DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
XVIII AIRBORNE CORPS
FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA
US ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
WASHINGTON, D. C.
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
Oral History Interview
1st Battalion, 228th Aviation
SFC Nadare M. Rivers
Aviation Maintenance Office NCOIC
MAJ Larry R. Santure
Interviews Conducted 8 January 1990 at Building 820, Fort Kobbe, Panama
Interviewer: MAJ Robert K. Wright, Jr.
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview JCIT 020
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K., this is an Operation JUST CAUSE interview being conducted 8 January 1990, in Building 820 at Fort Kobbe. And Sergeant, if I could get you to give me your full name, rank, and serial number?
SFC RIVERS: SFC Nadare Michael Rivers; my Social Security Number is ***-**-****.
MAJ WRIGHT: And what unit are you with?
SFC RIVERS: I'm with Headquarters and Headquarters Company[, 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation] and I presently work in the AMO office, the Aviation Maintenance Office.
MAJ WRIGHT: As the NCOIC [Noncommissioned Officer in Charge]?
SFC RIVERS: That's correct, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: December 16th, the Navy [actually, Marine] officer is shot and battalion goes on alert. Do you go into the TOC [tactical operations center] at that time and go on twenty-four-hour operations?
SFC RIVERS: No, sir, not directly. We were notified, we came in on alert. At the time I was not in the TOC, I was in the office. I was called down to the LAR's office--the Logistics Assistance Representative office--where I met up with my battalion commander, LTC [Douglas I.] Smith. At that time we had a brief discussion with one of the LAR representatives and myself, and I was informed, at that particular time, that it was a possibility we would go to war that night.
MAJ WRIGHT: I understand that the ... the AMO [Aviation Maintenance Officer] was off on leave at that time?
SFC RIVERS: That's correct.
MAJ WRIGHT: So here you were left holding the bag?
SFC RIVERS: Yes, sir, I was.
MAJ WRIGHT: How did you task organize then ... start getting your people prepared and ready to go?
SFC RIVERS: Let's make it singular, sir. How did I get my person together? It was just myself and SSG Nepper, and he's a 'newby' arrival, so there was no time for me to prepare him for this. Basically what we did is, we went back and took a look at our supplies, kind of projected some of the things that would be asked of us to do, as far as taskings. And just, you know, business as normal, for the time being.
MAJ WRIGHT: What was the status of your equipment at that point? Your birds, were they ... what maintenance level were they at? Were there any problems from peacetime operations that you were trying to get resolved that could have impacted on the actual operation?
SFC RIVERS: Certainly, sir. Parts, repair parts for the aircraft. At that time, we had had problems and we had a severe problem at the outset.
MAJ WRIGHT: Dealing specifically with ... ?
SFC RIVERS: O.K.. At that particular time, sir, we had a Safety of Flight message that came down, and it was dealing with the oil cooler. I don't know if you're familiar with the UH-60 [Blackhawk], but it cools the transmission oil, and at that time we had a Safety of Flight ... we had about, I believe it was about six aircraft that were down for oil coolers. So we were in the process of getting that done, or trying to accomplish that.
The main problem we were running into was in getting the parts at that time. Once the conflict started, and we went to an O-1 priority, obviously they all came in. The problem, the real problem we had was locating our parts as they entered the country, because numerous aircraft were landing and taking off and the personnel--or the Air Force that keeps track of those planes--did not know by tail number what was on them and where they were coming from. So that was a big problem.
So I spent the majority of my time--I spent a great majority of my time--tracking down parts for the battalion. Identifying those parts, and getting them down to the units and getting them to the mechanics to repair the aircraft.
MAJ WRIGHT: So that's basically running up and down the flight line here at Howard [Air Force Base] looking in piles?
SFC RIVERS: That is correct. From Hangar 4 to Hangar 1; not even Hangar 1, to the departure area, or the in-bound area where the parts came in. That's quite a distance, especially when you're walking.
MAJ WRIGHT: Oh. O.K. So, no vehicle? This is ...
SFC RIVERS: No vehicle. There was no vehicle to ride on. Then another thing we had, we had numerous reports we had to submit and receive. There was a great impact on everything we do here in the battalion. It was a sensitive nature and it was well-guarded ... and I have to pat myself and SSG Nepper on the back ... I've got to do this, because it had to be accurate, and so we'd check and double check and triple check our work, constantly. And this was not just within an eight-hour period; this is a twenty-four-hour operation.
MAJ WRIGHT: So did you work it out that you each tried to do a twelve hour shift, with overlap, then?
SFC RIVERS: It was impossible. The workload was just too demanding for one person to be on a twelve-hour shift. We were there, we slept in the office; in fact, we took catnaps, sitting in chairs, leaning up against the wall lockers, our head in between the wall locker and the wall. And any time we could get a break, we were catnapping. But other than that, for the last three days or the beginning of the war, two days after that, we were just constantly up.
MAJ WRIGHT: Then, as we've gone into a more of a sustainment tempo, you've been able to, you know, get hot food, get a decent night's sleep and stuff like that?
SFC RIVERS: Right, I still have nightmares about MREs [Meals, ready-to-eat].
MAJ WRIGHT: How long did you go on MREs?
SFC RIVERS: For two weeks ... two weeks we had MREs.
MAJ WRIGHT: You ran into the ten-day wall?
SFC RIVERS: That's correct.
MAJ WRIGHT: Big time.
SFC RIVERS: Yes, sir, and a little constipation comes along with that.
MAJ WRIGHT: As you worked through the procedure of finding the stuff, did you start pulling a good NCO [noncommissioned officer] channel to try to get other sets of eyes looking for your stuff?
SFC RIVERS: Exactly. At that point, where I found out ... maybe the second day that, you know, there was no way possible I could be out of the office or be in two places at one time--be out of the office and on the flight line checking parts. I got with my DSU [direct support unit]; I said, 'hey, look, this is your job, I'll help you as much as I can,' and I got those people involved. They were already involved themselves. Again, I'm saying, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack, with all the equipment that was coming in, nothing labeled, you know, per se. And having to physically go down there ... and you're talking about 4 o'clock in the morning, with a flashlight, looking at pallets, looking, you know, for our identification mark, our DODAACs [logistical identification codes] for companies, battalions. And names, numbers and things of that nature.
MAJ WRIGHT: Because the stuff was coming down marked in a variety of different manners?
SFC RIVERS: Well, once it got to Charleston [Air Force Base], I would say the manifest for personnel and parts ... as far as parts are concerned, sir, I don't think there was any. They just loaded them on there and got them down here and they were just waving good-bye, you're on your way, you know, with no set route, and no identification.
MAJ WRIGHT: Who was your DS unit?
SFC RIVERS: Direct support unit is Echo Company [Company E, 228th Aviation, an element of the 193d Support Battalion].
MAJ WRIGHT: Within the battalion?
SFC RIVERS: Echo Company, yes, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: So then you've got at least people you were familiar with there and you can work ... work with them much easier because you knew them and they knew you?
SFC RIVERS: Exactly, sir. Yes.
MAJ WRIGHT: As the operation went through the first couple of days and you started recovering aircraft now that had battle damage ... to what extent did that kick off your parts forecasting and stuff like that? Did that create problems because stuff was getting hit that you weren't normal ... you know, normal peacetime operations don't forecast some of those parts ever going out. Was that an issue? And if so, how'd you solve it?
SFC RIVERS: It never was an issue because we were starting to get the big items that we needed, things like transmissions, gear boxes, the oil coolers we referred to earlier. Never any problem after that ... I would say the second day. Some things, well--kind of, in a way. My mind escapes me right now, but I can remember one particular part that we needed that we had to wait for. Special equipment: vibrex boxes, PDOC static system check testers was an issue at one time because they got misrouted and picked up by another unit. That should have been delivered directly to us.
They had a big influence on our mission because we sustained a lot of battle damage, as you referred to, and a lot of our blades received small arms fire. And [we had to] to replace those blades, and once they were installed they had to be tracked. So therefore we were looking for our vibrex machines that were sent down and we could not find them, but finally we found them in a cage, locked up.
MAJ WRIGHT: Somebody had seen that it was a good part and they'd grabbed it?
SFC RIVERS: That's right, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: Did much of that happen, parts getting policed off by somebody other than who had requested them?
SFC RIVERS: No, no. Like I was telling you, it was total chaos down there as far as things coming in by plane. And again, the controllers did not know what plane was arriving until it landed on the ground and they actually radioed in and say, 'you know, my tail number's blank blank blank, my, you know, departure is blank blank blank, and here we are. Come and off-load us.' And that's how it went.
