DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
XVIII AIRBORNE CORPS
FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA
US ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview
COLONEL ROBERT A. WOLTERS
Adjutant General, XVIII Airborne Corps
Interview conducted 15 March 1990 at the Headquarters of the XVIII Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Interviewer: Dr. Robert K. Wright, Jr., Historian, XVIII Airborne Corps
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview JCIT 030
DR. WRIGHT: This is an Operation JUST CAUSE interview being conducted in the headquarters of XVIII Airborne Corps, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Today's date is 15 March 1990. The interviewing official is Dr. Robert K. Wright, Jr., the XVIII Airborne Corps Historian.
Sir, if I could get you to give me your name, rank, and serial number?
COL WOLTERS: COL Robert Wolters, Corps Adjutant General, ***-**-****.
DR. WRIGHT: And how long have you been in this current position, sir?
COL WOLTERS: Since July of 85.
DR. WRIGHT: If I could get you to talk me through the preparation phase for Operation JUST CAUSE, from an AG [Adjutant General Corps] perspective. When were you made aware of the contingency plan and when did you learn that it was actually a go?
COL WOLTERS: We were not in on the planning at all. We first heard about it, I can't remember when, but it was--we knew something was up because some of our senior people were deployed and then we heard that there was going to be an action in Panama. As a matter of fact, I got up that morning, set my alarm for one or two in the morning on the 20th [of December 1989], I got up and watched CNN [Cable News Network].
DR. WRIGHT: Just to keep track?
COL WOLTERS: I heard the reports.
DR. WRIGHT: At that point you realized that it is going to be a major operation, fairly significant in terms of numbers of personnel. How do you start pulling together the AG section to start supporting that?
COL WOLTERS: Well, right away we knew that we were going to have casualties. And so, we just notified our casualty on-call NCO--I think we notified our actions chief, MAJ [M. A.] Black--and said, get ready, 'cause we're gonna be working. And, that is a routine thing for us because we're responsible for casualty and mortuary affairs. We have somebody on call 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. When a soldier dies or a retiree dies, I mean, we're wired in with on call buzzer systems, so we come in, so there was no problem.
The thing that we needed to work was keeping up with the notification turn-around.
DR. WRIGHT: As the operation unfolds over the first couple of days, it becomes apparent that we have taken casualties. When do you officially start getting notifications? And how does the process work, get the word to you?
COL WOLTERS: Well the process is designed ... if it was a normal situation ... is that the casualty or death, killed in action, comes up through the channels. The way it's supposed to work is that the combat commander notifies his superior and then it goes through the JTF [Joint Task Force] SOUTH commander. Then, his command is SOUTHCOM [US Southern Command], CINC [Commander in Chief] SOUTHCOM, and it goes through there directly to the Department of the Army. And representing the Department of the Army is [the] Personnel Command, the PERSCOM. They have a casualty affairs division.
DR. WRIGHT: They are at the Hoffman Building [in Alexandria, Virginia]?
COL WOLTERS: PERSCOM, right, Hoffman building.
They, then, would notify us and then we would go get the records from the unit and begin our process. Well, that is way too long and way too laborious because we were hearing on television that there were so many injuries and so many deaths. And then, the plan had already been written, that the soldiers would be evacuated to Kelley Air Force base in [San Antonio,] Texas. Now the JSOTF [Joint Special Operations Task Force] forces knew that. They had people there waiting to receive and they had it because of the ...
DR. WRIGHT: The way they habitually operate?
COL WOLTERS: The way they operate, keep a close hold, that they had their people segregated.
The division, the 82d Airborne Division, picked up on that and they suggested that a liaison go down there. As a matter of fact, I believe they sent an NCO down there so that they could be the liaison at Kelley and notify the division. We picked up on that and did the same thing immediately. I dispatched a major and a staff sergeant, and that was a stroke of genius on the division['s] and our part because we needed them down there. Because putting together the contingency forces of the corps and working them with the JSOTF forces under one commander, [Lieutenant] General [Carl W.] Stiner, provided some unique opportunities for us to learn and grow.
And so, we were in direct communication with Kelley through MAJ [B. T.] Brown. He could tell us what soldiers were coming in, what the manifest said, what actually arrived, and when the soldiers were going to be transported from Kelly to hospitals there ... to further hospitals. And we had some that came to Fort Bragg and we had some at Fort Benning. And that worked well because, just the way things go, manifests change, departure times change, arrival times change.
And then the soldiers were making phone calls from the hospital to their relatives and families. So units and family members were being notified, unofficially, well before the official channels. And so what happened there is [that] it made us look foolish because we have a party line. The command [PERSCOM] for some days, and I don't remember the exact number of days (but it was so confusing I just don't remember), told us that ... what we could say, and it wasn't for a day or two that we could even say that the 82d was in Panama.
DR. WRIGHT: It made it a little difficult that CNN was showing pictures of guys with 82d patches on?
COL WOLTERS: So, moms, dads, wives, spouses, were calling in and saying, hey, I just got a call, and we'd say, sorry ma'am, we have not been officially notified. So, it makes us look foolish.
So, one of the biggest lessons learned is, we need to streamline the casualty reports system in contingency-type operations. Particularly when we're in built-up areas where we have communication, and we had tremendous communication. We were in communication with Kelley, with Panama, daily, as you well know. The Corps EOC [Emergency Operations Center] was established, and we were an integral part of it. So, we learned a lot and there are a lot of fixes we need to make.
