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
MAJ Hugh W. Perry
Plans, Policy and Force Development Officer
4th Psychological Operations Group
Interview Conducted 9 April 1990 at Hardy Hall, Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Interviewer: MAJ Robert P. Cook (326th Military History Detachment)
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview JCIT 057
MAJ COOK: [This is an] Operation JUST CAUSE oral history interview. I'm MAJ [Robert P.] Cook of the 326th Military History Detachment this is 9 April . MAJ Perry could you give me your full name, serial number, your unit, and your duty position?
MAJ PERRY: MAJ Hugh W. Perry; ***-**-****. I'm the Chief of the Policy, Plans, Programs and Force Development Section of the 4th PSYOPS [Psychological Operations] Group.
MAJ COOK: MAJ Perry could you tell me when you became first aware of Operation JUST CAUSE and how you interfaced with the operation?
MAJ PERRY: I first heard about it at about 0600 hours on the 20th of December . I guess that's about five or so hours after it kicked off, and actually I heard about it by watching the news guy. I got up that morning to go to work and as I often do I turn on the television while I'm getting dressed and that's when I was first hit with the fact that Operation JUST CAUSE had taken place.
MAJ COOK: And what did you do next?
MAJ PERRY: Went on in to work. I was ... part of my morning routine. I was ready to go to work anyway and I just went on in and got there and was notified by the group commander, COL Normand, that he was leaving on the next available aircraft to Panama and wanted me to accompany him. I did not, however. He left before I did because of some limitation requirements on the aircraft so it was not until, I think, about 2200 hours on the 21st of December that I actually deployed. Arriving in country at about 02 or 03 in the morning on the 22d.
MAJ COOK: Could you tell me something about how you left? Did you have to go do a POR [processing for overseas replacement] or ... ?
MAJ PERRY: Well, fortunately for most people in the unit, we're considered POR'd all the time which means we go through the process of making sure we're ready to deploy, preparation for just a contingency. So there were no real POR requirements. The biggest thing that was a determining factor on when we actually deployed was the availability of aircraft and the authorization for PSYOPS forces to board the aircraft. I'm not sure about this but I think JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] was controlling the airflow or at least the authorization of units: who could leave CONUS [Continental United States] and go into Panama. And between getting the aircraft and getting authorization it took a day, a day and a half for me.
MAJ COOK: Describe for me your functional role with the group. Do you have a staff, a unit, a section?
MAJ PERRY: The PPFD section is about sixteen people. We're required to manage all of the policy, plans, programs, exercises, force integration and force development of the 4th PSYOPS Group. My job as the Army Chief (there's a civilian who's my boss, but as the senior military person in this section) is to sort of manage all those things. I don't have one particular area where I have a narrow scope or a dedication of effort; I sort of oversee all those activities within the section. I've been doing it for about six months.
MAJ COOK: So tell me where you landed in Panama and what you did shortly upon arrival.
MAJ PERRY: I arrived at Howard A[ir] F[orce] B[ase] and like I said that was about two or three in the morning. We were on a
C-141 [Starlifter]. There were, if I remember correctly, there were two ... no there was one C-5 [Galaxy] and two C-141s all departing Pope [Air Force Base] here at North Carolina at the same time. When we arrived there was a lot of equipment on these aircraft, so it took a bit of time at Howard to offload the equipment and Howard Air Force Base was sort of reeling from the intensity of the air traffic; the volume of air traffic that they had received for the past (I guess) two or three days. And I don't want to imply that they were disorganized because they weren't, but they were sort of spent. If that makes any sense. They had pretty much they were running in so many different directions with so few people that it took probably longer than it would have under normal circumstances to get actually off the plane; to get the equipment off the plane; get organized and moved from Howard. Although it wasn't an inordinate amount of time but it was, I guess, faster than I would have liked considering there was still isolated sniper activity going on. There was no problem associated with it.
MAJ COOK: Other than the sniper activity was there any particular security or physical security problems that you all had to do?
MAJ PERRY: No. [INTERRUPTION] No security problems that I'm aware of. We moved off the tarmac and through some control points that Air Force personnel had set up at Howard and eventually got outside the actual runway and tarmac area to some of the building areas and waited on our equipment which arrived about an hour later. And I'd say from the time we landed 'till the time we were ready to leave Howard AFB was approximately three ... three hours is a rough guess.