MAJ WRIGHT: As you went through the operation, a lot of people have alluded to the fact that you--this battalion--has flown an incredible number of flying hours. And you're starting to run into phase problems and things like that. How did you handle that vastly increased tempo in trying to keep your maintenance crew, say, going?
SFC RIVERS: O.K. Well, they offset that by augmentees, civilian and military. The battalion commander, the company commanders, were submitted or submitted--the different companies submitted--flow charts, which can be graphically, you know, read to determine what aircraft are coming close to phase. And they adjusted the aircraft--the different aircraft for different assignments--that way. The battalion commander was really, really keen on that. And we were not to ... and we were not going to overfly any inspection, and not one inspection was overflown. And I think we did a marvelous job. The battalion commander and the company commanders keeping track of that and ...
MAJ WRIGHT: Yeah, that's an incredible statistic to say that you didn't miss any of your regular inspections, given, you know, the propensity to, you know, grab any available bird and get it up in the air on some kind of a long flight that would have created problems. Out on the flight line, which I understand was moved for at least a time, off of hard stand over onto grass. Did you have any problems there caused by just having to work under really severe conditions?
SFC RIVERS: Sir, I couldn't give you an honest answer on that particular question, because I never made it to this side, on the grassy area. I was ... my work was always conducted either in the office or out on the hangar floor or down at the in-bound yard; I never got an opportunity to come over this way. Again, because I was the only guy in the office, other than SSG Nepper. And SSG Nepper, he learned a lot. Believe me, he learned a lot in a short time, a short period of time.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. Starting up again. A question that crosses my mind, in particular, thinking back to your training, was there anything that particularly sticks out in your mind as something that turned out to really have prepared you for this kind of heavy tempo of intensity situation?
SFC RIVERS: Experience. Well, experience to ... experience to a degree, sir, that you've been in the Army. I've been in the Army fifteen years. I've never been in war; closest I ever came to war was watching it on television. Training and experience, training and experience.
MAJ WRIGHT: Mostly unit level training versus, you know, just on-the-job stuff versus ...
SFC RIVERS: Unit level training, MOS [military occupational specialty] training, basically that's it, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: If you had a chance to make recommendations back to Fort Rucker to change ... I guess, Rucker or [Fort] Eustis, which one would it be?
SFC RIVERS: Either. Either.
MAJ WRIGHT: ... of stuff you'd like to see more training given to the young kids coming through, based on your experience down here ... got any suggestions or recommendations?
SFC RIVERS: I really can't say right now. I really couldn't. Because that would take ... for me to even think about it, maybe two days. But our crew chiefs and mechanics did an excellent job and our flying record for that period of time, you know, speaks for itself. No, sir, I really couldn't answer that question and give you a truthful answer, a well-thought-out answer.
MAJ WRIGHT: What about ADP [automatic data processing] equipment, computers ... did you use them?
SFC RIVERS: Extensively. We burned them up. In fact, the one in our office is about ready to fall down now. Yes, we did, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: What kind of computer was it?
SFC RIVERS: Zenith-248. Zenith-248.
MAJ WRIGHT: And you had the special software packages for doing the MO stuff?
SFC RIVERS: Well, in our C drive, we have everything that we utilize on a day-to-day basis, so ...
[BACKGROUND NOISE OF RADIO IN OPERATION]
MAJ WRIGHT: So that ... I mean versus having to try to execute all this with a stubby pencil.
SFC RIVERS: No. No way, no way.
MAJ WRIGHT: Recommendations on making sure that guys going through do learn how to use that software before they get to their unit?
SFC RIVERS: I can see now ... yes, sir, because that's, that's kind of the heart of the Army's, so to speak, TA-50. So yes, sir, definitely.
MAJ WRIGHT: Did you have any kind of a generator set up to back up your computer in case power had gone down here on post?
SFC RIVERS: Negative, sir. We had emergency lighting, but other than that, no. I was in a hangar, [an] office-type environment, so once the initial assault started, the lights did go out, and we would have had to go back to a manual pencil and pen type of situation then. So no, we did not have a back-up, no more than what the reports we had or we could inform what it goes from, the hard copies that we had onto the new copies.
MAJ WRIGHT: You're happy that you were able to keep the paperwork, roughly, in ... up to pace?
SFC RIVERS: Oh, yes. Yes.
MAJ WRIGHT: Did you expect to have problems with paperwork when this all started?
SFC RIVERS: Yes, sir, I could kind of foresee us having problems as far as time ... timely, being timely. The requests that we were requesting from the companies: be on time, be as accurate as possible. And sometimes the accuracy went out the window because things were changing so fast. The status of our aircraft were changing extremely fast. I mean, we could have an aircraft down somewhere and not know it and we're calling it up and in all actuality it's down. You know, make a determination if an aircraft was flyable or not after coming off a mission and it had been taken off or had been involved in small arm fire, you know. Quality control person or maintenance officer going to determine, hey, how much damage has it got, can the aircraft fly? That kind of thing. And we're on their backs saying hey, give us a report, give us a hard copy and give us true facts, because that's the only thing we were concerned about.
MAJ WRIGHT: Anything else that strikes your mind particularly?
SFC RIVERS: Yes. I got something. I really have to pat all the NCOs on the back, especially the senior NCOs on the back, within the battalion. Because the staff officers, the majority of them were all gone or were on leave. So basically the whole operation for the first five days--the first initial week of the conflict--was run by the NCOs in our battalion. That includes the S-1, the S-2, the S-4, the AMO office, and a lot of other individual areas that just don't come to mind right now, were run by NCOs. And they did a hell of a job.
MAJ WRIGHT: That's nice to hear. So it was a nice way to end the Year of the NCO.
SFC RIVERS: That's correct, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: Any other personal observations about, you know, the quality of life that you went through during the ... especially during that first week?
SFC RIVERS: Quality of life? The lack of sleep. No, none, sir. None whatsoever. It was kind of ... you know, I could elaborate on it more if we were out in a field environment, but here we were back in garrison and we had all these little niceties that other people didn't have that were actually out there having bullets shot at them. We never received any shelling, but we heard a lot. At one time we were afraid because it sounded like it was coming pretty close to the airfield. We ... you know, rumors were running rampant, so other than that, no, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: First night: did you hear the fight over at the Comandancia?
SFC RIVERS: Oh, yes. We sure did.
MAJ WRIGHT: At that point, it all got kind of real?
SFC RIVERS: Oh, yeah ... yes, sir. Saw some of the tracers from the aircraft, saw a lot of small ... heard a lot of small arms fire, felt the ground trembling ... it was real, and it got our attention. I'm not shy to, you know, to tell you that I was afraid. SSG Nepper was afraid because I turned and looked at him and I said .. he said, yeah ... felt like we was getting ready to go into a football game or something, you know how you get butterflies.
MAJ WRIGHT: You had your weapons and your TA-50 with you?
SFC RIVERS: Yes, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: You have to go in Kevlar out on the ... when you're going out walking up and down the flight line?
SFC RIVERS: All the time. Any time we were out of the office we had our Kevlar, our weapons, gas mask, ID cards, dog tags, you name it.
MAJ WRIGHT: When did they relax that and let you start getting a little more comfortable and business-like?
SFC RIVERS: In fact, that was two days ago. Two days ago.
MAJ WRIGHT: So that's a pretty sustained period of time?
SFC RIVERS: Yes, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: Can't think of anything else, other than to say thanks a lot for taking the time to give us that insight. It really helps round out the picture. Appreciate your time, sir.
SFC RIVERS: Thank you.
[END OF INTERVIEW; END OF SIDE 1, TAPE 1]
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. This is a JUST CAUSE interview on 8 January 1990, in Building 820 at Fort Kobbe, Panama. Interviewing official is MAJ [Robert] Wright, the JTF [SOUTH] historian. And if I can get you to give me your full name, rank, and serial number?
MAJ SANTURE Larry Richard Santure, Major, US Army, ***-**-****.
MAJ WRIGHT: And your duty position and unit, sir?
MAJ SANTURE Battalion Executive Officer, 1st [Battalion] of the 228th Aviation, Fort Kobbe, Panama.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K., sir. If I could get you to sort of pick up with how things started happening at the time you came over here as XO, which was April of 89.
MAJ SANTURE '89. Or would you want me to go back earlier? I've been here almost three and a half years now, from that point. It's up to you. How much time do you have?
MAJ WRIGHT: I think ... let's keep it to the battalion, sir.
MAJ SANTURE O.K. O.K., from April ... initially in April ... in May we went through two ... in May we went through change of command ceremonies for two of the units: Alpha Company, which is the [UH]-60 unit and Bravo Company, which is the [UH-1H] Huey [and OH]-58 unit.
