.
MAJ COOK: Did how did your role, activities, or ministries change as the slices started to deploy back to Bragg?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: There was some ... it wasn't a true debriefing kind of thing, but there were some soldiers that were really wanting to talk about what had happened. In particular some of the wounded soldiers coming back in. We had seven that were wounded and out of that I saw, I think ... I saw all of them but I'm trying to remember. There was about four of them that I spent a lot of time with; opening they were opening and sharing their war stories, you know, kind of like things that were going on.
MAJ COOK: Does has this continued with everybody else ... certainly with the non-wounded returnees after everybody was back?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: No. The majority of that was done when I went down to Panama after the fact.
MAJ COOK: Okay, so you got down there later?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: I got to Panama in February, 1st of February. And spent a week with the 1st Battalion and their soldiers that were there. And that's I would say probably 80% of the soldiers during that week took the time to talk to me and say "did you see this, Chaplain, did you hear about this," and were able to talk a lot about it. The ones that were there. I also saw 96th Civil Affairs guys who were there; and the 112th Signal [Battalion]--I got in touch with some of them--they were deployed to other regions of the country and I wasn't able to see all of them. And the 528th also; some of them I saw some of their people. That made up the whole support command as it was called. Now that support command is the 4th Group with all the battalions under it, plus the 528th Support Battalion, the 112th Signal and the 96th Civil Affairs. So as a group chaplain none of those units have a chaplain, or at the time did not have a chaplain, so I was the guy responsible for all of those.
MAJ COOK: That makes for a large parish.
CHAP UNDERWOOD: It makes for a very large parish. [LAUGHTER] And in that regard I understand the commander's pretense of keeping me here ... because when you have just a small percentage of your soldiers deployed, then it makes ... you need to be with the larger where I could do the greater good, I guess, is the way it's phrased.
MAJ COOK: What do you think were some of--in terms of
anecdotes--what were really some of the highlights of the work you were able to do here with the families or with the soldiers that were still here?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: Seeing the smile on a spouse's face when her children were able to get toys that they weren't expecting to get because the husband had left and they didn't have a whole lot of money to put into that. And seeing the children and knowing that they weren't even expecting the extra food to come along and then all of a sudden there was a Christmas basket that they were able to get and they said "this is a surprise." That's one of the highlights that I remember.
I think being able to meet the plane and in fact help carry off one of my soldiers off the plane that had been wounded was a highlight for me. And being able to talk to him first-hand, to know that up front. And to hear one battalion commander's wife come up to me and tell me that she was glad that I was here; that she understood my desire to be with my soldiers.
But then there again the need was here and I think that's probably the lesson that I've learned throughout the whole thing, is because through all my training I was trained to be with my soldiers as far forward as possible. And this is a new type of ministry here, in that regard, because it just wasn't possible. I couldn't be both places and that's where the priorities had to be established. That lesson took a lot of learning for me. Which I think I'm ready to do ... prepared, if the need rises again, I think I'll be more prepared to handle it, and not be so eager to ... awaiting word to be sent down to Panama but continuing the ministry as it needs to be here.
MAJ COOK: I think that is a very interesting observation because the ... you play a role in two places and are essentially needed. Is there anything else that you would want to share with us? Anything else that you would want to talk about or mention or need to, in ... that relates to the work that you did the ministry that you performed?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: I think part of it was there were several soldiers that were here that felt like they should have gone and their jobs didn't allow them the way to go. But it was kind of like they felt left behind, and by my being here with them I don't know if it did a whole lot of good but at least there was something there saying "well the Chaplain's still here." And maybe that in one sense effected their outlook on it. I ... if it happened all over again I think it would probably work out pretty much the same scenario, and it would be a little bit easier, you know, like I said, to deal with. And I think for those soldiers, they would still have regrets of not going with their friends, with their other job capacities, but they lived through it and they would live through it again.
MAJ COOK: So I would assume that by the same token, then, there was very little problem of blending once everybody was back in the unit together? A blending of the vet with the non-vet, or the one who went and the one who stayed behind. Or did that cause some friction at first?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: I didn't see any friction of that. In fact the ones who stayed behind I would hazard put in a lot more hours working than those that went. Especially when you hear the war stories that what actually went on in some of the places--may have been more rumor than actual facts but to compare time frame because I know a lot of the folks that work around my office and do paperwork were putting in a lot of hours.
MAJ COOK: I have heard that also the families often made mercy runs of cookies, fried chicken and other things for the office.
CHAP UNDERWOOD: They did; they did. Those things were well appreciated from all the soldiers; officer all the way down the enlisted ranks.
MAJ COOK: Do you have chaplain assistants working with you?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: I do.
MAJ COOK: Uniformed?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: Right.
MAJ COOK: What were some of their functions and roles? You know that were unique to, or changed because of JUST CAUSE?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: Not so much the changes. Their normal functions--they type letters for me that I sent out to the family members. They typed little memos of things upcoming, the bulletins that we did for the special service. Did a lot of answering telephones, working the food closet--that was the assistants' job. And so that part played the role there. The Chaplain's assistant the way the book says--doctrine teaches--that the Chaplain's assistant goes with the Chaplain as far forward as the Chaplain goes. And he's always with him or her. And then that's a part of that ministry team and that's why they call them a UMT (a Unit Ministry Team). And in Operation JUST CAUSE, as far as we were concerned, we kept the team alive here. I had ... at that time I had four chaplain's assistants and every one of them were saying "Sir, we want to go" and "we're ready to go, sir" and "just tell us when," you know, and I said "as soon as I know you'll know." That's the way ... they were very eager in their wanting to be there.
