DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
XVIII AIRBORNE CORPS
FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA
US ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview
Major Butch Muse
1st Battalion, 228th Aviation
Interview conducted 8 January 1990 at Building 820, Fort Kobbe, Panama
Interviewer: MAJ Robert K. Wright, Jr., Historian, Joint Task Force SOUTH
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview JCIT 016
MAJ WRIGHT: This is an Operation JUST CAUSE interview being conducted on 9 January ... 8 January? ... 8 January, correction 8 January 1990 in the Aviation Buildings at Fort Kobbe. And sir, if I could get you to give me your name, rank, and serial number.
MAJ MUSE: I am Major Butch Muse, ***-**-****. I am the battalion S-3 of 1st Battalion of the 228th Aviation, located at Fort Kobbe, Panama.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K., sir. And if I could get you to sort of talk to me a little bit about the lead-in to Operation JUST CAUSE and particularly how the battalion began its training programs, and fine-tuning its training programs, to get ready for the JUST CAUSE.
MAJ MUSE: Well, actually, JUST CAUSE was something that originated from an earlier plan called BLUE SPOON. I, prior to becoming S-3 of the battalion back in April of 89, I was the USARSO [United States Army, South] aviation plans officer of the DCSOPS [Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations] Aviation [Branch], USARSO. So I have been a player and participant and just been cognizant of this plan for a while. The BLUE SPOON plan really became more critical after the  May  elections. It was during that period of time, and prior to that time, that a lot of things that had been building up and Panama had really been doing things against US citizens, a lot of military people, that were on the borderline of confrontation.
I think there was a lot of restraint on the military's part prior to the elections because we wanted to maintain the equilibrium of the elections. However, after the conclusion of the elections, after everyone had seen how much fraud was involved in the elections, a new approach was taken. And much of this approach directly contributed to how we later prepared or rehearsed for the JUST CAUSE operation.
MAJ WRIGHT: Who seemed to be driving the train on upping the tempo and increasing the focus on the plan? Was that coming from the top down, or was that a bottom-up?
MAJ MUSE: Well, obviously it was from the top. During the period of the elections and several weeks immediately after the elections, there were a lot of VIPs [very important persons] that visited Panama, and there were a lot of briefs, a lot of discussions. Ultimately, what resulted from that was something called BLADE JEWEL, which was a drawdown--across the board--of all the services in their military strength here. The aim was to reduce the visibility of those people living in Panama outside military bases and the joint areas of responsibility.
MAJ WRIGHT: Primarily getting the dependents out and keeping the people, our people, off the streets downtown?
MAJ MUSE: That's correct. This impacted in several ways. The drawdown reduced the number of critical people within [the battalion]: the pilots and maintenance personnel, etc. The personnel system was not filling those gaps. And this drawdown took place basically from June until early August [of 1989], if I recall correctly.
At the same time that this drawdown was occurring, we were participating in operations that were freedom of movement. They were called SAND FLEAs, PURPLE STORMs. And later on in the July time frame there was an emphasis on contingency readiness exercises, and that specifically was to get all the units within Panama to the readiness level that we could respond within two hours with whatever possible requirement.
So since the June time frame until the execution of JUST CAUSE, it was a constant process of readiness drills. Weekly aviation supported at least two operations--and these were joint operations, I must say--from the Army side, the Marine side, and even the Air Force side, throughout Panama. And in doing that, the good benefits from it were that we had the interoperability of the forces, and then twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays ... I'd have to say it was three days a week and it was ultimately changed to two days a week ... that the key leadership, normally either commanders and/or their op[eration]s officers, would sit on a JTF [Joint Task Force] PANAMA meeting which had all the key players; and we would review those operations and basically had lessons-learned to learn from mistakes.
And through that five-to-six-month process, things naturally improved and we naturally got better. We were able to train in all hours (day and night) under various circumstances. Equally what benefited from this was that the P.D.F. [Panamanian Defense Forces] gradually became less susceptive of what we were doing. So the initial operations drew a response, whereas toward the end we were hardly getting any response at all.
MAJ WRIGHT: Sort of lulling them into a sense of routine about all this?
MAJ MUSE: Exactly.
MAJ WRIGHT: And that was an intentional aspect of the rehearsals?
MAJ MUSE: Well, I can't say, but I think that was a good side benefit. However, there were some things that had taken place within the five to six weeks prior to JUST CAUSE, and that was the reinforcement of positions by the P.D.F. And I think probably since the 3 October [1989 abortive] coup, did this really occur. They drove around the facilities at Fort Amador and around the Balboa police station. It was very visible for them to do things that they did to reinforce the contingent surrounding the Balboa police station, and they dug reinforced trenches around the barracks areas at Fort Amador. You could clearly see hardened underground positions, slit holes to shoot from, and they were all directed toward the family quarters on the other side of Fort Amador.