We also, in May, late May, began ... or got ... received notification about the first dependant drawdown. This was a significant event and the fact that there were over 200 families within the battalion at that period of time. And they were all very concerned about when they were going to have to leave. That process began--leaving--there was a lot of controversy with that issue, a lot of remorse in that, having to send families back to the United States, or to other countries, in fact, without their spouses. Or ... and then having their spouse, or, if we had an opportunity to send them with their spouse, but the spouse would have to return back to their unit. We were looking at separations of anywhere from six months to eight months to even a year, when they were not even planning for it.
We had ... during that period of time, the way things worked out ... a family that moved in here in April, because of the rule that the individuals that were the longest time would get the first house, they moved right on post and into a house, whereas other families who had been here for a period of time living off-post had to move out. The other issue is that as off-post families had to move on-post, they had to live with family sponsors and as those family sponsors moved, we had instances where the ... when families had to live with sometimes three, four, different sponsors. Because their sponsors would move out and that house would become vacant and be given to someone else. So it was a trying time throughout that period of time.
Further, in June, we had the untimely electric ... one of the ... the Headquarters Company commander was electrocuted, while on a sailboat. That ... morale-wise, as far as the staff who knew him as being a very bright, outgoing captain, with a great future--a [United States] Military Academy graduate--that put a further damper on some of the things that occurred.
The situation with ... also what was difficult during that period of time is that the relationship we had with Task Force HAWK, which is the organization that was sent here from Fort Ord to augment the aviation forces here in Panama. Because of the personalities involved and issues, the two organizations (1st of the 228th and Task Force HAWK) did not have the best working relationship ... perhaps difference of philosophies, whatever. But that also contributed to some strained effects within battalion headquarters. That situation, however, changed with a new battalion commander being in place for Task Force HAWK and also a new battalion commander--LTC [Douglas I.] Smith, the first part of July, I believe about 14 July.
The situation in Panama during this period of time, leading up to the elections, was tenuous. And the fact that everyone, I hope, believed and knew that there was absolute martial law in this country. The person, Panamanian, with a weapon, in a uniform, had complete control over the population. In any sense: whether or not it was a traffic ticket, traffic fine, or anything else. The judicial system was completely broken and only served the ... Manuel Noriega and his cronies.
It's interesting to note the difference when ... the immediate difference that took place with the change of [commanding] generals. In July with ... between MG [Marc] Cisneros ... in June, I believe, with MG Cisneros and MG [Bernard] Loeffke. MG Loeffke was a very, very honest and open person. He believed that the basic P.D.F. soldier--Panamanian Defense Force soldier--was good, did not ... was not corrupt other than trying to provide enough money for his family--his family's sake--and was not evil. He felt that it was a political problem, I believe, here in Panama. He felt, as he later wrote in the Army Times, that the US forces were--and dependents here--were much safer than in other countries. He compared that to Peru and Colombia and that's probably an accurate statement.
The ... however, MG Cisneros, who had served in SOUTHCOM [US Southern Command] before this last tour and then coming in as the J-3, and then finally coming over and taking the controls of USARSO [United States Army, South] felt that enough was enough, and that we would exercise our rights regarding the former Canal Zone and according to the [Panama Canal] Treaty. We would posture ourselves, and that if we were ... that in fact we would not be intimidated by Noriega and his thugs. This immediately drew a great response from the people that had been here and had been subjected to basic lawlessness and the harassment of the P.D.F.
On one hand, where MG Loeffke stood in line for an hour to two hours to get a cedula, which was demanded by the P.D.F. to get a license plate or passe de salvo, to get a passe de salvo, I should say, MG Cisneros' response was that we will not stand there, we will do without. And if they want us to, we will get our own license plates ourselves. So, two different approaches to this thing. I like to refer back to MG Loeffke, to his legacy, in a little bit.
As we approached the elections, there was an increased awareness among the community that we needed to stay out of the Panamanian process. There was an instance in which a dependant, male, of a DOD employee here ... his face was used in a political commercial for the government, for Noriega. His voice was dubbed over, but, again, his face was used in this video propaganda scheme as being for the Noriega regime.
We were on alert during that period of time, watching the elections. And unfortunately, with the elections and with the ultimate renunciation of the results, yet again ... . And I think one of the things that were disheartening is the lack of the US military response at that point in time.
I want to digress just a little bit here. I lived downtown, here in Panama, when this whole affair began with Diaz Herrera, and saying those things about ... coming out and saying those things about Noriega. And he started the opposition movement in Panama. It was quite something. Where we lived in was an upper middle class neighborhood that [was the neighborhood of] these individuals: bankers and whatever. When I would come home they would always ask me what PML [Personnel Movement Limitation] we were [under]. And if it were a higher PML, they were ... they thought that was a good thing, because then they thought that we were on a higher alert and that we would start doing things. We got up, I think, to PML Charlie at that point in time, for a few days. And then, again, regressed from that. But again, nothing happened.
Then as the banking questions began in Panama, it further disheartened the population that the US was not doing anything. The ... in many cases in talking to Panamanians, they would continually ask at that point in time 'why don't you step in and do something?' And of course the answer was: according to the treaty, we could not meddle into Panamanian politics as long as it did not ... as long as they did not threaten the operation of the Panama Canal. That was the basic issue of it and then it went on from there.
I'd like to skip over. After the dependant drawdown in ... that finished in July (by the 30th of June, actually), we saw again a fluctuation of the PMLs (movement limitations, personnel movement limitations). In ... however, at that time we had begun and were working seriously on different planning. Up to that point in time, until after the elections, we were more or less posturing ourselves and doing air assaults and doing night work and gaining experience working with the task force whenever we could. However, there was not a definitive-type plan and framework to work in to that included all the different aspects. I don't think anyone knew what was actually happening and that maybe we were just hoping for one magic day ... the words, "The balloon went up," and we'd all go to war.
However, the detailed planning became more and more involved. As I said, a different battalion commander for both forces. The brigade from Fort Ord--Aviation Brigade[, 7th Infantry Division] from Fort Ord was becoming more involved in the operations down here, until finally we started seeing the actual fruits of our labor in joint-type exercises, utilizing the [AH-1G] Cobras and the OH-58s, in our mobile assaults. Throughout this period of time, however, we were conducting joint operations, utilized with the Marines and naval forces as well as the Air Force.
MAJ WRIGHT: Had you had Cobras down here, sir, prior to the ...
MAJ SANTURE Task Force HAWK?
MAJ WRIGHT: Yeah.
MAJ SANTURE No. No, no, they were not down here. The only ... the closest thing that we had up to, I believe, '79, were [UH-1]N model Hueys that were flown by the Air Force. And their primary ... which could be mounted with mini-guns ... their primary purpose, however, was search and rescue. There were no other offensive type helicopters here, prior to that.
Then, again, on the 30th of September, the change of command with GEN [Volney F.] Warner. And most people understood that the reason GEN Warner had been dismissed, basically, was because of his inability to achieve results here in Panama. Not that he was an ineffective leader or that he had lost control in any sense of the word, but that the Army was--or the SOUTHCOM--was looked at perhaps to be the qualifying force, and the cornerstone of any actions that would take place down here. The State Department, for all of their good ... I had met with, I had been in meetings with Ambassador Davis ... as he himself said, 'my ... don't ask me about military matters; the highest rank I made was as an E-5 or E-6 and that was as a meteorologist.' Therefore, we ... at that point in time, personally, I don't ... I discounted his participation in any sort of a military solution within this [context]. Not to say that he wasn't a brave and valorous man, by keeping the ex-president of Panama in his quarters, in his house, as well as a whole host of other political refugees.
In the October 3 coup attempt, I knew .. I knew several days beforehand that something was going down, unofficially. I was able to fly as a scout on the western side of Panama City for that period of time. We were very limited in what we could do. Others will talk to you about what they saw in ... over Panama, and being fired at and that sort of thing. But the participation we did was maintain continuous watch over the western side of Panama.
At 9:45 I believe, or 9:30 that day, we saw the 727 or 707 landing at Rio Hato. We were restricted from entering anywhere close to that area. The ... our DCSOPA Aviation [Aviation Section, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations] had told us specifically, do not go past a point some 2,000 to 4,000 meters close to Rio Hato where this aircraft landed. Further, we saw other fixed wing aircraft, transport aircraft, landing--twin engine that the P.D.F. used to transport things. At that point in time, we didn't know if people were coming out or going back in. However, it was reported what was going on. We were hoping--those of us flying the aircraft--that Noriega was going out to Rio Hato to gather his forces, because he had his beach houses and ... out there. However, as we found out, that they were only going out there to load men and rifles and equipment there to take them back in to Panama City to put down a coup.
