DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
XVIII AIRBORNE CORPS
FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA
UNITED STATES ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview
First Lieutenant James H. Johnson, III
Platoon Leader, Reconnaissance Platoon
Headquarters Company, 2d Battalion, 504th Infantry
Interview conducted 5 June 1990 at Building AT-3060, Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Interviewer: Dr. Robert K. Wright, Jr.
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview JCIT 081
DR. WRIGHT: This is an Operation JUST CAUSE interview being conducted on 5 June 1990 in Building AT-3060 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The interviewing official is Dr. Robert K. Wright, Jr., the XVIII Airborne Corps Historian.
And, lieutenant, if I could get you to give me your full name, rank and serial number?
1LT JOHNSON: First Lieutenant James H. Johnson, III.
DR. WRIGHT: And your ...
1LT JOHNSON: ***-**-****.
DR. WRIGHT: And your duty position in the 2d Battalion, 504th Infantry, at the time of Operation JUST CAUSE?
1LT JOHNSON: I was a reconnaissance platoon leader, 2d Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
DR. WRIGHT: And that platoon is part on the TOE [Table of Organization and Equipment] of Headquarters and Headquarters Company?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: I assume you were not made aware of Operation JUST CAUSE prior to the operation going down?
1LT JOHNSON: No.
DR. WRIGHT: Did you, however, start getting intensely suspicious by the news of the events that were transpiring that weekend previous--with the shooting incident? Did you start getting a little concerned about possibilities?
1LT JOHNSON: Actually, the first time we knew of certain possibilities was when ... I believe it was an EDRE [Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise] called the BLACK KNIGHT or something similar to that that was executed by the 3d Brigade, [82d Airborne Division]. I had the opportunity to jump on that operation and to see the basic scenario of the three task force with three separate targets.
DR. WRIGHT: You went along as one of the observers on that one?
1LT JOHNSON: Basically observing the operation, yes, sir. And from there we knew there was a basic OPLAN [operations plan]. And a few days prior to assuming mission ... we assumed DRF-2 [Division Ready Force 2, the second battalion in alert order]. The Battalion S-3 briefed the company commanders and myself and a few other key personnel on the OPLAN: basically three battalions in with separate objectives, and basically concentrating on the air assault operations, because that was something that the battalion was never really good at. I don't think too many battalions on the street are that good at night air assault operations. We wanted to have us all seriously look at that.
So we knew at that point there was some serious planning going on. And the activities that went on that weekend prior, down in Panama, with the incidences with killings and everything pretty much gave me an idea that if something was going to happen.
DR. WRIGHT: That's where you were going?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: Morning of December 18th, that Monday, post is about to launch into half-day schedules. Because your battalions about to assume DRF-1, you don't have to worry about guys vanishing off on leave and stuff like that. You know you're going to have your platoon pretty much intact?
1LT JOHNSON: Exactly. We started the day with PT [physical training] as usual, and we were doing some close-in training, basically reviewing some of the battalion level tasks that we needed to work on based on the EXEVAL [external evaluation] we had in November. Basically just classroom type stuff. Even though we had come back for a 09 formation, at which time I was notified that we were alerted.
Immediately we started drawing sensitive items and weapons. Our platoon, we store all our deployment bags and field gear in our CP [command post] during mission cycle, so we had it all there. Pulled it out into our formation area; squad leaders went through one last lay-out and inspected. The weapons were basically drawn within an hour's time. And by the time I was going down to battalion for--I believe it was an M-plus 130 brief, the IS3--the platoon was ready to move to the PHA. There really were no hitches. It was like all the EDREs we've done.
DR. WRIGHT: Just the standard ... . Everything went according to plan? Yesterday MAJ [Jonathan] Chase [the battalion S-3] indicated that the battalion has a policy to ensure that you get the right weight of uniform, whether the summer weight or the winter weight BDUs [battle dress uniform]. Did your platoon have that as well, the notion that you got ... he just put out the word "summer," or you take the summer bag or take the winter bag and you can just pull the two bags apart and take whichever one you need.
1LT JOHNSON: Within the platoon we have modified the gear for one packing list and almost everybody will normally wear lightweights due to the fact that almost every country on the division's 'top ten' is ...
DR. WRIGHT: ... is a warm one?
1LT JOHNSON: And within the bag we have a separate bag for heavyweight BDUs and the cold weather gear.
DR. WRIGHT: The 'snivel gear?'
1LT JOHNSON: Right. But we left that in the bags knowing that we were going to go to the PHA [Personnel Holding Area] and the weather was inclement here at Fort Bragg at the time. And we prefer to make the switch ...
DR. WRIGHT: ... over in there?
1LT JOHNSON: In the PHA. And another thing that the platoon does is, since we have a sniper squad which isn't in the TOE, and that was one of the things we brought out in our after-action review is ... . Getting back to what I was saying, we carry a lot to the PHA due to the fact that different contingency missions. Snipers may have a specific mission separate in the battalion where they would need Ghillie suits [special camouflage], drag bags, some other ... spotting scopes, which are specific to a sniper mission, but add a lot of weight if they're going to do a reconnaissance mission rather than a sniper mission. So we, for deploying with this ... [we take] all the gear we need for contingencies to the PHA. Once we get the mission in PHA, that's where we make our cut.
DR. WRIGHT: And then you get somebody from a rear party that will take it back?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: In terms of the strength of the platoon on the morning of the 18th, pretty much how were you internally organized and who were your key people?
1LT JOHNSON: O.K., by TOE the battalion scout platoon has three five-man reconnaissance squads, but our division policy is that the battalion sniper squad, which is not in the TOE from the Army, is part of the scout platoon.
DR. WRIGHT: And that's taken out of hide, taken out of the battalion hide?
1LT JOHNSON: Right. And someone may hear this. It's a serious problem because all of its personnel are listed as excess on the TOE, and they continually come out on levy--shipped here or there--because they are listed as excess. And if anything, they're the most highly trained infantry soldiers within the battalion. So ...
DR. WRIGHT: And these are fellows that have gone through the training programs over at MTU-1 [Marksmanship Training Unit 1], or is there a division sniper school?
1LT JOHNSON: No, sir. There's an Army sniper school at Fort Benning. And the SODEC sniper school which is a highly developed sniper school run by Special Operations here at Fort Bragg.
DR. WRIGHT: So, you get all your people through that and then they're what? The M-24 system or the M-21 system?
1LT JOHNSON: The M-24, sir. It's organized into three sniper teams, two men per team, per sniper team.
DR. WRIGHT: What: a shooter and a security [man]?
1LT JOHNSON: No, sir. Its basic that security deployed with an M-16. Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: So you had, then, what--about six plus fifteen--about twenty-one people? Plus yourself and your RTO [radio telephone operator], and your first ... and platoon sergeant?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. Our strength at time of deployment was one [officer] and twenty-four [enlisted personnel].
DR. WRIGHT: Who was your platoon sergeant?
1LT JOHNSON: He's SFC Serrano.
DR. WRIGHT: First name?
1LT JOHNSON: Angel, sir
DR. WRIGHT: O.K. [INTERRUPTION] We were talking about the strength. You have yourself, the platoon sergeant, you have an RTO, and that is your command element. And then ... ?
1LT JOHNSON: Well ... also we take a medic from the [Headquarters Company] Medic[al] Platoon in our command element also.
DR. WRIGHT: And then your three sniper teams ... your three recon teams are all under E-6s [staff sergeants]?
1LT JOHNSON: E-6s, yes sir. Do you want the names?
DR. WRIGHT: Yes, if you don't mind.
1LT JOHNSON: SSG John T. Nikolas, SSG Randy T. Rhodes, and SSG Alex Smolden.
DR. WRIGHT: And then your sniper teams are all composed of what, E-4s [specialists], E-5s [sergeants]?
1LT JOHNSON: The E-5 team leader, the senior team leader, the sniper employment officer is SGT Darren McAllister. He is in charge, yes sir.
DR. WRIGHT: When you normally would operate would you cross- attach your snipers to put a team with each one of your recon elements under sort of average conditions?
1LT JOHNSON: Almost ... I'd say eighty percent of the missions that's how we're used because we get a ... the platoon just gets a reconnaissance mission, not a reconnaissance and a sniper mission.
DR. WRIGHT: Within your equipment, do you have any wheel transport or are you dependent on others?
1LT JOHNSON: We have no ...
DR. WRIGHT: You walk everywhere?
1LT JOHNSON: Exactly, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: So, then the issue of heavy drop platforms as far as it ... you could have cared less?
1LT JOHNSON: Exactly, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: You got over to PHA at about what time on the 18th?
1LT JOHNSON: We were one of the first units to move over there and arrive ... and I really do not recall, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: Before lunch?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: O.K. What's the state of mind of your people as they get over there? Do they pretty much all feel that this is real, or were you getting grousing about why does the division pick this time of year to do something like that with this kind of miserable weather?
1LT JOHNSON: No, they were all ready for it to be real and we normally get a real in-depth brief on the S-2 separate from the other elements. So, we all knew something was going on. Originally when we were briefed it was, you know, an EDRE to Sicily [Drop Zone, Fort Bragg], and a lot of people in the platoon were hearing more of that side from other personnel in the battalion. I was trying to tell them that, you know, well, we're not getting jerked around, we're really going. So, they were prepared for it. But there wasn't any apprehension, no nervousness.
DR. WRIGHT: When did they get told, and you get told, [that] this is real, we're going to Panama, and lift off is on the 19th?
1LT JOHNSON: I don't remember being exactly told, but after the N plus 2 brief, when the [S]-3 and the colonel [LTC Harry B. Axson] came back and they both came in to the battalion conference room--this was before anybody went to the PHA--and said we were briefed on this EDRE to Sicily, but they were both holding a map of Panama in their hand. I knew at that point that ... so, sir, I never really recall being told this is it.
DR. WRIGHT: You, specifically. You get over to PHA, you start doing the special equipment draw, like the mosquito repellant and things like that?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. Our draws were that evening and there was some problem as far as not having some of the things that we would prefer going into a tropical environment, but all the air items were there and that's basically ...
DR. WRIGHT: ... the key thing. Ammo draw?
1LT JOHNSON: O.K., sir, on the ammo that was another key point in our AAR. [The problem] was [that] the ammo allocated in the ASOP [Airborne Operations Standing Operations Procedure] for the IA [individual issue of ammunition] cards is not a realistic depiction of what we would tactically want to carry. And we have submitted suggestions to try to change that. A better time to get exactly what's on an IA card.