Saying that, however, and after the fact of JUST CAUSE, I am not sure, you know, whether they were really truly believing that JUST CAUSE was about to be executed, even though the news had it within two hours and there was a report across P.D.F. communications channels that early morning transmitted that some sort of military operation was about to be executed.
But getting back to the specifics on how we trained and what we did during some of these SAND FLEA operations. We were able, within the area of the old [Panama] Canal Zone, to pretty much fly and land into those same places that we would do during the execution phase. Specifically, this was at Amador, and in and around Gamboa and Cerro Tigre. Having the opportunity to do that during day and night under NVGs [AN/VIS-6 night vision goggles] of course gave the pilots, those who flew those missions, the same variables that they would encounter during the execution and gave them confidence. And it gave them the opportunity to discuss with the ground commander those same lesson-learned, if you will, of what was good and what was bad about the plan.
Of course, the only one that we were not able to truly rehearse was going into the prison at [El] Renacer at Gamboa. However, our flight routes from the Pacific side to Atlantic side took us basically over that prison on a daily basis, so the pilots were able to visually see and know their limitations in the very small confines of that prison.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. The night vision devices you mentioned. Particular emphasis to give you twenty-four-hour-a-day capability?
MAJ MUSE: Oh, absolutely. The ... prior to May we worked with night vision goggles but not with the emphasis and not with the dedication that we had to after that. Military operations of today's nature--this was nighttime--and to do that successfully with aviation, it has to be under night vision goggles with limited or no lighting on the aircraft system. I think history will prove that the execution of JUST CAUSE, particularly those missions that occurred during the night, that there were no hits on the aircraft for that reason. However, in the following missions, during the daytime, they received those hits.
And considering all the variables that were present on the night of the 20th, those early morning hours, particularly along the Canal--a lot of ground fog, a lot of low ceiling, limited visibility, limited starlight--considering all those variables, the pilots had to have a tremendous amount of confidence and training beforehand, in addition to the full knowledge of the threat that was involved, to execute these missions and not have had an accident by running into one another. So I think without any doubt that all of the training that occurred prior to that was a major factor in not having had an accident.
There's one thing being shot at under wartime conditions, but it's an entirely different thing when you're out there training under realistic conditions. The risk factor is almost equal. So there's a lot to be said for the pilots doing that.
MAJ WRIGHT: When you train, did you train closely with the two infantry battalions from the [193d Infantry] Brigade?
MAJ MUSE: Our sister battalion that's collocated here at Fort Kobbe is the 1st [Battalion] of the 508th [Infantry]. And those are the folks that we moved into Fort Amador. And throughout this period prior to the execution of JUST CAUSE from May, we moved those people (1st of the 508th) from Fort Kobbe to Amador at least twice during a given month. And we did that during the daytime, during nighttime, under various conditions. We had developed that to the point where during any contingency readiness call out where it was what we refer to as a football plan. They knew where we would stage and we knew how they would load up, and it was just a matter of repositioning the aircraft, the infantry linking up with us; in fact, words did not even need to be transmitted because we knew what the requirement was.
MAJ WRIGHT: Seats in or seats out?
MAJ MUSE: Seats in. We worked with them on an occasional basis, static display, with seats out. And that's a very important aspect because across the board, time on the LZ when shots are being fired is essential. For UH-60s [Blackhawks] going into Amador, that was an ACL [allowable cabin load] of twenty. Loading up ...
MAJ WRIGHT: Twenty seconds?
MAJ MUSE: Twenty pax [passengers].
MAJ WRIGHT: Oh, O.K..
MAJ MUSE: Combat-loaded pax. Therefore, when those aircraft touched the ground, those twenty pax could exit the aircraft and that aircraft could leave the area; could be a matter of life and death for the ground element and destruction of an aircraft. That went very, very effectively because we trained with those soldiers on a routine basis.
Now, considering aspects for the Atlantic side going out of Fort Sherman and into the Gamboa-Renacer Prison-Cerro Tigre area. We conducted that mission from ... prior to the execution for at least six weeks prior on a regular basis in some fashion or form. However, the infantry units were normally those that rotated out of JOTC [Jungle Operations Training Center at Fort Sherman], which is a three-week cycle. So basically for the last four weeks prior, we found ourselves working with one unit and then just prior to the execution of JUST CAUSE another unit came in.
MAJ WRIGHT: 3d [Battalion] of the 504th Infantry was the one that was the last one in there, that actually executed?
MAJ MUSE: That's correct. And if I recollect correctly, they were only on the ground for maybe a week and a half or so. So we did not have the opportunity to train hand-in-hand as much as we would have liked or appreciated.
MAJ WRIGHT: Did they get one rehearsal in?
MAJ MUSE: If I recollect correctly, they did move in one time about a week prior to the execution. That was with CH-47[C]s [Chinooks]. Again, there was no opportunity to train with seats out, and the way we overcame that was that on the 18th of December we were repositioned the force element that was going to move the element from Fort Sherman to the Gamboa area. We repositioned those aircraft over there and gave them a full day ahead of the execution to rehearse with seats out.
