DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
XVIII AIRBORNE CORPS
FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA
UNITED STATES ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview
BATTERY D, 320th FIELD ARTILLERY
Captain Felepe S. Ibarra; Commander
First Lieutenant Kent K. Gibson; Executive Officer
Sergeant First Class Thomas R. Martin; Chief of Firing Battery
Interview conducted 8 January 1990 at Building 802, 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 003
[This tape is a continuation of JCIT 002, beginning on the second side of that
tape, and extending onto a second tape.]
MAJ WRIGHT: This is the second half of the interview with Delta Battery [Battery D], 320th Field Artillery. And if I could get you gentlemen to give me name, rank, serial number and your duty position within the battery.
SFC MARTIN: My name is SFC Martin, Thomas R., ***-**-****. I'm the Chief of Firing Battery of Delta Battery, 320th Field Artillery.
CPT IBARRA: Felepe Subderi Ibarra, Captain, ***-**-****, Battery Commander.
1LT GIBSON: 1st Lieutenant Gibson, Kent K., ***-**-****. I am the Executive Officer [XO] and acted as battery commander for the first seven days of Operation JUST CAUSE.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K., if I could get you three gentlemen to give me your perspective on the training program leading up to JUST CAUSE and how you guys prepared for it here in Delta Battery.
1LT GIBSON: I guess we could start by saying that when COL [Michael G.] Snell came in, he completely changed the mission focus of the entire [193d Infantry] Brigade. Basically, it went from the jungle to the city. To put it bluntly. And that, in turn, changed a lot of the stuff that the battery had a focus on. And what he wanted us to do was basically MOUT [military operations on urbanized terrain], the support of MOUT operations, which isn't really what they wanted to do, the unit to do. And one of his pet peeves was direct fire because he felt that would be a decisive way of using artillery down here, along with some high angle fires, and so forth.
The brigade went through several OPLANS [operations plans], and I'm sure they've talked to you about that, and finally came up with an OPLAN after the [3 October 1989] coup attempt that included the seventh gun and basically us sitting in a fire position supporting two different operations. And any time we went to the field during that period, that's all we did. We went to the assembly area position, which is not normally what an artillery unit does, and waited there until we got word to go to a fire position, which really never happened because ... during training because it was in a place where we just couldn't come in and set up and fire without blowing the windows out of the residences and so forth. The other was direct fire. We did quite a bit of direct fire, probably more than most units in the States, I would think.
MAJ WRIGHT: The guys had indicated in the earlier interview that all of the intense practicing on direct fire gave them suspicions about what their target area was. Do you agree with that, or do you think that's the way...?
CPT IBARRA: Well, actually, I had told them ... I had never said anything to these guys up until that first time we practiced. And I remember telling SGT [Javier A.] Brown: "well, SGT Brown, I'm wondering ... this is ... there is a plan, there are several plans here in Panama, OPLANS. One of them includes a direct fire gun and you are the section chief of this gun, and that's why you're here. You're part of the O-8 [major general's] plan and you going to practice direct firing." And they did.
It was a fourteen-day, let's see, the CinC [GEN Maxwell Thurman] directed a fourteen-day live fire train-up. He wanted everybody in the brigade to go through a cycle of firing their weapons. Zeroing, if necessary, et cetera, and so forth. And that was part of it. I don't think ... I'm not sure if he remembered about it, but it's no great secret that we were out there training with the infantry and, you know, they're firing direct fire, then the infantry is firing small arms at targets out in the range, that something's going on.
SFC MARTIN: Basically, you know, like when we was going out doing the training during that time, we was around Firing Point 810? And they were down on the hill in a valley and they had buildings set up and stuff in the vicinity. Just so, you know, you start adding one and one together and you start saying, well, they're telling these people you've got so much time to surrender. And, you know, say, well, they must be tough because quite a few people in the battery speak Spanish, so (I don't speak Spanish) so I was asking what were the saying. And they were saying that they told the P.D.F that they have so many minutes to surrender and if they don't this is the consequences. So we started adding it up. We didn't know when this was going to take place.
