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
1st Psychological Operations Battalion
4th Psychological Operations Group
SGT Javier R. Ramirez (Loudspeaker Team Leader)
SGT Raymond L. Todd (Loudspeaker Team Leader)
SGT Joel L. Villa (Group Linguistics Analysis Team Leader)
Interview Conducted 10 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 065
SSG ALBIN: This is SSG [Gerry] Albin of the 326th Military History Detachment with a[n Operation] JUST CAUSE [oral] history tape recorded 10 April 1990 with members of the 4th PSYOPS [Psychological Operations] Group: 1st [Psychological Operations] Battalion S-1 and S-3 sections. SGT Todd can you give us your name, rank, unit and duty assignment.
SGT TODD: SGT Todd, Raymond L.; ***-**-****; 4th Psychological Operations Group, 1st Battalion. I work in the S-1 section.
SGT RAMIREZ: SGT Ramirez; first name Javier R.; ***-**-****; 1st PSYOPS Battalion S-1 section.
SGT VILLA: SGT Joel P. Villa, ***-**-****, 1st Battalion, S-3 section.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Todd can you describe for me the circumstances that you first heard about the alert for Operation JUST CAUSE?
SGT TODD: Well I can only say that I was sitting at home and I got called in about like 9:00 that night. They called us in but you know there's nothing that was actually set in line. They took some of our teams and set them up somewhere else and they said a lot of those guys had the priority of going out and the rest of us were let go and called back in that next morning.
SSG ALBIN: What date was this?
SGT TODD: This was the 18th ... 18th of December. And we got called in that night and we ended up staying over in a hold over place until the 19th and then we were sent out to our other unit.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Ramirez.
SGT RAMIREZ: It's basically the same. We had an exercise before, about a week before, that ... it was the same thing, you know. No we didn't know about it--just an exercise--came back in the same way, you know. I was having a birthday party for my little daughter and they called me up: "come on in." That's it.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Villa.
SGT VILLA: I got a call around 8:30--no right at 9:00 right when the Bundys1 come on and they said "come on in." I came in we packed up and I was out of there by 11:00. We were the first team to move out. And I went to rendezvous with our host unit.
SSG ALBIN: This was also on the 18th of December?
SGT VILLA: Same day.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe what you physically did when you arrived back here on post from being home to get ready for the alert?
SGT TODD: Well we ... we already had our stuff most of our stuff packed from the exercise the week before. We got all our stuff ... when we are called in the main thing we had to do was pack up our system--loud speaker system--and all that. We packed it up and most everything else was already packed.
SGT RAMIREZ: Okay we are a team. I'm his team leader, so basically whatever he answers is that's my same answer.
SSG ALBIN: Was there anything you as a team leader ... was there anything different that you did from what he did?
SGT RAMIREZ: Basically just get a ... make sure we had all the equipment required, you know, going by the packing list.
SSG ALBIN: For example, did you have ... you as the team leader ... did you have meetings that you were involved in that maybe he didn't?
SGT RAMIREZ: No.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Villa?
SGT VILLA: We got back I think Friday night from the exercise, dropped off our stuff at the section. Sunday night I got called in. I grabbed the underwear I'd used, you know, another two pairs of socks, another two pair of underwear, two pairs of T-shirts; grabbed the old dirty stuff out of the out of the back pack; threw the new stuff in; repacked the system and we were out of there within two hours. And we didn't really have much time to pack or do anything when we were on a plane heading out.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe--the two of you together, since you're a team--can you describe how your section's made up, the people involved, the rank structure and what you actually do in your section?
SGT RAMIREZ: Right now on a daily basis?
SSG ALBIN: On a daily basis now and also during JUST CAUSE.
SGT RAMIREZ: Okay. We work in the same section (the S-1) and the reason we were used as a loud speaker team, because he's already secondary [Military Occupational Specialty] 96F which is a PSYOPS analyst and the reason they put me as the team leader because I'm airborne qualified and a native speaker for Spanish and I used to work in that section--operational detachment--for two and a half years. So we both know the system left and right, so that was one of the reasons they put us as a team.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Villa can you describe how your section is? The organizational structure of your section and how do you fit into that your job?
SGT VILLA: My daily job is S-3 operations and I basically got pulled out for the same reason they did. I had worked in the operations detachment, I'm airborne and I'm a native Spanish speaker. The team concept consists of two people: it's a real basic, basic team. You usually have either an E-4 or an E-5 as the team leader and either an E-4 or an E-5 as the secondary team. And you operate on your own, pretty much. You get tasked out to different units and you belong to them. You're completely cut off from the rest of the unit, so you got to operate all on your own. As far as anything else, I think it's pretty basic.
SSG ALBIN: Who was your partner?
SGT VILLA: PFC Tesler--he's not here, he's on leave. Daniel E. if you want first name and initial.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. And were you the team leader?
SGT VILLA: Yes, I was. I was the team leader.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe in a non-classified, safe, non-technical way, the mission that you trained on just previous to Operation JUST CAUSE?
SGT VILLA: The mission we trained on previously was just like what the Rangers do, just an airfield seizure. More or less it's just like the one they just had at Pope [Air Force Base, North Carolina] that the 82d [Airborne Division] did. And all we was mainly supposed to do was go to our assembly area and then broadcast a message when we got there. We were just mainly support for when they took a building. We had to ... we were more or less the translators and the support.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. Now you're here at Fort Bragg from your homes. Where did you go when you physically arrived here? What equipment did you draw; where did you move out to deploy?
SGT VILLA: After the exercise?
SSG ALBIN: Before.
SGT RAMIREZ: Before.
SSG ALBIN: The three of you deployed to Panama.
VOICES: Right. Okay.
SSG ALBIN: Where did you go here on Fort Bragg? What equipment did you draw, what organizational equipment, weapons, ammo? SGT Todd?
SGT TODD: Well the equipment that we drew here: we drew our weapons from the arms room, protective mask, flak jackets, and the basic packing list that's here at Fort Bragg and then we went over to Pope Air Force Base, where we missed our flight and they had to ship us out in a couple of vans down to Savannah, Georgia, and there is when the Rangers, themselves ... they were the ones that issued us our ammo and everything else that we needed.
