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
SFC George B. Robinson
Noncommissioned Officer in Charge
S-1 Section, 4th Psychological Operations Group
Interview Conducted 6 April 1990 at Hardy Hall, Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Interviewer: SSG Gerry Albin (326th Military History Detachment)
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview JCIT 055
SSG ALBIN: This is SSG [Gerry] Albin of the 326th Military History Detachment with a JUST CAUSE interview on 6 April 1990. SFC Robinson could you please state your name, rank, service number, unit and duty position?
SFC ROBINSON: My name is George B. Robinson. I'm a 75Z4L. My duty position is NCOIC [Noncommissioned Officer in Charge] of the S-1 section. My unit is HHC, 4th PSYOPS Group [Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Psychological Operations Group] (Airborne). My serial number is ***-**-****.
SSG ALBIN: SFC Robinson can you describe to me how you first heard of the alert for Operation JUST CAUSE?
SFC ROBINSON: Well when I first heard about it it was already in progress because I think I saw it on television 'cause I didn't get alerted until about (that I was going to Panama) somewhere within the 24th of [December, 1989] ... that morning ... that I was probably going to Panama which in at that time things had already kicked off on the 20th.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe to me the events that happened after that here at Fort Bragg in connection with your job function?
SFC ROBINSON: Well right after that took place there was all kind of stuff was happening. There was setting up the Red Cross; mail issues; and trying to get the dependents situated and keep them posted on what's going on and keep them abreast and take care of needs as time goes by. Such as setting up point of locations of for information and so forth that as soon as it been passed on they would be the one to get it.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe your job function here at Fort Bragg?
SFC ROBINSON: Well my job here at Fort Bragg ... here I'm the NCOIC of the S-1 section which is administrative. I take care of all the related administrative matter that comes within the 4th PSYOPS Group (Airborne).
SSG ALBIN: Did you deploy with your unit to Panama or did you remain here and perform your job here?
SFC ROBINSON: Well I did deploy with my unit but part of the unit went ahead of us and I was the second echelon who went in, which was on the 24th of December. While probably the first echelon that went in from the first.
SSG ALBIN: Describe to me how your echelon deployed from Fort Bragg?
SFC ROBINSON: Well I didn't take too much part in that so I couldn't really go into detail on that I wasn't really involved in the first echelon that ... when it left. I just took part of the second portion when I was called into play which was on the 24th of December.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. Which echelon did you deploy with? The second one?
SFC ROBINSON: Um-hum.
SSG ALBIN: The second one, okay. How did you deploy? Did you go to PHA [Personnel Holding Area] or can you describe the events?
SFC ROBINSON: Well I was notified I was leaving and at that time once we did have a certain check procedure that we normally go through. You know, make sure you have certain items and so forth. And once we was alerted, we was assembled in the area, weapons was issued, protective masks and the whole sequence was with one behind each other. One-time alert was given to us and then we went out to the assembly area and stand fast for further orders. Once you receive further orders that we was leaving we proceed to Green Ramp and then from there once we get to Green Ramp we was manifested and then we boarded the plane and then from there we're going to Panama.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe ... can you tell me the equipment connected with your job that you took with you?
SFC ROBINSON: Well my job is something I took that is related to personnel matters like books, pencils and regulations and so forth. And weapons--I take my weapons, LBE [load-bearing equipment] and so forth. The majority of stuff was personal stuff that I took with me to Panama.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. Describe to me the flight over.
SFC ROBINSON: The flight went over was wonderful. As a matter of fact I don't even know when we got there. We had a smooth and enjoyable flight there. The first time I've ever flown in such a good weather and a C-5 [Galaxy]. It was outstanding. When we touched off I couldn't believe it. It's when ... when the light came on and say fasten your seat belt, at that time I know we were approaching Panama.
SSG ALBIN: Where did you land?
SFC ROBINSON: We landed at Howard A[ir] F[orce] B[ase] in a secure area.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe to me the events that happened immediately following your landing?
SFC ROBINSON: Once we landed we debarked the plane and we was put on a bus and we was taken to the assembly area. Once we was taken to the assembly area we was briefed and we was taken to an area of sleep quarters that we'd reside at that night. And then we moved the next morning to our area that we were supposed to be at, which was in Quarry Heights.