We flew ... our aircraft flew over seven hours that day, monitoring the situation. We saw Panamanian soldiers getting out of P.D.F.-type buses, clearly marked, getting into civilian buses and then heading into the city. We saw weapons ... weapons being carried by dump trucks heading into the city. It was a unique experience to watch that unravel below us in [La] Chorrera and other places out toward Rio Hato.
I think because of the failed coup attempt and listening to what the aftermath was, I think at that point in time, a decision had been made to get serious about this operation. Further involvement ... we then began a series of intensive training programs to make sure that all available pilots we had could be night-vision qualified, night-vision goggle [NVG] qualified as required. The increased maintenance effort was made.
Some criticism was made. We received some criticisms those few times. As visitors may, by chance, wander by the hangar on a Sunday afternoon, or a Saturday afternoon, and say, why aren't your folks working? Why don't you have your people working seven days a week during this critical time? The answer to that was not that we wouldn't want our people to work, but that we had been in this situation for a year and a half, and to try to maintain that type of readiness and alertness throughout the year and a half, at that level, would have worn both the men down and also the equipment. So, we did what we could to maintain the aircraft and go on from there.
Again, the PMLs fluctuated between Charlie, Delta. We went one period of time being on Charlie for thirty-one days; that was restricting to our movement. Then finally we went into this other phase, this last phase.
All of ... we had been asking for augmentees, they were arriving. [CH-47] Chinook augmentees, specifically, as we were forming up a new Chinook company [Company C, 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation].
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. When did that company come on line?
MAJ SANTURE 16 October . What also occurred is that we lost control of our AVIM company--aviation intermediate maintenance company--on 16 October as well.
MAJ WRIGHT: That passed to 41st [Support] Group?
MAJ SANTURE That passed to 41st Area Support Group, under the direct control of the 193d Support Battalion. That was fought ... with ... and we're seeing the results of that now.
MAJ WRIGHT: 193d Brigade has the same comment about when they lost the direct support battalion and it passed to the area support group.
MAJ SANTURE Right. The ... we just lose a lot of issues. The 193d Support Battalion commander, LTC Hinojosa, immediately gave directives to his ... to the captain, the company commander, CPT Ken Kent, regarding the attitude and cooperativeness, level of cooperativeness, that he would maintain with our unit.
And we are now, some three months after that--almost three months after that--and I can tell you that there is a real problem now that has developed because of that attitude and those directives. Everything from reporting aircraft hours to working, sharing equipment to who's got what maintenance and the priority of maintenance.
I hope and trust that we don't have to get to the point in which our ... the aviation brigade at Fort Ord also had to learn this lesson: that the AVIM unit belongs with the battalion. But they have learned it and they have subsequently put the battalion under ... that AVIM unit under the brigade. And as now we have a brigade [128th Aviation Brigade in the process of activation], that's probably the place for that--that is without a doubt, I should say, the place for that AVIM unit. It's difficult to get a non-aviator commander to give the priority to aviation assets, when he has been given other non-aviation requirements. And, it's just part of it.
MAJ WRIGHT: That's ... I've heard that back at [Fort] Bragg, I've heard that elsewhere. That it doesn't make sense not to have the AVIM where it can be responsive to the aviators.
MAJ SANTURE That's true. Because you're pitting one aviator, basically, against another. And it's just ... it's just a sorry state of affairs. But that was the decision that was made, and we'll salute that as long as that decision is there, and we will try to make the situation work.
Further ... . O.K., coming up to the actual real issues at hand here, on the 17th of December, at the formal [dance], MG Cisneros stood up about 9:45 and told us there's a threat, there's been a shooting downtown; the formal was over and for all individuals to report to their units. The battalion had called a recall--an immediate recall--already. Those of us who were at the formal went home, changed clothes out of the dress uniforms, and came in directly to work.
MAJ WRIGHT: At this point, the battalion had been keeping a short recall anyway, right?
MAJ SANTURE That's right. About a two-hour recall all the way through. We had been keeping a two-hour recall, basically, since about October. So we knew where most of the folks were. At about 12 o'clock that night, we had 100 percent strength--2400 hours, we had 100 percent strength. We were waiting for notification, we had key aircraft on strip alert, we were ready to go. Again, not much happened. And then when we saw that the official word was that we were supposed to go back to as ... we would let the politicals work through the situation.
Let me go back through another point on this 193d Support [Battalion] business. In October, we began working on the FARP locations, which was a requirement. They had ... we had to have a FARP (forward arming and refueling point) at Venado Beach, Venado Drop Zone, which is about three miles from Howard, two miles from Howard. We had to have a ... one established at a place called 16-Alpha, which is near Empire Range, and the third area was at Fort Sherman.
The aviation battalion did not have the equipment to provide as much fuel on hand as required to it's assigned FARP, which was Venado. The requirement there was to have 20,000 gallons of fuel on hand. This aviation battalion, at that time, had eleven TPUs (tanker pump units) available. Each tanker pump unit carries 1,250 gallons. We could augment that with 500 gallon blivets which are internal to us. However, those are unwieldy and take time to position and would have to be refueled. Further, if we refueled out of the TPUs, tanker pump units, we were required to set up six points. In order to set up six points with the fuel flow as required, we would take six TPUs and six additional pumps and fuel separators to man those points.
Further, we had to tie at Venado into this air traffic control (ATC) as well [a] re-arm point. As we did not have the equipment, the only people that did have the equipment was 41st Area Support Group--the 193d [Support Battalion]. However, they did not have the personnel to run it. Our position was/is that it was their equipment. We did not have the experience of all ... we had at that time seventeen [personnel in Military Occupational Specialty] 77F, which is fuel handlers, and the most senior of which was an E-5 [sergeant]. We did not have the experience to manage and to supervise the equipment necessary for the FARP. So therefore, after considerable, considerable haranguing, in which colonels and generals got involved, it was finally, finally, ironed out that the 193d ...
[END OF TAPE 1]
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. This is Tape 2; continuing with MAJ Santure.
MAJ SANTURE And also that our 77Fs would be OPCON'd [placed under the operational control of] to the 193d for use at Venado. Initially, on paper, that doesn't sound bad. But the realities of it were that 193d required communication from their headquarters to the FARP. They were unwilling to provide the equipment necessary for that, so therefore the aviation battalion provided the radios, they provided tentage and provided the generator support for that, as well as setting up the direct communication between the 193d ... between the refueling points and the ATC.
The real portion that was lacking, and which wasn't going off as well, is that the quartermaster types in the 193d were good at managing their equipment. That part was well. What they were poor at, and unskilled at, is understanding what the pilots and aircraft would do upon landing at the FARP and being directed by ATC.
For example, the captain who was put out in charge didn't realize that the ATC element in charge of Venado could direct the pilots to any particular pad. He was taking it that the pilots were just showing up, a refueler went out in front of the pad and waved him over, and the aircraft went to that pad. He was unaware of any other communication that went on between ATC and the pilot and the aircraft. And that wasn't sorted out until months later--a month later.
Further, is that when ... as individuals are OPCON'd to a force, the priority again is different. Whereas, the 193d was interested in making sure that individuals were in the proper uniform and that sort of thing, we, as aviators, we were interested in the safety aspects of making sure that, first of all, the things weren't going to blow up, and also, fast, efficient, service. Because we knew that when four to six aircraft arrived at any one time, that it was critical to the mission ... it would be critical to the mission for a fast turnaround time at the FARP. Again, I don't think that that position was held by the non-aviator types.
Further, we had problems as well. Because of the proximity of Venado, we provided the food (initially) to our soldiers. And, because 193d did not provide that food, initially, to their soldiers, they, of course, used our facilities--which is not a problem. However, as this ... again ... internal conflicts began, the 193d, because we ... because our folks were OPCON'd to them, and they were responsible for messing and all the other things, they picked up the mess facilities. However, every time a radio went down or communication was missed, we received a call that the communication was screwed up, the generators were out, and whatever. So finally, not only did we have the 77Fs out there, but we had to permanently put a generator mechanic as well as a communications individual out there so they could maintain contact. We did this out of hide to support their mission and they had the mission to provide fuel at Venado. That was the bottom line in which they needed to ... in which they needed additional OPCON support from our individuals.
Further, as all our 77Fs were to be OPCON'd to them, the refueling and defueling requirements plus package POL [petroleum, oil, lubricants] issue, which is a 77F requirement, at the airfield, became an issue. Because if all our refuelers--refueling personnel--are out at Venado, working out there, and staying out there, then we still ... then we have the difficulty of maintaining any sort of base op[eration]s operation at the fixed location. Doing those things normally: providing engine oil, hydraulic oil, that sort of thing to the organizations; as well as, as I said, defueling operations prior to maintenance being done on an aircraft; and also refueling some aircraft that simply could not land at Venado for one reason or another.