SSG ALBIN: So you had everything except ammunition is that correct?
SGT TODD: Correct.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. Did all three of you go together?
MULTIPLE VOICES: No.
SSG ALBIN: You two went together? SGT Villa where did you go?
SGT VILLA: I went through the same procedure, got all my basic issue stuff here. Then I--we--left the night before they left we were the first ones to leave. Went to our host unit and basically went through the same thing. They then gave us the ammo we needed, flares, any thing that we would need. And they supplied the rest of the stuff.
SSG ALBIN: Did all three of you have the same host unit?
SGT VILLA: No.
SSG ALBIN: What were your host ... what was your host unit?
SGT RAMIREZ: 1st [Battalion] of the 75th Rangers.
SSG ALBIN: And what was your host unit?
SGT VILLA: I'm not at liberty to say.
SSG ALBIN: That's fine.
SSG ALBIN: Okay, can you describe ... first of all, you two that went with the 1st of the 75th, can you describe how and when you deployed with the Rangers?
SGT RAMIREZ: How and when?
SSG ALBIN: Yes. You deployed from Savannah, Georgia. What kind of a plane did you fly on, what chalk number was it, where were you on the stick?
SGT RAMIREZ: We arrived at about 0307 on the 19th and linked up with Alpha Company of the 1st of 75th2 about 09. We were late linking up according to that company commander and we led out by platoons. We grabbed our equipment, which by that time it was ... the packing list we had received before, it was wrong and we had taken two extra duffel bags which we had to left behind due to poor coordination from supported unit. We went through a pre-jump, briefings, more briefings, ammo issue, you know. You remember what time we load out?
SGT TODD: We loaded up at 2000 hours.
SGT RAMIREZ: Yeah, about 2000 hours on the 19th to a [C]-141 [Starlifter].
SGT TODD: It was Chalk 5.
SGT RAMIREZ: Chalk 5.
SSG ALBIN: Where were you guys on the stick?
SGT TODD: At the end.
SGT RAMIREZ: The very end. There was about three people behind us.
SSG ALBIN: When you deployed with the Rangers did your comm[unications] package go with you? Your equipment?
SGT TODD: Loud system--our loudspeaker system--and one rucksack. But two duffel bags stayed behind. That's all we took was just what we had in our ...
SGT RAMIREZ: The reason for two to a team. One carries the system itself and the other one carries the ruck, a large rucksack which carries the soldiers' individual equipment.
SSG ALBIN: How did these get physically from Fort Bragg to Panama? You deployed with just your own things.
SGT RAMIREZ: Yes.
SSG ALBIN: Oh I see you deployed with them.
SGT TODD: Right.
SSG ALBIN: That's how you did it. Oh, I understand. SGT Villa when you linked up with your host unit can you describe to me the events that happened when you arrived with the host unit, how you deployed, how you were inserted into Panama, how was your flight?
SGT VILLA: Okay I can ... let's see we got there the same night which would have been the night of the 18th, right? And we got there ... we flew out of here, got there the same night. We met up linked up with them at around midnight [or] one o'clock in the morning. Then we slept through the night until 0630, about. As a matter of fact we slept in a conference room where everybody was going to get briefed on what was going to happen that day. Woke up; sat in on the initial briefing. From there we moved to the preparation and isolation where they issued us everything we needed.
There was a lot of stuff that we were missing and there was a lot of stuff we had extra. They didn't want comets, they didn't want flak jackets, they didn't want anything cumbersome with us. So we left a lot of stuff--a good 300 pounds of equipment we left behind. We deployed the same way. We took the loud speaker in one bag and our equipment in a large ruck. Just the basic combat load: I think was it was two uniforms, four T-shirts, four pair of socks, four underwear. From there we got done doing that around 700 on the 19th. We boarded a couple of planes and headed down to Panama.
SSG ALBIN: Describe to me the flight over and how was your jump?
SGT TODD: The flight there well it took about four and one half hours.
SGT RAMIREZ: We had an in-flight rigging.
SGT TODD: Right. It was about an hour out [when] we hooked up our rucksacks and all that stuff and all the rest of our equipment.
SGT RAMIREZ: We had to get rid of our cold weather gear. Supposedly it was hot. And it was hot in Panama.
SGT TODD: Cold when we left and hot when we arrived.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Villa did you also jump in?
SGT VILLA: No, I didn't. And I really can't say how I got there other than we airlanded the day before. And from there we prepped, you know, we got our ammo issued, made final adjustments on equipment, you know, the routes and stuff like that. And then it all kicked off--and it did.
SSG ALBIN: Can you tell me where you landed and what you saw when you did land?
SGT TODD: I landed on a runway right in the middle of ... it was pretty hard. I landed right next to some guy--one of the Rangers. What I saw when I hit the ground--really right before I hit the ground--I just saw like tracer bullets flying over each end of the runway. And more or less what I did was when I hit the ground I just stayed there and I got out of my 'chute and everything, left the lowering line and equipment and all that right there, put my weapon into operation and moved out with a bunch of the Rangers to an assembly area.
SGT RAMIREZ: Same thing, but I had a problem with my weapon--it got busted. So I got a hold of the nearest Ranger and I told him that I had to borrow his. I told him who else I linked up with and what units I was supposed to go to and I got there with my weapon inoperative. But I made it.
SSG ALBIN: Were you did you have just a M-16 both of you?
SGT TODD: Yes an M-16.
SSG ALBIN: Had you been issued the standard 210 rounds?
SGT TODD: Yes.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Villa can you comment on when you arrived in country what you did, when you landed, and ... ?
SGT VILLA: I can tell you about the flight over when we left the States. It was cold, like they said. It was raining and cold and snowing and we got in the airplane it was real miserable, cold the whole way. And the one thing I remember really well about this flight is the whole flight stunk. It was really bad because everybody was really nervous and I guess their stomachs weren't exactly digesting too well anyway. [LAUGHTER] We landed the next morning in Panama 6-7 o'clock in the morning. They opened the bay doors to the aircraft and it was hot. It was real hot. Then from there it was, like I said, we went to the last assembly area, we got our ammo and did everything else. We got more than our basic load of ammo. I thought "ah, shit."
