OPERATION JUST CAUSE 1989-1990
The invasion of Panama, known as Operation JUST CAUSE, was an unusually delicate, violent, and complex operation. Its key objectives were the capture of Manuel Noriega and the establishment of a democratic government. America applied overwhelming combat power during the invasion, seeking to minimize loss of life and destruction of property, and to speed the transition to friendly relations. The U.S. had bases located there, and U.S. troops had a long-standing relationship with the Panama Defense Forces (PDF). American SOF personnel, having been based in Panama, were acutely aware of the delicate nature of the mission and were instrumental in achieving U.S. objectives. During Operation JUST CAUSE, the special operations component of Joint Task Force South (the overall invasion force) was the Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF). The JSOTF, commanded by Major General Wayne A. Downing, was organized into smaller task forces: TF RED (the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment), TF BLACK (Army Special Forces), and TF WHITE (SEALs and Special Boat Unit assets). These task forces were supported by Psychological Operations and Civil Affairs units, Army Special Operations helicopters, and USAF air commando units.
THE OPENING MISSION
The JSOTF’s principal H-Hour missions were the capture of Noriega and the destruction of the PDF’s ability to fight. As it turned out, the U.S. forces did not know Noriega’s location at H-Hour; accordingly, the JSOTF focused on the H-Hour missions against the PDF. The attack on the Comandancia (the PDF’s headquarters in Panama City) and the rescue of an American citizen from the adjoining prison (the Carcel Modelo) were the responsibility of a joint task force that included Special Forces ground elements, SOF helicopters and AC-130 gunships, and TF GATOR [M-113 armored personnel carriers and soldiers from the 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry (Mechanized)]. Because of indications that H-Hour had been compromised, the attack on the Comandancia began 15 minutes early, at 0045 on 20 December 1989.
TF GATOR was responsible for moving M-113s to blocking positions around the Comandancia and the prison, and then, in conjunction with the AC-130 and AH-6 gunships, attacking and leveling the PDF headquarters. Maneuvering to the blocking positions, they came under increasingly heavy sniper fire from PDF soldiers in buildings (including a 16-story high rise) on the west side of the Comandancia and prison complex. TF GATOR suffered some wounded and one killed while moving to their blocking positions. Near the target, TF GATOR encountered roadblocks; the M-113s squashed some roadblocks and went around others. The heavy enemy fire, coming from various directions, continued as the armored personnel carriers began their assault on the Comandancia.
At 0045, the revised H-Hour, AC-130s and AH-6s started firing upon the Comandancia area. The PDF shot down the lead AH-6, but its crew managed a controlled crash in the Comandancia courtyard. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time as the AC-130s were pounding the Comandancia. By keeping their wits about them, they evaded both enemy and friendly fire for over two hours, made it to the back wall (where they captured a PDF soldier), climbed the wall, and linked up with a TF GATOR blocking position. By now buildings in the compound were ablaze, and the smoke obscured the area for the AC-130 firing. One TF GATOR element was fired upon by an AC-130, wounding 12 soldiers. A second AC-130 volley about an hour later wounded nine more. At first, the soldiers believed that they had been attacked by PDF mortars, but during the second volley, they realized it was coming from the AC-130 and called through the fire support network to end the shooting.
During the attack on the Comandancia, a rescue force had entered the prison and freed the American citizen. The helicopter carrying part of the rescue force and the former prisoner was shot down and crashed in an alley to the north of the prison. Everyone on board, except the former prisoner, was injured to one degree or another, but the rescue force reacted as they had trained, formed a defensive position, contacted a TF GATOR blocking element, and were evacuated by M-113s.
TF GATOR kept the Comandancia isolated during the day of 20 December and continued to receive sporadic sniper fire. That afternoon, Company C. 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment arrived from Omar Torrijos International Airport to clear the Comandancia. All of these forces then engaged in follow-on missions.