MAJ COOK: Splendid. Do you have anything else? Anything about the unit that you'd like to share? Did you get any particular taskings or special missions from the group commander?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: Nothing special except continuing the mission. Just being prepared either way. And that's mainly how he left it when he left and went down. I think it helped to be able to be there the morning of the operation and seeing all this happen; all the news reports and everything and being kind of being there at his side when this was happening. Knowing our soldiers were a part of that. That part was good; at least for me it was good to see the command influence that was a part of the operation and to see my side of it ... to be a part of the whole mission. There was a fleeting thought, something that you had said. I guess it flew away. I don't remember it. It'll come back later.
MAJ COOK: Did the other support systems on the post--I assume--work as you expected it to? As you were talking about the food bank or food pantry and those sort of things?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: I would say it actually worked better than I had expected it to. It was very fluid, there were agencies on post where if someone had trouble with their plumbing, there was a special team that would go to the home and would assist the spouse with her plumbing.
MAJ COOK: Off post too?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: Yes they make some runs off post to assist those ... if the need was great enough they did that.
MAJ COOK: Interesting.
CHAP UNDERWOOD: I think there was some electrical teams. They were just on standby for whatever the needs were to be able to be a part of that.
MAJ COOK: Did you interface during this or even normally with Red Cross?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: On several occasions. We had one soldier that was deployed had a family member die in the States. And so we had to run the junction through the Red Cross. And I believe the Red Cross had notified us first, and then we tried to notify them. But I believe the Red Cross got through to their Red Cross in Panama and got it set up. But that ... I'm not sure how that worked, but I know that we did interface with the Red Cross in that regard as far as a death notification. The other agencies were very open and they just knew there'd be a lot work going, a lot of things happening, and in my mind I think they got less calls than they expected. But they were prepared with the main agencies for all of Fort Bragg. And so that kind of helped for our own unit and our own family support groups to tie in to the larger ... which gave us even broader place to work from in meeting the needs of the families.
MAJ COOK: Was there much that you had to do with say family members who would not be living in the Fayetteville area? Often you probably wouldn't really interface much, or even be aware of, the family living in Minnesota or the one who was moving here or maybe the parents. Did those peripheral families throughout CONUS [Continental United States] who were more visible, or for something for them ... because of JUST CAUSE? Where in a normal environment you wouldn't?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: No. I don't think we did not as a unit at least on our level. Now the many agencies at Fort Bragg, maybe. Because they would have covered a wider base but for our own individual unit.
MAJ COOK: Because you normally don't.
CHAP UNDERWOOD: One of my soldiers ... his brother was in the 82d and was killed, and so I had to tie in through that. I went out and visited the home and visited with the family which lived out in Hope Mills, [North Carolina], which is not too far from here. That in itself made kind of some grim work for the things that were going on. The brother being here, feeling left out but ... yet knowing his brother was where he wanted to be. And so that in itself left some open doors for ministry through the family. And the other Chaplain--the Chaplain of the brother's unit--handled the memorial services and funeral and that went through with that.
There were ... I forget the numbers of babies that were born. I know two were born about the week after the soldiers returned. It was like they were waiting for Dad to get back. [LAUGHTER] and I believe I had three babies born while Daddy was deployed. The mothers would go into the hospital and be a part of that "and you know I wish my husband was here" kind of thing. But they were able to get through it.
One incident when I got to Panama one of my soldiers was there and he looked at me. He said "Sir, this is my third Christmas away from home, in a row, not my choice; but again it is my choice because I'm in the Army." And that was his way. He said "my wife just doesn't understand, sir, but she is holding the Christmas tree." And when he arrived back home they had a late Christmas and that happened more than once. This one in particular ... she went ahead and told him what was under the tree so he was all excited when he got home to see his Christmas. That made it easier, I guess, on him.
MAJ COOK: The normal pattern we think in is the male soldier deployed and the wife at home. Did you have any cases of where you had ... were there any women deployed and the husbands were here in Fayetteville?
CHAP UNDERWOOD: I had the case that that happened, but I had no dealings with the husbands, in the sense that there were either well taken care of or they were doing other things.
MAJ COOK: We might see more of that as the Army ... .
CHAP UNDERWOOD: I think we will see more of that. The male spouse role in there make us take some looking at the family support group as a whole. Because there's more there than just the little visits staying home because now we also now have the dual military family where husband and wife are in the military and that in itself takes some looking. I don't know of exact numbers but I have many soldiers that are married and in fact in the same battalions. And so that makes interesting for child care which one will stay and which one will go. And on two incidents I know that the female went and the male stayed here to take care of the children. And so that, you know, they did a good job. The children missed Mommy, but Mommy was the soldier, and Mommy wears the combat patch--Daddy doesn't. Which makes life interesting.
We also have the single soldiers that have children ... is another problem that we had to look at. How do you take care of the child when you're in a deployable unit? And we had at least one incident that the soldier was deployed and the children were kept in ... and the contingency had been made up before they left and they knew this. And it just happened to be the grandparents that were taking care of the children. It doesn't work out that way for every soldier to be that lucky to be that close to the home.
These are a lot of problems I think the Army will be facing even more so than in the next coming years.
MAJ COOK: And there might be some things that this operation helped the Army learn how to do.
CHAP UNDERWOOD: May very well be. That's all I can think of.
MAJ COOK: Thank you very much.
CHAP UNDERWOOD: Okay sir.
[END OF INTERVIEW]