DR. WRIGHT: I've had people explain to me that, yeah, everything was done with the initial ammo issue cards, but if you stood there and said, 'hey, I really need X' [that] you could get it.
1LT JOHNSON: We went back and tried to adjust as much as possible.
DR. WRIGHT: What did you actually wind up taking?
1LT JOHNSON: It would be hard to say because the snipers would draw something totally different from the remainder, sir, but on the average a basic load of 5.56[mm M-16 ammunition] ...
DR. WRIGHT: 180 [round of ball ammunition] plus thirty [rounds of] tracer?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. We went back and tried to get more tracer because we prefer a higher amount. And doctrinally in FM [Field Manual] 23-9 they tell you to have at least a five to one or four to one ratio, and you can't do that with 180 and 30.
DR. WRIGHT: Yeah. And the idea there being that you intersperse your rounds so that you can mark your own fire?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. In our break contact drill, since we're such a small element we need to know where ... if someone can't see the target [then] the others need to go in on his fire because we're a small element and we need to get a mass ... everybody needs to be firing.
DR. WRIGHT: The snipers carry 7.62[mm] ammo in what quantity?
1LT JOHNSON: O.K., sir, one thing to note on that is normally when we fire here at Fort Bragg we get M-118 special ball ammunition. However, when we got the pallets from PHA, the ammo was 7.62 match ammo, which ... they are manufactured by different personnel and I think the grain and the bullet are the same. But when you are talking of sniper shot, anything does ...
DR. WRIGHT: It doesn't take much to throw it off? Yeah.
1LT JOHNSON: Right. That was a small point we brought out. But we ended up deploying, sir, with 150 rounds of 7.62[mm] per sniper system.
DR. WRIGHT: Pyrotechnics, smoke grenades; did you get those?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. We had, I would say, three to four smoke grenades per team.
DR. WRIGHT: Mix of colors, or ... to be used for marking purposes as opposed to obscurant?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. And one thing we noted was in the OPSKED [operations schedule] that was issued--it was a pretty thorough OPSKED with JSOC [Joint Special Operations Command] units, other units already down there, etc., etc. Sort of in the back there was a standard list of, you know, purple smoke meaning this, this smoke means that. What was listed in the CEOI [communications-electronics operating instructions] ... you know, those things did not match up with what you got. So ...
DR. WRIGHT: So you tried to do a little ... you tried to do a little correction on the spot with that or did you just suck it up?
1LT JOHNSON: We tried to, or we just came up within the platoon what the colors would mean within the platoon if we needed to [use them], sir.
DR. WRIGHT: Did you take any Claymores [M-18A1 antipersonnel mines]?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. We ... initially we had two per squad, and then when we got down there we picked up some more and got up to about three or four.
DR. WRIGHT: In terms of pistols, did anybody have pistols?
1LT JOHNSON: No, sir, we were not assigned any. Which is another point we bring out: by TOE the sniper is supposed to have a 9mm [pistol] as a sidearm, because with the M-24 it's a bolt action. He needs some sort of semi-automatic [weapon] in self-defense. In HHC [Headquarters and Headquarters Company] everybody wants a pistol rather than an M-16, so there's never enough to give everyone.
DR. WRIGHT: In terms of other automatic weapons, you don't ... do you have any [M-249] SAWs [squad automatic weapons]?
1LT JOHNSON: No, sir. We only have M-16s and four M-203s [grenade launchers].
DR. WRIGHT: [M]-203 was primarily what, illum[ination rounds], and HE [high explosive rounds], and what--some of the shotgun slugs?
1LT JOHNSON: No, sir. We had thirty-six rounds HE and four rounds of illumination for each [gunner].
DR. WRIGHT: And they had the vest to carry those in?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes.
DR. WRIGHT: Anything else in the way of special weapons that you guys had? Special ammo that you needed?
1LT JOHNSON: No, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: You mentioned the Ghillie suits and the drag bags. Once you got over there and you got your mission, what were you told on requirement for that stuff?
1LT JOHNSON: Well, sir, we did get a sniper mission, but we determined not to deploy the Ghillies due to the fact that there was an urban environment there.
DR. WRIGHT: O.K. And that leads me to my next question which is, once you get the actual identification of the target and you look at the map and you see Panama Viejo and you realize within the brigade, if anybody is going into the city it looks like it will be you guys. You've now got a situation where a scout element, that we normally think of as being the guys furthest out in the boondocks, suddenly look at going into an urban environment. How much opportunity had you had to do MOUT [military operations on urbanized terrain] training?
1LT JOHNSON: Well, we normally would execute in a MOUT operation when the battalion would do it, which I would say would be, you know, once every other ITC [training cycle]. And another thing that we write up in AAR is the major deficiencies in the MOUT site here at Fort Bragg. And the fact that it is so sterile a plain, as opposed to what you are actually going to have in a MOUT environment, where you have distractors: you have closets, furniture, vehicles, etc. You know, even if you had gone to the MOUT site every week during every ITC ...
DR. WRIGHT: It still wouldn't have prepared you?
1LT JOHNSON: Not necessarily, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: Within the urban environment how, prior to the operation, had you envisioned having to work with your scouts?
1LT JOHNSON: Prior to?
DR. WRIGHT: Prior to the operation. In other words, to establish what you anticipated versus what actually happened.
1LT JOHNSON: More than likely we had anticipated manning OPs [observation posts] to provide early warning within a MOUT environment, or moving forward and establishing OPs to recon a section of an urban environment that the battalion was going to attack.
DR. WRIGHT: And then using the snipers basically as counter-sniper.
1LT JOHNSON: Yeah.
DR. WRIGHT: And then in terms of your people, they spend a lot of time training in a non-MOUT situation. Once you got them in the PHA and you got the mission, did you start really trying to refine on them and get them thinking about MOUT?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. We always have a certain number of rehearsals which we go through which seem monotonous, but they are just the basic movement and the break-contact drills we will go through. But what we try to do on these, knowing that we were going into a possible urban environment was to add ... you know, everyone has an assigned sector to look at or fire into. To try to add another dimension to it. When you're looking at a sector, you are also looking up and down--at people, windows, on roofs. I suppose that is the only one that I can think of right now.
DR. WRIGHT: In terms of the way your people sit there and get ready. Do you have any impressions as the 18th blends into the 19th? The state of mind that you people were in? It's fairly cold, as I understand it, in the PHA?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. But as I said, we had deployed with enough stuff to be comfortable in the PHA. You know, we just have one tent. The battalion didn't issue its operation's order [OPORD] during that evening. And I had issued a warning order when initially I had gotten there, based on what I had seen on that EDRE, what the [S]-3 had briefed us (the company commanders), and what I was initially briefed by the S-2 as our actual objective going to be. I gave them the warning order and then pretty much stood the team down that evening and ...
DR. WRIGHT: ... told them to get some sleep?
1LT JOHNSON: And they were relaxed, they were confident, they felt they couldn't get any more ready. During the evening ... . And basically waiting for the battalion order to put out, I think everybody knew what we were going to do because we knew what the OPLAN was and we had talked about it so much, but we just sort of kept putting off doing the order. The colonel drove us back to watch a VCR tape of ... there was a film, there was an aerial film from a helicopter ...
DR. WRIGHT: Of your objective area, flying back and forth from the water area?
1LT JOHNSON: Right. It went all the way from Albrook [Air Station] up the coast there past ... and then all the way up to Panama Viejo, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: So, you had a pretty good idea then of what the cuartel looked like that you were going to go into and you got a pretty good idea of--better than the printed maps--of how far the slum areas had encroached out into ...
1LT JOHNSON: I wouldn't say that we got a good idea of how close the slum areas were in Panama Viejo from the aerial. The area around Panama Viejo, the ruins itself, sir, has a lot of trees in it, and that sort of masks some of the slum area that we ... . Or at least I was under the impression that the map was very accurate and that the slums didn't encroach that closely into the objective area.
DR. WRIGHT: So, it was a little bit of a shocker then when you realized that just how nasty it really was in terms of trying to get your way through that stuff?
1LT JOHNSON: I wouldn't say that the environment was a shock as much as the number of people in the street was what was shocked us the most and finding out how to deal with them, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: O.K., on the evening of the 19th you start the long walk over to Green Ramp. About what time does your platoon move out?
1LT JOHNSON: We moved with all the other chalks that moved out at the same time, sir. We all manifest ... I forget what time final manifest call was, but it was still light out. It started to drizzle or snow at that time. Most people probably told you that the walk over there was really slow because there was a back-up or backlog of everybody standing in line. I don't know what the problem was on that or whether they were making decisions to go ramp side or what.
DR. WRIGHT: What is your impression of the mood as they were walking? A number of people told me various things that really stuck in their mind at that particular moment, comparing it to a normal EDRE?
1LT JOHNSON: I wouldn't say anything really stuck our minds. The way we were cross-loaded, sir, we were all ... each element was together on one chalk, so I was there with the Headquarters element. We knew what our mission was and we knew we were ready. We discussed some final contingencies in case we didn't get linked up or something happened to somebody and we would have to pick up those responsibilities on the DZ [drop zone].
DR. WRIGHT: I was thinking of things like guys had told me that they could see ice forming on the guy in front of them. Guys have told me that they thought it was just really weird that it was, like, absolute quiet and you couldn't hear any .. none of the usual clowning around and goofing around and stuff like that. Other guys have told me, for example, they found the safeties not in their normal behavior mode but rather actually trying to help people and not yelling at people; helping guys rig-out and stuff like that. And that all of those little things were clues to them that maybe this one was going to be a little bit different than a regular EDRE. You know, they start making believers of them.
1LT JOHNSON: I had said earlier, sir, our platoon ... we were convinced that it was a go.
DR. WRIGHT: That it was a go?
1LT JOHNSON: And like I said we had heard from other people in the other companies and soldiers were hearing that. We said we know what our mission is and that's what we're doing. I was going to say this before you mentioned that. But the only thing that really bothered me on the walk over there was still hearing people in the rifle companies saying that they thought this was just an EDRE and you know it was going to suck being out on Sicily while there is a lot of snow and, you know. We were ready, I think sir. That would be the attitude.
DR. WRIGHT: Which chalk were you actually on?
1LT JOHNSON: I was on Chalk 2, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: And who else was on that chalk? Who were some of the key players that you remember being on that chalk?
1LT JOHNSON: COL [Jack P.] Nix was on that Chalk.
DR. WRIGHT: The brigade command element?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, and if I remember correctly the Battalion command sergeant major was on that Chalk. Or was that coming back in? That was coming back here. Other than COL Nix ...
DR. WRIGHT: O.K., but that just sort of pins that down. Everybody remembers who the ranking guy in the airplane was.