SSG ALBIN: What kind of terrain was it that you landed on? Did you say you landed on the runway?
SGT TODD: It was hot. It was hot. The mosquitoes ate us alive.
SGT VILLA: On that first night?
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe your job function immediately after you arrived with your host unit? How did you start doing your job?
SGT RAMIREZ: We probably started about 9 o'clock, 10 o'clock on the 20th of December.3 It took us--two teams, they took two teams--two teams to occupy our position, and we immediately started translating and controlling the civilians. People were looking for a ... you know, for missing people, missing soldiers, you know. People we were working in the airport [Omar Torrijos International Airport] when we landed and there were a lot of innocent people and their relatives were looking for them and they didn't know what was going on. Oh, it was, I guess ... that first day was pretty, pretty hectic. A lot of running around.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Villa can you describe how you began doing your job with your host unit?
SGT VILLA: Well, I guess I could do that. It ... translation, mainly. Trying to keep people away using the loud speaker to say "stay away," you know, "this is a danger area, there are these American troops in operation here, request that you stay away" or "we won't hesitate to defend our troops."
SSG ALBIN: Did the events that happened to you--after you landed and were on the ground--did they conform pretty much to what you had trained for here at Fort Bragg or were there differences? And how could there have been improvements?
SGT RAMIREZ: Improvements. Well, for one, better coordination.
SSG ALBIN: Can you elaborate?
SGT RAMIREZ: For like packing lists. There was nothing for the back pack, and I point that out to him, and to the first sergeant that was in charge of the operation. I told him I went with these guys before, they never carry a duffel bag. "Take it anyways." We sign for the flak jacket. Those had to stay behind at Hunter [Army Airfield, Georgia]. Better coordination between ... for uniform, equipment, rations. And also those units need a better PSYCAP (psychological capabilities) briefing about what we do, or what we're able to do. And how we do it, because they're infantry. Their mission is completely different than ours.
SGT TODD: You mean a better liaison, that's for sure.
SSG ALBIN: You mentioned that your flak jackets had been left behind. Where were they left behind at? I hadn't caught that before.
SGT RAMIREZ: Savannah, Georgia.
SGT TODD: With the duffel bag.
SGT RAMIREZ: We left two duffel bags and flak jackets behind.
SSG ALBIN: I understand.
SGT VILLA: We did the same thing. We left helmets, flak jackets, all ... we filled up two wall lockers full of stuff that we left back.
SSG ALBIN: Can you tell me was any reason given for doing this?
SGT VILLA: Too much weight to carry. The unit I went with, most of the guys went in into the objective with nothing but maybe a rag on their head or a soft cap. Ninety percent of them were just wearing T-shirts with just the ... the, ah ... what do you call it the flak ... or not the flak jacket but the vest with all the ...
SGT RAMIREZ: With the M-203 [40mm grenade launcher].
SGT VILLA: Yeah, with the M-203 stuff and the ammo. And that's what we wore. There was no need to take any of the other stuff.
SGT TODD: Most of the reason our stuff was left behind was there was no way to jump it all in. Cause I had a system and it took up everything that was in my pack. And his rucksack was stuffed with just the ammo and some survival stuff.
SGT VILLA: Going to the improvements. This unit that I was with, we had never trained with them. I mean, this unit had never even had a liaison with us. It was just ... what happened and what we did was all on our own initiative because no one had ever even ... I think even dreamt of putting us with this unit before. And it just happened it definitely has to be a better coordination, better liaison, more education on the their part as to what our job is. That definitely needs to be done.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Villa can you describe what your mission was in Panama as part of JUST CAUSE, as attached to your host unit?
SGT VILLA: I can't tell you. I just can't tell.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Todd or SGT Ramirez can you describe what your mission was?
SGT RAMIREZ: Mainly our mission was to provide psychological support.
SGT TODD: And linguist support.
SGT RAMIREZ: Linguist support. We were given some tapes to be used in surrender appeals, tapes to control the civilians. We never used them.
SGT VILLA: As far as my individual mission, it was the same as theirs. But the mission with the unit, I can't elaborate that.
SSG ALBIN: The product that you used to accomplish your mission, your psychological operations mission, in support of the units ... linguistic, talking people out, saving lives. How was that product provided to you, and did you change it if the occasion needed? How did you adapt to the situations?
SGT TODD: Most of the tapes were never used. It's just that, more or less, left the tapes and just got on the speaker and just ... . You know, the guy would just sit there and he'd tell him what to say. Or if he knew, he'd just talked to them. You know what it was like.
SGT RAMIREZ: You have to understand they are infantry. They don't know how to deal with other problems. All they know is how to move out and shoot.
SSG ALBIN: You mean your host unit?
SGT RAMIREZ: The host unit. And I'm not an experienced PSYOP'er person, but I'm a native speaker and I know some of the traditions, customs for my country. And what I was trying to do (and I kept telling Todd) get those people--the civilians--on our side. Because when you start to do something wrong, then people get upset. And then instead of having these people helping you, giving you hints, you know, on where to look for weapons or soldiers from a dignity battalion--stuff like that--man, you just have two people against you instead of one.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Todd do you also speak Spanish?
SGT TODD: A little. I can get the point across.
SGT RAMIREZ: He was helpful because we were at an intersection and we had to translate, you know, left and right. Like I say, the first few days were probably the most busy, you know, trying to, you know, help people, keep them away from the area or just looking for missing people.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Villa can you elaborate on the same thing?
SGT VILLA: I wasn't paying attention. What was the question? [LAUGHTER]
SSG ALBIN: The question was the product that you had to work with?
SGT VILLA: Oh the product.
SSG ALBIN: That you had to work with to accomplish your mission of saving lives and talking people out and talking ... .
SGT VILLA: The product we were given was ... I don't remember it must have been about a dozen ... but anyway, messages, prepacked, prerecorded messages that were completely worthless as far as I'm concerned because they didn't ... they didn't ... they didn't work. In the first place they weren't speaking to the right people, they were telling them to do things that we necessarily didn't want them to do anyway. Like telling them to get out of the building when we were out in the jungle and that ... it wasn't necessary. So what we did is just basically took the tapes, pigeon-holed them, and just talked through the speakers like they did. I'm a native speaker and basically that's what I did. I just ad libbed the whole thing.