DR. WRIGHT: Now can you elaborate on some of the procedural things that you'd like, or that you plan on, doing slightly differently now? Will you go with that idea of the liaison officers as a regular thing to fire off immediately?
COL WOLTERS: I don't see how we can't keep from doing that. If we're going to evacuate our wounded back for treatment to the United States and not do it in the theater, then we need somebody there who can interface with the hospital. Or give the medical people the full responsibility and authority to handle the casualty reporting. And I don't believe we're ready to do that. They have other things they need to do. And that's our business, so I think we probably ought to do that.
To do that we need to be in on the planning. The AG needs to be in on the initial planning to know what's going to happen, when, and where they're going to be so we can have people at the right place at the right time.
DR. WRIGHT: That may be an advantage JSOTF has, that because they are a much smaller community, it's much easier for them to become aware of what the potential situation is and what the potential casualties, how many people are we really talking about, stuff like that, and start getting ahead of the power curve in their planning?
COL WOLTERS: Well, we need to know when there's going to be an operation like that--who's going to go, what's the order of magnitude--so we can get ready to staff our operation here. Because we're not that big, and what happens when you have an operation in a Third World nation that's so sensitive, it has world wide implications and world wide attention, and everybody wants to know information, now.
And our casualty system is tested-and-tried to be error free. We take great pride in the United States. Americans don't like to be told that their son or daughter has been killed, when in fact they have not. And there's only one way to preclude that, and that's to make sure, positive identification. The way you make positive identificationis, somebody must see the individual, that knows that individual, and make the report. Well, when you have a buddy in the next bunk that says, I saw him, or I heard that, or what not, or the call from the individual himself or herself, see that's not official, but I tell you, mom and dad back in Poughkeepsie, New York, knows son Bobby and hey, I just talked to him. So, we can't move like that, we've got to be able to move quickly. So, we need people on the ground, we need somebody at the hospital treatment site.
We also need somebody from Corps AG in the assault, in the initial echelon, down there assisting the commander with guidance and with recommendations to support him and staff appraisals on casualties--reporting, handling thereof--awards of decoration and other administrative matters. What we'd do in the past is, we've travelled so 'lean and mean,' on our deployments that we just normally have the G-1 element that goes in. The G-1 is more in the replacement numbers and the operations side and not in the casualty and awards and the decorations. And I can tell you, that is--both of them are important--but they need attention now, because, as you well remember, the Chief of Staff of the Army pinned decorations on the chests of some brave men in the hospital, so you can't make mistakes. And so you've got to start from the ground up. So, we need somebody in AG, Corps AG, and it's gonna be a corps contingency operation 'cause we're it, we're the contingency corps for the Defense Department. So we need to be on it. We need to have somebody in the field.
DR. WRIGHT: One individual in the assault CP [command post] or ... ?
COL WOLTERS: Not necessarily the assault CP, but, in this case, in hindsight (and that's always 20/20), is, we should have gone down when the G-1 element went down. I don't know whether they went before the invasion or ... .
DR. WRIGHT: I believe they all airland[ed] or that the key, the critical group airlanded later on in the day we went in [20 December].
COL WOLTERS: I don't know what ... I know LTG Stiner was there before.
DR. WRIGHT: Two days earlier.
COL WOLTERS: I don't know when the G-1 finally went. But, we need to be down there when the battle starts. We don't need to jump in with the assault echelon, but we probably ought to be [on] the first log bird [logistical airplane], on the first log bird, or in there when LTG Stiner went.
DR. WRIGHT: Probably doing what?
COL WOLTERS: We could assist. AGs are admin specialists.
DR. WRIGHT: You could do a great deal to simplify some of that ... creating the paper controls ... the chaos that is the first few days in a combat operation?
COL WOLTERS: Right, particularly when your working in the joint arena, and we've not this before. We've done it before, but we--it's been joint but it's not true joint, it's been just operating side-by-side. And the JSOTF forces come in, and then they leave, and it's all separate. See, we even have casualty reporting procedures with the JSOTF forces, and we know how that works. They turn it over to us when they want to and then we pick it up. Before they turn it over to us, we know nothing about it.
DR. WRIGHT: In terms of casualty reporting and our priority on accuracy, that is going to guarantee that there is a lag, at the very least, in reporting the KIAs [killed in action]. The WIAs [wounded in action], if you had somebody, say in this situation where we had a joint casualty collection point set up, is that where you would envision having a rep[resentative] right there so that he could verify as they were getting on the bird home, and then would notify the rear back here?
COL WOLTERS: That's right.
DR. WRIGHT: You would have an accurate, verified manifest.
COL WOLTERS: As long as we have communication links as we had in this case, and that might not always be the case, but if we do, we need to be able to handle it that way.
DR. WRIGHT: And the critical issue here is more with the WIAs than it is with the KIAs, because you have a little more time lag with the KIAs, I mean, they are not going to call home? But, in this case, we are talking about a casualty being back in Texas 17 hours after he was hit, that's a real small window.
COL WOLTERS: But when we're operating in Central and South America, in areas where we have good close communication links, PFC Jones is gonna know that his buddy Johnson was killed, and he's liable to call. And, if the word gets out and we're days behind in verifying that, mom and dad are not gonna look kindly towards the Army.