MAJ WRIGHT: Static? It was ... ?
MAJ MUSE: Static use, correct.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. December 16, the Navy officer [actually 1LT Robert Paz, United States Marine Corps] is killed. What happens in this battalion?
MAJ MUSE: Well, if I can digress just a little bit, the two weeks prior to that date (December 16) for me as the S-3 of this unit, and I would have to say for many people, was probably the softest two weeks of the period since May. There was--we just came off of a high-tempo requirement during the Thanksgiving period. There were several issues during that period; a bomb, a serious bomb threat during that period. And it was somewhat a relief period. There was not a high op[erational]-tempo, if you will, during that period. There was certain rehearsals that we were conducting. So the period up to 16 December was a recovery period, if you will, of all the previous. We had had some maintenance problems with UH-60s. We had high op-tempo for UH-1[H]s [Iroquois or "Huey"], and there was recovery in that maintenance.
So the Friday prior to 1LT Paz's being shot, there had been some maneuvering on the part of the Panamanian Government, a lot of hype. And there had been a declaration from [General Manuel Antonio] Noriega that he considered Panama at war with the US, particularly with some of the more overt things that we had done, the freedom of movement. So in a way that set the stage for the tragic death and the incident with the [Navy ]husband and wife the very next day.
We, USARSO, had a Christmas formal that night, and all of the leadership within USARSO was at [the] Amador Officers Club when the incident took place. If I recollect correctly, it was around 9:30 in the evening. MG [Marc] Cisneros told the audience what had happened, that he wanted everyone to report back to a unit on an unrestricted readiness callup and be prepared to follow-on [on] directions.
I think in everybody's heart they realized then and there that this was a trigger. By the time staff, key personnel from this unit who were attending this Christmas formal, had returned back to the battalion area, much of the battalion had already been called in. The pilots were assembling and pre-flighting aircraft; ready to execute whatever missions that were required.
During the subsequent days up to the evening of the 19th, there was a considerable amount of aviation activity. There was a lot of people inbound, a lot of special op[eration]s people here. A lot of coordination meetings took place. All of this really spelled that something was going to happen. And there was only a few people who really had the full concept of the plan, and from the perspective of those people who knew the plan and could see this buildup, it was fairly certain what was going to happen.
MAJ WRIGHT: You mentioned the fact that only few people really knew. That's the compartmentalization of the planning process?
MAJ MUSE: That's correct.
MAJ WRIGHT: How far down ... say up to the 16th, how far down had people been read into the plan? Company commander level?
MAJ MUSE: Well, actually, within the battalion there was only two people who you could seriously say that they had the full gist of the plan. And that was the commander [LTC Douglas I. Smith] and the S-3. There were other parts of the plan that had been developed that other people were aware of, and because of that they were read in to a certain extent on the other requirements.
The pilots who had flown LTG [Carl W.] Stiner out to the recons [reconnaissance flights] received an earful in discussions over ... . So even though there was nothing that was on the street that anybody knew of, there was a lot of people who were aware of things that had developed and that a plan was on the street which had previously existed to do something if a call came out.
MAJ WRIGHT: By the morning of the 19th, the incident is now three days old. There has been no overt response. Is there a feeling across the battalion that, "Well, maybe this one is going to blow over," or were they pretty convinced from having seen the JSOTF [Joint Special Operations Task Force] folks coming in and taking up, was it, Hangar 3, that, you know, when they arrived?
MAJ MUSE: Well, the ... again, I think the hype from the State Department and on the diplomatic side seemed to suggest that we were only going to face what we had already been through many, many times over the previous two years, and that was an attempt to fix the situation through rhetoric and finger-pointing and just ignoring that this thing happened.
One of the things that I mentioned earlier that was ... the people who were aware of the plan that something ... if these things took place, then more than likely the execution would take place was in fact the arrival of the JSOTF force. Now, this was the fourth time that that unit had been in Panama since May. And each time they occupied our Hangar 3. However, this time, they came in with a tremendous higher number of personnel, and it didn't stop. It just continued to build up until the execution day.
Other things, from my personal point of view, is I attended a meeting on the 18th, which was a JTF SOUTH execution checklist review. This was a blow-by-blow,
point-by-point review of the execution checklist. It took about two and a half to three hours to go through it. And even though during this period there was a JTF SOUTH coordination being planned, previously, this was, I don't think, ever on the agenda. So when I left that meeting, I felt fairly certain that this was the beginning of what was going to happen.
MAJ WRIGHT: When exactly did you get the execute order?
MAJ MUSE: The official ... even though I was privy to the execution order prior to this, the official words came down approximately 1700 on the 19th from COL [Douglas R.] Terrell [Commander, Task Force AVIATION], in which he gathered all the commanders and told them that they had release authority at 2100 that evening to tell the troops that in fact there was going to be a military intervention in Panama.
MAJ WRIGHT: And H-Hour released at that time, or did that wait?