So then the operation came, Operation BLADE JEWEL, and we was getting the dependents out. So everybody kind of figured that this was going on after all of the dependents was out of the country, you know. So, then, when they let the battery commander go, I knew for sure it wasn't going to take place.
CPT IBARRA: I wanted to say something about training. In a typical battery, the Executive Officer basically runs the Firing Battery when it's in place. And it's no different here; in fact, the XO takes a lot more responsibilities because of the unique situation here. I think so. And I think it paid off because when the shit hit the fan, I was gone. And he had to take a long run and did a super job. And I think that goes ... that's a reflection of how we were training because he did, in fact, have a lot of control over the training. And it was good. I think we bumped into something there that turned out to really help us out.
1LT GIBSON: We're fortunate, too, because we had, the BC [battery commander] and I, had gone through a bunch of different training plans. And each time we decided, each time we went out, we wanted to do direct fire. And, normally, we got a range to do a Killer Junior, which I don't think any other unit does. And we concentrated on the range cards for the direct fire.
And we had some blank rounds. We did block-down which is road convoys, we had a hasty in-place fire plan. We did ... we had the FIST [fire support team] platoons aggress us (we had blank rounds there) so people would get the feel of what it feels like to be in a fire-fight, what it's like to be in a blocked ambush, what it's like to shoot a Killer Junior--what it looks like when it goes off--how to target dead space out there on a target.
MAJ WRIGHT: Do you want to just for the record explain Killer Junior? Because, I mean, you're taking me back a long way. The last time I heard that was twenty years ago in Viet Nam.
1LT GIBSON: This is something that the battery commander and I decided that we needed to do, and we have the ammunition down here to train. So, direct fire was becoming more and more a priority. So we integrated that with the Killer Junior technique, which targets dead space beyond what a [M]-203 grenade launcher can hit. But still within a sector where we could receive fire from some other weapons. So, if we had enemy in a dead space, we'd target that with Killer Junior, which is a time[-fused] round set at about two seconds, depending on the range. And a charge one [propellant], so you were lobbing a 105[mm] HE [high explosive] round over troops; it bursts and the fragments will go down into the dead space and, therefore, eliminate any enemy that's in that area.
So we practiced that quite a bit and each chief knew how to set it off, how to put it on his range card, how to quadrant the time setting for his dead space out there. And it paid off when we went out, because most of our activities were on perimeter defense fire base operations.
We had convoys where we had to prepare. Everyone knew what to do. Blocked ambush, how to emplace a gun quickly, fire off a round so ... The direct fire really paid off and our attention to the range cards and everything else, really came through.
MAJ WRIGHT: So you had redone your METL [mission-essential task list] based on COL Snell's new guidance?
CPT IBARRA: That's right.
1LT GIBSON: New guidance, yes, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: And what actually happened during JUST CAUSE validated how much of that METL? You managed to take off at least prepping all the things?
CPT IBARRA: The direct fire was one. I think there was an emphasis on battery defense that didn't exist prior to my coming here. And I think it paid off because these guys got serious and they will tell you that the battery went off to support the Rangers and the Marines in some areas that have yet to be explored by the maneuver guys, and it was dangerous. And soldiers took battery defense seriously. And I think--I'd like to think--that some of the things that we drilled into them focused them on that.
Of course, the indirect fire, we had to deal with the indirect firing regardless of the scenario. We never did, so it's hard to sense whether we could have or not. But I would say, although I wasn't there, that judging from training ... that everything up to the point of actually pulling a lanyard was executed as standard. That's my opinion, of course. Unfortunately, we didn't pull lanyards.
1LT GIBSON: Well, nobody else did either, so, you know ... .
CPT IBARRA: I was at home saying, "I need to be back because they're firing up all the City." That's all I heard on television.
CPT IBARRA: And I did...
MAJ WRIGHT: Could you visualize from the sheer number of plays, you know, that the mission turned out to be much ... many more rounds than it really was?
[MULTIPLE VOICES TALKING AT ONCE]
MAJ WRIGHT: Did you think it was wiping Panama City off the map?