1LT JOHNSON: Correct, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: Which door were you to come out of?
1LT JOHNSON: I was the first jumper right door, sir. Correction--that was coming back. I was the fourth jumper right door.
DR. WRIGHT: O.K., and the platoon was cross-loaded across the rest of the chalks?
1LT JOHNSON: We were on Chalks 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: And that is standard policy, standard ASOP policy to cross-load so that if anything happens to any one of the aircraft that you don't lose the whole element?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. We modify that depending on the mission and on this mission we cross-loaded.
DR. WRIGHT: And you were told on the DZ the scouts' first mission was to do what?
1LT JOHNSON: Our first mission was to assemble them and prepare for the air assault. So, we didn't have any specific mission other than being ready to go on air assault, specifically on the first lift of the air assault, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: In terms of the air assault down to Panama Viejo, were you to go on ... all on one aircraft or were you cross loaded within the helicopters?
1LT JOHNSON: Sir, we were cross-loaded because our element was going to two different LZ's [landing zones]; a portion of the platoon go to BOBCAT and the other portion go to the LZ LION.
DR. WRIGHT: And how did you divide up command and control? Did you go to one LZ and have your platoon sergeant designated to go to the other?
1LT JOHNSON: No, sir. I keep the headquarters element as its own entity. So, the headquarters element, 2nd and 3rd Squad[s] ...
DR. WRIGHT: Went to BOBCAT?
1LT JOHNSON: No, sir. They went to LION, we went into LION. And the 1st Squad and two sniper teams went into ...
DR. WRIGHT: BOBCAT.
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: And the idea there being that they put ... the battalion commander wanted you on the more urban side, the side closest to the city?
1LT JOHNSON: Well, sir, the reason I cross loaded that way was [that we] had a mission of occupying three OPs which basically covered the major routes coming into Panama Viejo; the bridges ...
DR. WRIGHT: And so that just put you ... LION put you closer to the majority of those bridges?
1LT JOHNSON: Well, the 2nd and 3rd Squad had those two on the western side.
DR. WRIGHT: What would be the western side; yeah.
1LT JOHNSON: And the 1st squad had a mission to the north, northern entrance. And the reason I went into LION was just a judgment call on my part where I felt I had better command and control in that area with the headquarters element in case something happened.
DR. WRIGHT: And that's ... LTC Axon went to LION, and MAJ Chase went to BOBCAT.
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: So, that's how they split that? O.K. You get on the airplane, you loose rig or you do on-plane rigging? How do you rig your chutes?
1LT JOHNSON: We do a loose rig by putting the parachute and reserve on, ALICE [all-purpose, lightweight carrying equipment] pack and weapon stored under the seat or behind the seat.
DR. WRIGHT: And then everybody sits down and is miserable and freezing cold while you wait for the aircraft to take off?
1LT JOHNSON: Actually, that was another thing that we brought out at our AAR was: if they are going to do a ramp side or plane side issue and chute up, and you do have inclement weather, they should run it ... they should prepare the aircraft just like its going to be an in-flight rigging; which would be to put the pallet of the parachutes on the rear ramp, and then you put everybody in the aircraft, close the ramp, everybody puts their chutes on, and once everyone is seated you just lower the ramp and take the pallet off. And there's no one waiting out in the cold like we had to on this one--where you would have everybody stand out behind the aircraft and you could only get five or ten people on at a time. It took close to two hours to get everybody loaded on.
DR. WRIGHT: And that would make your guys fairly ... were you guys first off the aircraft, so were you first on the aircraft or last on?
1LT JOHNSON: Last on.
DR. WRIGHT: So, it just doubles your misery quotient.
1LT JOHNSON: But, you know, sir, when you are asking ...
DR. WRIGHT: Yeah. The aircraft takes off about what time? Did you have a chance to check your watch, get a time hack on that?
1LT JOHNSON: I didn't log the time hack for take-off, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: When you take off do you know that it is not all twenty birds?
1LT JOHNSON: No, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: So, you get to Panama and you realize suddenly, whoops, this can't possibly be all twenty birds?
1LT JOHNSON: Pretty much once when I was on the ground and I saw other sorties coming in, I knew that something had happened to the hold on the aircraft. But I really wasn't too concerned knowing that we were on that we were on the first six aircraft, and I assumed that they would all get in. And plus I had radio contact from almost all my elements.
DR. WRIGHT: Once you hit the ground?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: How many ... . That brings up a question. How many radios do you have within the platoon?
1LT JOHNSON: O.K. This varies greatly from the TOE, but we will carry six [AN]/PRC-77s and up to eight [AN]/PRC-126s. So almost every sub-element ...
DR. WRIGHT: So, you have pretty much contact with everything.
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: And does the CEOI provide you with freq[uencie]s so that you can have your own internal net?
1LT JOHNSON: We have our own internal net, yes sir.
DR. WRIGHT: And then you tie in externally to the O&I [battalion operations and intelligence] net?
1LT JOHNSON: No, sir. Battalion doesn't have an O&I, so I will normally monitor the battalion command net. It gives me direct access to the S-2 and the S-3, which are usually collocated, or if necessary directly with the battalion commander.
DR. WRIGHT: [Did] the flight down go pretty uneventful?
1LT JOHNSON: Very uneventful, sir. You know, it was just like any other night jump.
DR. WRIGHT: Did you get a chance to get any sleep in?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: Did your people? Subsequently have you learned that most of your people were able to sleep, or were they running on adrenaline?
1LT JOHNSON: I think most of them slept, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: Did you have a chance to get any water on the aircraft or did you have to go into your own canteens?
1LT JOHNSON: I really don't remember drinking or having a desire to put down any water. We ensured that we all took off all of our ...
DR. WRIGHT: All the snivel [gear] was off before ... ?
1LT JOHNSON: I think so. If anything, people were probably a little chilly. But I don't think anybody was worried about it.
DR. WRIGHT: Did you get a two-hour out warning?
1LT JOHNSON: No, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: So, it was about what, twenty minutes out, ten minutes out, what?
1LT JOHNSON: Well, I had been watching my watch to see when we were going to get to, you know, when we were getting close to TOT [time on target], and I believe we had the twenty-minute [warning] twenty minutes prior to when we were supposed to have the TOT. Plus we had gotten up to rig anyway, sir, so that got everybody up.
DR. WRIGHT: So then ... ?
1LT JOHNSON: Then everybody went back down; some people went back to sleep. I believe we had twenty minutes when we were supposed to have it, as compared to the TOT, but then we didn't get any of the other jump commands until ...
DR. WRIGHT: Until it was reality, and at that point you know that TOT is slipped.
1LT JOHNSON: Right, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: 'Stand up, hook up' comes when? Ten minutes out?
1LT JOHNSON: Just as normal, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: O.K.
1LT JOHNSON: We weren't standing for an excessive time. Just one of those normal jump commands, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: About how much weight were you jumping, do you estimate?
1LT JOHNSON: I carry a radio ...
DR. WRIGHT: Plus all your batteries?
1LT JOHNSON: ... and a secure device and extra batteries.
DR. WRIGHT: What kind of a secure device? TK or KY?
1LT JOHNSON: [KY]-57. Plus with that, with a Claymore and some signaling devices, the ALICE pack was close to sixty pounds or seventy pounds.
DR. WRIGHT: So, it's not impossible to stand up, but it's ... you're starting to feel the weight.
1LT JOHNSON: That's how we normally train anyway. The only excess weight was the ball ammunition and the extra Claymore. But other than that we didn't have any extras, you know, clothing or anything like that.
DR. WRIGHT: And you had been told five days and you'd be home?
1LT JOHNSON: That's what we had been told, yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: And packed accordingly.
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: Door opens up ... . Oh, could you see out the window as you make landfall or were you positioned where you couldn't see anything?
1LT JOHNSON: No, I was not near a window. The only thing we got in the aircraft was COL Nix, who had SECOMs [secure communications] on his side, told us that the rangers had ... were working towards their objective or had secured their objective. I don't remember his exact words. And that enemy fire on the DZ was light. And [for] everybody to have a good jump, and he'd see them on the DZ--words of encouragement. That was the only information we had before the jump.
DR. WRIGHT: Door comes open, you feel the temperature difference?
1LT JOHNSON: We expected it, but it wasn't anything that ... it wasn't anything ... I had also gone into Honduras, so I
DR. WRIGHT: On [Operation] GOLDEN PHEASANT [in 1988]?
1LT JOHNSON: On GOLDEN PHEASANT. And that was a big ... you really notice that one because it was during the day. But at night I did not notice a tremendous temperature difference.
DR. WRIGHT: Green light comes on. Do you have a chance to check your watch and get a time hack?
1LT JOHNSON: I had watched and I exited the aircraft at 0212.
DR. WRIGHT: What do you see as you come out the door?
1LT JOHNSON: Initially as I come out I see the chem[ical] lights from the heavy drop. I thought, you know, 'I'm good to go' because I saw the chem lights. And then once the 'chute opened I could see to the left the airfield because it was all smooth and it was fairly dark. And I could see below me ... starting to get the shapes of dark areas and then I realized that I was over the trees.
DR. WRIGHT: Could you see any firing?
1LT JOHNSON: I saw a few tracers; very few, very far to the north.
DR. WRIGHT: Green or blue ... green or red?
1LT JOHNSON: Red tracers.
DR. WRIGHT: Red tracers. Was there much moonlight? Do you remember?
1LT JOHNSON: I wanted to find ... I guess I would say at that point there was only about twenty or thirty percent illumination.
DR. WRIGHT: Enough so that you could just barely see, but nothing so you could see real clear?
1LT JOHNSON: Right, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: No twists or ties or turns?
1LT JOHNSON: No.
DR. WRIGHT: O.K. As you come down on the ground you've got an understanding that you're probably west, too far west?
1LT JOHNSON: East.
DR. WRIGHT: Too far east?
1LT JOHNSON: I had seen the airfield to the west and I knew I was in the trees or rough area east of the airfield.
DR. WRIGHT: So you touched down. Did you actually go into the trees?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes. I don't even hit the ground. My toes are almost ... are touching the ground. I am just sort of suspended in, I can't really call it a tree, it was just a big ...
DR. WRIGHT: Bush?
1LT JOHNSON: ... bush or something.
DR. WRIGHT: So, you get out of the ... . Talk me through the procedure of getting you out and then getting over to your assembly area.
