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
CPT Alan T. Mather
Assistant S-3 (Air)
4th Psychological Operations Group
Interview Conducted 5 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 058
MAJ COOK: I'm MAJ Robert Cook with the 326th Military History Detachment and this is an Operation JUST CAUSE interview. CPT Mather could you give your full name, serial number, your unit and your duty position?
CPT MATHER: My name is CPT Alan Truesdale Mather, my serial number is ***-**-****, and I was the S-3 Air (the Assistant S-3 for Air Operations) with 4th Psychological Operations Group [4th POG] during JUST CAUSE.
MAJ COOK: Thank you. CPT Mather can you tell me in your own words and with as much detail as you can recall where, when, and under what circumstances you first found out about the operation; and then you can kind of sort of lead it into work up to when you actually got the alert.
CPT MATHER: I was read into the project say in October or November [of 1989] that something was going on down in Panama; that there were some plans for one of the contingency operations. I really didn't think too much about it. I mean I heard about the [October 1989] coup attempt and knew that that was a little bit messed up but really didn't think that we would get involved in it.
Once the Marine lieutenant [1LT Robert Paz] was shot and killed, I waited for a phone call and sure enough was called on the 17th [of December] and came in. It was on a Sunday. We talked about what had happened and started looking at our contingency plans, and some of the checklists, and some of the things that we would have to do in case we were alerted.
We were ... we went into an N-Hour [Notification Hour] sequence and were told that we would have teams--tactical PSYOPS [psychological operations] teams--deploying with the 82d [Airborne Division]. I was personally involved in outloading these teams. We took them down to the motor pool, went through preparations, checked their vehicles, checked their equipment. I took the teams with ... in a convoy down to the PHA (the personnel holding area), dropped the teams off there, got their LNOs linked up with the regiment. And then took the three [M-998-series High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicles] HMMWVs with loud speakers down to the heavy drop rigging site and got them into the airflow as far as getting them rigged up on platform chutes, and ballasted, etc.
That was the initial ... my work as far as getting our first slice into the action. The assault went down. We were really by this time kind of in a 24-hour-a-day operation.
MAJ COOK: About what date was this now?
CPT MATHER: This would be the 19th. So we started going into ... you know, our Emergency Operations Center was up, we had people constantly doing things, checking things. 'Cause we had other things going on, and other people involved in different parts. I ... the next ... after the initial assault we were told that on the 22d we would have two [C]-141s [Starlifters] with some 1st Battalion ... 1st Psychological Operations Battalion would deploy and also elements of the 96th Civil Affairs [Battalion] would deploy.
We took their vehicles and their equipment and had checks there, went through our checklist--air movement operations checklist--to make sure that the vehicles would be accepted by the Air Force onto the Air Force aircraft. We did that: had them weighed, conducted the joint inspection, and then put the vehicles into chalk order. We had you know a few minor problems--typical air movement problems that you run into--but there were no real "war stoppers."
We took all the personnel, put them into the adverse weather shed down at Green Ramp and then started to load the planes. We had loaded all the vehicles onto the aircraft and we were getting ready to load personnel. And we didn't have a JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] deployment order so we had to stop right there and just wait. So what happened is actually we lost the aircraft and brought everybody back to their unit. Thirty-six hours later we went through the same thing again and put the personnel on the aircraft and the vehicles, and got them out of the country and down to Panama.
MAJ COOK: Let me ask were any of the HMMWVs with speakers parachuted in?
CPT MATHER: Yes they were. All three were.
MAJ COOK: And is that something that you normally do as far as the training?
CPT MATHER: As part of the training, no. We had ... we had had our 450 systems just certified by the ACE Board, who said it was okay to drop the vehicles with the 450 system as long as it was padded and configured in this manner. So we had done a test but no we had not routinely dropped the 450 system.
MAJ COOK: To your knowledge how did it come off? Did it work?
CPT MATHER: We lost one system because of impact, and then one vehicle was damaged in the swamp. So ...
MAJ COOK: Okay.
CPT MATHER: For airborne standards, yeah, it was okay.
MAJ COOK: Going back to the alert procedures. At about when on 17, 18 or 19 [December] did the soldiers themselves get the alert to start moving?
CPT MATHER: Well that would be on the 19th.
MAJ COOK: On the 19th.
CPT MATHER: Cause we went in ...
MAJ COOK: But several of you had already?
CPT MATHER: Well, I wouldn't say we knew ... there was just a feeling in the air. Some of the people, like the commander, you know, S-3 and others knew more information, so ... I mean they were read on to other parts that we didn't have access to, I didn't have access to. We just had a EDRE [Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise] a few days before in which we had practiced this operation. So, you know, it really wasn't ... everybody kind of knew what they were supposed to do.