CPT IBARRA: Exactly. I was watching television and it was like they were blowing the City away. And artillery is just devastating the structures. And, Jesus, I know my guys are just happier than shit right now pulling lanyards. But I got here and it was a real surprise that the only gun to fire was the direct fire.
MAJ WRIGHT: What exactly did you do then, 1LT Gibson, after you got the word to roll the battery out on the night of the 19th?
1LT GIBSON: O.K. We ... actually we got the word at 11:30 on the 19th. That morning, COL Snell had a meeting with the battalion commanders and, since we're a separate battery, the commander's normally entitled to go. So, at that point, he gave us the operation. And we were to go out and conduct the obs[ervation] and registration as if for training, but move everything up. Move everything out to the [Empire] Range and conduct offset reg[istration], and then to be ready to fire by 1100 at our emergency deployment position.
So we were chopped at that point, from the brigade. And we were task organized under JTF [joint task force] SOUTH. And that started at 1300 that afternoon. And from then on, we were in more or less a training mode. Drive people out, get offset registration [INTERRUPTION] which by the target list we had, gave us the best probable error. So that's ... we decided to do a charge six, conduct the offset registration.
Once that was over, he waited around and about 1800, I gave everybody a very thorough briefing on what was expected. Everyone was quarantined at the range at that point. Hopes were very high. Everyone expected that they were going to be shooting at some point in the very near future. We we're all happy; we wanted to get rid of Noriega. He had been a thorn in our sides for a long time. So you could imagine how pumped up people were when, at 1000--or rather at 2200, I gave the order to move out, and off we went to the EDP emergency deployment position].
And once we got in there, people were digging positions, they had their ammo covered. We didn't have to tell anybody. It was real easy for Smoke [SFC Martin] and I, because you didn't have to walk the gun line and say, 'hey, that's got to be shoulder deep.' You know, they were digging their fox holes, the ammo was covered. People had the range cards set up; everything was on their howitzer range cards. They were laid, ready to fire. It was very easy to control because everyone knew exactly what was expected; we had been there before. And they knew this was it.
And at 0030 on the 20th, rounds started coming overhead. People jumped into their fighting positions. And that was a little bit early so people were a little confused what was going on. We were getting a lot of ricochets and tracers. I think it was mainly the ADA [air defense artillery] that was coming over our head. But it got everybody pumped up. And Smoke had to go around and make sure people were still paying attention to their guns. They weren't just looking for shells coming in or someone probing our position. They were ready to fire.
And that whole night, we kept receiving reports of mortars and other things while the guns were waiting. We actually never got the word to fire. So it was kind of a disappointment in some ways, but it was still exciting just to be there and see the rounds going off, the City on fire--knowing that you were part of a large operation.
MAJ WRIGHT: You get through the first night. Morning comes up. Did you stay in place? Hold in place?
1LT GIBSON: Right. Stayed there for two days.
SFC MARTIN: Check.
1LT GIBSON: And when we got the word that the Rangers or rather the, let's see, the Marines, I guess ...
SFC MARTIN: Yes, sir, that's who it was.
1LT GIBSON: ... needed a platoon to go with them. They were starting to expand their AO [area of operations]. They had established a CP [command post] at Arrijan, which was about seven klicks [kilometers] from where we were at, at that time. So the link-up was going to be at that CP location, and then they were going to move out.
MAJ WRIGHT: That's sweeping to the west?
1LT GIBSON: Right, they're going to sweep west. So they ended up march ordering one of the platoons, and I went with the FDC [fire direction center] forward. And we linked up at Arrijan. We had a little down time and set up in a baseball field there; had the ammo and one of the dugouts. It was kind of interesting how all this stuff worked out. The baseball field was just the right size for a platoon. We had overhead cover. It was dug-in where the dug-outs were the right size. That was nice.
Then we moved out that evening with the LAVs [light armored vehicles] and we went to La Chorrera. Broke into a former P.D.F. training ground. We didn't know it at the time. It just looked like a farm. Broke through the fence there, set up a fire base there. And just stayed in place for two days as the Marines
cleared La Chorrera. And then we went down to Vaca Monte and cleared out at a naval station.