1LT JOHNSON: O.K. I had kept all my equipment on due to the fact that I saw the trees and didn't want to lower my ruck[sack] or lose any equipment, so I just took it all in. I didn't really hit the ground, I was just suspended. Popped ... pulled the canopy release assemblies; get my weapon out of the weapons case; dropped my ALICE pack. My weapon was already in operation. Put the radio in operation and I get a radio check with ... I can't really remember who that personnel was that was up on the net ... but I do get a radio check with one person. And police up my gear and leave it where it is; shoot an azimuth to the west. And at the same time the small ...
DR. WRIGHT: ... aircraft were flying up and down?
1LT JOHNSON: The length ... you know, I figured they were flying the length of the airfield, so I oriented my movement on them. The ...
DR. WRIGHT: Had you been briefed that they would be in the air?
1LT JOHNSON: No.
DR. WRIGHT: I haven't talked to anybody yet that knew they were going to be there. Everybody just recognized them for what they were and oriented on them.
1LT JOHNSON: I didn't hear any firing. I only heard some movement, you know, in the general area with people trying to move equipment. I started moving to the west and crossed over two the heavy drop platforms that were still there.
DR. WRIGHT: Chem lights on those?
1LT JOHNSON: The first person I run into is SFC Lucas who is ...
DR. WRIGHT: Hold on a second.
DR. WRIGHT: You said SFC Lucas?
1LT JOHNSON: He's the battalion operations (S-3) NCO [noncommissioned officer]. He used to be my platoon sergeant in the scout platoon, and he was carrying a M-21 sniper system since he was a sniper.
DR. WRIGHT: He was trained on it?
1LT JOHNSON: Right. He had been a sniper in the Marines in Viet Nam, so he felt comfortable with that. I linked up with him and we linked up at the fence line and moved south along the fence and tried to find an opening. I ran into CPT Terhune who at that time was the CG's [Commanding General's] Aide and one other officer, at which point we took out a bayonet and cut our way through the fence.
DR. WRIGHT: The M-9 bayonets, the new bayonets?
1LT JOHNSON: Right.
DR. WRIGHT: And that was capable of cutting through that heavy gauge [wire]?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: No particular problem?
1LT JOHNSON: None at all. Within our platoon each squad has two heavy-duty hand-size wire cutters, but in the headquarters [element] the platoon sergeant and the RTO had them, so I didn't have them. But we were able to get through the fence and crossed the fence. CPT Terhune and the other officer went basically to the southwest and SFC Lucas and I moved more west-northwest. We linked up with two other people from the battalion. But still I didn't hear any shots fired or any activity.
We then continued to move west, and just before I reached the airfield I linked up at my platoon sergeant, SFC Serrano, and when we came out on the airfield, you know, we saw some elements from the Ranger battalion that were derigging (I guess) one of their platforms which had hit the airfield. And we got on the airfield and ran into, I think, the battalion SGM. Other than that, we didn't really run into anybody within the battalion.
The battalion assembly points were further up the airfield. I had designated ours in the southern tip of the airfield; normally we'll assemble on terrain features rather than assembly aids within the platoon. So, I moved down there with SFC Serrano and linked up with one of my sniper teams and then slowly the platoon came in.
DR. WRIGHT: Do you have some times on that?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes. We were Gavin-4, which is 90 percent of our personnel, by 0435.
DR. WRIGHT: So, that is a very rapid assembly?
1LT JOHNSON: Not ...
DR. WRIGHT: Considering the conditions and everybody else's problems assembling. That's a very quick time, then.
1LT JOHNSON: Considering the conditions. They were really good on getting in and they all ... no one got misoriented or lost. The last element to come in came in at 0556, and the only reason it took them longer was because they were dropped way to the southeast in some really wet marshy area. They were the first ...
DR. WRIGHT: They were the first ones out of the door, so they hit the swampy part?
1LT JOHNSON: It took them quite awhile to move up through that. They didn't get to see the airfield, so they couldn't really orient their movement on the objective.
DR. WRIGHT: Do you attribute the fact that just the scouts are far better trained on land navigation and things like that to being a contributing factor to your quick assembly?
1LT JOHNSON: That would definitely be one, sir, the land nav training. Also, whenever we jump we do assemble on a terrain feature rather than on an assembly aid, which ...
DR. WRIGHT: Speeds things up?
1LT JOHNSON: Which is the better way to do it. And then also, the way we were cross-loaded, the leader was right there with his personnel, and they all basically assembled as they started moving, and there was a leader with them.
DR. WRIGHT: So, that speeds the process up too?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes.
DR. WRIGHT: You then get notified, or I guess then you check in ... when you hit Gavin-4 you check in with battalion and notify battalion that you are good to go. At that point do they tell you to move to the PZ [pickup zone]?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. The PZ ... I had moved up several times to do face-to-face with people that were coming in from the battalion. And there was ... I wouldn't say there was a lot of confusion, but just waiting to get instructions on when the air assault was going to go down. It really wasn't that big of a deal moving to the PZ, because we were basically right there.
DR. WRIGHT: About what time did the choppers arrive?
1LT JOHNSON: I have 0705 was when we landed at our LZ, sir, so I would say about 0500 or so.
DR. WRIGHT: Had you practiced [with] seats out before?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. We had ... that was another thing that led us to the impression that something was up. We received a memorandum, and we had gone out to Simmons Army Air Field [at Fort Bragg].
DR. WRIGHT: Gone through static training or did they actually let you ride in them?
1LT JOHNSON: No, it was only static with the seats out. And they had told us ... I think it was twenty-one [personnel] they wanted on there. And when we did it static the most we could ... that we felt safely we could get on with all of the equipment, because it went out there with all our gear to do the static training, was twenty. And we came back and told the [S]-3, etc., etc. But in actuality ...
DR. WRIGHT: That morning you found a way to fit extra people?
1LT JOHNSON: The lift that I was on had twenty-three people on it because we were cross-loaded with companies going into LION.
DR. WRIGHT: In terms of the flight, you fly ... basically lift off from the airfield from just the southern end of the airfield?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes.
DR. WRIGHT: And then go out over the water and make a run parallel to the coast but outside effective range?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. We gained altitude by flying to the north-northwest, and basically orbited back around the airfield because I think the lead portion of the chalk of ten lifted off and the trail five were still down there, so he orbited a little higher and slowed down until he got the entire lift.
DR. WRIGHT: And then he married them up?
1LT JOHNSON: And then we moved basically west along the coastline.
DR. WRIGHT: Did you get a chance then to eyeball the LZ as you fly by it?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. Almost looked exactly like the video I had seen.
DR. WRIGHT: Now, which aircraft were you on in that chalk of ten; do you remember?
1LT JOHNSON: Chalk 4, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: O.K. And as I understand it from the [S]-3, the first four chalks broke off then--after you had flown past the objective--broke off and came around to touch down on LION while the rest took a wider swing to get up to BOBCAT?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: As you're coming in, any firing?
1LT JOHNSON: I didn't notice any when we were on the aircraft at all, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: So, the gunners weren't firing, your people weren't firing?
1LT JOHNSON: No, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: And you couldn't see anything coming up from the ground?
1LT JOHNSON: No, sir. I was looking closely trying to identify where the ZPU-4 [Soviet-manufactured heavy machine gun] because that was the major threat in the area.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE 1]
DR. WRIGHT: O.K., resuming with Side 2. As you touched down, do you have a time hack on touchdown?
1LT JOHNSON: Sir, like I said, 0705.
DR. WRIGHT: And how long does it take you to get off of the aircraft?
1LT JOHNSON: We were very quick. On that first lift of four, sir, going into LION, there was no problem because they all came up on the beach and no one hit ...
DR. WRIGHT: No one hit the mud flats?
1LT JOHNSON: No one on that first lift. And we got off the aircraft and started moving to the embankment.
DR. WRIGHT: To the embankment?
1LT JOHNSON: The embankment would give us cover until the aircraft went out, and we heard a few sporadic shots.
DR. WRIGHT: Did you have any air cover at that point, any gunships escorting?
1LT JOHNSON: There were two [AH-1G] Cobras. I believe one stayed on station around LION ...
DR. WRIGHT: ... while the other ...
1LT JOHNSON: ... moved up. That's what it appeared to be.
DR. WRIGHT: How long did it take for the second lift to get in then?
1LT JOHNSON: The two squads that had gone in had already, from my platoon, had already started moving to the west towards their OPs. They were, I'd say 200 meters out of Viejo and I had started moving west. Sir, I'd say--tops--between five to ten minutes until the next group came in.
DR. WRIGHT: Again four chalks came into LION?
1LT JOHNSON: No, sir, all ten on the second lift came into LION, and that is where I believe the problem occurred with the mud. Because ...
DR. WRIGHT: Too many aircraft?
1LT JOHNSON: It was just too large of a lift for that size of an LZ, and that's when we got (I think it was) Charlie Company and one of the other companies got personnel stuck in the mud.
DR. WRIGHT: And that was a function of guys going out one door went out into the mud and guys going out the other door pretty much were safe?
1LT JOHNSON: I'd say for the middle chalks. For the last chalk the whole aircraft was mud. And I've seen some of the footage from CNN [Cable News Network], and it looked like actually the aircraft was temporarily with wheels in the mud.
DR. WRIGHT: Do you provide security as they start trying to extract the guys from the mud, or was that pretty much left to each chalk to take care of itself?
1LT JOHNSON: No. As a matter of fact, we ... it is part of our packing SOPs that each element have a rope, a twenty-foot rope. None of the companies had a rope, so we gave up one of our ropes for them to throw out to try to help drag people out of the mud. The headquarters element attempted to assist, to provide some security; and I told the other two squads just to move out and man their OPs [because] they needed to get out there.
DR. WRIGHT: About how long does it take them to get out there and get their OPs set up?
1LT JOHNSON: They call in that they're position at 0742 for OP-2 and 0749 for OP-1, which is the northern OP going off ...
DR. WRIGHT: So, you had fairly quick[ly] established communications with your element that was on BOBCAT then?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: Using primarily the [AN/PRC]-77?
1LT JOHNSON: They would use the [AN/PRC]-77. They each had one there.
DR. WRIGHT: So, in that sense you have good comm[unication]s?
1LT JOHNSON: Oh yes, sir, very good comms.
DR. WRIGHT: It's only at the upper echelons where they are trying to reach the longer distances that comms become an issue?
1LT JOHNSON: As a matter of fact, towards the end of the day at .. let's see what time it was ... at 1658 I had moved back from the western OPs to link up with [battalion] headquarters element just to get some face-to-face with the S-2 and S-3. And at that time they tell me that they don't have commo with higher. And each of our elements would carry an [field] expedient [RC]-292 [antenna] which we make out of Claymore wire, and the headquarters element carries the actual head and the wire and the poles you stick together--not the base poles, but the antenna poles for an actual 292; at which time we set that up for the headquarters element to use to talk to higher on FM [radio].