MAJ COOK: So then once the units that went in on the jump and then your follow-up vehicles were deployed, what then became your role? What were the next series of events?
CPT MATHER: I worked as the air officer and then also as an assistant operations officer. I worked, you know, 20-hour days, I guess. And we really didn't go into a big shift kind of thing but we would surge, at least in my part. My [S-3] Air NCO [noncommissioned officer] deployed to Panama so that left me ... and I had a couple of people from the battalion come up to group staff to assist. And we would surge because we knew that we would have an aircraft coming in at this time to move more equipment and personnel down. So for 18 hours we would just go full speed just trying to get all the vehicles checked out and all the people manifested properly and get them going. And then after we got the wheels up, it was sleep time. And you'd get back up and go through it again.
We went like that for about four days I guess because that was trying to get everything into country. And then once we got all the airflow down then it became we ran routine operations. I mean, and I'm speaking from the air part, you know ... Panama requested: "we need this." So I'd figure out some way in which to get this particular piece of equipment or this baggage or this, you know, pallet down to Panama. And I talked to the 82d, talked to the 7th [Special Forces] Group, or talked to any of the other elements that were deployed down there that had airframes. And worked--talked--to the people down there at Green Ramp who ... in the ADACG [Airfield Departure/Arrival Control Group] who ran the airflow; the port people down there.
As far as, you know, operational-wise, we monitored things that were going on both through television and through radio, plus through official communications that we had. But I was more focused into the air part and really didn't get involved in the operations per say. I will say that we had peacetime requirements that came in where, you know, you had some exercise that was going on say in May and here it is December and these guys wanted this; what about this; "have you gotten my memo on this." I'm like "hell, I could care less about your memo." You know, my attentions focused down here towards Panama trying to fight this and I could care less. But we really couldn't do that though cause we had to play both sides; we really did. And that made it a little difficult. We had ... we were also caught up in the Christmas holiday season, too, so we had an A/B schedule where people were working a half day or ... some people, honest to God, you know, would come in one day and take the next day off. It was unbelievable; I couldn't believe it. But, you know, ...
MAJ COOK: When the ... there must have been ... and I'm just sort of fishing here, because I don't how you all work all this, so I'll ... just let me throw this out and you can fill me in on how this works. There must have been certain packages of equipment and personnel that you were putting into the airflow that had been part of the plan? You knew you were going to be putting this in. And at some point there's probably as to the transition to when those packages stopped and now you were responding to requests from your deployed units. Could ... how much of the mix was that, and about when did that transition start to occur?
CPT MATHER: The original plan had the 1st Battalion going down there ... as being TPFFDd [Time-Phased Force Deployment Listed] ... you know, this battalion would deploy in toto to go down there and conduct psychological operations. However now we already had a forward support element down there; we already had some PSYOPS personnel down there who were running some security augmentation missions there. But that was the plan to send that 1st Battalion down there to set up a JSOTF [joint special operations task force] and work PSYOPS.
In reality, because the operation ... I mean it kicked off, the shooters came in there, and then the PSYOPS came in, and then you had Noreiga being held up there. What that did, was that caused a few problems across the board that hadn't been anticipated. Number one: they needed to get the MPs, military police had to get in there to try and establish order. So they occupied--they took up a large part of the airflow. Then there was a call that came in requesting civil affairs the--entire battalion of civil affairs. Okay, so they were sent in.
What this did was this created a lot of problems because XVIII Airborne Corps who was running the airflow would not allow you to get on an airplane unless you had been TPFFDd and also that you had a JCS deployment order. We ran into a couple of problems. Number one: trying to get things TPFFDd because you have to use a WWMCS [World-Wide Message Command and Control System] computer to do that. And trying to figure out the system was the hard thing first. And once we got the system--who to talk to, how to get it in and then how to get it approved. We had COL Norman who was requesting "look, I need these guys down here in-country now." And we said "yeah, we hear you." And even GEN [Maxwell] Thurman had signed a letter saying I want these guys here now. And so trying to make that happen was ... we couldn't make it happen as fast as they wanted because we had to go through the TPFFD process and then get the aircraft and then get them loaded.
That created some problems. Because we had to kind of ... the original airflow was slated together this way and because the operation changed it created a lot of confusion. So I don't know if I ... really it's a confusing time anyway, trying to work with air. It's not an exact science but this made it even more complicated. We thought that Corps may have been taking some of our airplanes. I don't know who could ever prove that, but you just never know. Because we were trying to answer the mail and get what the colonel wanted done. But, for example, the JCS deployment order. We ran into ... on three occasions we had, you know, "why don't we have an order." Well, I'm not sure if we're going to get one; well, they said they're going to get it. And quite frankly I think one of the problems we had was the difference between the day shift and the night shift. You know this is purely speculation on my part, but I think that ... you know, once the day shift came in they said fine send them; but, you know, I don't know if the night shift was willing to take that responsibility. So ... .