So the time we were there, sometimes we had infantry support, sometimes we didn't. So we were flip-flopping on the blocking positions on the highway. We ended up taking the surrender of about twelve P.D.F that walked up to our position and gave themselves up, surrendered themselves.
MAJ WRIGHT: So Battery D wound up with a POW [prisoner of war] count to claim?
1LT GIBSON: Oh, right. We also had a truckload of contraband. Johnny Walker Red
[LAUGHTER] and all kinds of weird things were coming through this blocking position.
And when the Marines left, we were left to control it. So we had our howitzers set up direct fire down on either side of the highway. One gun was really to do a adjust mission if the Marines needed it. And the rest of our people were swapping from the gun line down to the road to control people from crossing in front of the position, and doing traffic [control], and they were searching cars.
MAJ WRIGHT: Had you trained on just doing that sort of MP [military police] type role?
SFC MARTIN: No, sir, it was never expected. Basically, because the MPs and Marines left and there was no one there to do it. And they say 'hey, you all have to hold this down until the engineers came in.'
1LT GIBSON: Right. It wasn't part of the OPORD [operations order], but it just ... the Marines needed more fire power than they originally anticipated at Vaca Monte, so they pulled their people out of blocking positions. And since we were still there, we just took over the blocking positions. So we just put our howitzers where the LAVs used to be, and put our people out on the road. I think it was pretty effective. I don't think anything was going to get through that roadblock.
SFC MARTIN: I don't thing anybody would.
MAJ WRIGHT: Nobody tried to run it?
1LT GIBSON: No one tried to run it. No one even ... people approached very cautiously, with their hands in the air, white handkerchiefs overhead.
SFC MARTIN: There was just one retired P.D.F officer, he found a 40-millimeter ...
1LT GIBSON: That's true.
SFC MARTIN: ... grenade up underneath the seat. And he claimed he didn't know what it was.
1LT GIBSON: Yeah, he tried to run.
SFC MARTIN: So we told him to park his vehicle. And one Marine ... there was a Marine, a little Marine private [who] was still there, and he gunned his vehicle like he was going to run over him. So he pointed his weapon at him. And he said 'O.K., O.K.,' you know, and pulled his vehicle on over. But, other than that...
MAJ WRIGHT: Did you detain him?
SFC MARTIN: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: How did you pass your PWs? Just call back and radio for somebody to come get them?
1LT GIBSON: The MPs were running a ...
MAJ WRIGHT: ... shuttle service?
1LT GIBSON: Kind of like that.
SFC MARTIN: Yes, sir.
1LT GIBSON: Kind of like a taxi service for them, so ...
SFC MARTIN: They had one.
1LT GIBSON: They had a big truck.
SFC MARTIN: Dump truck. The dump truck would pick them up--dump truck or deuce and a half [2 1/2-ton cargo truck], and they just put them in.
MAJ WRIGHT: How much longer did you stay out there then?
1LT GIBSON: That was it. We were there just the two nights. The third day, we came back and we went to Rodman Golf Course, set up there. Beautifully manicured. Had a Christmas meal with the Navy.
MAJ WRIGHT: You weren't allowed, I hope, to dig up the golf course you put your howitzers in?
1LT GIBSON: No.
MAJ WRIGHT: Kept you off the fairways?
1LT GIBSON: Smoke and I had some problems there.
1LT GIBSON: People were used to digging in and ...
CPT IBARRA: That's why we never trained on that because it was on the golf course area, and the housing--right between the housing area. And that was actually the first time the battery had actually gone to its primary firing position and set-up there.
MAJ WRIGHT: But you guys did use it as an excuse to go over there and do some leader recons, get in a few rounds?
1LT GIBSON: Wish we'd brought some clubs.
MAJ WRIGHT: Because I couldn't believe it. I got to Amador and they were playing golf right behind the golf course. You know, birds are coming in and they're playing golf right on through.
1LT GIBSON: Right.
SFC MARTIN: Yes, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: Summary feeling for the operation as it impacted on Delta Battery?
CPT IBARRA: There is a point I'd like to make. We've also practiced a lot of split battery operations, which is not standard for a six-gun battery. And, you know, it's just second nature when they want a platoon, we know exactly who goes, who the platoons are. And that ...