Task Force RED
Task Force RED was the largest component of the Joint Special Operations Task Force. It consisted of the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment reinforced by contingents from the 4th Psychological Operations Group (PSYOP) and 96th Civil Affairs (CA) Battalion, and included Air Force Special Tactics teams and Marine Corps/Naval Gunfire liaison troops. Close air support aircraft included AH-6 attack helicopters from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, AC-130H gunships from the 1st Special Operations Wing, and from the conventional forces, AH-64 Apaches and F-117A fighter-bombers. The task force was to perform two simultaneous airborne assaults at H-Hour (0100 on 20 December 1989). One contingent would parachute onto the Omar Torrijos International Airport/Tocumen military airport complex, while another would drop onto Rio Hato airfield. Upon securing these objectives, TF RED would then link-up with conventional forces for follow-on combat operations.
THE ASSAULT ON TORRIJOS/TOCUMEN AIRFIELD
Omar Torrijos International Airport was the main international airport serving Panama, and the adjoining Tocumen military airfield was the home base of the Panamanian Air Force. Capturing Torrijos/Tocumen was crucial to the JUST CAUSE campaign plan because it would enable the 82nd Airborne Division to come into the country, while preventing the 2nd Panamanian Defense Force (PDF) Company and the Panamanian Air Force from interfering with American operations. The Torrijos/Tocumen complex formed a target area approximately six kilometers long and two kilometers wide.
The TF RED commander, Colonel William F. “Buck” Kernan, gave the mission of capturing Torrijos/Tocumen to 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, commanded by LTC Robert W. Wagner. The Rangers had a tight schedule to seize this complex – an 82nd Airborne Division brigade was supposed to jump onto the complex only 45 minutes after H-Hour to start follow-on missions. First Battalion’s three companies were augmented by Company C, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, PSYOP teams, a Civil Affairs team, two AH-6 attack helicopters, Air Force Special Tactics teams (combat controllers and pararescuemen), and an AC-130H gunship.
LTC Wagner’s plan called for the helicopters and AC-130H to attack the PDF positions at H-Hour, just prior to the Ranger parachute assault. After parachuting in, Company A would seize the Panamanian Air Force compound and destroy the aircraft. Company C, reinforced with a platoon from Company B, would seize the 2nd PDF compound and destroy the PDF Company. The rest of Company B, reinforced with 12 gun jeeps and 10 motorcycles, would clear both runways and establish blocking positions to prevent other PDF forces from interfering with the battalion’s operations. Finally, Company 3rd Battalion would clear the smaller building near the Torrijos terminal, isolate the terminal building, and then enter the terminal building and destroy PDF resistance there.
Prior to the attack, three combat controllers and one pararescueman placed navigation beacons near the end of the runway. The attack began at 0100, with the AC-130H and AH-6s opening fire on PDF positions on the airfield. The AH-6s eliminated three targets while the AC-130H fired on the 2nd Rifle Company’s barracks and headquarters building. It should be remembered that TF GATOR and other units had attacked the Comandancia in Panama City 15 minutes early, at 0045, which meant the PDF at Torrijos/Tocumen knew of the invasion prior to the Rangers’ airdrop. At 0103, the first jumpers left their company A received only sporadic fire and secured all of its objectives within two hours after capturing virtually the entire Panamanian Air Force on the ground. The company captured about 20 Panamanian Air Force personnel hiding in one of the hangars. Company B also landed on target and quickly secured its blocking positions. Like Company A, it received only sporadic enemy fire and took some prisoners. The biggest problem Company B had was with Panamanian vehicles ignoring its warning signs and barricades and trying to run its blocking positions. Generally these vehicles turned around and fled after the Rangers fired warning shots, but one vehicle had to be disabled by shooting out its tires. One of the vehicles that fled from warning shots contained Manuel Noriega who had been visiting the Cereme Military Recreation Center. Company C assaulted the barracks of the PDF’s 2nd Company and received only ineffective enemy fire; they quickly cleared the area killing one PDF soldier who had refused to surrender. Company C, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment was to secure the international air terminal, and this proved to be the only portion of the assault on Torrijos/Tocumen that was significantly more difficult than expected. First, one-fourth of the company landed in ten-foot tall cunna grass to the west of the runway and took two hours to join the main body. The depleted Company C had no trouble securing its objectives outside the terminal building, however, and the troops were impressed with how completely the AH-6s had destroyed the guardhouse outside the terminal and killed the two guards there. The 3rd platoon seized the fire station on the north side of the terminal and then received fire from the second floor of the terminal.