MAJ COOK: Or hand off in the transition.
CPT MATHER: There may have been something lost. But I don't know.
MAJ COOK: On balance though aside from the (for lack of a better word) a learning experience, how did you feel in general about being able to support the requests your people were making in the field?
CPT MATHER: I have no doubt in my mind that I could get accomplished what they wanted. It was just going to take ... the hard part was trying to figure out the system. But once things started to ... and once you knew okay, you gotta see this guy, you gotta get this done, then we could bring anything in there that was required.
MAJ COOK: Now did that role or your role in this stay pretty much constant until you started bringing back?
CPT MATHER: Yeah. I did deploy down to Panama and we started pushing things back. So ... that was ... again, you know it was a little bit ... I want to say a little bit easier coming back. Just ... it just seemed to work a little bit smoother.
MAJ COOK: When did you start bringing ... the first of the year?
CPT MATHER: Well our first guys came back ... I think we had a trickle back on the 9th. You know, two or three guys, but equipment-wise and things like that ...
MAJ COOK: This would be the 9th of January?
CPT MATHER: Right. And the 12th of January, I know, we got some guys in. And then you know we pushed a couple of [C]-141s out with ... and shared a couple of aircraft with I guess 7th Group and just different units. So we got everybody back, but the pressure wasn't on. I mean, don't get me wrong, because we also had to meet some troop levels [reductions], but it just it flowed a little bit easier.
MAJ COOK: The selection for the slices coming back. Was that driven at this end or was it driven at the other end? In other words, did you pull them back or were they pushed back?
CPT MATHER: They were pushed back. There was a deployment order written that said, "okay, this unit will come back; these guys have fulfilled the mission requirements; they're ... the situation is stable now, so these guys can return. Don't send these guys yet we still need them." So ... .
MAJ COOK: Did ... in the course of all of this, did you encounter any (with yourself or people within your section) was there any particular sort of external problems at Fort Bragg or with the Army family community? Or was the family support network ... seem to be working and or not? Or how did it work?
CPT MATHER: As far as ... I can't talk for family support network I don't know you'd have to ask the chaplain about that. I do know as far as casualty notifications and things like that ... I know there are some problems there and I kind of got involved a little bit on the peripheral ... periphery. But I know that Fort Bragg was not getting info ... or supposedly the calls were coming into Fort Bragg, and then Fort Bragg would call you know and notify the person "yeah, your spouse was wounded or something." But ... that's the way it was supposed to work, but then you had the hospital in Texas or something like that would call directly, so you know. But that's really the only problems there.
By and large you know I was really impressed with the guys down at the ADACG (Arrival Departure Air Control Group). They did a super job throughout the entire operation. Those guys worked 24-hours a day. And you have to remember we had snow and ice that adversely affected movement of vehicles. We had a one of our 18-wheelers was bringing down some pallets and jackknifed in the road. Because of the weather slowing things up, you know, [that] caused some user delays there, because we were late getting down there. But those guys did a super job. They really did. And they're probably the unsung heroes of the operation because they just support. Nobody says "thank you for getting us out." They did a real good job.
By and large I'd say that there a lot of key people and key leaders that made things happen; that got things done. But the guys that were really directly involved in it did a super job. But on the other hand you had the guys too who were on Christmas vacation, you know, and could care less. [LAUGHTER] I mean it was really ... really different.
MAJ COOK: Was there any chance (going back now to the October-November time frame) when you yourself started to be read in on some of it. Did it you and your NCO, in terms of anything that you had as OPLANS [operations plans] and contingencies for air support, did you have any time to ... are there actual rehearsals or work it through in a brainstorming thought process or ... ?
CPT MATHER: Well we talked a lot about how we would outload things. And one of things that I did and tried to emphasize to the [battalion] S-3 Airs is when we would meet. I'd meet with the battalion S-3 air every Tuesday and in that afternoon meeting I would emphasize look at your air movement operations, you know, "how are you going to deploy this piece of equipment; do you have load packets for this vehicle, do you have personnel who are air movement qualified who can sign hazardous cargo waivers, who can ... who have the experience and the knowledge of how to rig a vehicle so that it's tied down so we have everything ready."