SSG ALBIN: Now can you describe the facilities that were available to you to perform you job function at Quarry Heights?
SFC ROBINSON: Well when we got to Quarry Heights we spent about approximately about two to three hours in the area there and that's not in the place that we was going to stay. We then moved from Quarry Heights and went up to Corozal. That's where we stay in the billets; we were staying in billets. A secure area that they have up there.
SSG ALBIN: Was that where your office was located?
SFC ROBINSON: Right in Quarry Heights, yes. That's where my office was. I was working in Quarry Heights.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe to me the staff that you brought with you to help you perform your job function there and what equipment was available to help you perform that there at Quarry Heights?
SFC ROBINSON: Well when I got to Quarry Heights ... when I got to Quarry Heights then it was immediately determined that I would be going to Corozal instead of Quarry Heights. When I got to Quarry Heights everything was already pre-set-up due to the fact that the first echelon had got there before I did and they had everything situated, so all I had to do was come in and plug into what was already there. I didn't need to set anything up. It was already set up there when I got there.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe to me the ... the various ... for instance, did you use SIDPERS [Standard Installation Personnel System] in your section or did you use a wartime SIDPERS?
SFC ROBINSON: Well, we did not use the wartime SIDPERS what we was doing is more like ... that wasn't available to us. We was using more paperwork to go ahead and submit the PERSTATs and so forth. We did not use no SIDPERS.
SSG ALBIN: What was the last phrase that you said: to submit the what?
SFC ROBINSON: PERSTAT.
SSG ALBIN: Can you explain that for me? What did you mean by that?
SFC ROBINSON: Well it's the way that we keep track of the personnel. Who we have in Panama and who we don't have. So we keep track of what's coming back and forth. Personnel Status Report is the PERSTAT.
SSG ALBIN: Okay, thank you. Did you handle ... from your section, did you handle for instance pay, promotion, awards? Those things? And can you describe how they were handled?
SFC ROBINSON: Well, we did have some slight pay problem that we seemed to get ironed out due to the fact that we have one soldier that I can think of that ... in reference to pay problem, it was just a question. It was nothing that was need to taken care of immediately. And his question was, I think, was in reference to allotment and so forth, which I did answer the question and that did it. It did not require an immediate reaction or something that was detrimental financially. It was just a question.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. As far as promotions and awards can you describe how these were handled during Operation JUST CAUSE?
SFC ROBINSON: Well, when I was in Panama I ... at that time we wasn't too involved in promotions nor awards due to the fact that the contingency was still in progress and mostly was trying to keep track of the personnel. That was part of my function to keep up with them: where they was at and so forth. But I didn't do nothing to do with awards or promotions up until that matter.
SSG ALBIN: Alright. Can you describe to me the way you handled replacements and casualty lists?
SFC ROBINSON: The casualty [list]--that was done at another level. I didn't get a chance to do that. I didn't get involved in that. The only thing that I did actually got involved was keeping track of personnel, seeing who we had, where they're at, and who was leaving. To make sure that the person that was supposed to leave then got on the plane and left and the one that arrived to make sure that they're here and give accountability for them. But I did not get involved in no casualties. We had another individual that taking care of that item and I didn't get involved in it.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe to me the work shifts that you set up in order to perform your job function in Panama?
SFC ROBINSON: Well we had we had a 24-hours work shift, broken down into three categories of eight-hour shifts. I had to keep things running right on a 24-hour basis. I was on the first, the day shift.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. Tell me how your logistics went to support you during Operation JUST CAUSE?
SFC ROBINSON: Well, the logistics was super. We couldn't complain because we're in Panama ... the units that was already in place, that was stationed in Panama, they're the ones that provide the logistics support. The support was superb. So it was where there ... we was fortunate that when we got there, the stuff was already there due to the fact that the troops was already stationed in Panama. So that facilitates everything ... easier in reference to that support. We didn't have no problem at all when it coming to food, chow, clothes and everything. We was ... had everything that we needed. There was nothing that we didn't have, that we couldn't use, or we had that we couldn't get.
SSG ALBIN: Now you had mentioned that you did not use a wartime SIDPERS. Can you describe to me any training exercises that you went through here at Fort Bragg and how they compared with what you actually did in Panama?