DR. WRIGHT: So, that's when they get on-line back to Tocumen?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: Did you secure the objective fairly easily?
1LT JOHNSON: What happened on the OPs. On the western OP, OP-2, sir, they note a lot of civilian personnel in the area. Some of the civilians are coming up and telling us--we have a Spanish speaker, at least one in each squad--that there's P.D.F. here, P.D.F. there. And the first OP to receive fire was the western one, OP-2, and they received fire from three personnel in a building that was just to the north of their OP.
DR. WRIGHT: And that comes about when?
1LT JOHNSON: That was radioed to us at 0804.
DR. WRIGHT: So, it didn't take too long after they were out there before the P.D.F. starts bringing them under fire?
1LT JOHNSON: That's right, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: Do they ... are they able to determine they are P.D.F. as opposed to dignity battalion guys? Or are there any uniforms in evidence?
1LT JOHNSON: There were no uniforms. When we were down there, we didn't see a single Panamanian in uniform. Everyone was wearing civilian clothes.
DR. WRIGHT: Blue jeans primarily?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: They start taking the fire. Do they return it?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, they returned fire, small arms fire. One person leaves the building and tries to get to a car, at which time they fire a [M]-203 round and that pretty much silenced the firing from them. Then again, in that incident they report that there was one wounded enemy personnel.
DR. WRIGHT: Is this the guy that you got with the [M]-203 round?
1LT JOHNSON: Correct, sir. And he still had a pistol and wouldn't surrender it, and wouldn't give up.
DR. WRIGHT: I take it your Spanish speaker out with the OP is trying to talk him into giving up?
1LT JOHNSON: Right. And we tell him that you have three minutes to give up that pistol, you know, and surrender yourself. We will give you First Aid. He was basically getting delirious and everything, and he starts yelling (as I understand ... from what was reported to me by the squad). They move up and start applying First Aid; they took the pistol from him; at which time it was now 0838. A civilian ambulance shows up and we just let him be taken away in the civilian ambulance.
DR. WRIGHT: Secured his weapon but ...
1LT JOHNSON: Right. We took the weapon which was later turned into the Arms Room at Panama Viejo and tagged. Because the weapon had actually been shot, a round hit the weapon and ...
DR. WRIGHT: Caused a discharge?
1LT JOHNSON: ... because it was actually stuck in his hip. The round had hit the weapon and deformed the metal so that it was stuck on his body and that's the reason he ...
DR. WRIGHT: He couldn't give it up? O.K., the ... You said you cleared releasing him to the civilian ambulance.
1LT JOHNSON: With the battalion commander.
DR. WRIGHT: This pretty much now is your first element contact, and this is kind of what, given that mission, that you had expected to see: sniper fire and stuff like that, rather than any, you know, human wave attack coming at you or anything like that?
1LT JOHNSON: Oh, sure. We expected a lot of action being at the Panama Viejo barracks, which is where all ... the way all of the companies were oriented at that time. But there wasn't any action there. You know, I expected the companies and the snipers to be under the fire, or making a fire on the barracks to clear the barracks. But in actuality, everything ...
DR. WRIGHT: Everybody was out?
1LT JOHNSON: And it was 180 [degrees different]. And all of the activity was outside in that area.
DR. WRIGHT: Talk me through the rest of that first day as you get into the security operation of trying to seal off the peninsula area.
1LT JOHNSON: O.K. Up to the north at OP-1, almost immediately after the other OP to the west sends their SALUTE [formatted spot] report, we get reports of vehicles moving with armed personnel in small Nissan trucks or vans. Basically that move towards the bridge, take a look around, and then circle back around through some portion of the city and then come back and look.
DR. WRIGHT: Your rules of engagement [ROE] say until they fire you can't fire on them?
1LT JOHNSON: Right, which is another point we have brought up. Here you're seeing people with AK-s, with weapons, and you're helpless in firing at them because they haven't fired at you. And in another incident later in the day at that western OP they had moved their OP positions slightly after that first contact; had gotten down and within twenty meters three more guys came out of a building and started moving toward Panama Viejo with AKs. They couldn't fire at them. For a minute they didn't know exactly what to do and then they had a Spanish speaker tell them to "alto" or halt, at which time they just basically broke and ran. Again, that could have been three people which later on could come back and have gotten somebody else. But that was slightly frustrating.
DR. WRIGHT: Yeah. It must ... it must, given the way that the adrenaline is rushing for your younger kids that are first under [fire], that's got to be a real problem for the squad leaders to deal with--to keep them from reacting in frustration.
1LT JOHNSON: And I think it's a credit to all the NCOs. I mean, no one within the platoon had had combat experience prior to that. And, again, they all maintained rules of engagement and they accomplished their mission by doing that. I mean, they didn't get caught up in the excitement either. So that is a credit to their training and the schooling that has been instilled in the squad leaders in the platoon.
DR. WRIGHT: As you go through this first day now you've got contact[s that] start to come in more frequently?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. Again, at 0924 the northern OP receives sporadic fire. Nothing aimed at them, but sporadic fire which appears to be going in towards them. They also stop one blue Volkswagen and they apprehend four personnel with AK-47s and turn them over to the Charlie Company in that area and they are sent back to be detained at Panama Viejo.
They also report seeing a turret, what appears to be a portion of an armored vehicle which was parked up at ... I guess it is still part of Panama Viejo, but it is north of that first bridge. We attempted to get an Apache, an AH-64 (which were two of them orbiting within the vicinity of Panama Viejo), but we didn't have commo with them for some reason; and [we] tried to talk through both the S-3 and the battalion commander, and neither of them had commo with them either.
DR. WRIGHT: Trying ... yeah ... just trying to get somebody to make a run in and see what it was?
1LT JOHNSON: And the other two contacts we had on the western OP. One was a police vehicle stopped at the roadblock and we apprehended four policemen who initially didn't want to ... they wanted to ... they were trying to run the roadblock, basically. We apprehended them and their weapons. And the next major action was while those four were being detained and questioned and tagged, another vehicle came in (which was a blue Toyota) and four personnel were in that and they were firing as they went. And they ...
DR. WRIGHT: So that's the first one where you've actually had the immediate contact where they ... where the vehicle starts firing at them at that OP?
1LT JOHNSON: Correct, sir. Well, they had the initial firing from the building.
DR. WRIGHT: Yeah, but the first vehicle one?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes. This was at 1013.
DR. WRIGHT: So, it's starting to pick up.
1LT JOHNSON: I am trying to look at my notes. That's what all the dead space here is. But there was quite a bit of activity from that 10:00 o'clock period up to about 1300. There were ... there's basically four ... three different incidences where there are vehicles attempting to run the roadblock. The bottom line is there is two enemy KIA [killed in action], two enemy WIA [wounded in action] which we evacuate, one friendly WIA from Bravo Company which we evacuate, and some of the equipment taken out of the cars are three 9mm pistols, one 9mm Uzi, one FMLN [Belgian-made rifle], two AK-47s out of that one car. Another car had three AK-47s with one RPG-18, a memo book, magazines for Uzis. And I can't remember what the other car had ... the other car had two AK-47s, one FMLN, extra magazines, and that was in a white van.
DR. WRIGHT: So, at this point now you are starting to get a feel for the opposition, that the tenure or ... that the nature of this one is going to be a lot of heavily armed ... small arms ... drive-by type stuff?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. And one of the biggest things that, as I move basically along that area from the western OP back towards the roadblock, with Bravo Company and Charlie Company--sort of a mixture there holding that roadblock was ... . The biggest thing that I was concerned about was all of these drive-bys or indiscriminate firings. They were made that much more difficult due to the fact that there was 50 to 100 people standing ...
DR. WRIGHT: Standing on the street corner?
1LT JOHNSON: ... on the street. And I kept attempting to call the battalion commander asking for a loudspeaker system or some civil affairs personnel.
DR. WRIGHT: To get them ... to get everybody off of your street?
1LT JOHNSON: Right, and to try to explain to them what was going on because our platoon sergeant spoke Spanish and he attempted to explain it. He would explain it, and then fifteen or twenty minutes later they would come back out. That was probably the hardest thing to try to control that day was, you know, we wanted to present an image to the people there that you are there to help them, but at the same time it is ... with all of those people around that you are most vulnerable because it just takes one person to come out of that crowd and to initiate something.
DR. WRIGHT: What time did you finally get guidance from the battalion commander on how to establish the perimeter? And what is the [S]-2 telling you at this point, because you haven't taken a lot of people out of the cuartel; you didn't catch a lot of people in the barracks?
1LT JOHNSON: Right. The [S]-2 and the [S]-3 were up coming off of BOBCAT, and for quite awhile there we didn't have commo with them. From what I understand, was [that] they received a lot of fire, and that Charlie Company and the S-2 and S-3 were sort of held down on BOBCAT and didn't get a chance to move towards Panama Viejo. Meanwhile, the other two companies and the battalion commander which moved from LION, and which moved directly into Panama Viejo, and they were the ones that determined that the barracks was empty.
And I can't really say--and that is probably the biggest thing that we could have done better--was to make that determination right away and reorient ...
DR. WRIGHT: Out instead of in?
1LT JOHNSON: ... out instead of in. And I think that was probably the biggest error that our--not that it was any one person's fault--it was just that we had looked at that mission so much and with so many different contingencies that we just really oriented it out and a lot of people that were getting the activity were the OPs that were oriented out.
DR. WRIGHT: As dusk starts coming up, has everything settled down at that point so that you can start getting more manpower out on your OPs, so that they're not the only ones sitting out there?
1LT JOHNSON: What occurs is our last incident is at 1757 up at the northern OP. They seize a white van and take two POWs that had AKs in the van. And by 1820 we got the whole platoon linked back up within the perimeter, trying to determine what is going to be the orientation for that night's mission. And by 1930, the platoons are basically back out pretty much--not in their same OPs. The one that was OP-2 going to the west did not go as far down the beach line to man that intersection. He was about half way between the battalion perimeter and the original OP. And the same with the one to the north. They didn't go all the way up to the bridge. There was an open field basically half-way between the distance from Panama Viejo barracks to that bridge that they manned that evening.
DR. WRIGHT: So, in essence your night positions, your LPs [listening posts] are really, like, by doctrine have pulled in tighter than the OP line was out?