MAJ COOK: And where did you go from Howard?
MAJ PERRY: We convoyed to Fort Clayton. If I remember it was about a 30-minute drive. We were in a bus, actually, which is another aspect that I really didn't like. But I am sure the decision was made based on the security, the situation at hand, and we wouldn't have been put in busses if it wasn't secure. But it was just a little bit unnerving. I'm no great combat vet[eran] and I didn't like being in a bus with a rucksack ... full of people with no mobility. I couldn't have fired a weapon if I had had to because we were stacked in with equipment and people. We did have MP escort HMMWVs [M-998-series High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicle] with machine guns, so it was all ... I'm sure) it was safe. It just was uncomfortable, I guess is the best way to describe it.
MAJ COOK: Was Howard your final destination or did you just stop off there?
MAJ PERRY: No, most of the people in the aircraft were Civil Affairs people and we were sort of hitchhiking on that aircraft. They were going to Clayton so we went with them. And I spent only about two or three hours there until I arranged for transportation to go to Quarry Heights where my boss COL Normand, the group commander, was. And to recall he deployed about a day before I had. And he was there working at Quarry Heights with the ... inside the J-2/J-3 Tunnel. And as soon as I got transportation I linked up with him there, which is where I worked for about ... I think six days is that I stayed working with him at the Tunnel there at Quarry.
MAJ COOK: And what was ... once you were there what was your mission or function for the group?
MAJ PERRY: That's kind of hard to answer. I was, I guess, an assistant to COL Normand. There was no specific job title. One of the things that occurred, as also in the Grenada experience, is that PSYOPS forces are not usually brought into the conflict as early as I think they ought to be. The tactical assets, the loudspeakers and so forth, they're brought in early. As a matter of fact they jump in with the assault forces. But some of the PSYOPS planners and some of the people that actually go through the command and control and do the PSYOPS product development unfortunately are not brought into the conflict as early as I think they should be.
So what we had is a situation where three people, the group commander, myself, and one NCO [Noncommissioned Officer], a SSG--I mean a SFC--Jumper, formed a three person mini-PSYOPS task force, if you will. We sort of performed all the functions. I mean that would ordinarily be a much larger, you know, a twelve, fifteen, maybe as many as twenty people forming the normal admin[istration], log[istical], intel[ligence] operation interface with not only the Joint Task Force but with USSOUTHCOM [United States Southern Command]. And it was just a three-man cell. We were sort of Johnny-on-the-Spots doing everything, you know, regardless. Whatever the requirement was, whatever the person on the other end of the phone needed, we were the answer man so to speak.
MAJ COOK: Now what was the general mission of the group at that time?
MAJ PERRY: The group's mission was to provide support to USSOUTHCOM but with priority of support to the Joint Task Force SOUTH, the task force that LTG [Carl W.] Stiner headed up. That was our focus: to support the Joint Task Force. But our requirement was to support USSOUTHCOM. If you look at PSYOPS in terms of levels, there's a tactical level which supports the ground maneuver units, loudspeakers are a good example of that. Then there's sort of a middle layer and I think the doctrine calls it an operational level that would be to provide PSYOPS support to the Joint Task Force in and of itself. And then there's a higher level, the strategic level of PSYOPS, and that is to, if needed, provide PSYOPS support to the whole theatre the whole Central and or South American area of operations. And so we working at that level, were sort of doing it all or at least commanding and controlling the PSYOPS support for all of that.
MAJ COOK: About how many of your major units did you have under you that you were also supporting?
MAJ PERRY: PSYOPS units or just maneuver units?
MAJ COOK: PSYOPS units.
MAJ PERRY: Well there were ... there was one PSYOPS Battalion (that was the 1st PSYOPS Battalion) deployed, although the preponderance of those forces hadn't yet arrived. And then there were sizeable numbers of PSYOPS soldiers from our strategic dissemination company. Although the company in total did not deploy, I would say (a rough guess) 50% of it at least did. And there again they had not arrived yet. The only people the only PSYOPS forces in country at the time we arrived were the tactical assets and they were all tasked out--attached out, actually, to all the maneuver units and were involved in their insertions and jumps and so forth. And the PSYOPS forces from the 1st Battalion and strategic dissemination company. All the battalions were represented down there, but not in large numbers. They sort of ... they sort of got all of the linguists out of the battalions and a lot of printing assets and all the loudspeaker assets out. But they were all sort of attached to the 1st PSYOPS Battalion. It was the only battalion that actually deployed.