That all ties into it and made the situation (which still is, to a point) confusing. And it's unfortunate that that has happened. The fix to this is that an aviation battalion be authorized, and have on-hand, those refueling assets needed: basically HEMTT [heavy expanded mobility] tankers, with a thing called H-TARS [a refueling system] assigned to it, with it, modified. So that it can refuel its own internal aircraft, utilizing all-internal support. And not depend upon a support battalion of non-aviators who don't understand the aviation mission, specifically, to provide that fuel. We need to look at that and utilize that support battalion and--as they should be--and that is as a bulk fuel location, somewhere in the rear, in which to drive the HEMTTs back to and from, in order to receive the fuel.
MAJ WRIGHT: Now, when you're talking about the problems of just setting up the one FARP, you additionally had responsibility for a hot fuel point up at Fort Sherman.
MAJ SANTURE Yes, that was taken care of by Task Force HAWK personnel, because they were going to ... they had aircraft up there. That was the split. What it was, was that Task Force HAWK had Fort Sherman, 193d Support Battalion had it in total at
16-Alpha and then we would OPCON our people to 193d for Venado. As it turned out, what they actually provided at Venado were the 10,000 gallon bags, 350-GPM [gallon-per-minute] pumps, which we are not authorized at the battalion, a fuel separator, and four-inch hose. Everything else out there, to include tentage, commo, generators, lights--we even arranged for the porta-potty out there--to do that sort of thing. And we also put out our two-inch pipe and utilized nozzles from our organization, because 193d does't have them.
MAJ WRIGHT: So pretty much what you've got is: of the three sites, two of the three sites were being eaten out of hide by the aviator units that were down here?
MAJ SANTURE Yes. Yes, without a doubt. And then, because of, again, equipment and that sort of thing, when another site during this exercise was opened up at Rio Hato, the ... we had one individual that had to go up there and sign for equipment to be taken up there, because, again, 193d didn't have a lot of equipment--any more equipment--and that they were lacking for personnel assets as well.
MAJ WRIGHT: And this is a critical issue in the fuel handling side, but it's complicated across the board by the ammo handling side then, as well?
MAJ SANTURE Yes. The ammo handling ... now, our battalion did not get involved in the ammo issue because that was deferred to Task Force HAWK and also to Task Force WOLF, which had the AH-64s. But the issues, when we set up the FARP location and to include the rearming point, we did it upon the best way we could do it: separating the rearm point from the refueling point by a considerable distance and hopefully by providing security around it.
The other issue that goes along with this is that, as Venado was the 193d Support Battalion's problem, they were located quite some distance away. However, since the aviation battalion is here, we were more concerned about the security of that area. And I remember several phone calls that I made to their S-3 and XO inquiring about security, to ensure that we had the security, because as the helicopters landed, they were in direct view of the city, the small town that was there, Vera Cruz, as well as to any other road traffic that could occur at any time. In fact, we did catch ... one night our guys did catch a person out there who they thought was a thief, that could have been scouting the area out.
But that's all the things that are involved in that. Again, perhaps it's my suspicions about where support should ... about the priority of support given, but I would ... I would, without a doubt, have refueling operations placed under an aviation command, rather than give it to an organization that had perhaps other priorities.
MAJ WRIGHT: To work through this issue. Over time, as the operational tempo picked up, these problems shook themselves out, or was it a lingering ... ?
MAJ SANTURE It is a lingering problem and it still is a lingering problem. To this day I still have my commo guys out there, I still have my generator mechanic out there. The ... it wasn't until several days ago that I went out there, and I'd been told by the battalion commander of the 193d Support Battalion commander to stay away, don't get involved; directly, using some very choice, unprofessional words from that individual.
But however, when aircraft are landing there, there was still not any close coordination between the ATC and the unit commander, that person that they had out there, CPT DeJesus. So finally, it ... LTC Smith brought this issue up time and time again, so finally it was an issue that needed to be done. I went out there, CPT DeJesus happened to be in the battalion area, we briefed the ATC in regard to the policies and procedures. We had briefed our ... some fuel people, some of the senior fuel oil people that we had going out there as well, and he came in and I gave him--told him exactly all things that needed to be done so that it would help effect efficient operations.
And then, because what was actually happening, is that aircraft were landing in a formation of four or five and it was taking a long time for them to get fuel. And that was just unacceptable, just hurt the mission, especially if the aircraft was getting low on fuel. Which in one case was an aircraft got--a UH-60 that got down to 200 pounds of fuel, and it needed fuel right away, but because of the slowness of the refueling operation, couldn't get it. And it almost got to be a dangerous situation.
So I finally went out and explained it all to ATC people, explained it all to the other folks, and I thought I explained it pretty well to CPT DeJesus. Although, when I went out there to look at the site and see if the system was in operation, it was not. They had done some things; they had moved the field pole in the direct line of communication with ATC. But he had not specified to ATC what pads were his preferred pads for particular aircraft. What pads that he wanted to utilize first, in all cases. And to make sure that the ATC knew, for example, that pads two and three, for example, he didn't want to be utilized for Hueys or [OH]-58s. Pad one or pad four were the preferred pad. And pad one, preferably, because he wanted to use pad four for CH-47s. That had not been communicated to ATC in such a manner where that ATC would call, contact the pilot on his in-bound and say, expect pad one if you're a Huey or [OH]-58. Or expect pad two or three if you're a UH-60. But when I went out there directly and coordinated with him on there and showed him exactly how it could work, that's when effect occurred. And probably when LTC Hinojosa hears about this, he'll come over and use, again, unprofessional words.
MAJ WRIGHT: As we move up on the tempo of operations, you come in on the 17th; you've got a problem in the battalion, in the sense that leaves have left you short-handed.
MAJ SANTURE Yes. I ... as battalion executive officer, I had looked at the leave situation, looked at where we had been before, and in every case, there was a capable NCO to take charge of that. Did not have on the 17th--the night of the 17th, we did not have an officer in the S-1 section, an S-2. The S-1 was on leave, the S-2 had recently PCS'd [permanent change of station], in fact, the week prior. The S-3, fortunately, had their full complement of officers. The S-4 was on leave and the Aviation Maintenance Officer was also on leave.
When I had the opportunity, several days after the 17th, I got the NCOs together, as they were--I think they were together in the sergeant major's office--and I told them that because of the situation, we all needed to work together and we needed to really pull this thing off, and to support one another through whatever means we needed to do. And we had to get mission-oriented very quickly. Not that they weren't already. They're good guys and they work hard and they do those things that they need to do. But we need to look pro-actively. And I'll tell you, they did throughout. And we didn't get into it. After the 17th, we did those things and they worked, and we began to get a little bit more pro-active, but it wasn't until the night--Sunday night.
LTC Smith called me at--I was sleeping here. From the 17th, I stayed here, I did not go home. My couch in my office became my resident bed. On Sunday night, LTC Smith called me at 11:45 and said we had to clear out the hangar by 0500 hours, Hangar 3 by 0500 hours. I'm very proud of that effort the battalion made. Because at that time, the people that were working in the area--in those two companies that had most of the equipment in there--were two acting commanders: a CW3 Standish and a MAJ Diaz. What they did--I called both of them up that night--after LTC Smith had called me, got in contact with both of them about 2400 hours. I said we got to have everything out of there by 0500 hours.
They immediately acted, they set their people out, and it was within four hours, four and a half hours, not only was probably 10 to 15 aircraft moved out of there, including Chinooks, fixed wing C-12s, OH-58s that were torn all the way down, Hueys, but also other aircraft were moved from the ramp adjacent to it. And also by 4:30 in the morning, without any accident, incident, at all throughout this, there was a plywood barrier built up so that our folks could use the ... some of the shop areas that they had established along the sides of the hangar floor. This is all done within about four and a half hours. No complaining, super motivation on everyone's part to get this thing done, just super. And then they showed up for work again at 6:30 in the morning.
MAJ WRIGHT: Now, you had previously rehearsed, because of other deployments, emptying out that hangar?
MAJ SANTURE Well, it wasn't rehearsal, it was a requirement, but we had more time. We always had ... in fact, we did it once and we had about eight to ten hours. Another time we had two days. So this is the first time that we had to get it done, lock it down, and be out of there--completely out of there--and be able to put ... in fact, we closed the hangar doors on one end. We were out of there within four and a half hours. This is with all the other aircraft, and parts and pieces of parts, tool boxes, tables, chairs, and everything else; out of the way, covered up, moved to another hangar, and ready to operate that same morning at 0630. Just a tremendous effort. And, in fact, the other aircraft landed--special ops aircraft--landed at 0600 hours.