MAJ MUSE: I was not present during these discussions. However, I don't recollect whether H-Hours were given. I don't think so. During this period of time, I was doing a number of other things. We ... after the commanders' meeting, the battalion commander and I departed in a UH-1[H] C&C [command and control aircraft] for Fort Sherman to be with the Task Force ATLANTIC commander on that side during his execution of that phase.
MAJ WRIGHT: So at this point, the way you were task organized was: the element that supported Task Force ATLANTIC, this battalion provided C&C and its Alpha company?
MAJ MUSE: Task Force ATLANTIC was basically task organized under the 228th ostensibly, except for two AH-1[G] Cobras.
MAJ WRIGHT: And those Cobras came from?
MAJ MUSE: Task Force HAWK.
The ... to describe what occurred at Task Force ATLANTIC--and I am sure later on you will talk to several of the pilots who will give you their observations. However, they had been over there, the pilots had been over there, as I said before, since the day before, to give them crew rest and sort of get them out of the way from people yanking them, using them for 'ash and trash' details. Crew rest had really became a factor because we would find ourselves doing more and more missions, moving people around for coordinations, and people really failed to consider the impact that it was going to have on the pilots later on. So we went ahead and positioned them over to Fort Sherman so they could interface with the infantry unit and permit the infantry to use the aircraft, and to give them some crew rest.
What went over there were six UH-1[H]s and four
CH-47[C]s and an OH-58[C Kiowa]. We ... prior to their departure over there, we called the company commanders of the two units involved; that was B company that had the OH-58 and UH-1s, and C company that had the CH-47s. Now in ... during this period, the normal company commanders were not present. They were on leave in the States taking their families back because of the drawdown that was ongoing. MAJ Diaz was acting B company commander, and CW3 Dave Standish was the C company commander.
But we had those two folks in, plus their flight leads, the evening of 18 December and we went through a detailed point-by-point checklist of what was required. And we basically told them at that time that from all indications, that all the rehearsals and all the things that they had worked on before was about to take place. And the OPORD [operations order] that I had wrote for that Task Force ATLANTIC requirement was at a SECRET level. So they had always known specifically what targets they were going to and what it was they were going to do. So we were able to tell them at that time that if we were going to do anything, something was going to happen, that it was going to be that mission that they were going to fly. And we told them to go ahead, brief their pilots in detail at least three times during the course of the next day about the mission and go through a mental rehearsal of who does what and that sort of thing.
Later on, after that, we called and asked them (the key leaders, the flight leads) to return back the following day for some further guidance, just to go through one more time with the key leadership what it was that was on hand. We also gave them some idea of some of the other things that may be happening during the H-Hour sequence on the Pacific side.
Now, that was the force for Task Force ATLANTIC. The force that supported the initial H-Hour sequence on the Pacific side was the UH-60s out of Alpha company. And they were chopped under LTC [Benton H.] Borum's control under Task Force HAWK. And he task organized, basically, two flights of [UH]-60s under his control. Now, if I recollect correctly, the chop that ... A Company gave seven UH-60s. An additional two UH-60s were chopped to special operations for missions that they had. So there were a total of nine UH-60s from A Company that participated on this side. It would be best that CPT [Bradley] Mason or somebody from that flight describe in detail some of the ... .
MAJ WRIGHT: Yes. I have talked to CPT Mason. So I have his company pretty well locked down.
MAJ MUSE: O.K. However, that initial H-Hour execution was pretty much as I described before, the little football play where we picked up the 1st of the 508th, moved them into Fort Amador, and even though there was a tremendous amount of shooting going on, there was no incidents to any of the aircraft.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. You stayed with the folks on the Task Force ATLANTIC?
MAJ MUSE: That's correct. I can run through the sequence of that. H-Hour, of course, was 0100 in the morning. And what the mission on that side entailed was a simultaneous three-prong combat air assault to the areas of Gamboa, Renacer Prison, and Cerro Tigre, which is a list of logistical complex that the P.D.F. had. This required three separate flights, consisting of: two UH-1[H]s, two CH-47[C]s that went into Cerro Tigre; three UH-1[H]s that supported the assault into Renacer prison; and one UH-1[H] and two CH-47[C]s that went into the area at Gamboa.
MAJ WRIGHT: All seats out?
MAJ MUSE: All seats out, fifty pax ACL for the
CH-47s and ten pax ACL for the UH-1s. These three flights departed around 12:35, if I recollect.
MAJ WRIGHT: All taking off from Sherman?
MAJ MUSE: All taking off from Sherman. All basically flying ...
[END OF SIDE 1]
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K., this is Side 2 with MAJ Muse. If you'd continue, sir?
MAJ MUSE: The three flights from Fort Sherman had to take off so as to reach the objective areas at H-Hour.
MAJ WRIGHT: Flying high? Flying low?
MAJ MUSE: Flying low.
MAJ WRIGHT: Lights out?
MAJ MUSE: Lights out. Night vision goggles. They encountered a tremendous amount of ground fog and low ceilings en route as they flew along the Canal.