SGT RAMIREZ: Yeah, that's where we helped most, we supported them the most--our linguist, being able to translate, you know get their message across. Because, like I said before, they're infantry and their mission is completely different than ours.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe in a non-classified way the host unit that you were with?
SGT VILLA: I was with a Navy unit that operated in Panama for a very short time. They weren't there very long.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe the time frame that you were given to accomplish your mission and how was your mission structured in stages? For instance, during ... when things were basically hot and then when things began to cool down and ... can you describe your mission?
SGT VILLA: Spur of the moment, really. We were set up in these blocking positions more or less just talking to the natives, telling them, you know, like, most of the time ... the guy who was in charge, you know, some days you would let them pass through the intersection and some days you wouldn't. And then the day after you wouldn't let them ... he'd let them go through one day and the next day you wouldn't let them go through. And then we'd have problems with people coming through the barricade or something. And then we'd have to run out there and stop them before those guys went ballistic on them or whatever. And more or less things like that.
And later on I got attached to 2d [Battalion] of the 75th [Rangers] and we had the same problem they did. It was a lot of spur of the moment stuff--it just came up. I mean it was ... a lot of the stuff wasn't even ... or you would never even dream you would be doing this stuff. Like you guys had blocking positions too, right? You'd have ... one time we were sitting at a blocking position and this car comes speeding up. Of course the Rangers are all itchy-fingered and we ended up stopping the car. And the reason the car was speeding is because they had a pregnant woman in the back that had to get to the hospital. But that's the type of stuff you come up with. I mean stuff you wouldn't dream of happening in a conflict.
SGT RAMIREZ: We went out on patrols day and night patrols a few times.
SGT TODD: That's about it.
SSG ALBIN: You mentioned that materials that you were given--primarily tape materials--and that they weren't--they didn't fit the situation. Can you describe how you would (if you were sending people into the same situation that you've been sent into) how would you improve upon that, and in giving them materials?
SGT RAMIREZ: Well, one: don't use tape.
SGT TODD: Don't use the tape.
SGT RAMIREZ: Get a ... okay, we have people supposedly that speak three, three plus on the DOPT4 and they stay behind.
SSG ALBIN: Could you define what three or three plus ... ?
SGT RAMIREZ: Three plus means very fluent.
SGT VILLA: Three-three
SGT RAMIREZ: Yeah, three-three. If you get three-three you're very fluent. Supposedly you'd be able to communicate.
SGT VILLA: You have no problem with written or oral or listening with the language.
SSG ALBIN: Could you describe for me (me being a non-linguist), could you describe for me the how ... what you mean: how a linguist's abilities are structured within the Army as you're describing ... could you describe for me?
SGT VILLA: I'm the language manager for the battalion so the way it goes is it's structured it goes from zero to zero plus, one, one plus, two, two plus, three. The way it goes is a three is a person that has no problem (as you and I do in English) with the oral, the listening, or written, or reading portion of the language you can comprehend everyday language-type stuff and almost into some lower college stuff. A two plus goes into high school or a little lower across the board, then a two you're dealing with junior high type stuff, a one you're dealing with the very elementary skills where you can recite certain sentences and stuff like that, more or less. I think Todd you're a one aren't you? He can speak but he has to sit down and think about what he's going to say before he says it and then once this person answers the question he has to think about it again. And a zero is you know what the name of the language is; basically that's all a zero is.
That's what they were saying is that the tapes were pretty much worthless. What we need is somebody fluent that can communicate in the language. What he means by a three-three is that ... it's classified [by] the first number is your listening ability and your second number is your reading ability and your third number would be your oral ability.
SSG ALBIN: Can you tell me what you meant by ... what you said ... when you said that there were people back here that were three, three plus?
SGT RAMIREZ: Well whoever made up this team, you know, like, I think myself and Todd are a very good team, you know. He's tall, he can carry a system (which is about 60-70 pounds), he's a little ... he understands. You know, he came up to me a few times and said "hey they need this" or "they want this." Talking about the civilians; that they need help or whatever. He was able to understand. And myself being a native speaker so I have no problem communicating, you know. It's a little different ... the Panamanian's Spanish from a Mexican's Spanish, but I was able to communicate, you know, with anybody. And we had people here who are more fluent than some of the teams they made up. Like they had two clerks, SPC Plats and SGT Johnson. I don't think knew--either one of them--how to speak Spanish. And what do you think are they going to send us to Panama or to some other, you know, English country. That's one of the things you had to do. They knew where we were going to, so it don't make sense to send two non-Spanish speakers together.
SGT VILLA: They were depending on the tapes--that they would apply. And it didn't apply. So Plats had to 'field expedient' learn Spanish real quick. He did a pretty good job of it.
SGT RAMIREZ: Yeah.
SSG ALBIN: What materials would you recommend be sent along, along with people who were qualified obviously in the language?
SGT RAMIREZ: I would modify that 250 system.
SGT VILLA: I'd modify the speaker system generally because it's too cumbersome, too slow. When you have to ... they had to do it, especially. They jumped, so they had to take it out of the bag and put it into operation. How long did it take ... you guys probably cut open the bag?
SGT TODD: Yeah, I had to cut the bag open because the way they packed in ... the speakers were on top in the bag itself and they had boards around it to protect the cones so they wouldn't smash together. And to get it out of there ... when you sit everything in there it was pretty tight getting it in there. Getting it out it took thirty minutes to pack it and it took fifteen minutes just to get it out again. That was during the exercise. During the actual deployment, I just took the knife and cut the top part of the bag so I was able to get it out and get the boards off of it so the speaker system could operate.
SGT RAMIREZ: Especially, I think, the system ... they should be able to come up with something better, you know. We have people
--officers--that get paid to come up with better ideas than this and I don't think that was a very good idea.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe your systems? Are they hand-held? Do they mount on a vehicle, or ... ?
SGT RAMIREZ: You carry them on your back like a rucksack. It's longer, you know, length-wise.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Villa, you used the same system?
SGT VILLA: Yeah. It consists of two bullhorn-type speakers and a detachable ... a detached amplifier with, what, about a 20-foot cord? And a microphone.