MAJ COOK: Were there sufficient linguistic assets?
MAJ PERRY: There were, I think. It's always nice to have more. People don't realize the value of linguists in a consulate. It's "the more the better," I guess is a safe adage. But I think there were enough. Fortunately Spanish is a fairly common language. And we did get enough. Some printers speak Spanish and they don't have to be just a PSYOPS specialist and they were able to contribute that way. I've often wondered if we had a conflict where this flared up in you know whatever country that spoke a real low-density language that we might have only three or four people qualified, we would have a real problem. Because we probably had 30 or 40 Spanish linguists down there and that was enough (barely enough). But if we were in a low-density language country that was not popular, shall we say, we'd have a lot of trouble. We tried with a country team to try to get down to the contract national linguists, English-speaking local nationals would be a problem because most of them wouldn't have security clearances. But that's a little bit off the point. Yeah, we had enough linguists--barely enough.
MAJ COOK: Did you get any expert help or advice or assistance in terms of either linguistics or in terms of the politics and the culture from outside of the group?
MAJ PERRY: Well I'm not sure. We interfaced a lot with, you know, just the normal SOUTHCOM staff. The USARSO [United States Army South] staff which was sort of incorporated into JTF SOUTH--those people have a lot of area expertise. But, you know, actually I think we probably brought with us as much or more than they could provide. That's our job. We have analysts and we have people who devote a lot of time studying the social, political, economic, religious situations in countries around the world. So we generally have a good foundation. We interface with these staffs to maybe get absolutely current with what's going on right now, but, you know, we have a real good, solid foundation in that regard so we really don't need to go outside the group a whole lot.
MAJ COOK: You said that you had spent about the first six days with the command group at Quarry Heights. What happened after that?
MAJ PERRY: Well about ... I think it was the 25th (Christmas morning) the bulk of PSYOPS forces arrived. And I don't know the exact number. It seemed like it was about 140, but that's a rough guess. And at that point the group commander had this larger complement of staff for command and control and liaising and so forth. I think I stayed one extra day until the 26th. At that time he saw a need for me to go down and work at the Joint Task Force SOUTH level. And I went and worked as the PSYOPS liaison to the Joint Task Force. So I moved on about the 26th so I had five or six days there. At that time he got his forces report trying to round out his staff and thought that I was better needed down at Task Force SOUTH. I stayed there for I guess about five days.
MAJ COOK: And what were ... describe some of your functions as the liaison to them?
MAJ PERRY: Well I was the conduit between the 1st PSYOPS Battalion, which we were calling the JPOTF (Joint PSYOPS Task Force). That and Joint Task Force SOUTH J-3. Predominantly the J-3. I interfaced with all the staff on the JTF SOUTH but I was the conduit. Any requirements that came out JTF SOUTH: PSYOPS missions, for example, came through me I relayed them to the battalion. And then any needs or concerns or requests from the battalion for the JTF SOUTH came through me. And I had a staff there of I think five or six people. There was one other officer and about three or four NCOs that were all ... . At that point we got to work shifts. The first six days I was 24-hours-a-day. I averaged about one hour of sleep a night as did everyone that was working in that capacity. And then when I got down to JTF SOUTH we had the luxury of splitting into two shifts and so I got well-needed sleep. I had slept eight hours and it got reasonable and it was down right human at that point.
MAJ COOK: Before you went on shift work (or let's just say from the first six to ten days you were in country) what was the general feeling about how long the operation would last?
MAJ PERRY: Well, I think pretty much the people in my sphere (in the PSYOPS community) were aware of the fact that it was going to last longer than the other people had expected. And I think the reason for that was that once [Manuel Antonio] Noreiga had not been captured and once he was not captured on the initial assault or a quick time thereafter, I think most of the people I was working with recognized it was going to last a period of, you know, a week maybe, or a little longer.