DR. WRIGHT: Okay, so you ... this is the problem of ...
COL WOLTERS: Exactly.
DR. WRIGHT: ... my foxhole is next to that phone booth, nobody is here, I might as well get up and use my credit card, and call home?
COL WOLTERS: Exactly, certainly.
DR. WRIGHT: Yeah.
COL WOLTERS: Now, if we're deployed in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, or Iran, where we can wait for a carrier pigeon or wait a bit longer, or wait for a message, [it's a] different story. But, again, it's a very exacting business that we want to make sure we verify. You just need to do that faster than you can do it by telephone and I think the link needs to come from the combat theater into the, in our case the EOC, the emergency operation center, and then let us notify PERSCOM.
DR. WRIGHT: Through the chain of command.
COL WOLTERS: That's right, don't let it go from the theater, SOUTHCOM in this case, up to PERSCOM, and then down to us. That's too slow, it won't work that way.
DR. WRIGHT: In terms of the accuracy of the figures as they were coming out, and I guess we were getting [a report] at least every 12 hours, a running total on our casualties, there were no problems in terms of accuracy on that, other than the eventual eliminating ... accounting for the MIAs, those initial MIAs?
COL WOLTERS: Well, you always have ... in the heat of battle you always have a number of problems. How many, separating casualties from jump injuries from drop injuries from heat injuries from heat exhaustion, wounds in battle, those are kind of hard to differentiate at first, and we need to do that.
DR. WRIGHT: We were getting pretty good, I take it, pretty good overall totals but not broken down? I mean, everybody, whether it was a heat casualty or a twisted ankle from the jump, was getting accounted as if he'd been shot?
COL WOLTERS: That's right. Well, not as if they'd been shot, but they were casualties by definition. So, maybe we need to take a look at differentiating between jump injuries and, you know, health injuries like heat exhaustion, other than wounded in action.
DR. WRIGHT: As I have talked to the operations people in particular, they said it was a tremendous advantage to have XVIII [Airborne] Corps as the controlling headquarters. In the sense that we came in and we used our standard forms, our standard reporting procedures, and things like that. Did that work the same way in the AG arena? That we had, you know ... [that] all the players knew what the format is for the reports to be made and things like that?
COL WOLTERS: We had that.
DR. WRIGHT: But, you are saying, then, that possibly we need to look at that standard format and, go in, up front, and differentiate as a fill-in-the-blank-item?
COL WOLTERS: Well, I think what we need to do, is we need to probably practice more. As we train. We do a lot of EDREs [emergency deployment readiness exercises] and a lot of evaluations throughout the year, and I perceive that we probably don't practice or train on casualty reporting. We just do it as a matter of fact, like filling in a piece of paper. But we don't really ...
DR. WRIGHT: ... massage the system.
COL WOLTERS: We don't really massage the system and have the squad leader do the report, and [monitor] where does he send it, how does it get up the tape, depending on what the scenario is. We need to do that, so that it becomes just a routine matter, that the forms are prepared and are sent up the tape quickly, and they differentiate on the type of injury.
DR. WRIGHT: In terms of the relationship between the AG and the graves registration, if possible, that was down there. Did that work fairly smoothly on that side of the casualty system? They had been working together so long, did that all goes together smoothly?
COL WOLTERS: Yes.
DR. WRIGHT: When we get the casualty reports back here then, you are almost wearing two hats at that point, right? Because you are getting casualty figures for the corps, but you are also a geographic representative for all services, or just Army?
COL WOLTERS: We're Army.
DR. WRIGHT: You do the next of kin notifications?
COL WOLTERS: LTG Stiner is the senior commander here; he is also the casualty area commander for the state of North Carolina. Any Army death, he's responsible for that notification, and so if we validate that there's been a death, then we have to notify. What we do here is cause, say for example the 82d, they would prefer to do their own notifying, so we would notify the division that there was a soldier in the 3d [Battalion] of the 504th [Infantry] that was killed then they would send out somebody as a survivor assistance officer, to notify the next of kin.
If they're in another state, another area, then we have to use our system. And PERSCOM would notify that casualty area commander to send out a notifying official. But we do that routinely and in accordance with test cases as well.
DR. WRIGHT: Going through then, sort of the next major block of issues that you alluded to, the awards and decorations. Not having a planner down there with the task force early on causes what, some confusion and some ... ?
COL WOLTERS: Well, there are a lot of questions about awards, what awards are authorized. If you had a AG guy down there that was in the actions business then he could address those and those that he couldn't address he could shoot up the tape to us and we could give some assistance.
DR. WRIGHT: So, in essence, you are precluding confusion, you are precluding misperceptions, and ... ?
COL WOLTERS: Yes, because it's all new turf, we're learning things everyday on this, all the different awards, different unit awards, battle streamers. It's really interesting, what units can wear the shoulder sleeve insignia, which units can't. A lot of emotion, different players, Army, all services, other services that we didn't even realize. So, we need to have somebody that ties it together and fortunately, you know, everything focused in on us and so we're the action agency for LTG Stiner.
DR. WRIGHT: Now how ... can you explain for me how the command relationship was worked out, who was the approving authority for awards and how did that go?
COL WOLTERS: We worked very closely with the awards folks up at PERSCOM and DCSPER [Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, Department of the Army]. Interestingly enough the shoulder sleeve insignia, for example, when a soldier goes into combat, he wears the soldier sleeve insignia of the unit that he fought with on his right shoulder when it's over. That must be decreed by Army and they put it out by message and then they follow it up by putting it in the Army regulations, under uniform.