1LT JOHNSON: Right. Doctrinally, looking back at it now, we should have made the realization that those OPs could have (probably should have) been manned by the platoon and companies manning that battalion perimeter. And we should have been oriented further out, either doing mounted patrols with ... or I guess we didn't have vehicles at that time.
DR. WRIGHT: But the vehicles were available from field expedient means had you really needed them?
1LT JOHNSON: Right. It would have been more of a risk to push out that night and to make a presence, but I think in the long-run that would have deterred a whole lot more the activity with the Panamanians that did filter back into the populace and did come back out.
DR. WRIGHT: When did you get the alert to chop some people to support the move to the Marriott Hotel?
1LT JOHNSON: Again, sir, that came out at approximately 19:30. I've got it logged here where we had two men used to help secure the Medivac [medical evacuation] vehicle which would be driven ...
DR. WRIGHT: That was that white van?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, driven by ... it's either PFC or SPC Lucas from the battalion S-3 shop and SPC Juarez, whose from our platoon, was the shotgun person who rode next to him. The other man, a SPC Kelly, who was also picked--pulled in off the OP to do that mission--was not used.
DR. WRIGHT: The two of them, as I understand it, were to trail the column and pick up any WIA's that occurred and to keep shuttling them back to Panama Viejo.
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: There is the initial firefight shortly after the column departs the perimeter where you have the drive-through by the truck, and they stop that. MAJ Chase is wounded in that action and your vehicle picks him up and brings him back into the perimeter?
1LT JOHNSON: Again, sir, I was not there, and the only person I had involved was SPC Juarez. Other than actually seeing the tracers and everything, and the reports coming in from that western OP, of a medical vehicle coming back into the battalion perimeter, I don't know if Major Chase was on that lift or ... .
DR. WRIGHT: O.K. As you have maybe better commo do than other people do within the battalion, are you able to monitor the progress of that column and the battalion commander as they push on down to the hotel?
1LT JOHNSON: We are monitoring battalion command [net], and the ... . Truthfully I don't recall that much on transmissions because at that point my platoon sergeant and I were switching on and off to get some rest. And ...
DR. WRIGHT: Trying to get into your sleep plan? In the morning do you get involved in the ground movement down there, the relief movement?
1LT JOHNSON: With Delta Company? No, sir. Again, we manned the OPs through the night and into the morning. And then at 0922 we received a frago [fragmentary order] to go 'get eyes on' a school which is up near the northern OP. There had been some activity, vehicles driving in within that area, and we felt that the sporadic shots that were fired at that northern OP were also fired from that school. So we moved out on that mission with two squads and a sniper team. And they left out--passed the Charlie Company lines--at 10:20, and were in position at 10:46. And there was a report that the area is clear all the way up until 11:22 when they started receiving pretty heavy automatic weapons fire from that school building. It was a two-story building with, you know, like designer cinder blocks that had the holes in them.
DR. WRIGHT: Have the holes in them?
1LT JOHNSON: So you couldn't identify personnel, but there were shots coming from that area. And not particularly well aimed, but going into that OP.
DR. WRIGHT: Did they return fire or ... ?
1LT JOHNSON: No, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: ROE says if you can't see them, you can't shoot at them?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes. We pulled off that area, and the OP, and they moved back to south [and] sent a reactionary force. Because we had planned for a reactionary force from Delta Company, which at the time they did have a vehicle, so I guess the vehicles showed up some time that day, if I remember correctly.
DR. WRIGHT: Yeah. I was under the impression that they had gotten in pretty much the first night, or something like that.
1LT JOHNSON: But at 1142, the element that had received fire had moved back to the south with the Delta Company reactionary force. The vehicles made their presence known out there, and there wasn't any fire on them. So we pulled all of those elements back in.
DR. WRIGHT: Did not sweep the school?
1LT JOHNSON: No, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: As we continue through on the 21st, pretty much the same-same as the day before? Drive-by ... isolated drive-by incidents?
1LT JOHNSON: Right, sir. Well, other than that firing, there was no activity on the OPs; none on the western activity and just that one incident on that one.
DR. WRIGHT: Did you get any guidance at this point about starting to take more aggressive patrolling thing and start using your people to start pushing out further?
1LT JOHNSON: That was a big issue. I know that I had talked personally with the S-2 because we're both lieutenants and were very good friends. And we really didn't have a good feel for what was the higher mission that ... we sort of felt ... what came into our minds was that, you know, the battalion is under constraints not to go in and appear like it was seizing Panama City. So, we just thought ...
DR. WRIGHT: So, it makes life difficult?
1LT JOHNSON: We thought we were on the constraints just to maintain that minimal ...
DR. WRIGHT: The presence of the military objectives as opposed to civilian objectives?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. That was the perception that was in our minds. Now, looking back at it, it seemed so stupid that we didn't get out and get more aggressive, and push-out. I think that's what was in our mind that we thought was constraining us. But we had discussed that and that night we received a frago to man the OPs and we also knew that there were some snipers in the different positions around Panama Viejo. And it wasn't ...
DR. WRIGHT: Are your snipers at this point being used primarily for their recon, their long-range vision stuff, as opposed to being told to ... if you see somebody walking around with a weapon, drop him.
1LT JOHNSON: Well, again, because the rules of engagement they couldn't fire initially.
DR. WRIGHT: But they are, because of their vision devices, are a significant recon asset?
1LT JOHNSON: Right, sir. But the way we had repositioned them to actually put them in the rooms up on the top part of the room so that they could fire down the two major avenues if there was some sort of drive-by activity which had been occurring the day prior.
DR. WRIGHT: Talk me now through the successive days. As you finally do start moving into the urban patrols, how are the scouts employed?
1LT JOHNSON: On the 22d, the first activity we have is again ... it's basically at the time that we were receiving another frago, it's at 0800. Snipers had been in position on the major ruins pointing into the east, and they ... reports from them and from Charlie Company of movement on the other side of that small inlet, of activity and people moving in Ghillie suits. Snipers engaged ...
DR. WRIGHT: O.K., now at this point, the unit that had been since the October coup residing at Panama Viejo in the barracks area was part of the U.E.S.A.T. [Unidad Especial de Anti-Terror]?
1LT JOHNSON: Correct.
DR. WRIGHT: And at this point, now, since we didn't catch them in the barracks, you are now concerned that of all the people who were sniper trained and etc., etc., etc., within the Panamanian Army, they're still out there someplace and ... . Are you being concerned that, you know, quality trained sniper force ... your guys could start really taking some losses?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. And that is what Charlie Company had recorded: that they saw two snipers. That's when I immediately shifted all of my sniper teams over to orient to the west.
DR. WRIGHT: Using snipers to counter snipers?
1LT JOHNSON: Correct. And two of the snipers said they saw movement of possibly two personnel, and they attempted to engage, at which time I moved over there, because there was this ... everything is within a few hundred meters.
DR. WRIGHT: Yeah, it's not a big deal--like you had to walk a long distance.
1LT JOHNSON: And it wasn't that I was micromanaging or trying to exercise some control, but I wanted to get over and get a feel for what was going on. And two of the snipers said they had seen movement, but could not specifically identify targets. They had fired at the movement which ... they didn't have any confirmed kills. And, again, we waited and saw some more movement. They fired some more. I felt that we were not having conclusive results, so I called the fire mission from the mortars over on that area. And ...
DR. WRIGHT: The battalion 60[mm]s ... the company 60[mm]s as opposed to the battalion 81[mm]s?
1LT JOHNSON: The battalion 81[mm]s, right. They fired seven rounds--a fire-for-effect mission.
DR. WRIGHT: All HE?
1LT JOHNSON: Correct. At which time I requested to go over there and recon and see if there were any KIAs. I never got over there that day. We went over in that area two days later and the people in the civilian area said that an ambulance or something had come and picked up. The people were saying ten bodies, but I find that suspect--not to be totally accurate. When we went through and swept the area we found one bush hat which was not of US make, and one other piece of Army solid green clothing, but no blood marks or traces. It was basically inconclusive as to whether we ...
DR. WRIGHT: Actually got anybody or not. But whatever ... in effect you did suppress whatever they were trying to do because they broke it off?
1LT JOHNSON: Right. But on that same day is when we first began our movement out. And it's at 1730 we had one squad with the sniper were told to move, were given the mission to recon out into this place which they call the slum area of Panama Viejo where all the people are. And as soon as we crossed the battalion perimeter is exactly when the 4th [Battalion] of the 325[th Infantry] comes driving in, with subsequent fire fight which involved pretty much friendly fire, or at least as far as what I saw.
DR. WRIGHT: How long did that last?
1LT JOHNSON: Again, I've logged the fire fight starting under the same entry at 1730, and it ended--I would say ... the next entry I have logged is at 1800 when the Delta Company vehicle went forward to extract that one squad that I had sent out as a reaction. Because what had happened was [the] TOC [tactical operations center] was pretty much in the same area where that squad went into Panama Viejo from the passage of lines, and we thought all of that fire initially was because they had gone into that area. And that's when the ... I called Delta Company for the reactionary force, because we coordinated with them for the reactionary force as we usually do. And I thought that was what was drawing the fire until 4/325 came into the perimeter. And it took us thirty minutes to sort out and go out and get them. They hadn't received any accurate fire. It was just probably fire coming from the battalion perimeter from what we know now. Of course, then ... .
I would say, in answer to your question, the fire fight I would say lasted ... I would say five to ten minutes.
DR. WRIGHT: Max, yeah. It was not ... in other words, we aren't talking about guys cooking off basic loads worth of stuff?
1LT JOHNSON: No, no, no. It was ... and again ... and you hate to point out when there's an error, but that was probably just poor fire discipline on the part of most of the battalion because almost the entire battalion perimeter started firing.
DR. WRIGHT: But at this point also, I mean in mitigating circumstances, we haven't taken the heavy number of POWs [prisoners of war] we had anticipated. And the rumors are still starting to fly about the Christmas human wave attacks and stuff like that, so ... .
1LT JOHNSON: I've got two logs here in the entry, you know, of where higher reports of people massing around the school bus scene, and people ...
DR. WRIGHT: Yeah, and the dignity battalions are ...
1LT JOHNSON: ... it all added to it. Although we can't use that as an excuse.
DR. WRIGHT: Yeah, it's ... it's ... but it's ... circumstances under which it happens. Yeah.
When does it start calming down? As you ... as you are actually able on the 23d, 24th to really get out into the community, that it starts calming down?
1LT JOHNSON: I would ... I am trying to just review what exactly happened on the 23d and 24th.