SFC ROBINSON: Well the only thing that I notice what we actually did in Panama ... due to the fact that the course of the time and mission that was given in Panama versus what we do here, it was totally different due to the fact that units was already in place, stationary, such as ... forces was already stationed in Panama so that kind of played a good, good role towards this mission. That unit really had to really emphasize too much ... as much as we did in the field when it comes to wartime SIDPERS. Again everything was at our reach due to the fact that units that were there before.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe to me how you feel your MOS [Military Occupational Specialty] ... well first can you describe to me your MOS training or your primary MOS (your duty MOS) and your school training or correspondence course training that you had to prepare for your job function?
SFC ROBINSON: Well it did play a unique role because when it has to come to do with personnel this is something that if you're not properly trained and practice it, it does create a problem. And try to keep accountability for so many people in so many different places and the role that is actually played versus the training is that is was so unique those people they have full planes and keep track of what we have and what versus what we have coming and what going. So that really did play a good portion of that related to my duty and training.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. At the beginning you mentioned 75Z and 4L are those your primary MOS and duty MOS?
SFC ROBINSON: Well, yeah, that's my job. That's my primary MOS, yes: 75Z.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe the structure of your section as it was put together in Operation JUST CAUSE and the rank structure and how they functioned?
SFC ROBINSON: Well the structure was put as ... like we had myself, another E-7, an E-5 and E-4. And also we had a major and a captain. In the role that we was playing is that, for instance, is when the NCO it was broke back into three shifts. The day shift: I worked the first eight hours. Then we worked with another E-7. And then we had the E-5. And we had just three shifts working now, equally, where we keep things running. Where in the day things is more active then at night. And we did have an NCOIC, which was the major, and he had operational responsibility within the function, too. And [the] only thing concerned was the personnel structure which in that's what we normally tasked with.
And also financial matter or if anything was expense. Or personnel matter like checking and making sure a medic is available. If someone is sick, make sure they get to the hospital and stuff to that extent. Also is keeping track of what we have numbers-wise and if we have any replacements coming in that he gets to the right place at the right time versus if any man wants to depart, make sure that he departs within the time frame and get to the port of debarkation in the proper manner.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe to me the replacement process that ... and how you coordinated with Fort Bragg and your operation at Panama?
SFC ROBINSON: Well we was fortunate enough to have ... an S-3 also was over there that was taking more portion after making sure of the replacement. My job was to keep track once they come in country. Places was set up back in Bragg where he comes from Bragg to Panama. My job is once they get into Panama make sure that they're at the right place. And make sure that my figures that is correct versus what I give every day.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. You mentioned that part of your job function was working with pay. Can you describe how pay was handled in Panama?
SFC ROBINSON: Well, we didn't have so much problem because the majority of people had the Sure Pay, which is check to the bank. And that was for making sure that each and everyone was in that category and we didn't have no person that would fall in the category where his check couldn't ... if he had if he didn't have check to the bank or check the unit, then we'd have a problem. Which we didn't have that problem at all because everybody had the Sure Pay. And a lot of soldiers brought their checkbook with them and the PX was available to write checks. So that really played a very, very important part in that mission--the Sure Pay. Which I was amazed to see that it really took the effect of all this preaching and working towards it, that it really took a good time to really show it paid off to have the Sure Pay.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe to me the way people worked together or how people worked together within your section?
SFC ROBINSON: Well, it was amazing to see that under that type of environment which we are never accustomed to work to ... we train towards it but we never would really face with the reality as we was faced back in Panama. Under such a strain and tasks at the same time so that you could be able to function so unique as a team. So I think that has to do with the training persons that we have here. That really pay off in Panama and it did pay off a lot.
SSG ALBIN: When in performing you job function, you (meaning the members of your section and you) did you stay primarily within your office or did you go different places and locations and perform part of your job function there and then come back. Can you describe to me that situation?
SFC ROBINSON: Well, sometime I would probably play a part and I would leave my section. Say, for instance, to coordinate to get a medic. 'Cause when we got there we wanted to establish a sick call system to make sure that the medic was available, which is what we did. We went--I went and coordinate with the higher headquarters to make sure that we have a medic that was available so we could have our normal sick call hours. I also coordinated with the hospital also to see if anything that people needs, that someone that needs to go the hospital, to make sure we knew exactly where they go and what is available. And things to that nature.