That was on Monday morning, when I talked to the folks at that time--and this might be classified--but they told me not only of the package that we had seen, normally see here, previous two times, which is "little birds" (0H-6s) and eight or twelve UH-60s. I was told at that time they were going to bring down twenty-five UH-60s, five, I believe, Chinooks, five CH-53s, plus an additional six MH-60s, for a heck of a total. And they were all going to put them on that ramp. And that was all going to occur within the next 24 hours.
So at 0600 hours, we saw the first "little birds" come in, we saw the other UH-60s, but we had not yet seen other aircraft. So that required us to move additional aircraft from the ramp area and make space. Which we did, with full cooperation from Task Force HAWK. Again, you've got to understand that the turnaround from July until December in attitudes and working conditions with Task Force HAWK had changed 180 out [180 degrees]. We were working friendly, we were cooperative in all aspects, we were doing things in much greater detail together, flying together, swapping parts and maintaining these things in a much better degree.
MAJ WRIGHT: Super.
MAJ SANTURE So anyway, we worked it out together where they had one area and then near the barracks area and then we had another area where we put things.
MAJ WRIGHT: Is this when you set up what I guess they call the corral?
MAJ SANTURE Yes, this is when we set up the corral.
Then on Tuesday night [19 December], we had heard inklings. We had a ... the commander had an 1800 meeting with COL [Douglas R.] Terrell, [Commander of Task Force AVIATION]. The colonel came over and talked to all the task force commanders and said this is the word. We met with him for about two hours. And LTC Smith had already deployed the UH-1s and the CH-47s to the other side [i.e., Fort Sherman on the Atlantic side of Panama].
He came in and basically told me I was in charge of the rear area. This was ... and he put the plan to effect, to wait for, wait for the code word that would come across to make the full alert, and go on from there. As we continued on, they had the plans rehearsed and then we took charge. The sergeant major and I basically took charge of the area after he left.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. Now, I think you'd explained to me that you and the sergeant major had brainstormed this out, that you would take care of inside and he would take care of outside?
MAJ SANTURE We had ... basically what I wanted, and what we agreed to, is that he would take care of the posting of the guards, he would take care of making sure the security was straight--squared away--and the soldiers were up and doing those things. And making also the mess halls available. We tried to make sure that we had hot coffee and soup for everyone, to include sandwiches and that sort of thing for the air crews that were returning. Also that the flight surgeon would be involved and make sure that the dispensary was available and the motor pool areas were squared away because of the proximity they were to the beach. And that--we had done all those things and again, his responsibilities were mainly on the outside. Coordination to make sure guys were ... had the uniform and not ... and nobody was doing anything crazy.
MAJ WRIGHT: What percentage of your force that was back here at the battalion rear got committed to guard duty so that they weren't available to do their MOS jobs? Was that a significant problem?
MAJ SANTURE No. It wasn't a significant problem. What was significant is that because of the tight security regarding all this and the effect of not to give any type of signature, we had not even coordinated with the adjoining units for fields of fire, and those substantive sorts of things. And which we did rapidly. We thought ... we found that to be a failure, quite early on, and which we did, because if we would have fired and got trigger-happy initially, we would have fired into the backs of a friendly force, because they were out further and they had other responsibilities that were out.
We did put initially a good guard force up; however, it was late at night and it didn't effect, it didn't seriously effect our unit responses at that point in time. They were reduced as we saw the security enveloping us, the Marines out there. And we kept waiting for ... I personally kept waiting for the code word to come across to attack. I would go over every once in a while and say, do we have the code word yet, do we have this code word? The answer was always no, and I knew that the mission H-hour was at 0100 hours.
So I didn't want to ... again, the directive was not to set out any type of signature. However, we needed time to back-plan from that and there was a certain sequence of events that needed to occur and which we had that were classified. So, as we kept waiting for this, nothing occurred. So finally about 10:45, I figured we needed at least two hours to make sure that we were all squared away before H-Hour and before the bombs went off and all that. So around 10:45, we called ... called 100 percent alert or muster, got the folks down and got everybody, and within about an hour, we had a complete roll count and everybody was found. And again, that's about 10:45 was when I took my chair in the TOC and worked out there and that was ...
MAJ WRIGHT: Yeah, could you take a couple of minutes to explain the way you set up the TOC, because I think it's a nice innovation?
MAJ SANTURE Normally what happens in a crisis situation is that everybody wants to get into the TOC and be part of the action, and stand around and listen to the radios and find out what's going on. I wanted to limit that because I knew there would be enough confusion as it is. So we limited it to the people there, the flight operation personnel: the lieutenant, the warrant officer--1LT [Keith] Nappenenburger and Mr. Jones. I had an S-1 representative there, I had an S-4 representative there and an S-2 representative there, to make sure that we had good personnel stats, we had good statistics, anything we needed regarding supplies, ammo, taken care of by the S-4 representative. And then of course, the S-2, because we had an intel[ligence] net going as well to listen and monitor and write down those things that were happening on the intel net. If anybody else wanted to go in ... . And there were some commo guys, the commo officer, to make sure that we had a string on him, so if any difficulties with any of the commo that he could get right on it. We had him there. And the motor officer as well, for any last minute vehicle requirements. Also, if we needed to use a wrecker at all, or a hoist or anything. And then some other people. But those were the secondary guys and they sat in the back.
From my chair forward were all the action guys. Everybody else was the guys that we had kind of on a string and they came in or out, they were never in the action area. So from the chair that--the swivel chair that I was sitting on (in, I should say) with my cup of coffee on my left hand side of it (I didn't want to take notes and be bothered with writing anything as this thing was going on) I could monitor actually a mini-staff at work.
And the sergeant major would come in and give reports: how the guard force was doing, where were they at, what the mess facilities were doing. And as such, the guys who were the experts in their particular areas could do those things. And as I saw something perhaps falling down along the wayside, guards, the call countersign for example, make sure that it was distributed, other things that needed to be done during this period of time. Again, the coordination of fire zones, the coordination of fire lines. All that sort of thing. Then, I could direct those things that happened, but yet stay out of the way and let them do what they needed to do.
In fact, I didn't touch a phone from the time that it actually started--I believe it was around 10:45--until I had to at 0400 in the morning. They did everything, everybody was doing their job. I ... again, if something urgent came up and we all needed to focus our attention on, we'd do that, which there were several times that did happen. We could stop all the activity real quick, direct the attention to that, get it fixed, get it working, and then ...
[END OF SIDE 1, TAPE 2]
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K.. This is continuation with MAJ Santure.
MAJ SANTURE Because what was happening is we were getting the ... we were getting input, we were getting phone calls. We had two secure phones back there at that time, getting phone calls about missions, updates, that sort of thing, continuously going up and down. We were getting intel summaries. Everyone was excited.
But again by there being one central point--and I, it wasn't me, it could have been anybody else that did it--one central point to direct the activities of the individuals without everyone yelling and screaming and able to work in their particular areas on the onesies and twosies basis; you don't need three or four guys in there and the S-4 or the S-2 or whatever else. And then everyone else who doesn't have an active part just sit back out of the way; they can monitor what's going on, stay out of the way and then -- but they're at the -- then, if their area of expertise is needed, they can be reached out and touched and either be there or the next office over, or someplace within phone call range.
And that's the way it worked, and it worked that way perfectly, perfectly. The missions were being passed to the units on secure radio or secure phone. I can't think of one thing we could have done better during that period of time.
We had the S-2--he had his order of battle map up, he was doing his notations there on a constant log. The radio operator and the S-3 had a constant log of all transmissions coming in and out and what was being said, what was the gist of it, and the actions he was taking on there as well. The flight operations personnel, sometimes answering one or two telephones at a time, were able to manage their particular areas, along with a SFC McBean that helped out with that. And then the S-1 who had the accurate count on the personnel, who was also monitoring some of the radio traffic and helping out in that area. And the S-4 doing those things and coordinating support and taking maintenance data, coordinating the course of the dining facility requirements and the ammo requirements and anything else that needed to be done as far as logistics and maintenance.
One thing we did right away that I'm glad we did, is before ... well, let me get back to TOC again. When the battalion commander came back in at 0500 hours, about 0515 hours that morning, the flight ops personnel were able to give him a brief on the current missions, current requirements, the missions that would be ongoing.
We had a lot of problems with the brigade because they were calling all missions by saying ... they would preface it by saying 'we think this mission's going to go,' or 'this is a heads-up for a mission.' And what we wanted and were looking for were specifics about who to report to, call signs, and that sort of thing. And that information just wasn't available. They were trying their best, but that portion was confusing; I wish it would have been better information coming down, but our pilots did well with the information that we had provided for them. Because we did have aircraft on stand-by.