DR. WRIGHT: That is AR 670-1, the uniform, and 672-5-1 for the awards?
COL WOLTERS: ... -5-1 for the award. Well, uniform is under DCSPER.
DR. WRIGHT: Isn't it under the uniform board?
COL WOLTERS: No, Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel in the Pentagon. But the [AR] 672-5-1, Awards, is under the field operating agency, PERSCOM, so we're dealing with two different people. And it seems like it's the same function, shoulder patch, decoration. That's no problem, we can differentiate. But, fortunately, LTG [Allen K.] Ono helped LTG Stiner and said, hey, we'll roll that all ...
DR. WRIGHT: Who is the DA DCSPER?
COL WOLTERS: That's right, he's the DA DCSPER. We'll roll that all together and we'll solve this in one fell swoop. And, so we talked in some messages about shoulder sleeve insignia and awards, but we still need to keep it separate because that's the way it is up there. It's working.
DR. WRIGHT: Now, those issues on the shoulder sleeve insignia. The decision is made about what point in the operation that yes, indeed, they are going to allow [right-shoulder wear of] shoulder sleeve insignia; and then, at what point did they refine the list of which ones will be on it?
COL WOLTERS: Well, the way we handled that is we worked with G-3 to determine who was in the task organization; who was under the JTF SOUTH commander; which units had a mission, had an operational mission; which units deployed as a unit. And then, you know, just to keep it so simple, rather than getting into all the nitty-gritty, LTG Stiner then made a recommendation to GEN [Maxwell] Thurman, CINC SOUTH, and said, these are the units that I am going to recommend to the Department of the Army to authorize shoulder sleeve insignia. And, soldiers that were not in those units but were attached to those units will wear the shoulder insignia ...
DR. WRIGHT: ... of the attachment ...
COL WOLTERS: ... to which attached for operational control.
DR. WRIGHT: So that eliminates all the itty bitty little pieces of people falling in and out?
COL WOLTERS: That's right. And then that was staffed with CINC SOUTH; with the other major players, SOCOM [Special Operations Command], JSOC; DA DCSPER; Commander PERSCOM. And then everybody concurred on that, and then we sent out a message. And it wasn't days later that DA DCSPER sent out a message that said this is what the regulation will say, and they quoted it: these units. And then probably in six months, they will publish the change [to the regulation].
DR. WRIGHT: An update?
COL WOLTERS: An update to the regulation. Yes.
DR. WRIGHT: And what ... the decision, basically, was to keep the list as clean as possible, so it is a relatively short list of units or a long list of units?
COL WOLTERS: To keep it in it's simplest context: units that had a mission, that were given an operational mission and deployed as a unit, they're authorized to wear the patch.
DR. WRIGHT: So, in other words, the battalion [4th Battalion, 6th Infantry] from the 5th Infantry Division could wear the 5th ID patch; the 193rd [Infantry] Brigade that was down there would wear that patch; COSCOM [1st Support Command] units would wear the COSCOM patch?
COL WOLTERS: COSCOM was a unit that had a mission. Soldiers assigned to the COSCOM will wear the COSCOM patch. The 193rd had a mission; units that deployed in support of the 193rd, they would wear the 193rd patch. It didn't get down--I have a copy of the message--but it didn't get down to every small unit. Because a lot of units were attached. There were some FORSCOM [US Forces Command] MP [Military Police] units that went from Fort Benning; Fort Hood, Texas.
DR. WRIGHT: They'd normally wear a FORSCOM patch on their left shoulder, they would wear ...
COL WOLTERS: They would wear the patch of the unit to which attached, and there's some emotion over that. The Fort Hood MP unit would like to wear its own organizational patch, but they weren't given a mission. The mission was attached to the units that were deployed. So, there's some units that were attached to [multiple units]; some companies were attached to the 82d, the 16th MP Brigade, the 193rd, even SOUTHCOM. So, in fact, soldiers in those companies could wear whichever patch ...
DR. WRIGHT: They could pick.
COL WOLTERS: They could.
DR. WRIGHT: Similar to, say in Vietnam where you could take your upward trace? If you were in a division you could wear the field force patch, the USARV [United States Army, Vietnam] patch, at your discretion, because your divisions were attached to those higher headquarters?
COL WOLTERS: I guess so. But, since we staffed that message, and [Department of the] Army published their message, we still have questions. We're serving up another one. [Inaudible] General [Inaudible] asked for LTG Stiner's support. He had agents that were deployed down there in support of his in-country agents to get him to wear the CID patch. So, we're gonna support that, but we're asking GEN Thurman for his opinion.
DR. WRIGHT: This is a very emotional issue?
COL WOLTERS: Oh, yes.
DR. WRIGHT: For the soldiers involved and the commanders involved?
COL WOLTERS: Oh, very emotional, because some soldiers really want to wear the patch of the unit to which they're assigned and you need to validate that based on the mission. And you need to do it for historical purposes too, because, on down the line you need to go back and discern which units were there, which units fought, which units had the mission, and somebody's gonna come up 20 years from now and say, hey, I was ... . Take me for example, I was here during the operation but I stayed here at Fort Bragg; I can't wear the XVIII Airborne Corps patch on my shoulder cause I was not in-country.