MAJ WRIGHT: Yeah, that's a good point.
CPT IBARRA: And that came out real good also. They said there's no problem.
MAJ WRIGHT: Because what do you normally do? Just anticipate, anticipate in supporting the brigade that you would DS [direct support] like a section to each of the maneuver battalions and GS [general support] one section?
CPT IBARRA: A platoon ... which we anticipate that. If not, we practice it on our own. We'll stay at the same firing position and split it up there, and do other things. But it's something that wasn't done prior and it's worked out well. Even though at some points, we were really critically short of some of the fire direction people. But it's worked out.
SFC MARTIN: Another mission, to go out again as a whole battery, we ... where we went, sir?
1LT GIBSON: That was ... up till that point, when we went to the golf course, people started relaxing. We ate our Christmas meal in a mess hall and we really had a feeling that this is over, sorry about that, we really didn't do ... . You know, you had a little excitement at La Chorrera, but now you're back and we're going to stand down.
Then the Rangers had a bunch of intel[ligence] that Alcalde Diaz was getting hot. No one had been up in that area yet. So they decided that they wanted to do an air assault in there. They needed a battery to support. So they called on Delta Battery to go up there. And this was through an area of known enemy activity. They knew there was a lot of Dignity Battalions that had sought refuge north, as the 7th I[nfantry] D[ivision] came in from Tocumen Airport and the 193d pushed out and they met in the middle of the city. And they figured the only place these people could go was north. So a lot of them ended up in that area.
So just when we thought it was over, we got this mission with the Rangers and we ended up conducting a road march up to an air strip Noriega had used for drug running. And he had a house up there. And we had [AH-1G] Cobras flying cover for us as we went in. OA-37 [Dragonflie]s; [AH-130] Spectre flew over at night. We had some rounds fired, but there wasn't too much of a real threat.
MAJ WRIGHT: Which day was this?
1LT GIBSON: That was on day six through eleven. So, six days we were up there. So most of the units were mopping up, and they were basically starting to consolidate their AOs. We were pulled out and we did this mission for six days with the Rangers.
MAJ WRIGHT: So this would be beginning on the 26th and continuing on into after New Year's? So you spent New Year's out there?
1LT GIBSON: Um, right. Is that right? We left on Christmas ...
MAJ WRIGHT: Left after Christmas dinner?
SFC MARTIN: We left after Christmas Day, so we came back ...
[MULTIPLE VOICES TALKING AT ONCE]
1LT GIBSON: We were back on the 30th.
CPT IBARRA: And that's the day I came in, yes, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: But it just kept you from sort of sitting back, kicking back, catching a few rays?
1LT GIBSON: Right. That was a very fun area. It was our AO. No one had been out there yet. We searched and cleared the area for the Rangers. When the Rangers got there, we told them everything that was up there.
MAJ WRIGHT: Now, again, the last time I looked not an ARTEP [army training and evaluation program] task for a firing battery. Just opportunity training?
CPT IBARRA: Basically ...
1LT GIBSON: ... we had to do it.
CPT IBARRA: Did you tell him about the nuns and the patrols you did through there and the town that ... well, you can tell him better.
1LT GIBSON: We just ... no one had been up there yet. And we figured it was in our best interests to know who was out there, so we organized patrols. We had mounted and dismounted patrols that we ran. The 1SG is a ... he's sort of...
[END OF SIDE 1 OF INTERVIEW]
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K., this is Continuation Tape 2 of Battery D, 3d Battalion ... [correction], 320th Field Artillery. Can you pick that up again, 1LT Gibson?
1LT GIBSON: We had organized not only dismounted patrols, because the Rangers were not due to arrive there for a few days [and] we wanted to know what was out there, so we ... we adopted [INDECIPHERABLE] basically as our own AO at that point. And we had dismounted patrols through the jungle around to find out what was out there. And we also had mounted patrols through the town where we uncovered some weapons and some grenades that were turned in. A couple of P.D.F in the area had turned themselves in.
We had some tense moments at night. We were probed twice. Some shots were fired, but nothing ... there was no real serious threat.
MAJ WRIGHT: Which day was this?