These Rangers entered the terminal from the north, where they encountered two surprises. First, two civilian flights had arrived just prior to H-Hour, and about 400 civilians were in the terminal. The other surprise was that the PDF troops defended the terminal more determinedly than anywhere else in the Torrijos/Tocumen complex. When two Rangers searched one of the airport’s huge men’s rooms on the second floor, two PDF soldiers jumped out of a stall and shot one of the Rangers several times with a pistol. The other Ranger returned fire and, with the assistance of two more Rangers, dragged his wounded buddy out of the men’s room. In the process, the Ranger pulling the wounded man was himself shot twice in the back of the head, but his Kevlar helmet stopped both rounds. From outside the men’s room door, the unhurt Rangers threw in grenades, but the men’s room stalls protected the PDF soldiers. The Rangers then re-entered the men’s room and waited for the PDF to show themselves. The Rangers got the better of the ensuing hand-to-hand struggle. One of the PDF soldiers was killed in the men’s room while the other was knocked out of the window; he fell two stories and almost landed on a Ranger patrolling outside. When the PDF soldier tried to draw his pistol, the Ranger killed him.
Meanwhile, the 2nd Platoon entered the terminal from the south and started clearing the building, with one squad on each of the three main floors. Enemy soldiers opened fire on the third floor, but the Rangers’ counterattack drove them from the terminal, and they cleared the rest of the third floor without incident.
The situation on the first floor was more difficult; about ten PDF troopers had taken two American girls hostage. When their escape route led them right into the Ranger security detail stationed outside the terminal, they fled back inside, where 2nd Platoon Rangers cornered them after several exchanges of fire. At 0500, after a tense two-and-a-half-hour standoff, the Rangers announced they were going to come in shooting. Rather than face an all-out assault, the holdouts then released their hostages and surrendered. Later that morning, at about 1100, the 82nd Airborne Division assumed operational control of 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment and began operations out of Torrijos/Tocumen. Likewise, Company C, 3rd Battalion was put under the operational control of TF BAYONET to clear La Comandancia at 1500 on 20 December. The Ranger’s extensive training in airfield seizure and building clearing, along with their detailed mission plan, were key factors in their successful seizure of the Torrijos/Tocumen complex with minimal collateral damage and casualties.
THE ATTACK ON RIO HATO AIRFIELD
The Panamanian military base near the small village of Rio Hato was located 65 miles west of Panama City. It contained a large airfield and was home to two PDF companies: the 6th Rifle Company (Mechanized), equipped with 19 armored cars, and the 7th Rifle Company, an elite counterinsurgency force known to be loyal to Noriega. In addition, the base housed a PDF engineer platoon and PDF training schools. TF RED’S mission was to destroy PDF forces and seize the airfield for follow on missions. The total number of PDF forces was estimated to exceed 500 men; these units, particularly the 7th Rifle Company, were expected to offer stiff opposition to the TF RED forces.
The Rio Hato military base ranged along the coastline of the Gulf of Panama, with the airfield runway nearly perpendicular to the shoreline. The barracks for the 6th and 7th Companies were on the runway’s southwest side. There were a number of beach houses along a dirt lane to the south of the runway; Manuel Noriega owned (and occasionally used) one of them. To the west of the runway, and above the 6th and 7th Companies’ barracks, was the PDF school complex. The Pan American highway bisected the airfield. The TF RED commander, Colonel Kernan, led the forces assaulting Rio Hato, which included the 2nd Ranger Battalion, the 3rd Ranger Battalion (minus one company, used in the Torrijos/Tocumen assault), and elements of the 4th Psychological Operations Group, Civil Affairs assets, Air Force Special Tactics teams, and Marine Corps Air/Naval Gunfire liaison troops. Aerial fire support was provided by two F-l 17A fighters, two AH-64 and four AH-6 helicopters, and one AC-130H gunship. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions split the responsibility for taking and holding ground: the 2nd was to parachute into the area along the southern edge of the runway and around the PDF Barracks and engage the enemy, while the 3rd was to jump farther north, securing the area from counterattacks and clearing the runway.