Thirty or forty years from now, if I should live so long, I can come back and say, wait a second, I was a member. And here's my records--you could look at my records and show [that I was the] XVIII Airborne Corps AG. I didn't deploy and so I'm not on the list.
DR. WRIGHT: Which comes next, I guess, to the other question that ... going on from the patches then, [to] the CIBs [Combat Infantryman Badges], the combat medic badges. That procedure handled, again, essentially the same way, coordinating with PERSCOM to get a consensus before the decision is announced?
COL WOLTERS: Well, the--certain commanders are given certain authority to award patches, and orders are issued on this so, for example, the two-star commanders like the 82d Airborne Division and USARSO [US Army, South], and JSOC can recommend for CIBs. And we just issue the orders.
DR. WRIGHT: So then they would give you a roster, unit by unit ... ?
COL WOLTERS: Individuals by name. And we cut the orders. And we have to verify it because there are certain criteria for those two badges, and that's very emotional and controversial. Anybody in Panama that fired a shot or had a shot fired in the vicinity of them cannot get a ...
DR. WRIGHT: There is a public misperception of what the requirement is, which is 11-series MOS [military occupational specialty] ...
COL WOLTERS: Or 18.
DR. WRIGHT: And, not just having it as your primary MOS, but you must have that as your duty MOS as well?
COL WOLTERS: That's right, and you must be at a brigade or below and you must be engaged in combat. And that's what that badge is for. And the medic's badge is the same way. It's not for every medic or every doctor that was in Panama that treated soldiers; it's for soldiers that are medics that strapped their kit on their back and they were out supporting the combat soldier. There's a difference. That's not to say that those who were digging in the stomachs of soldiers back at Howard [Air Force Base] weren't important. They are, but that's not what that badge is for.
So, we're working through all that and we're still working on ...
DR. WRIGHT: Are you taking heat on the female issue?
COL WOLTERS: We're ... you know, we're doing what our leadership wants us to do. So we're not having a problem. We took care of all the awards for the commands; we prepared them here and sent them out.
DR. WRIGHT: Yeah. I guess its ...
COL WOLTERS: It's a laborious process and we don't have that many soldiers back here at Fort Bragg and the corps AG [section] that are dedicated to the work.
DR. WRIGHT: How big a staff is it normally?
COL WOLTERS: Well, normally it's just three soldiers.
DR. WRIGHT: To do a whole corps' worth of awards?
COL WOLTERS: Sure. We can handle that routinely. Well, the routine goes by the board when you've got all the ceremonies: the welcoming ceremonies, the awards ceremonies--all the way up to the Chief of Staff of the Army and at one time we thought the President was going to be here. So, we needed to move quickly and we did. And our guys have done a super job; they've been working every weekend, every night since this operation started.
DR. WRIGHT: Were you given any additional assets to draw on?
COL WOLTERS: I took some more people out of hide.
DR. WRIGHT: Did you have anything from the personnel service companies? Was there anybody that could come up that way?
COL WOLTERS: No, we took them out of our own resources. But they just worked long, they worked nights, weekends.
DR. WRIGHT: Can you elaborate a little bit on the individual decorations? What the awarding authorities were? The general ... I guess GEN Thurman is the ultimate approving authority on all, and then he delegated?
COL WOLTERS: The valor awards were delegated down to the JTF commander and he maintained that.
DR. WRIGHT: That is LTG Stiner?
COL WOLTERS: That's LTG Stiner. That's ... the valor was the Bronze Star for valor ...
DR. WRIGHT: ... ARCOM [Army Commendation Medal] for valor?
COL WOLTERS: ARCOM for valor. But the Army said there'd be no service medals, no Meritorious Service Medals or Army Achievement Medals authorized for this operation. So, you can't get a medal like that down there. You can get a medal, MSM, ASM, if you're supporting the operations from back here in the States. So that all the valorous awards, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, and all of those, are approved up here. And they were served up here and they were boarded: Legion of Merit; Silver Star; Bronze Star Medal [with] V; Air Medal for V, for valor; Distinguished Flying Cross. And then the achievement awards: Bronze Star Medal; Air Medal; Army Commendation Medal.
DR. WRIGHT: Were those also centralized here or were they delegated further?
COL WOLTERS: They're centralized here as well.
DR. WRIGHT: From your point of view, in terms of processing the paperwork, you alluded to the fact that you had to work to work your people late. Was there a heavy influx of recommendations for awards, or were there policies announced ahead of time to try to establish uniform criteria? Taking you back to Vietnam, that's one of the big complaints is ... adjacent units would have wildly different criteria for an award, and an action that might get you an ARCOM in one gets you a Silver Star in the other.
COL WOLTERS: When you have commanders that want to give decorations to the soldiers and so they use their own judgment as to who ought to have them. The controlling device that LTG Stiner used was twofold as I remember it: number one, he told his commanders personally in Panama to be judicious and prudent, don't give everybody awards unless they deserve them. He didn't want to have a big inflated awards system because there was a lot of criticism in the Army with too many awards. I use Grenada as an example, or going back to Vietnam as an example. LTG Stiner said, be very careful and scrutinize and then as they came up, as the valor awards came up here for approval--I think I misspoke, achievement awards were delegated to the two-star level.