MAJ WRIGHT: Basically coming south down the Canal and then peeling off ... Cerro Tigre peeling off first? What was the sequence of elements?
MAJ MUSE: Actually, the Cerro Tigre element took an independent route. They basically broke from around where the Gatun Locks are. And the Cerro Tigre element flew a separate, route whereas the other two elements going into Gamboa and Renacer prison flew the same route going into the Chagres River; coming up the river, coming out from Madden Dam there. And then they went in and peeled off to approach their objective areas their own way there.
MAJ WRIGHT: Both of them coming in from the land side as opposed to the Canal side of their targets?
MAJ MUSE: Correct. They came from ... came basically from the eastern side of Gamboa to go into their target areas of Gamboa and Renacer Prison respectively.
MAJ WRIGHT: The prison element leading because it had the furthest to go? I mean it's not much further, but the furthest to go?
MAJ MUSE: Fog of battle--I can't tell you right now.
MAJ WRIGHT: No problem.
MAJ MUSE: I can't recollect.
Of course, the one going into Renacer Prison was the most critical, the most dangerous for the pilots. I would have to say that even though there was a certain amount of danger and unknowns in all of these locations, going into Renacer Prison is not an unknown. That was certain danger, and I had discussed many, many times with the ground element commander whether this in fact merited such a mission. Basically it was a mission not unlike the Son Tay mission in Viet Nam. And because of the skill of the pilots, because of the NVGs, because of the lights out, because of the devastating fire from the Cobras prior to them making their assault into the prison, it was ... it created enough confusion for those pilots to successfully land in there and to depart without having received a single hit.
MAJ WRIGHT: Who was your lead pilot going in?
MAJ MUSE: CW3 Mike Loats was the main pilot. And he was a critical player from the conception of this plan and through the rehearsal part of it all along. I wrote the OPLAN, the generic OPLAN, for this. However, he was the one who had to do the nitty-gritty concept of deciding which aircraft does what and who were the best pilots to do it.
MAJ WRIGHT: Did you have much combat experience available? Viet Nam veterans or anybody from Grenada?
MAJ MUSE: To my recollection, no. They were ... except perhaps one or two of the pilots in the CH-47s I would have to say there was no combat experience available. Descriptions that I have heard from the pilots who actually went into Renacer said they were easily able to see the P.D.F. on the ground with their weapons aiming at them, and it was amazing on their part that they were not hit. The amount of gunfire from both the door gunners on board and from the infantry element on board quickly suppressed any thoughts on the part of the P.D.F. of shooting at the aircraft. However, those few short milliseconds, it could have been anybody's guess.
MAJ WRIGHT: Was there any heavy weapons [fire] at the prison, or was it all small arms?
MAJ MUSE: It's my understanding it was only small arms. The C&C aircraft departed Fort Sherman about ten minutes prior to those two flights--the reason being is that the Task Force ATLANTIC commander, COL [Keith] Kellogg, and his
S-3, wanted it to be on site prior to their arrival. He wanted to see whether in fact because of the news that we had heard earlier, whether there would possibly be any preparatory response on their part.
The two Cobras, one which had the responsibility at Renacer prison, and the other had responsibility at Cerro Tigre, opened up to neutralize those two locations from their own positions, approximately H-minus-1.
MAJ WRIGHT: What kind of fire?
MAJ MUSE: The one at Renacer prison initially 20mm, and then followed with rockets.
MAJ WRIGHT: The 2.75-[inch]s?
MAJ MUSE: Correct. Then the one at Cerro Tigre only with 20mm--and that was because he had problems with his firing mechanism on the rockets.
MAJ WRIGHT: Rules of engagement?
MAJ MUSE: One of the critical things that we talked with the commanders and the flight leads, and one of the reasons why we brought them back on that second time in early morning of December 19th, was to go over one more time about the rules of engagement and to discuss in detail what we considered significant events.
Of course, the OPORD said that at H-minus-30 that all P.D.F. were considered hostile and that relieved a heavy burden on somebody. But going into these positions and with the preparatory shots of the Cobras, then it was assumed that shots would be fired and there were in fact tracers that would trail some of the aircraft. And even though there were no shots fired from the antiaircraft except from those at the Renacer, the door gunners were fully prepared to fire in response to fire taken.
MAJ WRIGHT: But in essence there was none of the 'hose-the-area-down-first' because of collateral damage issues?
MAJ MUSE: No. Absolutely not; absolutely not. These issues were discussed previously. And for anybody to fire, it was to suppress, to defend, and if there was any doubt at all, it was best to not do it. There was no ... the objectives at Gamboa and Cerro Tigre, there was no direct engagement for anybody to suppress. However, at Renacer Prison there was. If it had not been for one particular door gunner, there very may well have been a destroyed aircraft.
MAJ WRIGHT: Which door gunner was that?
MAJ MUSE: I don't have his name.
MAJ WRIGHT: But he took the ... he was able to suppress the fire?