Thirteen C-130 transports were cross loaded with Rangers from both battalions. The aircraft were to approach from the south, with the 2nd Battalion soldiers parachuting first and the 3rd Battalion troops jumping second. The 2nd Battalion’s Company A would assault and clear the PDF school complex. Company B, 2nd Battalion would assault the 7th Company from the east, and if it was still effective after destroying that unit (planners had anticipated 30 percent casualties), it would push westward and clear the 6th Company area. If Company B suffered excessive casualties, Company C would take over the assault. If Company B did not need reinforcement, then Company C would seize Noriega’s beach house.
Though the Rangers wanted the F – 117As to hit the PDF barracks, the bombing targets had been changed to an area near the barracks in the hope of frightening, rather than killing, the PDF. The bombs landed on schedule, at H-Hour, although one missed its target and exploded harmlessly near the beach. The AH-6s and AC-130H aircraft immediately followed with attacks on their designated targets. Of particular importance, the AC-130H destroyed two anti-aircraft positions before the Rangers jumped.
In spite of the three minute air attack, the Rangers jumped into effective anti-aircraft machine-gun fire.Eleven of the aircraft carrying Rangers were hit, and one Ranger was hit by anti-aircraft fire while still in the aircraft. The jump, however, went on as scheduled at 0103. Those Rangers who had jumped into Grenada in 1983 for Operation URGENT FURY judged the enemy fire to have been heavier at Rio Hato.
Once on the ground, the 2nd Battalion Rangers saw a lot of tracers, but were able to return fire and assemble without too much trouble. The PDF troops apparently had left their barracks upon learning that the U.S. troops were coming and had either set up defenses on and around the airfield, or fled. As planned, Company A assembled before the other units and moved up to clear the school complex.
As Company A was advancing on the school complex, Company B began its assault on the 7th Company area. After using demolition charges to blow holes in the wall surrounding the compound. Company B moved in and set about clearing each building, room by room. Having cleared the 7th’s area without serious losses, Company B continued to push west and had begun clearing the 6th Company area by dawn on 21 December. Company B’s success freed Company C to assault Noriega’s beach house area two hours after H-Hour, and the Rangers cleared the house by morning.
Company B finished clearing the 6th Company barracks area that morning as well and, with all of its initial assault objectives secured, continued to advance west into the small village inhabited by the families of the PDF troops. The Rangers detained all the adult males found there for questioning, assuming the vast majority were PDF troops in hiding. The 3rd Battalion Rangers, who were loaded first in each of the 13 C-130s, jumped after the 2nd Battalion. By the time they jumped into the warm. humid night, the PDF knew they were coming. The 3rd’s airborne assault included heavy “drops” of four jeeps and six motorcycles. Company A’s motorcycles were to race north along the runway and screen the Americans from possible counterattacks, while the Company B jeep teams were to establish blocking positions and watch for possible PDF activities.
When the Company A Rangers jumped, they scattered from south of the Pan American Highway to well north of it. This company’s primary mission was to neutralize the .50 caliber machine gun positioned on the concrete and stone entryway leading to the Rio Hato airfield. By happenstance, the company’s executive officer and a few other Rangers landed within 30 feet of the entryway: they killed the PDF gunner as he was firing at the other Rangers parachuting to the ground and took possession of the fortified position. Other Company A elements had begun to clear the NCO academy headquarters and classroom areas. The Rangers encountered more PDF soldiers than expected, and in the words of LTC Joseph Hunt. 3rd battalion commander, these PDF soldiers “gave them a good run for their money for about 30 minutes.” As the Rangers aggressively cleared the NCO academy buildings, the Panamanian soldiers abandoned their resistance and fled from the advancing Rangers. Company A Rangers did capture about 167 cadets. Without their superior fire discipline and training, the Rangers could have easily attacked these cadets before learning that they were unarmed, frightened, and eager to surrender. Within an hour of H-Hour. Company A had secured its objectives.