SGT TODD: The thing is the old ... some of the other 250 systems had like a hard frame pack that you could put them with where you could stick the whole thing together and you could still broadcast without taking the cone apart from the amplifier and all that. With this system it was in a bag and it wasn't sturdy. It was unstable, you might say, 'cause when you take it out you had to unwind all the wire. And with this system you had to take the amplifier and set it off way over here and put the speaker over here and turn your back to the speaker system before you could talk, or you'd have a feedback and you couldn't understand a thing that was being said.
SGT RAMIREZ: We probably used the system for at least ... we probably used the system once a day and probably at that just to try to get across ... to remind the civilians to staff off the street. That's about the only time. The rest of the time it was face-to-face communication.
SSG ALBIN: What was the carrying power of this system?
SGT VILLA: 250 Watts with, what, about 500 to 1000 meters. And that's on a flat surface with no buildings or trees no wind and stuff like that.
MULTIPLE VOICES: GENERAL AGREEMENT.
SGT VILLA: I think one thing they should do instead of give tapes to us is ... when we find out that we're going some place ... is give us briefings one or two days in advance. And say this is the situation, this is who you're going to be encountering, this is their psychological or their motivation. And this is what you're going to have to do. That ... of course that assumes that they're able to coordinate with other units, maybe I'm assuming too much. But that would definitely help even more than these prepackaged tapes that we didn't use anyway. They were just extra weight.
SSG ALBIN: How did you feel when you were performing your mission--with loud speakers or without loud speakers--and translating, helping people in the language? How did you feel, for instance, when you were communicating with PDF [Panamanian Defense Force] or with the dignity battalion forces? How did you feel when you were doing that and how was that handled by you as a person?
SGT RAMIREZ: What do you mean? When we were translating and everything? Oh, it was ... I was scared, all right, for we didn't know about it. We didn't know what was going to happen, you know. It was the real thing. And you had these people, you know, ladies or even old men coming crying that there were some soldiers raping their kids and stuff like that. And we were not a ... we did not have the authority to leave our positions and go help them. And, you know, people come crying and they captured two dignity battalion in our blocking position, and ... I mean those people wanted--the Panamanians--wanted to kill them because ... just for being part of the dignity soldiers, even if they didn't do anything, you know. It was sad, you know. I wanted to help them as much as I could, you know.
You know, I told them a few times you know you got to get together, you know, the old man get the ass or something, and if they got out, you know, well, you know, try your best. Stick together, you know, stick together. I told them a few times, you know, get together and it will be harder. You guys, you know, are by yourselves, you know. It's your house, you know. It's not going to help you've got to remain in one house or protect your children or whatever.
SSG ALBIN: Did you communicate with PDF or dignity battalion forces to try to talk them out?
SGT TODD: Only during the first night, the actual first night of the invasion.
SGT VILLA: That's about it.
SGT TODD: Yeah. We talked to a couple like ... there was four PDF guys in one building. They never came out. And then the Rangers went in there and ended up waxing them anyway. But that was about it.
SGT VILLA: The only ... the first night of the invasion that was only ... that was the only time we ever had any dealings with actual ... talking PDF people like out of buildings, and things of that nature.
SGT TODD: Same here.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe your role in, for instance, the muskets for money or the weapons program?
SGT RAMIREZ: Well, Manuel ... like I said I put it out and ... to the loud speaker, and people would come in and they would ask me, you know ... they were kind of, I guess, afraid of coming up and say "yeah, I have a weapon" because they were afraid we might think that they were dignity battalion. So they come out one on one. And they knew ... they knew me pretty well and they would come up and ask me, you know, if its okay, "is it okay if I turn this in?" And grenades and whatever--all kinds of weapons.
SGT VILLA: Most of the time they'd turn them in ... they had them wrapped up where you couldn't tell exactly what it was. They'd have a white flag tied around the end of it they'd stand like a hundred yards away or something and wave it and then they'd ...
SGT RAMIREZ: I was ... one of the ladies told me that before then before the invasion they were not allowed to wear white. You know, if you were wearing any white dress or a white blouse that meant that you were against [Manuel Antonio] Noriega. So all of a sudden, you know, you see and ... . After she told me that I noticed people were carrying flags on cars, they were wearing white dresses, white blouses and everything, you know. Those little things, like I said, you don't know or you never know. I don't think even our intelligence analysts knew about that. So that thing we learned. I guess we're lucky to be there.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Villa can you describe some of your job and your mission where you worked with your host unit?
SGT VILLA: Money for weapons and that kind of thing?
SSG ALBIN: Money for weapons and that kind of thing.
SGT VILLA: Well, the host unit that I started out with I was no longer with after the fifth day. This is going back to the 2d of the 75th Ranger Battalion. We had the money for weapons thing. It was pretty much what they said. We went out on jeeps or on foot and brought a cache ... you know, if you bring this weapon in we'll give you this much money; if you do this, we'll give you that. Pretty much the same thing that they did. Bringing it up, holding it high, and making sure they were waving it so nobody would think that they were trying to use it. A lot of people brought a lot of stuff in. I saw a lot of weapons out there that you'd never dream that these people had. It was pretty wild. It went pretty good though; they seemed to respond to it really well. Especially when they see $125 being waved in front of them (I'm not making fun of them) just for bringing a rifle in. Word spread fast.
SSG ALBIN: Tell me how you handled it when people would say "I know where weapons are"?
SGT RAMIREZ: Okay, first I try to translate the message to my host unit and then later on I asked those people who come in and try to give information, to draw a map on how to get there. Because how to get there and how far. Because most of the answers I used to get--I'll ask them "how far?" They say "ah, just right there." And "how long it going to take to get it?" "How long--just a few minutes." They will never be able to ... they would never gave me any distance, so I collected probably about 15-20 weapons. So they gave me dignity battalion soldiers' locations, weapons locations, and I passed that on to my host unit. Then how do I take out patrols to find out anything or ... . So I don't know; I just pass on information.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Villa did you go out on any patrols or did you basically do the same thing just pass on messages?