I'd say the first ... the 23d we did not go back out onto the city. The 24th was the first day where we started moving again through Panama Viejo. And the way we did it then was a squad would move basically in front of a rifle company, with the PSYOPS [psychological operations loud]speaker vehicle; just moving through and telling them here ...
DR. WRIGHT: Not to worry?
1LT JOHNSON: Right. And just checking for P.D.F. and etc., etc., and wishing them a Merry Christmas, and this, that and the other thing. And I would say at the end of the 24th we had taken that first step where, mentally at least, people in my platoon had started to make that transition from combat operations to stability ...
DR. WRIGHT: Stability operations.
1LT JOHNSON: ... operations.
DR. WRIGHT: Had you had a chance to train on that at all, or was that pretty much 'this was a learn-as-you-go thing?' When did you take the face paint off; do you remember?
1LT JOHNSON: I believe we took it off--I'd say somewhere around the 25th or 26th, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: And then on instructions coming down the chain of command as opposed to your own initiative?
1LT JOHNSON: Yeah, we wouldn't take it off without them saying we could, but I think maybe some ideas filtered up from us.
DR. WRIGHT: Yeah. As you get out into the ... start running your patrols out through the community, what ... what's your reaction to the population? How are they responding to us?
1LT JOHNSON: Initially they are all very glad to see you, and no one is ... presents any kind of animosity towards us or even looks at us scornfully for being there. They all seemed very happy and also very willing to want to come forward and give you information. But the one thing that we noticed within the platoon was that it's always the women that came forward and gave you information. Very rarely would you have an old man, or a male of any age, come forward to give you information. It was always women that would come up and point their finger: 'my neighbor over here has got two M-203s and SAW.' And you'd go in and find them.
DR. WRIGHT: Were you prepared at all for how heavily armed that country is? I mean, excluding the military stuff, just the fact that every Tom, Dick and Harry was armed to the teeth?
1LT JOHNSON: Again, I would have to say, sir, that we really didn't know what to expect from the civilians.
DR. WRIGHT: Just a little bit overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of weapons that start coming in?
1LT JOHNSON: Right, sir. You don't anticipate pulling away pillows from a couch and finding an Uzi laying under there.
DR. WRIGHT: Did you get involved at all in the 'muskets for money' program?
1LT JOHNSON: The only ... our mission as it began to evolve ... on the 25th, was the first day I think, that we worked with Delta Company vehicles. But we would move basically--I'm sure MAJ Chase briefed you--he broke down the whole battalion sector into areas that would be covered on a specific day. And my platoon and one platoon from Delta Company with their vehicles would basically moved through the battalion's ...
DR. WRIGHT: Do the preliminary check?
1LT JOHNSON: Right. And the only way that we became involved in the 'muskets for money' was if someone turned something in to us, we would write them a receipt that they could take to that area and turn it in.
DR. WRIGHT: So, in that sense that became more a function of the line companies having to do [it]. Because they move slower? And the battalion kept you and Delta because of your special capabilities, sort of buffered off from getting down with handing on MREs [Meals, Ready-to-Eat] and the other stuff.
1LT JOHNSON: But we did take in quite a few weapons because we would be the first one showing up in a neighborhood. And I hope this doesn't take it wrong for someone that's listening, but I just think by the nature of the soldier that gets assigned to a scout platoon or even the ones in the Delta a little bit, I'm not going to say, you know, [that] they are more dedicated, but they will do a job more thoroughly than an average soldier in a rifle company. And I think the amount of time and effort we put into clearing a sector basically produced almost twice as many weapons as when a the company did go through a sector. I think the companies--when everyone was still at mind set [of] five days and you're out--I think the companies then saw 'O.K., the task is to finish a sector and then we're out, so they ...
DR. WRIGHT: So they did it as fast as humanly possible?
1LT JOHNSON: I am not saying they did it ...
DR. WRIGHT: Intentionally they did a sloppy job, yeah. But I think quality of soldier is a legitimate distinction there. And that maybe in situations like this, the scout/Delta combination is in fact maybe the economy of force measure to use.
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. Oh, very much. Due to the mobility provided by Delta Company vehicles, the fire power provided by their [M-2] .50-cal[iber machine gun]s, and then the ability to operate very small units--the scout platoon is used to doing--and all of the communications.
DR. WRIGHT: Yeah. But it's just a natural marriage that gives you in essence almost the same ... if, by pairing you guys up this way, gives you almost the same effect that you get with the MPs with their gun vehicles and the fact that everybody has got a radio and stuff like that. It just makes up for a shortfall in MPs. Obviously, this is never something that appeared on your platoon METL [mission-essential task list].
1LT JOHNSON: Definitely not.
DR. WRIGHT: Will that in the future?
1LT JOHNSON: What we did at the ITC initially after the operation, sir, was to do an actual an link-up with the Delta vehicles at night--just to be more in tune with actually linking up with them; getting on and off the vehicles quickly, quietly and securely.
And as far as the urban portion, we went back and ... we have a written platoon SOP and we sort of did the same thing we did when we first wrote that SOP two years ago, which was 'can go to the MOUT [training] site [at Fort Bragg]' and start from ground zero. How do we want to walk through an urban terrain securely, assign the sectors of observation and fire, break contact drill, etc. And what we had hoped to do was to progress up to actually doing a lot of fire/break contact, but (this is something we included in our AAR, I think) the facilities on post--we can't live-fire in the MOUT.
Plus, there is a disadvantage as we cited earlier. The only live fire in an urban terrain you can get is the close combat course which I think is Range 64, which is I sort of canned--a real canned scenario. There is the so-called assault building, which is just one building. Again you're limited to doing just a clearing operation. And we attempted, as I understand it, at Mott Lake the SF [special forces] have a real good urban area that you can live fire into, but that's ...
DR. WRIGHT: Too hard to get into, yeah. What I'm almost hearing from you is that maybe we need to have almost an urban equivalent of NTC [National Training Center]. Not necessarily that big, but I mean something with that degree of realism to it?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. Or even just slight changes to the present MOUT City, in providing distractors: signs, more color. When you go inside the buildings--and, you know, this is probably stuff that can all be done by engineer units on post. Build some interior portions so that there are closets to be checked, stowaways in attics. Because when you get into the operations that we were doing, if someone were to say there's something in that house, it's easy to clear a house of any personnel, but to actually search and clear a house with delicate furniture and a TV--you don't want to go in there knocking stuff around either, but then again you want to be very thorough, because it means ...
DR. WRIGHT: Lives are at stake, yeah. Yeah, so that's a great observation. In terms of the dispersion that you get into, does that become a problem? Or is that not a problem for you because you have got squads that are used to working just with radio commo with you?
1LT JOHNSON: Oh, yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: So, that didn't affect you as much as it might have affected line companies?
1LT JOHNSON: Not at all. I mean, at times I would split up, pull the vehicles and we would be operating from a distance. It would depend on the type of urban ... because we pushed all the way out to, out towards ... past the racetrack, the horse racetrack into the east of Panama Viejo. On the latter days of the operation when the battalion had finished its sector pretty much, but they sent us back out just to provide a continued presence.
DR. WRIGHT: You walked through the area?
1LT JOHNSON: We centralized [a] reactionary force from Delta Company, and then we'd push out as much as we can to provide ...
DR. WRIGHT: Just did street patrol type things? Cop on the beat kind of thing, rather than ... yeah. When did you get the word about redeployment? I mean, obviously the rumor mill starts like on the afternoon of D-Day.
1LT JOHNSON: Exactly, sir, I don't know. I've got it logged a couple of times when we do our preliminary lay-out to check for anything that shouldn't be taken back. And I can't ...
DR. WRIGHT: Of course, I am sure your NCOs are filling your head with the NCO-channel stories about well, so and so talked to so and so back at brigade who talked to so and so, you know, knew somebody over at SOUTHCOM [US Southern Command] or whatever, and this is when ... and you are getting all of that rumor stuff.
1LT JOHNSON: Again, this is pure credit to the NCOs that I have had the opportunity to work with in the scout platoon. We sat down and we said, well, we are obviously not just here for five days. And we will continue to do our mission and, you know, we just need to make the best of the opportunity. We asked them if we could ... we found some Zodiac boats and we asked them if we could go out and do Zodiac boat training, and we asked them if we could do rappelling training because they had that tall tower and we had actually set up a rope system to get people up there for sniper positions. And we asked them if we could set up a live fire range. All that was sort of shot down, but we were able to do other training.
We did ... just from the plants around there we cooked up what we call survival meals or something like that. So, we were ... I don't think we suffered as badly as most other people.
DR. WRIGHT: Because you kept yourselves occupied?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: Speaking of food, did you go MRE's to the wall, or did you start supplementing with warm food that you got that you could ... you could police up?
1LT JOHNSON: When we go in, we ... the nature of our platoon is that we just go with one MRE per day. So, initially food wasn't a problem for us, because that's the way we train. After we came back towards Panama Viejo, I'd say around the 25th or so, they had opened up a storeroom in the barracks and each unit was given it's provisions from there. So, we supplemented with canned ham or whatever was there.
DR. WRIGHT: Could you get fresh fruit and stuff like that from the locals?
1LT JOHNSON: We did purchase some fresh fruit and then ...
DR. WRIGHT: Cokes and stuff like that?
1LT JOHNSON: Some cokes the same way. We had to make ... we didn't drive up in ...
DR. WRIGHT: And go hunting for them?
1LT JOHNSON: Right, sir. Also, you know, within the platoon, some of the dried stuffs that were in the barracks, and stuff that other people wouldn't have used, we took the opportunity to try it. You know, we used it ...
[END OF TAPE 1]
DR. WRIGHT: [Resuming with Side 3, you were talking about] being able to supplement the rations and ... my, sort of, initial reaction to that is 'that's kind of what scouts are expected to do.' So, I mean, this was good opportunity training then?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: The reaction of your people when you actually go get--what is it--I guess about the 8th of January is when you get told that, yeah, definite lock-down, division is going home, we're going to get to jump back in?
1LT JOHNSON: Again, sir, based on all of the rumors that had been going around, I don't think there was any real ... look around ... everybody figures, you know, maybe we'll get to go this time. I think even ... or at least the joke within the platoon was: when we had gone down to JOTC [Jungle Operations Training Center] the previous March, we were scheduled to leave on this one chalk that actually didn't take off, maybe something will happen and we'll fly back to Panama. It basically took us two days to get back. So, even after we got to the hangers we were ...
DR. WRIGHT: You were not ... I mean, you were just able to keep morale up by going, well, 'when it happens it happens?'
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. I just don't think that we were so focused on getting home. I think, again, thanks to the standard of training that the NCOs had been given ... you know, just by nature of the 82d Division.