Company B, 3rd Battalion severed the Pan American Highway on the east side of the airfield. There was more traffic on the Pan American Highway than expected, and the blocking element fired warning shots at a few vehicles to force them to turn around. The largest Company B element concentrated on clearing the runway south of the highway so that aircraft could begin landing, and this proved more time-consuming than anticipated. The Rangers quickly removed such obstacles as barrels, barbed wire, and trucks, but needed extra time to pick up the hundreds of parachutes left behind by the airborne assault. Company B Rangers also took control of the air traffic control tower.
Approximately 1.5 hours into the operation, the Rangers finished clearing the runway, and C-130s began landing with more people and additional supplies.
The Rangers who were assigned to end PDF resistance north of the Pan American Highway encountered a surprising amount of PDF opposition. Here, as night turned to dawn, some PDF soldiers conducted a deliberate withdrawal, fighting from building to building through a small built-up area. A Ranger element engaged the PDF and called for fire support from two AH-6 helicopter gunships. The gunships fired on the buildings, but unbeknownst to the pilots, an element of Rangers moved into a tree line to flank the PDF. As the gunships came around for a second pass, one pilot saw movement in the trees and, believing they were PDF soldiers, fired upon the Rangers, killing 2 and wounding 4. The movement of the Rangers into the tree line had not been radioed to the AH-6 pilots.
Having secured the military complex on 20 December, the Rangers conducted follow on missions out of Rio Hato for the next three days. At 2200 on 20 December. Company A, 2nd Battalion left Rio Hato aboard special operations helicopters and, at 0230 on the 21st, took over security for the American embassy in Panama City. That same day, the Rangers participated in one of the early surrender missions – what became known as the “Ma Bell” Campaign – when COL Kernan brought the PDF leaders of the Penonome Prison and 6th Military Zone Headquarters to Rio Hato to discuss their forces’ surrender. Later, with an AC-130H circling overhead, the 3rd Battalion’s Company A accepted the surrender of the town’s garrison; then, the Rangers demonstrated a “dry run” assault on the prison, showing the Panamanians what would have happened to them if they had resisted. Word of this display of force and surrender quickly spread throughout the remaining cuartels in the countryside. After relocating to Howard AFB, the Rangers, in conjunction with Special Forces soldiers, conducted the “Ma Bell” surrender of David, a major city in western Panama.
The Rangers also performed stability operations in areas around Panama City. In response to civil disturbances and continued PDF and Dignity Battalion (Noriega’s paramilitary supporters) activities, the 2nd Battalion, 75th Rangers set up operations in Area of Operation (AO) Diaz, an area containing the towns of Alcalde Diaz and Las Cumbres, on 27 December. With the assistance of PSYOP forces, they created a visible American presence by establishing checkpoints and blocking positions, and running “saturation” patrols and night ambushes. While in AO Diaz, the Rangers rounded up former PDF and Dignity Battalion members and seized several caches of weapons. The American presence of Rangers, PSYOP, and Civil Affairs soldiers stabilized the area and allowed the new government to reestablish control.
The Rangers came out of Panama with a number of lessons learned. The tactical plan was well prepared, coordinated, and rehearsed, enabling the successful completion of their missions. JUST CAUSE validated the Rangers’ mission essential procedures and techniques, and their responsiveness to contingencies. Lessons learned included recognizing the importance of intelligence gathering and management; planning logistical support for follow-on missions; emphasizing training and equipping the regiment for military operations in urban areas; and enhancing the regiment’s interaction with conventional and joint forces through the use of liaison elements.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS:
On December 20, 1989, the United States of America invaded the sovereign republic of Panama. There were four reasons the United States felt that validated the invasion, and according to polls taken during the time, the American public supported them (Downing, 1990).