MAJ MUSE: He was able to suppress it, and supposedly he did eliminate several guards that were about to engage the aircraft.
MAJ WRIGHT: Now, you said tracer fire. Red or green, or could you tell with the night vision goggles?
MAJ MUSE: Well, it was ... the tracer fire that I saw was red. I did not see any green tracer fire. And of course, when the 20mm opened on the Cobra, there was just a lot of confusion and there was ricochets and all that, so you can't really tell from the perspective that the C&C had who was doing what at that point in time. Later on, the aircraft that departed Gamboa, there was some tracer fire that followed them. Its origin I am uncertain.
MAJ WRIGHT: At the prison, the Cobra, one Cobra? Did it have an accompanying scout?
MAJ MUSE: No, there was no OH-58 that I recollect. The OH-58 that was on the scene was a C&C for the battalion commander of the ground element [LTC Lynn Moore], and he was also on the scene at the beginning of this action.
MAJ WRIGHT: The Cobra took down basically two predesignated targets, the guard shack and the guard tower?
MAJ MUSE: At Renacer Prison, that's correct.
MAJ WRIGHT: And when he was firing, where was the troop-carrying flight? Was it ... it was on final inbound?
MAJ MUSE: Well, as I said, I recollect that he began to fire at H-minus-1. So considering the airspeed and all of that, I would say that he was still probably about a mile and a half out while all of this was going on. And there was some significant turns.
I must say that in all the haze and the fog and all of that, there was just a tremendous amount of professional flying to accomplish that. Even though these pilots had flown these areas many, many, many times, just imagine the adrenaline, the known threat that was out there, the low-level flying, flying through the haze and the fog--to be able to fly the route at a very low level along the tree line and then to turn and ran on the objective with split-second timing is to say a lot for the pilots.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. The pilots for the prison put down inside the prison compound itself, not on the outside?
MAJ MUSE: That's correct. Two UH-1s went and physically landed in the compound. And a third UH-1 landed outside the compound in an area, I would say, a quarter of a mile to the north of the parking lot. And that was a blocking force.
MAJ WRIGHT: And then at Gamboa proper, you went into ... where was the LZ there? That big baseball diamond?
MAJ MUSE: Well, one UH-1 and two CH-47s landed there, and I can't say exactly the positions of each aircraft. One of the positions, and it could have been all of them, is directly behind the women's school that the P.D.F. had established there. But there were several other candidate sites there, and I am not sure at the last minute where the ground force commander wanted his troops.
MAJ WRIGHT: And at Cerro Tigre?
MAJ MUSE: Cerro Tigre consisted of two UH-1s and two CH-47s. And in my mind right now there is confusion as to where they exactly landed. I am not sure whether some of them physically landed in the compound or outside.
MAJ WRIGHT: That open area immediately adjacent to it?
MAJ MUSE: Yes. Correct.
MAJ WRIGHT: Any problems caused by the UH-1s and 47s flying, having to maintain formation with each other with different capabilities of the aircraft, or had that all been pretty well ironed out?
MAJ MUSE: There were some problems, and probably it could be as much the difference between pilots as much as for trying to fly the aircraft as a flight. The CH-47s is a heavy aircraft that can fly at a higher airspeed, and for a smaller aircraft it tends to fly formation ... or for it to fly formation on another aircraft is probably challenging on their part. When you throw in the factors of nighttime, low level, NVG, fog and haze, and all that other stuff, you can probably appreciate a little better the issue at hand.
MAJ WRIGHT: Your door gunner force. The crew chief from the regular flight crew, and then where did the second gunner come from?
MAJ MUSE: Someone out of the units going into ... . The only augmentation forces specifically for door gunners were for the UH-60s. There were some augmentation forces for CH-47s, principally pilots. However, I think there were some augmentation for the chief of flight engineers.
MAJ WRIGHT: The assault goes down, and they are using a codeword to indicate insertion completed?
MAJ MUSE: Right. I, sitting on the C&C aircraft, were tracking each of the flights. And what we had was certain checkpoints for each of the flights. And the way we developed this was to make one a flower, one an animal, and one--and let's see if I recollect correctly--I can pull that paperwork out and give it to you if you like. That way, when I heard that, I looked on my checklist and I could track them and I knew exactly which flight it was so I could track them as they were proceeding along, and as they were on short final. And then once they were there and exited, the had a code word which I gave them which I knew that they were safely out of the LZ back home.
MAJ WRIGHT: So real concern on the part of yourself and the colonel sitting there waiting to hear that last code word?
MAJ MUSE: Exactly. And there was some confusion, because there was one flight who had upwards to a fifteen-minute delay after H-Hour before we positively knew that they were safe.
MAJ WRIGHT: And that was just an information passing [problem]? I mean, they weren't fifteen minutes late on the objective, were they?