DR. WRIGHT: When you turn over the AO [area of operations], who do you turn it over to?
1LT JOHNSON: The 7th Infantry Division. I can't remember exactly what battalion sent an LNO [liaison officer]. But in reality I think it came down to just one platoon when we were leaving.
DR. WRIGHT: So you did not have to get involved in any kind of face to face for a hand-off of the AO?
1LT JOHNSON: None at all. I was within the TOC locations occasionally when the LNOs were there, but no personal responsibilities.
DR. WRIGHT: And then you rolled back to Tocumen. [By] ground convoy?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. We moved out at 0930 on the 10th.
DR. WRIGHT: Get back there, spent about a day and a half rigging and cleaning equipment, going through the series of inspections to get cleared by customs, and what not?
1LT JOHNSON: Uh-huh. Things I've got listed are: we turned in ammo at that point; uniforms (we had been given a new set of uniforms and we had to either turn that in or our old uniform--it was the same type); the battalion commander spoke to us; the brigade commander even spoke to us. Customs inspection ...
DR. WRIGHT: Load out on [C]-141s to come back. Was the flight back fairly uneventful?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. Nothing ...
DR. WRIGHT: Just everybody got on and went to sleep?
1LT JOHNSON: I would say there was definitely more talking and stuff going on coming back in than ...
DR. WRIGHT: Going down? [LAUGHTER] You come in over Sicily [Drop Zone]. Do you expect the hoopla and the fanfare that takes place?
1LT JOHNSON: We had been prepared. We knew that there was something. Actually, I think everybody was expecting the President to be there. That was like the big rumor that was going around, you know, sort of like we waste an hour getting assembled in formation and march up there, and it's like 'the President's not ... . It was sort of a let-down, I think--if you could say there was a let-down that day. Everybody was just glad to get home.
DR. WRIGHT: As you came out the door could you--where were you over Sicily?
1LT JOHNSON: I was on chalk 9, number one, right door so I had a perfect view, so ...
DR. WRIGHT: You saw the whole thing? Could you hear the crowd?
1LT JOHNSON: Not when I was coming down, but when we were marching.
DR. WRIGHT: Everybody assembles on the DZ? You get off a good jump?
1LT JOHNSON: Oh, beautiful, perfect. It's just ... it's the one you dream about, you know, no cloud in the sky and all of those parachutes ... daylight ... .
DR. WRIGHT: Assemble together. What's your assembly aid on Sicily? The colors?
1LT JOHNSON: Each battalion stuck up their assembly aid, but everybody was just running around. There were so many people it was just chaos.
DR. WRIGHT: Form up; the flags are unfurled; and you do the march up to the bleacher area. And then what? Released there or ... I mean there's families all over the place. Is that how it's done? Is it release there, or do you have to go back to the battalion area and do turn-in?
1LT JOHNSON: You are not released there. You have to go back to the battalion. The wives within our platoon are fairly close and pretty much the whole platoon is, so they were all sitting together under one sign.
DR. WRIGHT: And you could spot ... ?
1LT JOHNSON: We all got there and then we all basically stayed ten--I'd say almost twenty minutes. Then I said, hey, let's get all back on transport so we can all really get home.
DR. WRIGHT: And spent what a couple of hours doing equipment turn-in, securing the weapons and stuff like that?
1LT JOHNSON: It didn't take long at all, really.
DR. WRIGHT: And then got home that night?
1LT JOHNSON: Pretty much that afternoon, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: Then did the battalion get block leave at all?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir, we did. A week.
DR. WRIGHT: And then came back and it was, oh, well, that's all behind you and now let's get back to serious training?
1LT JOHNSON: Well, get back to training, but again that's one thing that we didn't want to lose; lessons that we had learned. We took time and really wrote up a pretty substantial AAR which we got here. I have already noticed some ... one change come out of it. It was very minor point to put on the tape, but on the PRC-126 the little display panel is in green plastic. The idea behind that is so that it reduces the amount of light when you hit the display light at night. But in actuality, it makes it very hard to read any time either during the day or night. We have been trying to do this for awhile, but we just included in this after action report and that's what brought about the changes and everything. Now there is just clear plastic.
DR. WRIGHT: But those are really the critical fixes--are the little things.
1LT JOHNSON: The little things.
DR. WRIGHT: In terms of platoon reaction to patch on the right shoulder, the gold star on the jump wings--positive thing?
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. And again--and this is going back to another thing which sort of went on when we were still at Panama Viejo--was the whole thing about awards. You know, that is sort of one thing that left a bitter taste within our platoon was--at least the way we felt was--they kept pushing the command for the names of people we wanted to get a bronze star and all this, that, and the other thing. And the only person we turned in was the one man we had wounded on the Marriott evac[uation].
And we felt, you know, even though on the first few days the first three squads received the initial brunt of what the battalion faced--and it was just three days. We didn't feel ... we felt that the medal should represent exactly what it stands for, whereas on the other side of the coin ... I would say the rest of the battalion was (I won't say being generous), but that's how we felt they were being generous.
And then when we got back here, that's where it was continued. We weren't overly obsessed [with] 'when are they going to have the formation' because originally they had told us that we'd have it before block leave, so we ... .
I just think way back in Panama Viejo I made the realization that we did our job, we did it O.K., and we brought everybody back. You read about the guy in World War I or World War II that low-crawled up to a bunker and captured twenty-four people or ...
DR. WRIGHT: Yeah. There was no opportunity to do Alvin York down there, yeah.
1LT JOHNSON: Or anything even close, so ... .
DR. WRIGHT: But, now, your one man who was the shotgun on the Marriott run Medivac vehicle--that got pretty intense for those two guys for awhile.
1LT JOHNSON: Very much. And they continued to go back. And there was another person on a vehicle who refused after the first run ... who refused to get back on the vehicle to provide security. Those two soldiers took that extra step, and that is the reason that we felt that he deserved it.
DR. WRIGHT: Did he actually get his ... did they approve?
1LT JOHNSON: He had an ARCOM [Army Commendation Medal], which was very justly deserved.
DR. WRIGHT: In terms of the other stuff, the Armed Forces Expeditionary [Medal] ribbon, the CIBs [Combat Infantryman's Badge], and what not, how was that handled? Did that come down on blanket orders or what?
1LT JOHNSON: Eventually we had the awards ceremony on the 22d or 21st of February, and we received blanket orders for a CIB with everybody's name listed. And at that point the division commander just made a decision ... and they only got the orders from the CIB done, but go ahead with the gold star [for the jump wings], and combat patch.
DR. WRIGHT: And paperwork will catch up, which is in fact what happens?
1LT JOHNSON: We got the orders for the CIB and the combat star, but the ...
DR. WRIGHT: Patch is done by a DA [Department of the Army] order. It just lists units, and if you were with the unit you do it. The same way with the ribbon. That's how that's done. You will never see individual [orders] on that.
In retrospect, what in your OBC [officer basic course] training prepared you for what you actually ran into on JUST CAUSE? What ... you know, as you have had time to reflect on it, what do you think really turns out to have been the critical thing that got you sort of locked in?
1LT JOHNSON: This is a terrible thing to say, but from OBC I can't think of anything. But if ... I would say the requirement for pressure from OBC for you to go to Ranger school. Ranger school was probably the ...
DR. WRIGHT: That's a very valid comment to make. The more of that individual 'pressure' training you get, the more it prepares you for what you are going to ... for that 'face of battle' that you run into.
1LT JOHNSON: I guess you're correct, sir, because the whole orientation seemed like in basic course, was to prepare you physically and somewhat tactically to go to Ranger school.
DR. WRIGHT: That and having the wisdom to pick good NCOs? Because you repeated over and over again that your NCOs ...
1LT JOHNSON: They were there when I got there, sir, except for SFC Serrano, who happened to also be my rifle platoon sergeant when I was a rifle platoon leader. He came over. And I didn't ... if I had to pick, I would pick him, but you know ... . Again the training that they have been through (we're all Ranger qualified, every NCO in the platoon is) makes such a tremendous difference. Because it breeds within themselves ... when they come back and they all start working towards the standard, and they understand the standard.
DR. WRIGHT: So, that then becomes an internalized thing within ... a scout platoon, in any battalion, is usually your elite platoon. But internalization of the notion of standards and always train to the standards becomes the critical thing in making that platoon function.
1LT JOHNSON: Yes, sir. To set the standard and then to uphold it with no exceptions. You know, not using the standard as a hacksaw or hatchet to get rid of people either, but to use it as something that, you know, it is your responsibility to develop your subordinates up to that standard because we have proven that it is attainable, you've attained it. Makes you have a very good platoon.
DR. WRIGHT: I've been asking everybody this one question. What is the single most humorous, strange, unusual, weird thing that happened to you during the operation? The one thing that you'll carry to your grave as that indelible impression of Panama? I've had guys tell me it's things like a bizarre incident that happened on the street or something like that where somewhere they were anticipating tension and pressure and it turned out to be humor, stuff like that.
1LT JOHNSON: The only thing that I can think of that is sort of humorous offhand, sir, was one of the things that we had also done was to build our own shower. You know, we had this dark bucket that could pick up some water. And we used a soccer goal with ponchos up the cover of everything inland, and facing out to the ocean it was open. And then one time some guy was taking a shower and using this thing and there was about six UH-60s with all of the Congressmen flying by. [LAUGHTER]
DR. WRIGHT: That's it. That's the kind of story I'm looking for. Any other thing that I, in my negligence, failed to ask that you think is really something to stick in your mind, or that you'd like to get onto the tape?
1LT JOHNSON: Can I look through this AAR a little bit?
DR. WRIGHT: Sure. Let me kill this a little bit.
DR. WRIGHT: O.K., resuming. Lieutenant, did you have a chance to come up with that one thought?
1LT JOHNSON: The title?
DR. WRIGHT: Well, the one thought on anything that I have forgotten.
1LT JOHNSON: Just to sum it up, if you will, what you do down there is what you've done in training. You won't act any differently.
DR. WRIGHT: The battle drills really paid off and things like that?
1LT JOHNSON: Exactly. Just like everyone says--it's true, sir.
DR. WRIGHT: What about that little off-the-tape question I asked you about. What's the chapter title you'd come up with for 2nd Battalion's sweep through Panama Viejo? Nothing really hits you?
1LT JOHNSON: The only thing was, you know, the enemy wasn't really there in the barracks you know. "Where was the P.D.F.?"
DR. WRIGHT: O.K. That's a good one. I appreciate it. Thanks a lot, sir.
[END OF INTERVIEW]