When the valor awards come up here, we got them all together, we segregated them by unit, and we kept statistics on them and we monitored them. And then we had two senior staff officers board them and make a recommendation, and the chief of staff then made a recommendation to LTG Stiner to approve them or downgrade them or disapprove them. And when they saw that, maybe, the unit was coming into too many, they'd talk to the guy, and said, take another look.
DR. WRIGHT: So, this was not then, a thumbs up or thumbs down, but if you had a chance to go back to the commander and encourage him. So you really had a chance, then, to make sure that it was a level playing field for all the units?
COL WOLTERS: That's right. And we kept statistics and we furnished the commands statistics so that they could see what the others were doing.
DR. WRIGHT: And that system worked pretty well, the commanders were receptive?
COL WOLTERS: It's working well. But it's an emotional subject; it depends on which way you want to argue. Somebody's saying an award's cheap, soldiers put their lives on the line, they served well, they served hard, they served over Christmas. What is it to give an award for recognition. Its something they can proudly show on their chest to their children.
The flip side of that is, hey wait a second, you're minimizing--you're watering down the awards. And so a soldier that was out there in the heat of battle put his life on the line gets a Bronze Star Medal; and a soldier that didn't put his life on the line, although he was there, gets a Bronze Star Medal. Where's the equality?
DR. WRIGHT: But there is not solution to that problem because that's been argued back to Napoleon.
COL WOLTERS: That's right. Some commanders are liberal, some aren't.
DR. WRIGHT: But the way the system worked here, at least you did have a chance to make it a level playing field?
COL WOLTERS: Exactly.
DR. WRIGHT: How, from your perspective, were the submissions, the packages that came in recommending the awards? Were they pretty competently done or were they pretty hasty, or could you tell?
COL WOLTERS: We had to a lot of reworking on them. I think, when you're in a combat situation, you don't want to spend a lot of time writing and that business, so a lot of them looked like they were carbon copies. So we had to make sure that there was an individuality, and we worked with the G-1s, we worked with the DCSPERs. And that's normal, we do a lot of rewriting, a lot of editing. We want the citation to be accurate. So we're very careful in the way that we do it, because once that award is approved and goes on the wall, that's a lifetime.
DR. WRIGHT: In terms of the, I guess, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, how did that procedure go? The awarding of that, the announcing of the award of that service ribbon that's the one for everybody? When did you start getting involved in that process?
COL WOLTERS: We started right away because we knew that wewould probably be given an expeditionary medal. That triggers combat streamers. It all goes together. We had folks working ... in fact, your comment from about Day 1 [20 December] that you were working with the folks up there at Cameron [Station, Virginia] ...
DR. WRIGHT: The Institute of Heraldry.
COL WOLTERS: Heraldry. [That] they were already working on it. As a matter of fact, they had the seamstresses in Philadelphia already putting "Panama" on the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal streamer. So that was working, but we had to make sure that we got the criteria right. DCSPER did a good job.
DR. WRIGHT: Again, the same arrangement of coordinating through the DCSPER?
COL WOLTERS: Sure.
DR. WRIGHT: And get a consensus before anything goes out, message traffic, to prevent the units going off half-cocked?
COL WOLTERS: We worked very closely, we being the Corps AG, this staff worked with PERSCOM and DCSPER to make sure. And they recognized that we had a handle on it and so, we were in daily contact with those folks. So that we didn't go off half- cocked, because as the thing proved out, and the soldiers came back, they wanted to have ceremonies.
It was quite complicated but it all worked out. I think history will record that all the little nuts and bolts were put together evenly.
There's some other things, other than just awards that we learned about, and casualties. We learned a lot about the postal business too.
DR. WRIGHT: O.K. Yes. How did we get the postal coverage down there? Was it kind of a crazy situation, in the sense that we had in-place forces? Did we send anybody down to there to do the postal bit?
COL WOLTERS: We did some courriering. The division has been used to deploying. It deployed under contingencies before. And the way they get through working with family support groups, is they just use the mail, use the logistics birds that go down there, and they took the mail and make distribution. Because in countries like Nicaragua, Grenada, and Panama from the beginning because there was a moratorium on mail coming in from the U.S. on commercial birds soldiers want to be able to communicate with their families. And so we began working something to make that happen. We initially thought we would just use the regular mail system, the APO, but that's too slow, so what we did was ...
DR. WRIGHT: And there was some confusion because we had to use the Miami APO and ...
COL WOLTERS: That's where it all goes for Panama.
DR. WRIGHT: And there was confusion that Miami didn't understand why all of a sudden new units were showing up and they were kicking mail back as being, you know, that's sent to the wrong address and things like that?
COL WOLTERS: Sure. You have to coordinate with the ... . It's hard. There's a good report that the 18th P&A [Personnel and Administration] Battalion commander submitted that's kind of lessons-learned on that operation because he's got the only Army postal company in CONUS [Continental United States].
DR. WRIGHT: That's the 129th [Adjutant General Company]?
COL WOLTERS: That's the 129th. And they, as a matter of fact, did deploy a team down there to augment the SOUTHCOM unit.
[END OF SIDE ONE]
DR. WRIGHT: O.K. Resuming on side two. You need to get the mail ...
COL WOLTERS: You need to get the mail, after it arrives in-country, to the command and where they're located they're dispersed ...
DR. WRIGHT: And moving.
COL WOLTERS: And moving, so that's kind of tricky.
DR. WRIGHT: Does the 129th have a chance to practice that in peacetime?