1LT GIBSON: That was on the third day, the second and third day we were out there.
MAJ WRIGHT: So that would have been the 26th or 27th?
CPT IBARRA: Actually the 27th.
MAJ WRIGHT: The 27th and 28th. You guys get themselves a little pumped up about all this?
SFC MARTIN: Well, yes, sir. You know, we set trip flares all around our position. We were setting out mortars ... not mortars but [M-18A1] Claymores; we set claymores and trip flares out. And then each section had [M]-203 rounds and checking if M-60s was set up to cover each perimeter.
MAJ WRIGHT: You have .50-cal[iber]s. [M-2 machine guns] in a firing battery?
SFC MARTIN: No, sir. And the only ... the scariest part was at night. I mean, once the trip flare goes ... what's really scaring us is if a trip flare was going to go off, was they just going to start shooting, because a lot of them were young and had never faced no combat time before. Of course, me, myself, had never been in combat before and, you know, things run through your mind with younger people. Are they going to keep themselves ... keep their composure up and stuff, because then they just ... . Everybody got along real good, you know, even though we had a few that was a little more excited than others, you know. Everything that passed by, they thought it was the enemy and wanted to fire it up. Yes, sir. But we didn't have no shots that fired. We was lucky that everybody came back alive and no accidents happened to us.
MAJ WRIGHT: You guys understood the rules of engagement on who you could shoot at and who you couldn't shoot at?
SFC MARTIN: Yes, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: You said something about the nuns?
1LT GIBSON: I think there's ... everywhere we went, I think that's one of the impressions that will stick in everyone's minds. Every place we went to, people would come up to us and thank us for being there. They were so happy that finally the Army was there. And they wanted us, they wanted our protection. They were afraid of what was going on. They were so polite when we were around. Even along the streets, people would wave and everyone, we were heroes in everyone's eyes. Like Paris, 1944, wherever we went. Women would come out and blow kisses. Women with babies, men waving, cheering the whole time. And these nuns also got into the act. They had a whole breakfast cooked up for the whole battery. And, unfortunately, we moved out the night before. We had missed their breakfast, so they're probably still waiting for us to show up.
That just is an example of the kind of reception we got every place we went, regardless of if we were busting down their fence, occupying their farm, in their backyard, wherever we were at. People were happy we were there. They didn't want us to leave. They were glad. We had people set up shower points for us in some of the places we were at and they would bring out food. It was ... we felt like you were doing something great for Panama, we weren't imposing the U.S. on them. They were glad to have you there. So it was really a good feeling.
Every time we were away from the Cocle-Rodman area out in the interior, I think it was a big boost for morale for everybody because they got a feeling of what they were actually doing. We actually ... we had gotten rid of a government that was not a good government for Panama. And they had a feeling and there was hope that there would be something better to come in, and we were the instruments of change. And it was just a real good feeling. I think everyone came back, maybe not the feeling of hoo-ah, but they felt good about what they'd been doing.
SFC MARTIN: That's right, sir.
1LT GIBSON: It made an impact on the people, at least the people that we saw.
MAJ WRIGHT: What do you think the impact it will have on some of these kids making a decision as they ETS [finish their enlistments], about staying in or getting out? Do you think it will pick up retention? Or do you think it's just something that will be a nice memory for them?
CPT IBARRA: I think that's probably about it. We also had forward observers in the battery that are task-organized ...
MAJ WRIGHT: Two FIST teams?
CPT IBARRA: ... out to the infantry guys. And they had had a different perspective of this whole thing because they were out there with the infantry guys. And the impact may be more significant to them.
MAJ WRIGHT: Yeah, we heard very nice things from both battalions about the FIST teams and the support they had. And, you know, how impressed they were at the fact that you guys came right up and fit right in, and ... . But I assume that's a function of having worked together for quite some length of time.
CPT IBARRA: That's not the unique thing about the battery. It has the FIST, which is not normally the case, at least the doctrine case. And there is the opportunity of working with their infantry counterparts, I think, a lot more in most places, and it pays off.
MAJ WRIGHT: And then you had the radars as well. What are they? TCQs? AN/TPQ-39s?