SSG ALBIN: When you or a member of your section would go someplace in connection with your job function, can you describe the areas where they went through? Were they secure or non-secure? And also the PLL [Prescribed Load List], ammunition, weapons, etc., that they would take?
SFC ROBINSON: Well the unit, my duty unit, being it was always secure, but the uniform was one of the strict policies to make sure each and everyone out there had the [kevlar] vest on, your LBE, and you're carrying your magazines and your rounds and so forth. Once you exit the gate, you know, at that time you would go ahead and put a magazine into your weapon and things to that extent. And a lot of safety precautions. The majority of the unit was secure, but we still went along with the safety precautions to make sure each and everyone remain in that uniform all during the exercise, all during the contingency. Just in the event that something might happen that at least the person is well protected in a manner such as wearing their vests and so forth and have ammunition in the event that we were overrun or something that they can defend themselves.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe the ... did your section have organic wheel vehicle resources?
SFC ROBINSON: Yes. We had some. And then, also, that was more distributed to the other echelons that was on missions. That was much higher priority than mine's, but finally we had some transportation--some rented vehicles that we had back in Panama that was available to us.
SSG ALBIN: How were these vehicles procured? Do you have knowl[edge]?
SFC ROBINSON: No, I don't.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. When you and your members of your section came over to Panama, what kind of personal items did you have room to take with you--just generally?
SFC ROBINSON: Well in our unit we have forms ... we had a packing list that was developed to make sure each and everyone has the proper equipment and the proper gear, due to the fact that we was going into the area. We was leaving what you call a climate that was cold, going to versus a warm climate. So this calls for some planning prior before we leave to make sure we have the proper garments so once you get there we can function accordingly to the climate that we're going to encounter when we get there. So this played a role when you leave your cold and when you get there it's hot. So the packing list did come in handy.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. Returning to your section within your headquarters. In your day-to-day work, can you describe to me ... if you had a problem and something didn't work or you needed something, can you describe to me how you were supported in that respect. If something would break down in the typewriter or copier or something would break down, how were you supported in the emergency--quick, got-to-have-it-right-now contingency?
SFC ROBINSON: This was while we were in Panama, or while we were here?
SSG ALBIN: Yes.
SFC ROBINSON: Like, again, I said we was fortunate enough that while in Panama with units that was stationed there, they made whatever they had was available to us. The support was extremely outstanding. And if we had any ... needed any resupply coming from Bragg to us there was no problem. 'Cause we did have that type communication in reference to that.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe to me the length of the ... preplanned length of your mission, and how long it took in the real world? And expand on that?
SFC ROBINSON: What do you mean what it takes to prepare us for PHA to get to Panama?
SSG ALBIN: No. For instance, as a quick example, the MPs [Military Police] were supposed to be there for three days, but their mission was expanded to five or six days because of things that they were called upon to do, and they ended up staying seven or eight or something like that. That sort of thing. How long were you supposed to be there on paper, and were you there ... how well did the plan ... ? That's how well did your preplanning match up with actually happened?
SFC ROBINSON: It came up beautiful like. Due to the fact that this thing that we take ... for instance myself, I ended up spending about twenty days there, and the stuff that I had taken with me it lasted those twenty days. I didn't come to no problem with all the gear based on the checklist that we did put in. That process seems to kind of alleviated a lot and it helps for the future due to the fact that we could able to function within that time frame or period of time there. Anywhere from twenty to at least thirty or forty days. We could have continued our mission based on the stuff that we have taken with us. So that was good.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe when and how your operations (the operations of your section) in Panama terminated, and how did you turn over the responsibility of your section to SOUTHCOM [US Southern Command] there in Panama?
SFC ROBINSON: Well I ... fortunately I didn't get a chance to do that because what I did was, when I left, I turned it over to one of the echelons that belongs to us--one of our own people--and they remained back there. And I left, and then he's the one that turned it over back to SOUTHCOM. I didn't.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. Can you describe the how soon your unit started receiving rumors of when you were going back?
SFC ROBINSON: Well, we wasn't quite sure. At first that was something that really no one knew exactly when we was coming there. It's not to say that it isn't like, "well this is the day that you're going to leave." It wasn't nothing to that extent. As time goes by and things started dying down and they started putting the phases in plan, then you was told like two or three days prior before that we would be leaving on such and such a given time. And it did came through at that time when they gave us a date. In other words it wasn't a flip back and forth. Once the time was established, we make that time.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. You mentioned that your section went in echelons. And how many ... how did your section ... can you describe the how your section redeployed. And how you reconstituted here with your second echelon?