COL WOLTERS: They do, they do that. I think, if I could be king for a day, I would deploy that 129th with the contingency. Let them set up operations, and then work it in-theater and let them distribute it, get the mail clerks to come to the units. Have prearranged postal policies such that, if it is combat, if it's designed as an operation as defined by the leadership of the Army, [then] let the soldiers have free mail coming out, or not, so that they can write the letters and we can bring them back here and send them out, or not.
I just can't believe that we need to burden the soldier, you know, with having to buy a stamp--need money--when he's in a foxhole or when he's fighting door to door. He doesn't have time for that. It seems to me there ought to be free mail out. And I think we can work all that because we did it, we traversed the mail back and forth in mailbags, 'cause there are logistics resupply birds carrying ammunition, food, rations.
DR. WRIGHT: As the operation winds down, does the mail flow seem to alter? As the families start getting the word that the kids are coming home, does it start slowing up, or did you have pretty much a sustained workload?
COL WOLTERS: Well, I don't know the exact numbers, but we had a lot of mail that came back and was distributed. A lot of mail went down there ... it stayed there because units deployed and the mail came afterwards, and it's kind of tricky to stay up with it. I guess division reports that mail stayed down there in the APO a bit too long after units deployed to CONUS.
I think if you have the 129th down there, they could be the spokespersons. Regulate the mail and work with the commands on the ground, get the mail and utilize in-country assets, be it air or wheel, to move the mail. Then the joint task force can tell the postal unit where the units are located on the battlefield, keep them linked in, which is another reason that I think we should deploy an AG shop.
DR. WRIGHT: In terms of ... just looking back briefly to the awards issue. Logistically there's more to awards than just the processing of the paperwork. You have to have the blank certificates and you have to have the medal sets and what not, and I guess the jump wings with the gold star and the CIBs and what not. And obviously when you have an operation of this magnitude that blows the normal peacetime projections right off the map. How did you resolve those problems?
COL WOLTERS: You resolve that by making phone calls, and finding out who's got stockage, and getting it flown. One night we even called the PX [post exchange] and we got ahold of the manager, the one who handles the clothing sales store, and got them to give us medal sets, CIBs that they had, just on the gentlemen's agreement that we have these numbers and we'll pay for them later. And they responded just like that, just beautifully.
Since then I think what we're doing is [that] we're going to increase our stockage so that we have a contingency load here.
DR. WRIGHT: What about, say, PERSCOM being able to get stock to you? Is there some central point back in Washington that you can pick the phone up and say, hey, we need them and we need them right now, or can't the system be massaged like that?
COL WOLTERS: They don't stock them back there. The supply system does that. The thing that complicated this matter, is that we were in a transition between Secretaries of the Army. We didn't have the ...
DR. WRIGHT: Presigned certificates.
COL WOLTERS: ... presigned certificates on the shelf. We were a bit behind the curve.
DR. WRIGHT: Did Mr. Stone's office start working overtime to get the check writing cranked out.
COL WOLTERS: It wasn't his, it's the Army field printing plants. [Inaudible]. But it came, I guess, at the wrong time for that. But we got them done, we provided a lot of medal sets and a lot of medals to the 7th [Infantry] Division, the 82d, the 5th Mech[anized], the Army USARSO, carrying a lot of it ourselves.
DR. WRIGHT: Did you deploy any of those forward, or that was all done after the recovery?
COL WOLTERS: Oh, yes.
DR. WRIGHT: What about tracking on the instant awards that were made by the senior officers that visited the hospitals, did that cause a problem? Trying to track and make sure that when they awarded that purple heart or whatever that we were tracking to make sure that the man's records matched what was happening?
COL WOLTERS: Well we ... the awards division of PERSCOM sent an advance party down there [to Texas]. And they had it arranged as to which ones they should give, but I think there were some changes in his schedule, because he was deterred for some reason and made some awards without it, some CIBs to soldiers who were not infantry. Subsequently we had to revoke those orders. The DCSPER of the Army sent a letter through command channels to the soldiers explaining the situation and [why] they had to revoke the orders. So, we know who received the awards, because we kept closely in touch with PERSCOM.
DR. WRIGHT: In that case, we did go ahead and revoke the awards rather than trying any kind of a hasty action to reclassify or temporarily award an MOS, anything like that?
COL WOLTERS: Right.
DR. WRIGHT: Kept it honest?
COL WOLTERS: That's right, kept it purely honest. [There's] a lot of emotion out there, a lot of old World War II, Vietnam soldiers that say, hey, that was just a quick operation, 20th of December to the 31st of January. You're talking 30, 40, 50 days as opposed to years. And it's a different time, it's a different age, it's a different war, it's a different battle, so we need to make sure that we kept it pure and clean because of a lot of historical significance and a lot of pride in decorations.
Those decorations and the criterion upon which they're given have stood the test of time and we need to honor that. It's important. And I think we did a pretty good job.
DR. WRIGHT: Command group here endorses that policy that you described?
COL WOLTERS: Oh, yes. We're still looking at the CIBs and CMBs [Combat Medic Badges]. Talking to the commanders and the surgeon for their recommendations.
DR. WRIGHT: In terms of unit awards, have you seen any interest in that? Presidential Unit Citation or ...? You don't anticipate any because it was too short an operation?
COL WOLTERS: No, I don't see any. I don't see any coming. It's just not an issue.