SGT VILLA: Well, they used ... the Rangers used us a little differently. Our battalion used us a little differently than their battalion. The way ... what we did was we went around and told people and I wrote stuff down and got maps and stuff. And then four people--myself and three other Rangers--would go and check out the areas. I think we were being used as guinea pigs if anything. And if we found anything, then we would go back and report yes there is something there, or no there isn't anything there. We basically did the same thing--just taking information and check it out later on. Because there was no way of knowing exactly what they were saying. One thing is Panamanians cannot judge distance--cannot judge distance. It's three block down the road meaning about ten miles down the road.
SGT TODD: That's the problem.
SSG ALBIN: Well, you know, if you go to a small town it's the same thing here in America.
SGT RAMIREZ: You see the problem is, you know, in a way, like, say those comes from learning and studying the country. They think you know where you are, how to get there, and everything, you know. And I used to tell them, "look just because I know Spanish doesn't mean I know how to get to this city or this place." [LAUGHTER]
SGT TODD: The big one was "you know where that store is next to the fountain over there?" I don't ...
SGT VILLA: My wife ... "show me on the map." And you showed them the map and they're like "well, where am I?" And then you showed them where they were and then they were lost after that. They couldn't ... it's not that they didn't understand the map, I think they couldn't relate the grid squares to actual ground distance and everything else. It was really tough trying to get these people to tell you where it was.
SSG ALBIN: In you mission as linguists in this kind of an operation, did you encounter any members of what I understand quite a substantial Chinese population?
MULTIPLE VOICES: Yes. Yes.
SSG ALBIN: How did you handle that? Let's go around, I'm very interested. SGT Todd?
SGT TODD: The Chinese people at this blocking position that we was at ... the Chinese they spoke English and Spanish and Chinese. They spoke all three languages and then they had this little store near our location, and like the first couple of nights we were there they were ... only one guy would come down and talk to us. And it took us about two or three days and then finally the rest of the family started coming down and talking to us. And then they started bringing us food and big things of juices and stuff.
SGT RAMIREZ: In a way I guess they were doing a lot of this stuff because all the other places got ...
SGT TODD: ... looted.
SGT RAMIREZ: A couple of the people got killed, too.
SGT TODD: One Chinese man got killed.
SGT RAMIREZ: Because these people had like a grocery store, right? And they have a lot of food and all the Panamanians they don't have any food so they were breaking in and everything. And these people ... I mean they were safe. They had soldiers, American soldiers, right there, so ... . But I was surprised to see Chinese in Panama.
SGT VILLA: We traveled a lot in this one section (2-75th). We encountered a lot of Chinese. I'm not trying to stereotype here, but all the Chinese that I ran into were merchants--store
owners--and the community at large hated them. Hated them because they had money, they had food and they were able to control who they sold it to and who they didn't want to sell it to.
SGT TODD: How much.
SGT VILLA: And how much they sold it. And they were very, very hated among the Panamanian community because of that. And the big problem we ran into from, like I said, talking to the community at large was that they were very pro-Noriega because Noriega somehow protected them. They were ... the ones we ran into were very pro-Noriega and they liked Noriega because Noriega protected them. Since they had the money in Panama, Noriega did things to help them out as opposed to most of the other parts of the community. So it took a lot of time for us to gain their confidence, you know, because they believed that we were there to take their money, to take their food, to take their businesses from them and give it back to the Panamanian people. Or not give it back, but give it to the Panamanian people. Once we got that point across they became very helpful and they brought us food and treated us very, very well. But they were still not liked by the Panamanians even though they were helping us. The big thing was "God we hate the Chinese; why don't they go back to China"-type stuff. It was very, very prejudiced against the Chinese.
SSG ALBIN: Did you find any examples of PDF or dignity battalion people that hid in Chinese houses or anything like that? Because the Chinese had been pro-Noriega.
SGT VILLA: In our location, you know, where we were at we didn't find them there. But for three days we kept getting reports from the next door neighbors that there was a lot of activity and they kept seeing weapons. Well, finally we went and checked it out, and no--we did find weapons but we did not find PDF. And the way we found weapons is ... it wasn't ... they weren't really hidden, they were just kind of sitting there like if we had surprised somebody and they just took off. This is later on; this is like almost the 30th. So things had mellowed out and a lot of the PDF and dignity battalion were not just on the run--they just wanted to get away they didn't want to engage anymore. What it seemed like was that we surprised them.
SSG ALBIN: When did things start to mellow out?
SGT VILLA: 23d [of December] for us.
SGT TODD: Third day.
SGT RAMIREZ: No.
SGT TODD: Sunday. The 24th. The day Noriega turned himself in.
SGT RAMIREZ: Yeah, that's when it was: the 24th.
SGT VILLA: Because I was over in Colon on the 24th.
SGT RAMIREZ: And then from there we move on to another blocking position that basically we more ... we were translating for a medic, for people turning in weapons, and that's basically it.
SSG ALBIN: Did churches have mass on Christmas day.
SGT RAMIREZ: Yes.
SGT VILLA: After the 25th it probably New Year's. New Year's Eve was pretty tight.
SGT TODD: We were at a blocking position we had all kinds of people coming up and wishing us a happy new year and bringing us food. Girls coming up to talk to us. And we became the neighborhood attraction. We became the neighborhood attraction after that.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe how your mission progressed from (not to be redundant) from aggressive situations to nonaggressive situations? How did your mission change as this ... ?
SGT TODD: We moved from one blocking position to the other. They like set up a little med[ical] station. Sometimes we had this little ambulance up there and they like they put this sign like one sign said medicine on this side and weapons line on this side. And there was lines. [LAUGHTER]
SGT RAMIREZ: It was ...
SGT TODD: And most of the thing ... they'd come to us. They had a clinic there just down the road, but they would come to us because we were Americans. They know that we'll help them. So the first few days we helped everybody and then after a while you know we started running low on medicine.
SGT RAMIREZ: We tell them to go to their clinic and ... .
SGT TODD: They didn't trust them.
SGT RAMIREZ: They wanted the Americans.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Villa how did your mission de-escalate? How did your mission de-escalate?
SGT VILLA: Well we went from being ... well to start with, now that I think about it, the whole time we had cammie on our face. And as soon as we took the cammie off ... while we had the camouflage on our faces they were real scared of us.
SGT TODD: They didn't want to come up and talk to us.