I think also a lot of the people in the PSYOPS community, having studied the situation and being there ... again area experts weren't surprised by the tenacity of the Panamanian Defense Force [PDF]. And they were also, I think, more informed about the existence and the evils of the Dignity Battalions. A lot of people (I'm not sure why) really were surprised at these dignity battalions were putting this much resistance as they did, or were as motivated to disrupt and interfere and protract this thing. But I really wasn't surprised by that, and I think a lot of other people in the PSYOPS community were not surprised by that. And that's just again a function of the fact that we looked at this. I mean we studied this situation for (as we do with all countries) ... for as soon as the Panamanian elections, I guess, in April or May. I can't remember exactly [when] problems started to deteriorate. You focus your attention there and our folks had looked very carefully. Dignity Battalions' role in this so to say was not a real surprise to most of us.
MAJ COOK: Did you have any ... what particular missions or taskings that you had ... did you have that you were able to influence the turning of the PDF and the Dignity Battalions?
MAJ PERRY: I don't think I can claim any of that fame myself. I was not in a position where I was actually working on a group, working with a group on PSYOPS products, be they video or audio or printed leaflets or anything like that. The first battalion propaganda development center folks were doing that and I was more the command and control--worrying about things. Try to keep the monkey off their back letting them do their job. And I was worried more about transportation and meals and security, and, you know, operations and keeping maps up to date and so on and so forth. I really didn't get involved in that.
MAJ COOK: Let me ask you about maps. Were maps available? Were there any particular problems in ... ?
MAJ PERRY: None that I had. None that any of the groups that I worked with--and I changed jobs about three or four times down there. Each job I had, maps were available. I don't know where they were coming from. I think we deployed with some but I think the J-2 (both SOUTHCOM and Joint Task Force) were pretty much on the spot providing maps. At least the ones that we needed.
MAJ COOK: What did you all do in terms of billeting?
MAJ PERRY: Well, are you asking me ... ?
MAJ COOK: Yes, for you personally and the people with you.
MAJ PERRY: From the time I arrived on the 22d until I moved over to Fort Clayton on the 26th or 7th there were no billets or meals. We slept on a floor--for what little sleep we could. I suppose there was food available. We were just too busy to go find it. You know somebody would throw us a candy bar now and then; that kind of thing. But I don't want to imply that nobody was taking care of us. I mean, you know, it was a war. You're not really concerned about where there's a bed; you're more concerned about if you've got to drop because you're that tired that you just drop on the floor.
The interesting footnote which may be more appropriate for the anecdotal part of this interview is my group commander, who's kind of a salty dog, I guess--he was in country for I guess two or two and a half (maybe three) weeks. I don't know exactly. But he slept on the floor the whole time he was there. Part of that was the fact that there was no other option and part of that was I guess the fact that his presence was required so much that it was impractical for him to go anywhere. And so he'd just come out of the hospital a week, two weeks, maybe three weeks before that and had some pretty substantial surgery on his hip and his jaw or something and he was ... . He drove on. He'd sleep on the floor an hour and get up and growl a little bit and go about his business. He's kind of a strange. Kind of a good role model though for those of us who may have been feeling a little sorry for ourselves after the third or fourth day about not having any comforts whatsoever. And, you know, the boss is having it worse than you are it's kind of hard to feel sorry for yourself. So it was probably a good thing he was doing that.
MAJ COOK: Well when did you move over to Fort Clayton?
MAJ PERRY: [The] 26 or 7th; I can't remember the exact date.
MAJ COOK: And did your work move with you or did you have to shall we say commute?
MAJ PERRY: I worked ... I moved lock, stock and barrel and didn't come back to Quarry except for an occasional visit or meeting. I all my requirements at that point changed for Fort Clayton and I didn't leave Fort Clayton very often. I did go to Corozal which was where the 1st Battalion was, so I was back and forth between Fort Clayton and Corozal occasionally.
MAJ COOK: What ... what was your next mission or tasking? Did you stay there at Clayton until you came back or ... ?