MAJ MUSE: Well, they were, in that--and this goes back to the discussion about flying in formation--whereas the one going into Cerro Tigre was a flight of UH-1s and CH-47s, and the CH-47s somehow were separated from the lead UH-1s, and they got misoriented and were delayed getting to the target area. So it was a while before we ascertained whether in fact that was straight and whether the troops had been assaulted in and the aircraft were out safely.
MAJ WRIGHT: Do you remember what your initial reaction was emotionally when you got the "everybody's in" and then you found out nobody had been hit?
MAJ MUSE: Well, having been a player throughout the inception of the plan, worked dealing with minute issues for aviation, I might could make an analogy as a coach is for his team. You know, the coach coaches his team up until the game; however, it's the players now and how well they were coached up until that point. So there was a lot of anxiety on my part, and I am sure on everybody's part, on whether everybody was going to get out safe and sound, particularly the one going into the prison. I really was very anxious about that one.
MAJ WRIGHT: Had you sort of mentally prepared yourself to start writing off aircraft?
MAJ MUSE: No. I had the highest and fullest confidence in the air crews. The worst-case scenario, I thought there would be an accident with two aircraft running together versus actually being destroyed by fire. That was my worst-case scenario.
MAJ WRIGHT: So the assault goes down, the ships looked clear. What then?
MAJ MUSE: Well, needless to say, on that last code word we tried to determine where those other aircraft were located. Once that was completed, the other aircraft returned back to the predesignated points for refueling. The [CH]-47s went to the FARP at Empire [Range], and the UH-1s went to Fort Sherman. I have to say two CH-47s went to Empire and two to Fort Sherman.
MAJ WRIGHT: Now, what was ... what was their mission, the ones that went back to Sherman? Were they an on-call force?
MAJ MUSE: Correct. What we saw, and what the order required, was that Fort Sherman would have some direct support aircraft remain. And no one really looked hard at what was going to happen after H-Hour. I mean, principally after the 82d had been moved to their target position, what's going to happen. Aviation was certainly going to be a critical player, and no one had thought that out. Even as difficult to imagine as what would be required, I'm sure that no one really understood what casualty figures might exist and what follow-on missions ... where all these air chutes that went in and out of the trees and marsh areas and the equipment that was lost in that marsh area outside of Torrijos [International Airport] could occur. So the plan at that point in time was to leave one CH-47 at Sherman, two UH-1s at Sherman, and an OH-58 at Sherman.
From the very beginning there was numerous casualties from the 7th ID, and they needed immediate response from Medevac. So rather than the other UH-1s going back to Howard and being involved in an already complicated affair of air space management, we elected to leave the
UH-1s at Fort Sherman. We sent two CH-47s back to Howard with the thought that they would be used immediately.
So the force that existed at Fort Sherman immediately after H-Hour and returning back to that location was those two CH-47s and six UH-1s. And the UH-1s, four of them if I recollect correctly, were involved for the next three to four hours in Medevac and resupply and troop movements and that sort of thing.
The aircraft we had dedicated for direct support to Task Force ATLANTIC was subsequently ... within 0500 on the 20th and ... subsequently pulled away from them and was basically organized under the umbrella of JTF SOUTH to use them as required.
MAJ WRIGHT: So they passed back to JTF AVIATION?
MAJ MUSE: That's correct.
MAJ WRIGHT: How did the troops get to Madden Dam?
MAJ MUSE: By land. They did not ...
MAJ WRIGHT: They moved by land from Gamboa?
MAJ MUSE: That's correct. Well, no, that was a separate movement all in its own. And I cannot explain that.
MAJ WRIGHT: Did you sling load in any vehicles with the assault, or was that strictly pax only?
MAJ MUSE: For the Task Force ATLANTIC? Combat assaulted in mostly.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. Subsequent to D-Day, then, you transitioned over into a regular routine of furnishing aircraft on call for resupply missions, displacing people east and west, things like that?
MAJ MUSE: Well, it was very difficult from D-Day forward, probably three days. And there was any number of reasons why. We had several units who had never worked together in any relationship, particularly under the relationship of a wartime environment. So there was a lot of frustration. There was a lot of confusion in the passing of issues and exactly what was wanted because it wasn't articulated very well.
Doctrinally speaking, an aviation unit should be given a mission--move X number of pax--and leave it to that mission to move those pax. Not be told move X number of pax, you're going to do it this way with this number of aircraft, and you're going to refuel here and that sort of thing. In essence, during those days it was a very one-way affair in mission flow. And the people who worked here, who had worked here all along, who had in-country knowledge and knew the good and bad points about anything was unable to respond and say: "Hey, you know, there's a better way of doing this," perhaps; or, "You're confusing, you've got this aircraft doing this and from our appearance it looks like you have another aircraft doing the same mission."
However, the one-way flow of missions and the people who controlled the mission flow just was not accessible to be talked to, or because of the time limits of the events it was almost a useless affair. So there was a lot of problems encountered, a lot of problems in communicating, problems in coordinating. Needless to say there's probably a tremendous amount of wasted blade hours. Looking back, I don't understand why someone really didn't look at what was going to happen after H-Hour and what would be a good process to accomplish those things.