DR. WRIGHT: You mentioned that there were some other areas, in addition to casualties and awards and mail. To what extent do you think that the TOE [table of organization and equipment] and the augmentation on the TDA [table of distribution and allowances] side from the AG section here at corps headquarters is adequate to the demand that is placed on it. In other words, we were also, from the operational side, we not only deployed down to Panama but then we had that second contingency that we had potentially staring at us.
COL WOLTERS: We don't have enough. We don't have enough resources to do what you're alluding to--to deploy soldiers to a theater and to man a 24-hour operation back here in two different locations. By that I mean, in my office, give awards, and man the EOC, and then be prepared for a second contingency--we don't have the staff. So, what we have to do is we have to pull from within ourselves. We've got the expertise to do it, but we, we by the very nature of our business are pretty thin.
DR. WRIGHT: On the ground, you mean?
COL WOLTERS: That's right. Because so much of what's done in our business is done at the lower level, division and below, and when you consolidate that authority, for example all valor awards, then it just slows the process down. And you could just keep it very slow and say, well, we'll get to it, we're working every day and every night but it's gonna be three or four weeks before we can answer your letter.
DR. WRIGHT: That's a no-go.
COL WOLTERS: But we're not used to that mindset. We're used to getting it done now. And then we've got the ceremonies, we've got this, we've got that, so, we pull out all the stops, we work them hard. But, our guys and gals are used to that and make the sacrifices. You just pay back later.
DR. WRIGHT: Can you get anywhere your hands on augmentation asset, temporarily, to beef up the staff to deal with any kind of surge?
COL WOLTERS: Oh, sure.
DR. WRIGHT: Where do you take it from? The 18th P&A Battalion?
COL WOLTERS: We could go to the 18th P&A or [the 82d Airborne] division. It's possible.
DR. WRIGHT: In other words, could you go to say, 24th Mech [24th Infantry Division] and ask them to send some people up here TDY [on temporary duty]?
COL WOLTERS: That'd be hard to do.
DR. WRIGHT: You can handle it through our own resources?
One other point that sort of intrigues me on the idea of getting into the planning. Now that we've gone through this one exercise and we have seen the impact of having the awards served and having the mail and having the casualty reporting, do you feel that there is a chance now that on the next deployment we will be able to have some greater ranging input to ... and I'm thinking here that it's not just AG, but there are finances issues, there are protocol issues, there are public affairs issues. All of those things where you have to ... one person on the ground at the start could have eliminated or minimized a lot of time that was spent inaccurately?
COL WOLTERS: Sure. But, on the other side of the coin, a commander can't take everybody into a theater of operations. That's too big; he has to be very small. You just don't have room, you don't have the space on the aircraft, you've got other things that are more important: ammunition, rations, these types of things. So you can't ... LTG Stiner can't transport his whole corps staff down there and set it up. Who does he take?
So, you're never gonna--and that's up to him. That decision is up to him. I'm suggesting that one AG officer on the--with the G-1 staff--would have helped immensely down there. And I don't think that would have been too expensive. Now, if everybody wants to send one or two then I don't think you can. But, it's my recommendation to the commander that the next time there is a contingency operation where we deploy a division or more, than you need to have corps AG on the ground. And I think you could do that in the G-1 staff, probably take one less G-1. But, we haven't worked through that yet.
DR. WRIGHT: Some of the other things where you cannot get the person down there, at least if the op[erations] plan has an AG annex that sort of flags people that "x," "y," and "z" are issues, be thinking about those, and then we'll have, on call, ready to go down on a log bird. As soon as you hear the first hint of something, we can start pumping people in. That's another way to look at it.
COL WOLTERS: Right. But the commander has to be careful because now you blew the secrecy. And as it was, by his own admission, LTG Stiner got the word two days before he even told his commanders. The reason he did that is just to keep ... to protect combat forces that would jump in. He didn't want to compromise that. And the more people you tell the more opportunity there is for something to leak. And he had confidence that his commands were ready to go, they didn't need a couple of days.
You can't get a big force ready, start bringing in aircraft and getting people locked into holding areas, staging areas, without people starting to wonder what's going on. So, he has confidence in his units that they're ready to go. You wait 'till sundown to tell them.
But, there needs to be an AG guy working with the G-1 on the planning end so they can talk to these issued. This awards and decorations, the flow of mail, I mean, those things are not show stoppers for winning the battle, so ... . But, once the battle is ongoing, then people are concerned about the casualties' reporting, the awards and decorations.
DR. WRIGHT: Again, it's like protocol and the visitation by VIPs. It's not a war stopper, but it does raise holy havoc with everybody once the bullets slow up a little bit and they show, if you haven't anticipated the problem.
COL WOLTERS: Right.
DR. WRIGHT: Speaking of congressmen, did you have any ... you have the congressional actions thing [responsibility]. Did you see any surge caused by them? In other words, this one went down kind of clean?
COL WOLTERS: Sure did.
DR. WRIGHT: Is there anything else you can think of, sir?
COL WOLTERS: No, I can't.
DR. WRIGHT: Well, again I appreciate you taking the time and I'll be getting a copy of the transcript back to you when we get it done, X-number of months down the road.
COL WOLTERS: Got it, super.
DR. WRIGHT: Thanks, sir.
COL WOLTERS: Yes, sir.
[END OF INTERVIEW]