MAJ PERRY: No I stayed there for about five days, until around the first of the year. And then I moved over to 1st Battalion. COL Normand at that point decided that I would better be utilized in the 1st Battalion. I'm not sure whether I'm getting fired from all these places [LAUGHTER] or whether he says "hey this guy is great, let's move him over here to do wonderful things." But five days was about my limit so I ... but he moved me over to the 1st PSYOPS Battalion where I assisted in a couple of different subjects. Probably the predominant one was starting to work the air movement issues to get people back home. Things were starting to wind down a little bit and it was not necessarily time to move people back home but it wasn't too early to start thinking about how we would get our equipment and our people back and how we could phase them out. And I spent about four or five days planning that as well as other things. I was really ... they were all sort of catch-as-catch-can tasks. Things were so busy. But the air movement back, the airflow back was pretty much my requirement at that time.
MAJ COOK: Did you continue with that until you came out yourself?
MAJ PERRY: No I got fired one more time. Actually twice more. I moved at that point ... I think when I left about the 5th or so of January, I moved over to work with ... 7th Special Forces Group had deployed around the first of the year and we were vital in their UW [unconventional warfare] FID [internal development] missions. And they needed a PSYOPS liaison to support them. Same interface I did in Joint Task Force SOUTH I was now doing at the 7th Group and interfacing between them and the 1st PSYOPS Battalion. And I went over and did that, and that was at Amador I'm sorry that was Albrook--Albrook Air Station or Air Base.
And I worked there for about five or six days until about the 10th of the month--the 10th of January. At which point I moved for the last time back to 1st Battalion to ... it was now ... we were now in the act of--process of--redeploying people so COL Normand put me back into the 1st Battalion to honcho the redeployment of assets back here. So then ... that was logical. I had planned the redeployment back and when it came time to do it so he brought back over to influence the actual activity. And I redeployed back to Fort Bragg on the ... left late, late on the 15th of January and arrived here on the 16th, early on the 16th.
MAJ COOK: What do you ... what would you consider the one or two more interesting or certainly more difficult challenges, obstacles or taskings that you and your people ended up with that had not necessarily been planned or foreseen?
MAJ PERRY: Well I'm not sure I'm not sure if this answers the question. One of the things that I guess caught me off guard a lot, or caught me off guard initially it surprised me is ... is just the degree, the level of chaos that's going on. Especially in the first week. I mean it's just pure pandemonium and I guess ... I don't mean that to sound like it's the operation is being run incompetently or anything like that. It's not surprising if you think about it that it's that way, but it sort of caught me off guard. And just the volume of phone calls. And I mean the phone would ring as fast as you hang it up, I mean that fast. And it was always somebody different wanting something. And it ... I didn't expect that fever pitch of activity to be going on.
So then once I ... twelve or twenty-four hours into that you get used to it and you understand it. And coupled with that, I think, there's a phenomenon that I wasn't expecting and that is--I'm not sure how to describe this--is was sort of almost funny at times. There were a lot of phone calls we were receiving from people wanting answers to questions that had nothing to do with us. And, I don't know ... the phones were busy and I don't know whether people were referring them to us or they had tried a lot of other places and were just calling us as a last resort. But, heck, had a lot of times nothing to do with PSYOPS but they were calling maybe because they didn't understand PSYOPS and they weren't sure what our function was. And we were getting calls that had absolutely nothing--I mean everything from graves registration to ... to--I mean you had people desperate for information or answers to their questions. Just, you know ... we explained "well we don't really have anything to do with that." "Well that's okay, do you mind if we dump the bodies over here?" We got a call--they want to know where to put dead bodies. So that has nothing to do with us you know it was just sort of amazing to me that the people were desperate for information; desperate to have their questions answered. And I don't know whether they were getting the buck passed everywhere else they tried, or whether they just didn't understand what our function was down there. But we were getting some awful strange phone calls.
MAJ COOK: Well, sort of the opposite question. What were some of the events or some of the things that happened that you had already anticipated and they--even with the chaos of simultaneous events--pretty much worked the way you expected them to work?
MAJ PERRY: I think the propaganda development process. I mean it's a sequence you go through from recognizing a need. And those wanting illicit a behavioral response from some people. That process begins there within an analysis and various steps all the way up to disseminating a PSYOPS product and getting feedback on it. I think that basic flow procedure for doing PSYOPS was sound and worked just the way it's practiced and the way it's doctrinally written. And I think that happened that well because the group commander recognized that the people responsible for producing PSYOPS couldn't be distracted by a lot of things--and just admin/log routine, unimportant. And that's why I think that was our function: to sort of alleviate that pressure allow them to work on PSYOPS.