SGT VILLA: But after we took the camouflage off our face--as the mission started to de-escalate camouflage came off our faces--we were actually talking to people and then it got to where they trusted us, you know. It wasn't anymore the opposing force or the people kicking Noriega out; it was our friends the Americans. Same as they encountered.
SSG ALBIN: How do you believe ... did your presence effect the Rangers and the infantry in the way that they dealt with the people? The fact that you were there did you have any influence on them?
SGT RAMIREZ: The way the Rangers treat ... ?
SSG ALBIN: Treated the people, or the Infantry?
SGT RAMIREZ: Well I think it ... I don't want to sound ... [LAUGHTER]
SSG ALBIN: Try again.
SGT RAMIREZ: I don't want to blow my own horn, but I think we saved more lives by being there, you know. Talking about the PSYOPS elements. Because, like I said before, Rangers--they wanted to shoot anybody. They come up asking for water and they wanted to kill them. For one because they weren't able to communicate with them; they don't understand the system. And they were always ready to fire. I tried to tell them "hey let them come up to me," you know. I got to know a few of the Panamanians and they would come up and offer, you know, coffee or food. And still some of the Rangers would be right there next to them with the M-16 pointed at them. So it did help to have those, you know, to have us as linguists, you know, able to help them understand what they really needed.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Villa?
SGT VILLA: Pretty much the same thing. After a while it got to the point where [when] anybody [would] walk up it's, like, "go see him over there." Everybody got thrown at us. You guys deal with them we don't want to deal with them.
SSG ALBIN: It's been mentioned that (to oversimplify) our job was to pick up the bad guys and leave in place the good guys' new government and build up ... . So we can't just crush the people, we have to ... they have to come back up again after the initial pulling out of the bad guys. Can you elaborate on your role in this process of going in and pulling out the bad guys and then building the people up again. SGT Villa? We'll start over there. [LAUGHTER]
SGT VILLA: I don't think I was in country long enough for that one. We just dealt with them. I mean we helped them medically; if they needed water, we got them water; if they had a lost relative or something, we tried to call different units, tried to find them. That's basically all we did, I mean--whatever they needed, if we could help them, we'd help. I really can't think of much more we did.
SGT RAMIREZ: Essentially. We saw Civil Affairs trying to, you know, they provided trucks to pick up trash almost daily. We had a water buffalo to supply them with water.
SGT TODD: They set up a system to bring in people to clean up the airport itself.
SGT RAMIREZ: Stuff like that. I mean ... .
SGT TODD: Civil Affairs.
SGT RAMIREZ: What was that financially, because, you know, they had no money, you know. No place to work. That airport, you know, they had a lot of people working there. And since 19 December it was no place to work. So I think that was one of the ways to ... .
SGT TODD: Mainly the Civil Affairs people were the ones that put the people back to work and things of that nature. Set up ... .
SSG ALBIN: You mentioned that things de-escalated and you were more or less just helpers and translators and linguists as things began to calm down. Can you describe how and when you started hearing rumors of when you were going to come back?
SGT RAMIREZ: The following day.
SGT VILLA: We heard ...
SGT TODD: We heard anything. The thing we heard when we left was "you'll be in there three days and we'd be out." When the three days was up they said ...
SGT RAMIREZ: ... they were waiting for the unit to replace us.
SGT TODD: And we heard anything from when we was there to the next day. Then ended up staying 30 days.
SGT RAMIREZ: Went on and on until 3 January ...
SGT TODD: 3 January we finally went back to our own unit.
SSG ALBIN: Where was your unit located?
MULTIPLE VOICES: Corozal.
SSG ALBIN: And did you deploy from ... ?
SGT RAMIREZ: Howard Air Force Base.
SSG ALBIN: From Howard Air Force Base back to here? On what date did you deploy?
SGT RAMIREZ: 11 January.
SGT TODD: I cam back on the 12th of February.
SSG ALBIN: So you were with the unit there Corozal eight days?
SGT RAMIREZ: Eight days.
SGT TODD: I was there for thirty-some days.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Villa, can you ... ?
SGT VILLA: I got back to the garrison at Corozal on the 9th of January and redeployed with him on the 11th.
SSG ALBIN: When did you first hear that you might be coming back? You and your team?
SGT VILLA: Well, this is funny. We were supposed to be there 24 hours and get out. We were supposed to be there 24 hours and get out, and we ended--the unit I was with initially stayed five days and then we were supposed to return with them. And then we got re-tasked out again so ... .
SSG ALBIN: Let me get this straight. You originally [were] supposed to be in Panama 24 hours and then return?
SGT VILLA: Twenty-four hours after the initial assault and then return.
SGT RAMIREZ: That's because ...
SGT VILLA: That's because of the unit I was with.
SSG ALBIN: And then you ended up deploying with the Rangers?
SGT VILLA: These ... afterwards.
SSG ALBIN: Afterwards. And you came back here together?
SGT RAMIREZ: Right.
SSG ALBIN: Okay, and your equipment deployed with you?
SGT VILLA: Right. I ... we kept our equipment with us.
SSG ALBIN: Your sound equipment and your ... ?
SGT TODD: Yeah.
SSG ALBIN: How did you procure a weapon? I forgot to ask you that.
SGT RAMIREZ: It was ... I had no weapon. As soon as I got with my platoon ... . It was busted, right, so I carried my weapon until three or four days later and one guy fixed it. But before, like 9 o'clock, 10 o'clock at night, I was using someone else's weapon. You know, most of the time I used his weapon because I was more fluent in Spanish so he would stay behind at the blocking position and I would have a patrol, I would carry his weapon. And then one of the first sergeants from 1st of the 75th got me a weapon. We was locked and loaded, like I told him, but by the time I started firing--using my weapon--they had to have something hot and heavy going on. Because I had the Rangers with M-16s and [M]-203s, so I don't have to worry about it.
SSG ALBIN: Did you jump back in?
SGT RAMIREZ: No. Air landed.
SGT VILLA: We came in at night. We came in at night the day before or the night before the 82d jumped in, didn't we?
SGT RAMIREZ: The heroes.
SGT VILLA: Before the heroes came in.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe what you did when you arrived back at Fort Bragg?