CPT IBARRA: [TPQ]-36s.
MAJ WRIGHT: [TPQ]-36s. And they were positioned to cover Howard [Air Force Base] or...?
1LT GIBSON: The City and Howard. Let's see ... I don't remember the exact coverage, but basically it covered the City, the entire City, Howard, and slightly over to the south and west.
MAJ WRIGHT: So, you know, that you really ... they stayed in place and didn't move at all during all this?
1LT GIBSON: As I understand it. I mean, I wasn't there.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K.. What time did you recover and rejoin the battery?
CPT IBARRA: Let me tell you what happened here. I'm sure you're wondering, sir.
The CinC [GEN Thurman] said they're going to relocate the families, et cetera. So I went home on TDY [temporary duty]. I got ... we got alerted on the 16th after the Marine got shot. I went out with the battery and we stayed in position until the following morning. And about two hours prior to the show time on the plane they gave me the go to leave. So everyone felt it was just another alert. Nothing happened. We would go back in. That's what I thought.
And I left with my family, relocated them. The third day, the third or fourth day I was there, I woke up in the morning and everything was getting fired up on television back here. I came back on the 30th. And I want to bring this up because I'm really pissed off about this. I went to a recruiter's office and tried to find a way back. And called the 7th Infantry Division DIVARTY [division artillery headquarters]. And they said, "Sorry about that. Our planes are full, don't even bother to come in and catch a ride." So I went to two of the Air Bases. I almost caught a ride on one, but the plane was cancelled; it had problems. And at that point I drove up to Travis [Air Force Base], and convinced the Air Force guys. They said, "O.K.," after they believed my story. The COL who was in charge of getting the planes out said, "Fine, you need to get on a plane." And it all boils down to cooperation. The Air Force cooperated; he said the Army owns the planes. And none of the colonels that were in charge of the soldiers, or the planes that were leaving, 7th I[nfantry] D[ivision] colonels, would allow me to be manifested on a plane.
And at the time that I was there, probably two and a half days, they must have had a good ten, maybe twelve, flights out. That's why I came back on the 30th because then on New Year's Eve there was just no point in trying to get back here. And it had calmed down. Noriega had turned himself in. And I didn't see any point in trying to get back. So I stayed until the day I was supposed to return home, which was the 30th. And that's why I picked up the battery up here as they pulled in to [Fort] Clayton to drop in the field and set up.
But, cooperation, that's ... .
MAJ WRIGHT: And that's an issue because I saw it at Pope [Air Force Base] coming the other ... the guys on the East Coast side. The 82d [Airborne Division] was maybe a little more receptive to the notion of taking people. I know I flew down here on a log[istics] bird with a guy from 3d [Battalion] of the 7th [Special Forces Group] that was trying to recover on in. And maybe that's just a function that the 82d has been doing this so long that we're more attuned to guys having to recover separately. And you just ... you cut some slack and look for ... I mean, I've never seen an aircraft yet in 22 years in the Army that's gone out with everybody showing that was supposed to.
CPT IBARRA: Exactly.
MAJ WRIGHT: There's always a few ...
CPT IBARRA: I could have slept on some pallet, boxes, I didn't care. I had my little AWOL bag [small hand-carried luggage] in hand. And it was really frustrating sitting there waiting and watching everything happen on television.
MAJ WRIGHT: And knowing it was your people?
CPT IBARRA: Exactly.
MAJ WRIGHT: You recognized your battery when you saw it firing?
CPT IBARRA: Yes, sir, because I knew that was a direct fire gun by the way it was pointed. I had no doubts things would go well because I knew the XO here could handle everything, and the 1st Sarge was pretty sharp, and the Smoke [was] a good man. Now, they all are. I mean, I was secure in that. But, you know, when you're a commander, you need to be there. I'd been with these guys ten or eleven months and they become sort of a second family, and that's how I felt. It's not that things would go wrong, it's not that I wanted a combat patch or any of that sort of thing, which is what I think the motive was for these guys we're looking for. That's what pissed me off. I had to be here I was the commander. I had to be here before their troops did. And it didn't happen and I was told--once again--'we understand your situation, but you're not our responsibility, and we're not going to ... .'