Many people in the United States are probably not familiar with all of the reasons that were used to legitimize the United States invasion of this small country. If you asked them why we invaded, most would probably say that it was because of Manuel Noriega and his involvement with the CIA. Actually, they would not be entirely wrong. It has been well documented the Noriega was in fact on the payroll of the CIA. However, it is not the fact of his involvement with the CIA that is the major issue. It is more that he was becoming more increasingly involved with Cuba and Fidel Castro that became a problem for the United States. The United States felt that since Noriega had been involved with the CIA, and since he was now becoming more involved with Cuba, he was becoming a threat to the national security of the U.S.
In February of 1988, a federal grand jury had indicted Noriega for drug trafficking. This seriously soured relations between Panama and the United States. So for the first time, the Pentagon had to consider Panama as a threat. On February 22, 1988, the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a planning order for SOUTHCOM to write an operational contingency plan for the defense of the Panama canal and the American lives and property in Panama, taking into consideration a hostile Panamanian Defense Force (PDF). The command received approval in July of 1988, and Operation Blue Spoon was entered into a family of other contingency plans known as the Prayer Book. This plan covered everything from mass evacuation of American civilian and military dependents in case of the event of local terrorism, to the forcible recapture of the canal. This was all done legally under the terms of the 1977 Panama Canal Treaties (McConnell, 1991).
A second reason for the invasion was that American lives were being placed in danger. After Noriega declared the Panama election invalid and he declared himself president, many American soldiers and their dependents began to be harassed (Towel & Felton, 1989). In May of 1989, elections were held in Panama, and President Guillermo Endara and Vice Presidents Calderon and Ford were elected. However, Noriega had troops from his PDF Battalions physically beat these elected officials and declared himself the new leader of Panama (Downing,1990). The United States refused to recognize Noriega as the leader of Panama and instead condemned him for his actions. It was shortly after this that the harassment of U.S. citizens living in Panama began. Some examples of this include a Navy officer being shot and killed for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Another incident involved an officer being physically beaten and his wife sexually assaulted (Towell & Felton, 1989). Both of these actions were conducted by the PDF and fully condoned by Noriega himself.
The third component of the invasion of Panama had to do with the Monroe doctrine. The Monroe doctrine states that the United States will not allow the spread of communism into any other country in which communism does not already exist. After the fall of Cuba to the communists, the United States felt that it could not allow that to happen to any other countries in its Southern Hemisphere. Not only would the spread of communism to another Latin American country place the national security of the United States at risk, but it would also call into question the United States’ prestige and credibility. The United States did not want to appear weak in the eyes of the world by allowing Noriega, a one-time CIA informant, to draw close ties with Cuba and not do anything about it. In order to save face in the eyes of the world, the United States had to do something. They could not just sit idly by while Noriega snubbed his nose at them; especially after Noriega had declared war on the United States on the 15th of December 1989 ( Bush, George, 1989). Even more so than declaring war on the U.S., troops from Noriega’s own PDF Battalions shot and killed a U.S. serviceman the very next day. By these actions it was quite clear that the United States had to do something in Panama or risk being the laughing stock of the world.
The fourth and final component of the invasion of Panama has to do with the accessibility and free flow of trade through the Panama Canal. Although the canal is not as important as it once was, it still reserves its place as a symbol of U.S. interest and presence in Latin America. This symbolic value has often caused its security to be offered as a justification for intervention in the Southern Hemisphere when the real causes lay elsewhere. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed the Panama Canal Treaties with the country of Panama in which the United Sates agreed to give sole custody of the Canal to the country of Panama (Kemp, 1990). However, there is a clause in this treaty which allows the United States to intervene in the affairs of Panama if the free flow of trade is ever restricted or cut off or if its security is ever placed in danger (Nanda, 1990). The clause further states that the United States can use whatever force is necessary to reestablish a smooth flow of trade through the Canal. It is through the use of this clause that Bush was able to use this as another reason for the U.S. to invade. Since it is the President’s responsibility to safeguard the lives of American citizens against foreign threats, and since Noriega was beginning to show more interest in Fidel Castro and the left, there was reason to believe that the Canal’s peaceful mission might be compromised.