And it worked just the way that we had expected it to. The products we developed were good and sound and were disseminated. And actually in most cases we got the response we were looking for, whether it was a weapons for money campaign or a campaign to convince the local nationals not to loot or whatever it was. We pretty much developed as we had practiced and planned and got the local national response or PDF response (depending upon who the target audience was) as we had hoped or expected. I think that was it.
MAJ COOK: What was one of the most memorable anecdotes or one of the most amusing stories (as you look back on it now)? What was simply a good story to repeat of your experience down there?
MAJ PERRY: I understand your question I'm not sure I've got a ready answer for that one. But if I probably sat and thought about it for a long time I'd come up with a dozen anecdotes 'cause there were--once the first week had gone by--there was time to tell stories and that kind of thing. But nothing's coming to mind right away.
MAJ COOK: How do you ... ?
MAJ PERRY: There's one thing. I don't know if it falls into this category, but for the during the first three or four days there, there were occasionally mortar ... the PDF would conduct mortar attacks against various places. And they would do them against Quarry Heights a couple of times. And I was there and in the Tunnel as safe as you could be. This is an underground tunnel it's probably got 40 feet of dirt above you. As a matter of fact it's so secure you wouldn't even know the mortar attacks were going on; you couldn't even hear them, you were that far under ground. But occasionally I would come downstairs (we were on actually a second floor within the tunnel) and I'd come downstairs to the first floor to talk to people or take care of business. And you could always tell if there was sniper activity or mortar attacks going on outside because the all the people who work outside the Tunnel would run into the Tunnel. It was almost kind of funny. You'd go down at whatever time of day or night and you'd see people (civilians, military alike) running into the Tunnel so you'd know that there was some hazardous activity going on outside. I know that probably doesn't sound funny, but at the time it was kind of funny. It was sort of our warning system I guess.
MAJ COOK: Did you have ... tell me about regular staff briefings and your ability to get the information you needed to do your job.
MAJ PERRY: Well, intelligence is the name of the game for PSYOPS. You've got to have good, accurate, current intelligence. And I really wasn't ... that's not my field so I'm not really capable of commenting on that. I think it was there, because we were producing quite a volume of PSYOPS products. But that's ... those are the guys working PSYOPS that we were keeping the monkey off their backs, so I really can't comment on that.
As far as normal staff coordination and meetings and that kind of thing: for the first week I wasn't involved in the recurring meetings of any kind. We did have a requirement to send a daily situation report to the JCS which COL Normand generally wrote it, and I generally faxed [transmitted by secure facsimile machine] it. SFC Jumper and I would fax it to JCS as well as info[rmation] copies to [1st] SOCOM [Special Operations Command] here and DA [Department of the Army] and places like that. It didn't seem organized at the SOUTHCOM level to have meetings. At least we weren't invited and I don't think that they were having them. And there was a lot of one-on-one meetings; going out and meeting with somebody. But as far as sitting down and organizing a command and staff kind of meeting I wasn't involved in that.
Over at SOUTHCOM--I mean over at JTF SOUTH--when I moved there, it was a little bit different. There were shift changes that the Joint Task Force staff would go through at I think 7:00 in the morning and 1900 at night. And I would attend both of those shift changes. And then LTC Walko, the 1st PSYOPS Battalion commander, would come over once a day I think about 16 or 1700 for a nightly staff meeting with LTG Stiner and his staff. So it was probably routine in terms of meetings there but first week I wasn't involved with any.
MAJ COOK: In your own background and experience as well as formal Army training, how did you feel about your role? You see, to set the question up now, your role working primarily liaison, primarily staff, did you nevertheless feel that you also had a leadership role?
MAJ PERRY: Yeah. Yes to all of that I guess I ... I think I had a very sound background for just the job I was doing. I've got ... I'm an infantry officer and have spent ten years, approximately, in the infantry. I have almost five years of PSYOPS experience now, so I'm one of the older guys on the PSYOPS block, so to speak. And so that's probably was a ... COL Normand was probably putting me in the right place because I, at the Joint Task Force I could interface, I could speak infantry, I could speak combat arms, I could talk about maneuver units and I understood infantry tactics and so forth. And at the same time I had a strong PSYOPS background and I could tie the two together I think.