And it's just ... you're always going to run into problems. But there are little problems you can take care of right down there at Green Ramp, then you have the big problems that just you have to call a mechanic to replace a carburetor or you know you have a fuel leak. But, see, if you can eliminate those things before you get down there, you're in much better shape. So really went into emphasis on air movement. And I think it really did pay off. I think it showed. I will say that you can't compare us with the 82d because they're on this ... they take their vehicles, lock them up, and they're on mission cycle and that's what they do. So we're different; we don't follow a sequence that way. So you know there are good and bad points to that, but that's not my call. And I think, for what we did, I think we did a real good job.
MAJ COOK: If you had the opportunity to set the training package up for your replacement, what are some of the kinds of things that you would key him to as a preparation for this type of operation again? Obviously one of them you just talked about and that would be to get the ducks in order with the very basics of the equipment. What would be some other things that come to mind sort of your own lessons learned for your replacement?
CPT MATHER: I really don't know what I'd say other than make sure that you're very familiar with air movement operations, heavy drop operations. Make sure that you can sign hazardous cargo. And just try and do all these things in advance.
For example we deployed a print van. A print van has got a lot of hazardous cargo: all the fluids, inks, dyes, etc., are all flammable. They were hazardous. I mean paperwork-wise you just have to fill things out and spend a couple of hours just doing paperwork on it. So if you can do those things and just have that in a load packet it will make your job a lot easier.
I'd go back to the TPFFDL because if ... you know, what's placed down there. Look at a unit TO&E [table of organization and equipment] and say okay this ... you will deploy this element and it has one deuce and a half [2.5-ton truck], one HMMWV, and X number of people. It'll have a figure down there that says X number of short tons, and that ... based on the number of short tons drives the airframe that you have. Well, for example, we have these print vans. You can put them on a 141, a C-141, but you need to drop them off the trailers, set them down. It's a lot ... it just slows your operation down. If you have a C-5 [Galaxy] it's a lot easier, you know. I was able to get a C-5 for us. Just at Corps ... talking to the airflow NCO up there. I said look, this will never work. And much to my surprise we did get a C-5.
But, you know, little things like that. So, I mean, if you're familiar with the TPFFDL, you're familiar with what packages are going to go forward, and then various points of contact. The hard thing is, see, we don't practice air movement to the extent that you do during wartime. So, I mean, we have an idea about it but, you know, you just kind of get a feel for it and then go with it ... go with the flow. And I think really as long as you just have the familiarity with it, then you'll do a good job.
Where the priority is for air and PSYOPS? I'd say, "yes we will have elements that will jump in." But the majority of our stuff will deploy through airland operations. And perhaps sling load on helicopters and stuff. By and large we probably ... we concentrate 30% on paradrop (you know, airborne operations), 60% on airland and 10% on helicopters.
MAJ COOK: Were you involved in any air movement of the units or the equipment once they were in Panama?
CPT MATHER: No, I wasn't.
MAJ COOK: Okay. Is there anything else about the operation, how you feel about it, what to do next, lessons learned, good stories, good stories of the long 18-hour days? The day everybody went, the 19th and 20th was the ice storm. Did the bad weather stay on for the next three or four days or did it break after Christmas?
CPT MATHER: Gosh, I don't know. I remember that I was doing load plans, I guess the night of the 20th. So I was driving in the snow as it was starting to fall. And, God, stayed up all night doing that. The next day we still had snow on the ground. Then I think later in the day it turned--it was like ice-based as I remember slipping and sliding. It may have stayed on the ground for another day and then melted and gone away. I remember the skies were clear. I remember that. It snowed and then the clouds moved off.
As far as any interesting stories or anything like that I will say that one of the colonels ... his wife made cookies. You know, one of the NCO's wives ... buckets of chicken. I mean it was real nice. I mean, everybody came together; realized what was going on. And these guys kept a lot of flack away from us. Like I said, the peacetime commitments and stuff, honest to God, just kept coming in ... it was incredible, really.
Down in Panama--a beautiful country down there. I think the people really are glad that we went in there, real successful operation, very popular. A lot to do with the drug thing. But I'm just real happy to be a part of it. I had been a liaison officer in the 82d before, and I really wanted to jump in. [LAUGHTER] I cried I didn't get to go. But it ... the people that we sent down there I felt were the best ones for the job and I knew that they would accomplish the mission. And I felt good about that. There's ... it's not my call but knowing the people that went I felt that the commander had made good decisions and, you know, we weren't sending down the third string or anything like that. But, no, I'm just I'm happy to be a part of it.
MAJ COOK: Outstanding. Well thank you very much. If you have nothing else this concludes side one of the interview with CPT Mather. Thank you very much.
CPT MATHER: Thanks.
[END OF INTERVIEW]