Due to everything that has been stated previously, it is quite obvious that the United States had no other course of action other than to invade Panama. President Bush’s quick and decisive decision to invade clearly shows that he would not tolerate this outrage from one single man who claimed himself to be in control of power over a country. Furthermore, the United States could not recognize him as the leader of Panama, simply because the power that he claimed over the country of Panama came from strong-arming the citizens of Panama, and terrorizing them into submission. According to a poll conducted by Newsweek in January of 1990, “80 percent of Americans polled showed that they felt justified in the U.S. invasion of Panama.” This poll clearly demonstrates that not only did President Bush make the right decision, but that 80 percent of the American public would have done the same thing.
On January 3rd, 1990, Noriega surrendered from the Vatican and was finally captured and arrested. He was then transported to a federal prison in Miami. In total, 23 American soldiers were killed and 347 were wounded.
James Erickson, 3/75 Ranger
1. Bush, George (1989). Panama: The Decision to Use Force. Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. LVI, p194 – 195.
2. Downing, Larry (1990, January). The Panama Invasion. Newsweek, p14 – 23
3. Kemp, Frederick (1990, January). The Noriega Files. Newsweek, p19 -28
4. McConnell, Malcolm (1991). Just Cause. New York: St. Martin’s Press
5. Nanda, V. P. (1990). The Validity of United States Intervention in Panama Under International Law. American Journal of International Law, Vol 84, p494 -503
6. Towell, P & Felton, J (1989, December). Invasion, Noriega Ouster Win Support on Capital Hill. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, p3532 – 3535
LTG William F. “Buck” Kernan
6th Colonel of the Regiment
RGMT CDR, Rio Hato
Enroute to the 10-Year Anniversary Ceremony, I (LTG Kernan) reflected with John Scroggins, the RS3, about Operation “Just Cause.”
* The compartmented planning that began in August 1987 called “Blue Spoon” which provided the framework for “Just Cause.”
* The fortuitous validation exercise in Florida two days prior to getting the execute order.
* The calm, methodical final preparation at Lawson AAF. Cold and wet. Forced hydration in anticipation of the hot temperatures and humidity we were going to encounter.
* The opportunity to address all the Rangers prior to boarding the aircraft. It was a strange sight … Hardened, combat laden, steely-eyed Rangers, draped in Army blankets, bracing against the wet, cold night. What was evident in all was a determined commitment and a willingness to test themselves for their Nation.
* 64 Combat Equipped Rangers in each C-130 confronted with a 7 1/2 hour flight. The passing of a 5-gallon water can with fully rigged Rangers struggling to relieve the forced hydration.
* Jumpmasters leading their chalk in the ranger creed at the 3-minute warning.
* I remember the enemy fire in the air, the discipline of the Rangers in eliminating the enemy on the DZ. How elated we were to see the AH-6 ‘little birds’ and AC-130 in action.
* The precision in which assault objectives were seized and subsequent operations were conducted. NCO’s taking charge and ensuring mission success.
* I also remember the pain and anguish we experienced when informed of our losses.
* But most of all, I remember how proud I was to be in the company of Rangers … Special people … National Heroes.
10th Anniversary Ceremony
* Ten years ago this coming Monday our Nation called on Rangers to “Lead The Way” and help root out a corrupt, evil presence that had for years kept the Nation of Panama and its people from taking their rightful place among the democracies of the world.
* On that cold, wet December night the 75th Ranger Regiment, more than two-thousand strong, boarded C-130 and C141 aircraft… By daybreak we would all know the bitter taste of combat … Many for the first time. But every Ranger was committed … To the Nation … To his fellow Rangers.