As far as leadership I was not very often in a position where I had lots of people to supervise. I was, I guess I could say that at JTF SOUTH ... at Clayton I had one other officer and I think four NCOs that I supervised. And that's sort of a leadership position. And when I was working on the air movement responsibilities (be it planning or execution) I had two or three NCOs working with me and that's obviously also a leadership role. But not large numbers. I found the leadership requirements were ... the demands for leadership came in strange ways. You know talking to people who are sort of under a lot of stress, you know, and that's another way to ... as a leader you do things. Calm people down who are ready to hit critical mass, or you work with people who are just flat terrified, or you help people who are just plain overloaded with requirements. And you go in and say, well, "okay this is more important than this and this and this, so something's going to have to fall through the cracks. Let it be this and not this." And that sort of on the spot hip pocket leadership is what I was more involved with than actually being a squad leader, a platoon leader, company commander, that kind of thing.
MAJ COOK: Looking on your experience and now looking ahead in your career, what sort of things do you feel have been beneficial of your participation in Operation JUST CAUSE that would serve you well as an infantry battalion commander?
MAJ PERRY: Well, I think just having experienced the JUST CAUSE. You know I wasn't involved in the infantry very closely so I can't say that I got a CIB [Combat Infantry Badge] leading a company against an objective--that kind of thing. I can't tie that kind of experience into any future opportunities.
But I think there's a great deal of value in just being a very highly stressful environment, understanding ... you also come to understand a lot about human nature that you may not recognize. It's always there, I guess, but it's not until ... you know, I saw people who I would consider very solid, sound, level-headed people go off the deep end in terms of the stress. They just couldn't--I don't mean the stress of being in imminent danger or being shot at or that kind of thing. That's a kind of stress, but the stress associated with having to do a hundred things at one time and everybody wants it and they're all critically important and you can't drop the ball. And that's a whole other kind of stress. And I saw people have a lot of trouble with that kind of stress. As well as people have trouble with stress of imminent danger.
And I think just experiencing that; understanding what human reactions are. There are telltale signs that people are at the threshold or near saturation with regard to what they can do and can't do. And you just start to recognize all these things. And that is the experience I'll take with me, I think, and could perhaps apply to situations in the future.
I firmly believe that JUST CAUSE type operations are the wave of the future. I mean if there's a requirement for the US to implement a military solution to a problem, it's going to be a JUST CAUSE thing. I mean we've come all the way down the slide from the World War II (you know, the millions of people involved) through the Vietnam (where there's hundred of thousands of people involved) to a level now that's short. You know, you can explain that it would take a long time politically. Why that is. And economically why that is, and so forth. That's the conflict of the future. And I think that having been in one from nearly the absolute beginning will be of good value, a good benefit.
MAJ COOK: Have you seen any ways or thought about any ways (now this is, I know, speculation), but in terms of the levels of stress that you saw and the problems that stress can create, have you reflected or already factored in a way to sort of crank up our own training as a way to start to make our own training more stressful than maybe it had been?
MAJ PERRY: Yeah, I understand you question and I can't say I've done any great thinking or planning on how to improve our training to better prepare people for that. But I just don't know if you really could do that, because it's not the training. We go out to the local training area all day long and we can work people 'till they're tired and we can do that. But you'll never duplicate in my opinion the chaos, the intensity of the situation that's created in a natural combat environment.
You know I'd almost liken it to not training [but] the day-to-day routine things that ... . I've been an S-3 before and I've been XO [Executive Officer] before, and you have those weeks where, I mean, it's just crazy. Everything's going on at once and you're not getting away from work until nine or ten at night. And I mean the boss is chewing your butt all the time because something's gone wrong. And that it anything is as close as I've seen to the actual situation.
Not anything in the field or a training exercise or ... that to me doesn't duplicate it much at all. That prepares you to do your job and be technically proficient. And if you're in the infantry doing a movement to contact or a hasty assault or if you're a PSYOPer you're producing propaganda, but none of that in my opinion duplicates the environment. And that ... that's tough to train for. You really can't.