MAJ WRIGHT: What about logistical issues--maintenance, any particular problems?
MAJ MUSE: Well, the unit had had a very high op[erational] tempo goal for the previous six months, based upon what I described earlier: SAND FLEAS, PURPLE STORMS, contingency readiness exercises. We had an accident back the last day of September, the results of which impacted on the Alpha Company UH-60s: a cooler fan component was found to be defective. Unable to get those parts, unable to have maintenance to do all that, we were in a recovery period prior to the execution of JUST CAUSE.
MAJ WRIGHT: Crew endurance a problem?
MAJ MUSE: Crew endurance--textbook by Army regulation--at times was difficult to manage. However, under the wartime requirements that we had and because of the eagerness of the air crews and of the command who were very aggressive and wanted to do a tremendous job ... needless to say there were air crews who flew well beyond what was expected of them. However, it was everybody's best judgment that the professionalism and experience level of them, well ... well, more than compensated for what may be on an otherwise high-risk environment ... to go ahead and do the job.
MAJ WRIGHT: You remain S-3 throughout the operation?
MAJ MUSE: Yes.
MAJ WRIGHT: Can you think of anything in retrospect that you would like to have added to your training program building up to JUST CAUSE, anything that revealed itself to you?
MAJ MUSE: Well, I am sure for many people during that training period, and most people did not really understand, it was very difficult to understand some of the things we were doing. In a way, it was what we would call trolling for trouble. Some of the things we had done before was very overt, very aggressive. If you were a P.D.F. person, you would really have to think that the US was really trying to make a confrontation out of it. So, from the common person, that probably looked that way. But in retrospect from the planning and everything, all of that that we did was certainly the most valuable aspect of the execution from an aviation point of view. The rehearsals specifically to execute the plan that you've heard in the previous three weeks and all the other things that we did, the working relationship with the ground force commanders, communications and all that, contributed directly to the success.
MAJ WRIGHT: When did your C&C ship move back down to the Pacific side?
MAJ MUSE: We remained on station, LTC Smith and I, until approximately 0300 the night of the 20th. We went out on the initial assault and then a following assault after refueling with COL Kellogg. COL Kellogg wanted to go out a third time, and it was at that time when we had to maneuver some other UH-1s back to Howard, based upon what we saw was a need for the VIP requirement that got called at that point in time. So we decided to come back to Howard at that time.
MAJ WRIGHT: Any comments on personnel matters?
MAJ MUSE: Well, I guess the best way to judge a unit is during a crisis situation. And if this was not a crisis, then I haven't experienced one yet. But there's a lot of variables that you can talk about on how well or how ready a unit is. I have since talked about what is the unit USR (Unit Status Report). And we in October just went through a battalion TOE [table of organization and equipment] change and were short equipment and short personnel--we were short personnel because of BLADE JEWEL, because we were going through a drawdown. Currently, and our readiness level is at full.
However, considering that we were minus an S-1, an
S-2, an S-4, two company commanders, and an assortment of key critical pilots and maintenance personnel; and all the equipment that we were short; and also understanding that we were augmented heavily with maintenance; that the performance of the unit is really amazing. To have done all of that; to sustain itself and continue with the number of flight hours that have been flown, and I think as of this day since nineteen days later, we have flown 2,150 hours, which equates to a tremendous number of hours for the year in aviation. And to have done that without any accident, without a single person being hurt, whether in combat or in an accidental fashion, is something to say for the unit.
MAJ WRIGHT: One question just to backtrack, no aircraft that supported the TF ATLANTIC took hits?
MAJ MUSE: I understand there was one hit on a UH-1, and I am not sure whether that was Cerro Tigre or Gamboa. However, there were no hits other than that one. And that hit may in fact have turned out to be something else afterwards, but my understanding was one hit.
MAJ WRIGHT: But it was not a critical area?
MAJ MUSE: No.
MAJ WRIGHT: Anything else you can think of, sir?
MAJ MUSE: Well, you've got this side from CPT Mason, and really he was the person who was on the scene to best describe that. I can say--are you interested in lessons learned or anything like that?
MAJ WRIGHT: Definitely.
MAJ MUSE: I have written an after-action [report] and I'd be happy to give you a copy if you desire. There were several lessons learned, and again, you know, from the soldier who is doing the ground pounding and executing, you have to wonder sometimes just why things don't occur.
One of the things that was brought out as a lesson learned during Grenada was the means of protecting the infantryman while using the aircraft and being hit by rounds coming up to the cockpit underneath the aircraft. Even though there was some system developed, there was no attempt that I am aware of to get a protective system of Kevlar or something of that fielded. And there were several people who went into Tinajitas, up in that area, that were hit because of no protection. Body armor for the pilots, that should be a TOE item. However, it's not.
With the situation that U.S. forces are faced with today, particularly with the rapid reaction requirement, the unit should have body armor based upon TOE: on hand and not have to requisition them.
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