All gave some …. some gave all: SSG Larry Barnard, B-3/75, Rifle Squad Leader; PFC James Markwell, C-1/75, Medic; PFC John Price, A-2/75, Rifleman; PFC Roy Brown, A-3/75, Rifleman; And SPC Phillip Lear, B-2/75, Rifleman.
* This was the first operational deployment of the Regiment since its activation in October 1984. It was a privilege and an honor to participate …. Particularly as the Regimental Commander. It was also a sacred duty.
* Our targets — the Torrijos-Tocumen International Airport and Rio Hato…..Each critical to the overall success of the operation.
*We had to take down the airport to pave the way for the 82nd to get in there, expand the airhead and move out to follow-on targets and objectives.
* We had to neutralize the PDF 6th and 7th Infantry Companies at Rio Hato, Noriega’s only real counterattack threat to the invasion force.
* We carried with us the inspiration of fighting men who have led the way since the birth of our Nation….Roger’s Rangers, Darby’s Rangers and Rangers who climbed the sheer cliffs at Ponte du Hoc, Merrill’s Marauders whose operations in Burma captured the interests of the Nation, Rangers who served in the Korean War, and those who bled and died in the jungles of Southeast Asia, Rangers who participated in Desert One and led the assault on the Island of Grenada in 1983. Many of you remember the feel of the blowing sand and grit of Saudi Arabia and Iraq…And the smell of burning oil wells in Kuwait-and some of you remember a day known in another part of the world as “The Day of the Rangers”.
* A common thread runs through all …Wherever America was confronted with a tough mission, Rangers led the way. It has always been so, it always will be.
* So we gather today to commemorate this, the Tenth Anniversary of Operation Just Cause…and to honor five brave young men — Rangers who went willingly to do their Nation’s bidding…And made the ultimate sacrifice… Gave the last full measure of devotion.
* Staff Sergeant Larry Barnard; Specialist Philip Lear; and Three Privates First Class … Roy Brown, Jr., John Price, and James Markwell (Whose Parents are here today). * Five of the best America had to offer in the cause of freedom…The oldest 29, the youngest just 19.
* As their aircraft took off in the darkness from Lawson Field on Hunter Army Airfield the evening of December 19th, mortality was probably the last thing on their minds. They were, like all Rangers, narrowly focused on the task at hand. They were confident in their training, their leaders, and above all – their Ranger buddies. The first stanza of the ranger creed burning in their minds —-
“RECOGNIZING THAT I VOLUNTEERED AS A RANGER FULLY KNOWING THE HAZARD OF MY CHOSEN PROFESSION . . . . ”
* So from the bitter cold rain in Georgia to the drenching humidity of Panama this Regiment went. A parachute jump from 500 feet is tough…Doing it into combat, well that’s an order of magnitude tougher. But we did it and we accomplished our objectives the only way we know how-
“AT THE CUTTING EDGE OF BATTLE….MOVING FURTHER, FASTER, AND FIGHTING HARDER THAN ANY OTHER SOLDIER”
* Ranger Barnard, Ranger Lear, Ranger Brown, Ranger Price and Ranger Markwell– These five we honor today — are with me always…They are with us always. As it should be, as it must be.
* So as we lay this wreath on this sacred ground let’s look at this ceremony as an opportunity to greet them once again… For they will go on forever in honored glory…As long as there is even one ranger left to remember their courage and selfless service to our nation. Let’s rededicate ourselves in their honor . . . We must commit ourselves to a higher standard.
* As I look to the future of our Nation, our Army, and our Regiment I see many more young men who like these five will serve selflessly and with honor…And will embody the last paragraph of the Ranger Creed-
“READILY WILL I DISPLAY THE INTESTINAL FORTITUDE REQUIRED TO FIGHT ON TO THE RANGER OBJECTIVE AND COMPLETE THE MISSION, THOUGH I BE THE LONE SURVIVOR.”
— RANGERS LEAD THE WAY! —