But as I said, I didn't have an S-1, a -2, a -4, or the AMO, and by representatives, we had good people in there that knew the procedures and how to get things done. And when the battalion commander came in again at 5:15, after flying on a mission, as a C&C [command and control aircraft] out in--for the attack on Renacer [Prison]--it really gave him a good brief. And within two hours, he left the TOC area, along with the S-3 [MAJ G. "Butch" Muse] who had been flying. They went to their quarters to rest and then we maintained the TOC again until 12 o'clock--around 12 or 1 o'clock. And then that's when I finally left the TOC, when the S-3 came back in again.
MAJ WRIGHT: So you'd been going roughly, at that point, about thirty-six hours?
MAJ SANTURE Let's see: twelve, twenty-four, about thirty some hours thirty-plus hours; thirty-five hours. And I stayed around until about 2 o'clock.
MAJ WRIGHT: Did you feel you were pretty much coming up on the wall?
MAJ SANTURE No. And this is ... let me go back to this thing with MG Loeffke again, his thing that he did. If anything, that legacy that he left was for soldiers to be in shape. He was adamant about that; he wanted soldiers to be in shape. And we had--those of us who were under him, for a period of time--I think can see and have seen the advantage of that. Because here we've been going on for a period of time, under stressful conditions, back from the 17th--directly stressful. Aircraft out. And even before that, back at Thanksgiving, when we had guys on alert. But by being in shape, by being physically conditioned, you can do those things. You can ... when it's from.
I can truthfully say from the 17th of December until this operation kicked off on Tuesday night, I probably had ten hours of sleep, maybe in those four or five days. But still able to perform and continue to perform, because of just being in shape. And not only myself, but I think ninety-nine percent of the people in the battalion. And as we're trooping out, as we are here now on the 8th of January, that legacy of being in shape, of being physically fit, is important to the ... not only of course the infantry guys that are out there, but also to the support troops here with ... where our guys are out there even on the POL pumps that are manning the pumps 12 hours a day.
Because, again, there was not a lot of time for sleeping for any of my staff members, or any of the staff, because we would work twenty-hour days, twenty-two-hour days, easily. And get maybe a catnap between the hours of three and five, and then back up again at it. But you can't do that if you're not physically prepared to do it.
And that's -- for MG Bernard Loeffke, that's a point in his favor. Because again, to be able to maintain that mental alertness, even though physically you're not maybe a little tired, but you still maintain that mental alertness throughout the area.
MAJ WRIGHT: When you were sitting there at H-hour and you had the [S]-2 had his status board out, you're watching over everything. Were you able to monitor both the series of assaults that went down--the three assaults that went down under Task Force 1/228, and also listen to what was going on with your Alpha Company that was chopped over to Task Force HAWK for Fort Kobbe--I mean Fort Amador.
MAJ SANTURE No. Fort Amador, yeah. We had heard what was going on. I got ... my sources of information were so--of course I had the battalion net on which we were listening to our battalion go on. The forces that were attached to Task Force HAWK, they were in the next office over and so we were getting reports back in from them about what was happening with those individuals. And then of course we had the immediate reports of guards coming in--or the sergeant major saying we're seeing a lot of fireworks going on over here. And then also we had the intel line.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. So you were up on the intel net and they were tracking across the board.
MAJ SANTURE That's right, about all the things that were happening on the intel net.
MAJ WRIGHT: And you were in direct contact through the battalion net with the C&C ship and the colonel?
MAJ SANTURE Yes. Yes, I did not ever ... my priority was, or my function was, not to call him for anything. I did not want to do that because that would possibly degrade him from what his mission was, and as we were working here, I had the decision control and I would make those decisions as I deemed fit. I didn't want to jeopardize his mission by doing that sort of thing. In fact, I wanted to keep all the radio communication to a minimum as possible.
MAJ WRIGHT: So you were able to monitor pretty much with a fair degree of immediacy where all your people were as the first wave of assaults went down?
MAJ SANTURE Yes.
MAJ WRIGHT: And did you anticipate that there were going to be serious problems with aircraft losses?
MAJ SANTURE I had talked to the battalion commander. He and I had a private discussion in which I wanted to make sure that we recognized the chain of command about what would happen since he was flying and I would be back here, what would happen. Also that we recognized ... see, both of us had been in Viet Nam. We both recognized the great possibility of whenever you go into combat, or even flying aircraft in such large numbers as we had out flying, there's a good possibility--there's the possibility--that aircraft crews would be lost.
And I think, I hope that he had the confidence in me that we would persevere and that we would continue the mission, in light ... if in fact we did lose aircraft. That was the guidance and that was the mission. Since it was not a peacetime type operation, it was a wartime mission in which the objectives have to be met at a particular time and those objectives had been scrutinized under risk--under risk factors--and determined that we would, in fact, do those.
So there was no hesitancy on my part to withhold aircraft from being deployed on secondary missions or to not pursue the aviation objectives that we had--the secondary objectives.
MAJ WRIGHT: When you hear the reports that come in that all four of the initial H-Hour air assaults--the three on the Pacific side, the one on ... the one on the Pacific side, the three on the Atlantic side--have all gone through and you haven't lost any aircraft, is there a lifting of tension in the TOC?
MAJ SANTURE There is ... there is some, but we also had the report that there was a downed aircraft.
MAJ WRIGHT: Which wasn't one of yours?
MAJ SANTURE No, but see in the initial report, we didn't know whose it was. And that for me, and for everyone in the TOC perhaps that knew about that, it was an item of concern. But that is a very small little cog and I don't think even though the ... we had ... I think it had come through intel channels about the aircraft being down, everyone realized that that is an insignificant event in the factors that are unfolding. We cannot stop and wring our hands about a report of an aircraft going down. Those things happen. I think we spent less than a minute, maybe 30 seconds. Yep, O.K., an aircraft went down. We are not going to contact any of our flights to find out if it's one of theirs. That's not our job at this point in time. Our job is to support the ground forces here, making sure that additional aircraft get up and are deployed and briefed on time so that they can follow their missions as they are being called in directly. And that we continue on. We'll sort out the downed aircraft later when we have time. At this point in time it's not our objective, it's not our mission, we'll go on with other things.
MAJ WRIGHT: The [82d Airborne Division's parachute] jump onto Tocumen is delayed by weather. How were you getting the sense with your people poised up there at Empire [Range] waiting for the call? Does time start stretching out wildly now as you're waiting? And getting concerned about the rising of the sun and having to conduct those other three assaults in daylight?
MAJ SANTURE That's true. In fact, it is getting a concern. However, I think we were--with the going into [Fort] Amador and no one actually receiving fire during Amador; and also ... and no one getting hits, taking hits there. And no one taking hits at Renacer, I think that gave us a sort of--maybe--a false sense of euphoria at that point in time. So maybe going into Tinajitas that first time, we may not have expected ...
MAJ WRIGHT: That quality of opposition?
MAJ SANTURE Yeah. We were ready for it--we were ready for it by all means, but maybe in the back of our minds there may have been--now I don't know about the pilots that were flying it--but they saw the ... . Obviously they were ready for it because they had seen the firing coming out of the Comandancia and other places. They were obviously ready for it especially when they went into Panama Viejo for the assault: firing and one aircraft actually took hits, some aircraft actually took hits there. They were ready for it.
And then for us back here, as far as support base, when we got ... . When the aircraft came back in here--some aircraft came back in here after being refueled--this is again one of my S-4 functions for Task Force HAWK. They did not have enough ammunition on hand for the machine guns; they had fired a lot of machine guns. So the sergeant major came in to me about 9 or 10 o'clock in the morning, and said these aircraft are back and we need ammo. I don't have ammo, I don't have ammo.
We got the S-4, we made the phone calls, found out which company of ours had ammo, I ran down--got the vehicle and ran down, or the sergeant major had the vehicle--I went down to the company that had the ammo. We got a signature on 4,800 rounds of ammunition, took it out to the aircraft that were there and we personally distributed 4,800 rounds of ammunition to the air crews. I probably made a friend for life of the sergeant major, with their sergeant major. But it was something that we needed to do at that point in time.
MAJ WRIGHT: Was that just a factor that in the forecasting and planning on the ammunition that nobody had really expected the wild volume of fire for those secondary assaults?
MAJ SANTURE I don't know. I don't know what the problem was with Task Force HAWK. I view that as their own internal problem and that I'm glad that my [S]-4 and I were able to react and support them with that ammunition.
MAJ WRIGHT: Never any question in your mind about supporting them?
MAJ SANTURE No. Not ever any question.
MAJ WRIGHT: Again, one of those factors that you can attribute to the fact that you knew those guys because you had been working next door to them?