MAJ WRIGHT: Yes, the system is broke on that. It needs to be ...
CPT IBARRA: Something needs to be fixed there. And I don't know if it happened to anybody else. I think there was a commander from [the 1st Battalion,] 228th [Aviation] who was in the same situation I was in.
MAJ WRIGHT: I talked to him.
CPT IBARRA: And I don't know if he came in.
MAJ WRIGHT: I talked to him earlier today and he had a similar problem about, you know, it's my unit, they're humma-humma-humma, can I please get there. And it was around and around in circles.
CPT IBARRA: Actually, sir, you might be able to make a difference in that.
MAJ WRIGHT: SFC Martin, anything that strikes you in particular?
SFC MARTIN: When the battery commander first came to me and said 'Smoke, we've got to get a seventh gun tube.' I looked at him and said, 'Seventh gun? Where are we going to get a seventh gun from?' He said, 'Well, we've got to have seven guns.' I said, 'sir, we just do have four people per gun, to man six.' So we started making then ... then we started finding 13Bs that wasn't on a gun, you know, like from training, operations, and so forth.
So we got those four together. And one was a driver, which was [SPC James B.] Appleman. He was the XO's driver. And we had to do without the XO's driver. So ... and when we got that crew together and they started talking about the type of mission that they was going on, you know, I got kind of scared inside. I said, "Hey," I said, "it almost seems like it's going to be a suicidal mission." You know, they're going to be under fire when they get there.
CPT IBARRA: As the Brigade S-3 told me just the other day, that he sat down at that meeting and started drawing X's over people he thought were going to be the first to drop. He said the first X he put down was the gunner. He said, "That was a suicide mission, these were ... I thought these were the first guys that were going to go." And he had a lot of praise for them.
SFC MARTIN: Right. And, you know, I was kind of scared for them and then ... and I was scared inside because I knew them and I had worked with all of them when I was the chief of firing battery to them. And I was one of them. And I said how are they going to have that place prepped for them prior to them getting there? Are they going to have blocking fires on the buildings so they can get everything and set up? I was more scared for them than I think I was for the group that went out to the Arrijan. And they did a good job. And I'm glad all of them made it back, too.
MAJ WRIGHT: Anything else you can think of? Oh, one thought I did have. You mentioned a fair number of Spanish speakers. And I notice that is pretty true throughout the brigade. Give me a rough ball park of the percentages in the battery?
CPT IBARRA: Oh, about thirty percent. We have several native Panamanians. In fact, SGT [Javier A.] Brown is a native Panamanian--our section chief. A mixture of Panamanians, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans like me.
MAJ WRIGHT: But...
CPT IBARRA: And others.
MAJ WRIGHT: The issue I was sort of ... [have] been becoming increasing conscious of, in a LIC [low intensity conflict] environment where you're out there and all of a sudden you get left out, like you were left out, where you wouldn't have had, say, had there been an MI [military intelligence] linguist team or something, they would have gone with the Marines, not stayed with you. That linguist skill turns out to be a major league force multiplier, right? Because you're picking up the intel.
CPT IBARRA: If the LIC is in the Central, South America, sure. Or maybe the in the Philippines, where they speak some Spanish.
MAJ WRIGHT: That is a significant edge.
1LT GIBSON: You had to be very careful who approached the houses when they were cleared, houses in the interior. People that didn't speak Spanish, they just block the rear and the flank of the house and the team, the interrogation team, these two Spanish people would walk up to the front door and introduce themselves. And say we're going to come in and look [at] what you have, see what you have. If they were able to do that--we have some very smooth talkers, I think ... [LAUGHTER] ... they have a lot of practice down here. [LAUGHTER] They could get into any house, any place, I'm sure, so we were very fortunate that we had some Spanish speakers with us.
MAJ WRIGHT: Anything else you can think of?
CPT IBARRA: Not right now.
MAJ WRIGHT: Then I thank you very much and appreciate it. And I'll make sure I get a copy of this tape down to ... the transcript of this tape back down to you in a couple of months.
[END OF INTERVIEW]