SGT RAMIREZ: Well, my wife and daughter were waiting for me at Green Ramp.5 I had a few minutes with them and we had a formation of about 60 people who came back. We went over to the arms room; turned our weapons in, and cleaned our weapons. Got released for the weekend: "get the hell out of here."
SGT TODD: When I came back there really weren't very many people because there was like 20 of us that came back. And my girlfriend was there; she rode over with one of the guys to meet me. And from there we just went and turned all of our equipment in and went home. I arrived on a Sunday, Sunday morning.
SGT VILLA: I came back with him. We arrived I guess 11:00, got off the airplane there wasn't anybody I knew there because I didn't know I was coming back until the day I came back. My wife wasn't notified, so I called her up on the phone and I said come pick me up. And she said where are you at. I said at the arms room, and she said all right. Turned in our stuff and that was it. We were done.
SSG ALBIN: Did you all have a four-day weekend?
SGT VILLA: It was the national holiday what was that Labor Day, Memorial Day, one of those?
SGT RAMIREZ: I think we didn't get the recognition. Some of the people were--I don't if I should use the word jealous--they were jealous because they didn't jump in and because the didn't have the combat patch that we have. And in a way I don't think it's fair, because we do much. We're not infantry but our lives were in danger, you know, and I have no time, you know, to really say goodbye to my family. That was hard. And I think it is very unfair and unprofessional of some of the officers who were assigned to ... that are assigned to our unit and feeling that way about us getting the stuff that we really deserved.
[END OF SIDE ONE]
SSG ALBIN: Can you elaborate a little bit on what you just mentioned about recognition?
SGT RAMIREZ: We came back on the 11th. I only seen ... I seen the Group Commander, COL Normand, you know, congratulate some of the people. He just pass on by, you know. I guess some of the other people ... I don't want to say I was a hero or anything, but myself and SGT Todd, you know, we were in a position, you know, I think in a more dangerous position. And a few times at night, you know, there were calls on the radio "hey, we got about 300-400 people supposedly coming into your location." So we start setting up claymore mines and going into our position with the M-60s and everything. And then we came back and I don't want to complain or anything, but I think it would be fair enough, you know, to have a formation or something and say "hey, I really appreciate these people and what they did; these people were supporting this unit, doing things." And stuff like that. It was fair enough I think. And the following day they had the 82d jumping in and you have congressmen and the general, you know. Some of them--the 82d guys--were jumping in when we were eating breakfast in Panama.
SGT TODD: We were already there.
SGT RAMIREZ: We were eating MREs [Meals, Ready-to-Eat] and we see the C-141s pretty much coming in.
SGT TODD: The night we was there--I'm not putting the 82d down, but their stuff was really messed up whenever they came in, because when I was broadcasting on the loud speaker system. We was telling them like "hey guys." They was landing right into our gunfire and all that stuff. And we was having to tell them on the loudspeaker, you know, "come towards our voice, you know; we're safe and you're in front of our lines" and everything. It was just kind of hard to know that you was there you seen what they did, and then come back here and they get the hero's welcome.
SGT VILLA: We encountered the same thing, but at the objective we took we were supposed to have gotten relieved by the 82d in 24 hours, and the 82d never showed. We got relieved by the 3d Ranger Battalion three days later. So, I mean, there was a couple of guys that bled to death on this mission because they were busy pulling the 82d out of the swamp. And ... I don't know ... I just have a lot of remorse toward the 82d, because they got all the credit and honestly I don't think they did everything that was publicized.
SGT RAMIREZ: I don't know. I think, speaking for myself and SGT Todd, we did our job and probably more than we were supposed to or we were expected to do. Much more. And I wasn't looking for any confirmed kills; I just wanted to save civilians. And I think, like I told my wife, you know, I'm happy with what I did whether they recognize me or not.
SGT TODD: I feel the same way. We did a good job. We fulfilled our mission or maybe far passed the mission that we were initially told to do.
SSG ALBIN: Do you have a story or an anecdote or something that happened that you really remember? Something funny?
MULTIPLE VOICES: He does; he does.
SSG ALBIN: Something unusual or touching?
SGT TODD: It wasn't actually touching; it was actually kind of funny. We were sitting at the blocking position, right, and these guys were driving up in this car. No. One guy was sitting on the top; it looked to me like he was pouring gas or something into the carburetor. And this other guy was sitting on the side of the car. He had, like a ... facing ...
SGT RAMIREZ: ... facing the outside of the car ...
SGT TODD: ... facing the outside of the car. And he had this big brick. And the deal was when the car came up to the house or something he would jump off and stick the two-by-four underneath the back tire.
SGT RAMIREZ: That was the brakes.
SGT TODD: So he could stop the car.
SGT RAMIREZ: He'd probably run over his foot.
SGT TODD: It was just so funny for us because ... just seeing this guy jumping out and pulling this brick and [LAUGHTER] ... it really broke up the monotony.
SGT RAMIREZ: We were laughing for days.
SGT TODD: For days, yeah. That was really unforgettable.
SSG ALBIN: SGT Villa, did anything stick out for you like that?
SGT VILLA: Just our Christmas tree. We went into the jungle and chopped down banana leaves and grabbed some limbs and stuff and made it in the shape of a Christmas tree. Wrapped the banana leaves around it, then took M-60 [machine gun] ammo and made like the tinsel and then grabbed grenades and put it like the little spears. And took chem[ical] lights for the lights. And that was our Christmas tree on Christmas day. I'll never forget that.
SSG ALBIN: Did someone take a picture of it?
SGT VILLA: Yeah. We got pictures of it I think back at the unit, someplace. I know we do. I got one someplace.
SSG ALBIN: Would you consider giving us a copy of that?
SGT VILLA: If I can find it.
SSG ALBIN: That would be terrific. Would anybody have anything else to comment?
SGT VILLA: I think we've talked too much.
SSG ALBIN: This concludes the JUST CAUSE interview on 10 April 1990. This is SSG Albin of the 326th Military History Detachment.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
1. The popular Sunday night situation comedy "Married With Children" features the Bundy family.
2. Company A, 1st Battalion, 75th Rangers.
3. Actually, shortly before 0100R on 20 December.
4. Linguistic fluency examination.
5. Personnel and equipment loading area at Pope Air Force Base.