MAJ SANTURE No. You've got to understand that I've been in the situation before, and whatever personally I can do to achieve the mission, whether it's to a Marine or a Navy guy or Air Force guy--sometimes those Air Force guys you got to kick in the ass to get them to do things--but I will, and my staff will do it as well. We will do whatever it takes to do that, it doesn't make any difference who it is. If we have the requirements, we will do it. We have--during this thing--as a resident aviation company, we've loaned out some six or seven vehicles. We've provided probably over 150 cots to augmentees that are here. Our mess hall, today in fact, is feeding an additional 600 personnel. We provided ... we got quarters that we put people in that came down here on a moment's notice as augmentees that we had never met before or whatever else.
But we will do that and my staff: I'm very proud of them. Because since coming over here ... I'm not ... maybe they had that type of attitude before and maybe I was ... hopefully I've added to that. But we will do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission. And we are front-loading to do that; it doesn't make any difference. When you get into wartime like this, there is never, ever, any question that we will do that.
MAJ WRIGHT: Sustainment activities. With just the flood of missions, the difficulty in that we didn't get an MSR [main supply route on the ground] opened for so long so everything had to be done by air. Different kind of strain, but a strain as well?
MAJ SANTURE Yeah, but something that perhaps this aviation thing was uniquely suited for because of the availability of CH-47s. And the CH-47 guys did well. I can tell you back in July and August when we had maybe four, five, sometimes three, Chinooks flying out of eight or nine. And then later, perhaps three, four again. However, at the onset of this, out of nine helicopters, Chinooks, the availability rate--the fully mission capable rate--was seven and eight. And maintained at that. Now it's dropped down a little bit. But initially, anyway, because of the heavy flying, but initially these guys did it. All those little things that would keep a helicopter down automatically disappeared, rapidly. And these guys did a tremendous effort by all the maintenance guys. And, again, I think it's probably the attitude of 'mission accomplished.' We're going to suck up and do it.
MAJ WRIGHT: Can you also attribute some of that success to the fact that you are just configured to manage, what, four different types of aircraft, on a day-to-day basis? Therefore maybe a little more flexible in your staff procedures and your policies than say a single aircraft type battalion would be?
MAJ SANTURE Perhaps. Perhaps we have a tendency to look at the entire gamut of aircraft possibilities. And really, it's five aircraft because we have a fixed wing, we have the [OH]-58 ...
MAJ WRIGHT: You've got the [C]-12s, too.
MAJ SANTURE Yeah, we have the [OH]-58s, the Hueys, Chinooks, Blackhawks, and then the C-12s. So, in this effort, we have a tendency to, I think, to look at all the aspects, the capabilities of the aircraft and find out ... to look and see which one is better suited for these things. The Blackhawks did tremendously well in the air assaults and then later the other things. The Chinooks, the guys tell me that the Chinook is one of the best air assault aircraft going. I ...
MAJ WRIGHT: Having ridden in those in Viet Nam, I don't agree.
MAJ SANTURE I don't agree either. But they do put a lot of people on the ground at one time. And [OH]-58s, of course, we did a lot of flying at night with 58s.
Night vision goggles, you know, we talk a lot about night vision goggles and the use of night vision goggles in assaults but what we don't talk about is the follow-on days, nights I should say, when we could put ... when the requirement was to fly night vision goggles over the city, out to Tocumen, Panama Viejo, and other places, not only in Medevacs but in 58s and Hueys and Blackhawks. At that point in time, there was still considerable sniper fire going on. There was still things happening out there. And I'm convinced that our aircraft would have been shot at a lot more if we had had to put the lights on and weren't out there in a Nighthawk configuration where they just simply couldn't see us. They just couldn't see us.
MAJ WRIGHT: Real good point.
MAJ SANTURE They just couldn't see us.
MAJ WRIGHT: In LIC, the whole low intensity spectrum, that lights-out flying ... because you're not working against an enemy who has other systems at his disposal, he's still basically an ocular system guy.
MAJ SANTURE That's right.
MAJ WRIGHT: Makes it a lot easier, because I know from back in Viet Nam, the great hesitation to put a bird up at night.
MAJ SANTURE Oh, yeah. See, I flew Medevac in Vietnam and we would go out and fly at night; we turned down all the lights we could and go out and still we could get ... we were seen. Of course, it didn't help to fly the white helicopters with big red crosses on them either. Not at all. Not real good at night.
MAJ WRIGHT: Anything else particularly that comes across to you as sort of issues that jump out, or ... ?
MAJ SANTURE Let me tell you about the proactiveness. Every section has to be proactive.
I give you a case in point. And just little things--toilet tissue--those "triple SC" [self-service supply center]-type requirements. My supply sergeant, or the S-4 sergeant, had taken the initiative and that first day, Wednesday, had gone out to the SSSC store, to get those things that he needed right away that he knew were going to be in short supply. They went to the Air Force side of the house; fortunately we had an account with them--and just loaded up in useful things that we needed.
Proactive in acquiring MREs so that not a soldier went for a meal. And acquiring those things. Extended meal hours in the mess facilities, dining facilities. So that we found that with crews leaving and departing and that sort of thing, these guys needed a good meal. And they got it, and that was ... . And providing during the night hot soup and coffee and sandwiches to help out the ... to help things out. And that's ... all those things had to be replaced.
MAJ WRIGHT: Toilet tissue is an issue that cuts down on stress. It's a big time cutdown on stress and it's hard to get people to think of things like that.
MAJ SANTURE The other things are in the maintenance area. Getting the parts that we needed. Bad time. They put humanitarian aid as first priority and parts as second priority in transporting them out of Charleston. We're crying [for] parts down here. We were doing what they call a controlled substitution, or actually cannibalization, out of aircraft that were down because we needed to make sure of those aircraft. And it's double the work when you have to take a part off something before you can put it on another aircraft; that's twice the work. Plus, there's the possibility of damages when you're doing that, especially if it's an older part. So all that's included in that.
And the factor of S-2. My S-2 distributed over 1,000 maps during this period of time. All our aviators had maps of the general area. But as the process spread out, additional maps were required and then all the augmentee forces (Task Force HAWK, Task Force WOLF). Their aircraft composite groups and even the special ops guys did not have maps of the other areas. So he became the focal point and he's the guy that went over and picked up these additional maps of the other areas. But ... critical issue is to have maps so you plot where you're going.
MAJ WRIGHT: So you avoid Grenada [the shortage of maps in 1983's Operation URGENT FURY].
MAJ SANTURE That's right, exactly right.
The area of personnel. The sergeant [who] was in charge of that constantly knew exactly where everyone was and when people came in, augmentees or whatever else he had, he had constant accounting to handle them so that we never had a time where we didn't know where everyone was because of somebody gone, of somebody not being there, we could account for all of our folks. And that became especially true to make sure that aircraft weren't lost and air crews weren't lost, and that kind of thing because there's so many aircraft flying at any one time.
All of that had to be thought out in some detail, worked out, and sometime just left to a person's own initiative and expertise in his field. I couldn't tell the AMO sergeant down there 'say look, we need to get prepared for this, this, and this,' when he's a hangar away and he's writing reports and doing those things. And he's got to take those things on his initiative, and do those things.
And then when these guys ran into a stumbling block, either at the brigade level or someplace whether it was USARSO or someplace else, then I think what was equally important is that they knew they could come to me and either direct them in the right way or direct them to an individual who could help them. And then again, that's part of my experience that I had here in Panama being here for three years so I knew who to talk to and who could solve things. So that helped out.
One issue that I wrote up on the after-action report is that the aviation brigade, when it came in on the 18th and 19th and became operational. One thing that I felt was really lacking and a weak point is that they brought it in ... the aviation brigade total ... the headquarters ... they took a few aviators from the headquarters staff and plugged them in. But they had no aviation liaison or anybody who knew aviation operations in Panama or knew sort of the lay of the land, so to speak. They didn't know about--they had never been to places like Rio Hato, they didn't know what was there. They had not been to some of the other outlying areas. They didn't know about some of the nuances and things that would happen. And that ... and the lesson learned, they would take their missions in on one format on paper, have to transfer to another format, and then bring it in and then send it to us by FAX. And sometimes the FAX was slow. And what that causes is delays in the missions and therefore, when you have a delay, it's less planning time for the pilots and things have a tendency to get screwed up.
MAJ WRIGHT: There was no use of LNOs liaison officers]?
MAJ SANTURE No.
MAJ WRIGHT: See, that's been highlighted over on the maneuver side, that across the board, they had LNOs going every which way and they cited that as a critical expediter.
MAJ SANTURE Yeah. I think that would have ...
[END OF INTERVIEW; TAPE RAN OUT ON LAST ANSWER]