SFC ROBINSON: Well, when I say echelon I probably may have to reiterate that, because what I mentioned with echelon the problem that I got due to the fact that I went as the NCOIC of the S-1. Which at that time I did not take anyone with me due to the fact that they was already people there that was available, which was from the other battalions. And I went more as a support towards them in what they already was doing. So the major role that was played in that it was more of the people that got there ahead of me. I just came like to assist based on my experience and my knowledge--to help the operation to run smoother that what it was normally was running anyhow. Like a finishing touch on things.
SSG ALBIN: How did you redeploy? And can you tell me when you did redeploy?
SFC ROBINSON: Well I deployed on the 24th which was Christmas Eve--December.
SSG ALBIN: Were you redeployed?
SFC ROBINSON: Oh, you mean back to Panama?
SSG ALBIN: From Operation JUST CAUSE back to here.
SFC ROBINSON: We deploy on the 20th of January back to Fort Bragg. And we did redeploy the same personnel that left, that's the same personnel that we came back with us. Plus with other units that came with us that was there with us. 'Cause I think in the process where we left we was quite a few of us that went. I can't remember numbers figure-wise, but same group that went on the 24th (Christmas Eve), that's the same group that came back on the 20th of January. So we did went in a group and came back as a group.
SSG ALBIN: Can you describe how your group reconstituted when you came back to Fort Bragg on the 20th? Can you describe to me what happened when you came back?
SFC ROBINSON: Okay when we was told we was coming back we got together and was manifested and went through customs and everything; board the aircraft. And once we board the aircraft and got here we had a good receiving welcome. And everything did run smooth on the way, in coming back the same way we went and the same way we came back. Everything was coordinated properly vehicles and everything was set in line, checked by customs, and quick manifested, and the whole nine yards. Everything went smooth and came right back to Fort Bragg.
SSG ALBIN: What kind of an airplane did you come back on?
SFC ROBINSON: We came back in a C-5.
SSG ALBIN: Was it the one you also went on?
SFC ROBINSON: I went on a C-5 also and came back on a C-5.
SSG ALBIN: When you deployed and when you redeployed, can you describe if there were any strap hangers and if you knew who they were?
SFC ROBINSON: No, I because we left at night there wasn't none that I can think of.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. You had mentioned that things went fairly well according to the way you've been trained and the way things have been planned out when you were in operation JUST CAUSE. Can you describe any things which didn't go according to plan, which you had to on the spur of the moment come up with a solution? If you can.
SFC ROBINSON: I can't recollect anything to that extent.
SSG ALBIN: So things basically went smooth?
SFC ROBINSON: Yeah, it went basically smooth.
SSG ALBIN: Okay. The way ... the way I like to conclude an interview is: can you describe an anecdote or story or something touching or something which stands out in your mind that happened to you or one of your people in connection with your job during JUST CAUSE?
SFC ROBINSON: Oh, the thing that stands out in my mind is that it was to see that how the people of Panama was so rejoiceful and how the welcome they gave us--it was tremendous. Due to the fact that stuff go through your mind while you're away going there; and then while you're there you have this vision of how things will happen. And you don't have to say-so what going happen until when it comes and it hits you to the extent that ... the way that they was looking forward to this many, many years ago. And the welcome was outstanding and it was so touching to the extent that it was unbelievable the way the thoughts come through your mind and you're saying that these are the people that we actually are involved with; that we didn't expect for them to receive us as joyful as they was and as helpful as they were. Because they was really, really, really outstanding and their response was one of the best that I've seen towards that contingency that we was involved in, and the environment that we was in. I just couldn't believe that the reaction of the people and everyone was very joyful to the extent they used words to the effect that "should probably have come here twenty years ago; what took you so long."
SSG ALBIN: Outstanding. Thank you. Thank you ...
SFC ROBINSON: You're welcome.
SSG ALBIN: ... SFC Robertson. This concludes Operation JUST CAUSE interview on 6 April 1990. SSG Albin of the 326th Military History Detachment.
[END OF INTERVIEW]