You just got to have the leadership that's had that experience. That's more valuable than anything is having the leadership that's just sort of been there be it E-5, E-6, you know, NCOs, officers, it doesn't matter. The leadership that's been there before that can sort of keep the team the reins tight on the team of horses so that they don't get kind of wild.
MAJ COOK: Let me go back and pick up your planning for bringing the unit and slices of the unit home. When did you yourself actually leave?
MAJ PERRY: Late on the 15th. The flight was about 20 or 2100, if I remember right, on the 15th of January.
MAJ COOK: Would that have made you the last, one of the last, almost the last of the ... ?
MAJ PERRY: Close to the end, but not the last. I mean we still have people there now that had been there from the beginning. Although we had a about 50 people in country right now doing the consolidation PSYOPS. Although we swapped most of them out, but not all of them. There were a few people though on the initial assault that stayed. CPT Prescott, the guy that was supposed to come with me today but ended up going to Germany yesterday, stayed about another ten days I think beyond. He deployed with me so he stayed an extra ten days.
MAJ COOK: What did you do upon returning? Did you all stand down or did you go into an after-action report mode or ... ?
MAJ PERRY: Well a little of everything. We arrived back at Green Ramp [the personnel and equipment deployment area at Pope Air Force Base] ... this just occurred to me. And I'm not answering your question, but I would like to mention one of the things that I thought was very good and appreciated greatly was the response from the local community; the military unit (the larger Fort Bragg community), and then the larger Fayetteville/Fort Bragg community was really good, I thought, about sort of receiving us back. You know "good job guys, well done," that kind of thing. All I could do ... I was mainly thinking how tough it must have been for a lot of the Vietnam Vets who came back and had of course no reception or at best a bad reception often. But I thought there were signs in places and a lot of people slapping you on the back that kind of thing. I'm not sure I remember the question I know I got off track there.
MAJ COOK: When did you all stand down or what were some of the major activities and events ... ?
MAJ PERRY: I came back on an aircraft that was predominantly PSYOPS forces, although there were only about thirty on the aircraft. It was a C-5, but it was full of equipment. But we came in and turned in our weapons and accounted for sensitive items and the unit said "go home and spend a weekend." I don't remember if it was a Monday or a Friday when we came back but I just kind of lost all track of days and everybody. But, yeah, it was "go home and spend a good two three days." And, you know, of course a lot of people came back the next day to tie up some loose ends and that kind of thing. But I guess to make it short the unit was concerned about giving us time back with our families--free time--so they made no real demands. The after-action report writing and all that didn't occur ... I wasn't required ... I mean one of my responsibilities was not to write the after-action report, although I did input [to] it. And then there was a week later, I think, before I actually had done that. So it was not a ... they wanted to give us time off.
MAJ COOK: So as you came back and were released, did ... were you in that time while you were down there able to write, give phone calls to your wife, or when you saw her when you got back was that pretty much the first contact you'd had since you'd left?
MAJ PERRY: No, I didn't write (and I don't like to write), but I called her twice. They had some number you could call and make a collect call. And of course it was after about a week or ten days before I called the first time, but I called ... I probably called twice while I was down there and talked to my wife and she was concerned and I explained to her I had actually explained this before I left that my job wasn't one that was going to likely put me in any imminent danger. Obviously she was worried about me getting wounded or killed or something as most wives would. And I attempted to convince her that that my job just didn't put me in danger--I'm working in a tunnel forty feet under ground. I mean that's about the safest place in the whole country. And I called a couple of times.
And she was concerned. And she was concerned ... she was under a different kind of stress then I was. Her stress is fear, danger or worrying about a visit by a survival assistance officer, that kind of thing. I also have a foreign exchange student living with me and dogs and pets. And she was running the household and was doing a fine job but was under yet a different kind of stress. She was awful happy when I did come back home. There were no problems I talked to her twice.
MAJ COOK: Is there anything else that you'd like to discuss or mention to us that I haven't touched on or we haven't worked around.?
MAJ PERRY: No I think you got it pretty good. You hit on all the key issues and highlights/
MAJ COOK: Thank you very much MAJ Perry. This is the end of side one.
[END OF INTERVIEW]