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 Brian Keeth
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 060
MAJ COOK: This is an Operation JUST CAUSE interview. I'm MAJ [Robert P.] Cook, 326th Military History Detachment commander. This is 9 April . CPT Keeth can you give me your full name, serial number, unit, and duty position please?
CPT KEETH: My name is Brian Keeth; CPT; my Social Security Number is ***-**-****. I am the 4th PSYOPS [Psychological Operations] Group S-4.
MAJ COOK: CPT Keeth can you tell me where you were on and about what date you first became involved with the JUST CAUSE operation?
CPT KEETH: With the actual JUST CAUSE operation: when it kicked off I was laying in the Orthopedics Ward at Womack Army Hospital.1 I had my shoulder operated on and reconstructed the day before. I was watching TV illegally up in the ward because it was after ten o'clock at night. And sometime like 0115 CNN [Cable News Network] came on and announced that we'd invaded Panama. At that point I got really excited and went and woke up everybody in the ward--quietly, so the nurses couldn't hear--and everybody was pretty excited. We ... there was all the TVs were going in the back of the ward. Finally one of the nurses came back and caught us and didn't know what was going on--and was very upset we wouldn't go back to bed. There was a lot of confusion: everybody was trying to get to a phone, trying to get back to their units; and it was pretty interesting. There was guys in wheel chairs volunteering to go back right away, on crutches. I called back and I was trying to get my doctor in there to sign me out. I didn't get out till the next day. I convinced him that I could be good to go and get back to my unit.
MAJ COOK: So what day did you end up reporting back to your unit?
CPT KEETH: I got back to my unit on the 20th ... 20th of Dec. I ... they checked me out I had my arm and shoulder all strapped down in a sling. They put me on convalescent leave, and I signed in my convalescent leave at the Emergency Operations Center for the support command. So rather than go home, I went back there so I could get back involved in it.
MAJ COOK: So what was it like when you first, you know, functionally stepped into the operation? And what was going on at that point?
CPT KEETH: It was pretty much ... I call it entropy. I'd been out of the net and my lieutenant and my warrant officer had been doing everything they can to keep the logistical situation under control and the ... . I think it's true in any OC the operators are going 400 miles an hour drawing the big arrows on the board and logisticians were doing everything we can to plug the holes in the dike, trying to keep up with them. And it was pretty wild trying to make everything happen for what they were trying to do.
MAJ COOK: Did you all have a training plan or a training exercise that had prepared you for a mission like this?
CPT KEETH: Although we hadn't had so much an exercise, we'd had some practice EDREs [Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercises], more like practice alerts, with the battalions. And our section had just written a deployment SOP [Standing Operating Procedure] which spelled out how we were going to marshall the Group if we ever had to alert the entire support command--right down to staging areas, pick up points for supplies, who the action officers were. So we had a plan and it was written down and that's what they were operating off of.
MAJ COOK: Did you find that for the most part that plan worked and you could follow it through?
CPT KEETH: The plan worked now, I guess, on the broad scope. It gave us guidance and kept us going, but there was numerous hourly crises that you had to attack one on one.
MAJ COOK: Starting in general terms what were some of the major concerns you had as the Group S-4 in that first couple of days? What were some of the major problems to confront and overcome.
CPT KEETH: The tactical sustainment both for the deployment and for down south. I was trying to move a large quantities of support command soldiers out and get them to Panama, while simultaneously supporting what I already had in theater. I was competing for resources in both places. The ... in Panama we were supported by the 44th2 Area Support Group and I was directing my logistics personnel down there how to get into the logistics net to get what they needed. At the same time I was back at [Fort] Bragg, competing with everybody here for ammunition, MREs [Meals, Ready-to-Eat], flack vests, and what little high-speed TA-503 was still left on this installation. It was pretty interesting.
MAJ COOK: Did you encounter any problems, or any triumphs for that matter, with unit equipment that is peculiar to your TO&E [Table of Organization and Equipment].
CPT KEETH: We built a loudspeaker system, and ... between the strategic dissemination company and our S-4 shop. We use loud speakers to disseminate PSYOPS propaganda for face-to-face communication. It's one of the dissemination means. And we determined that we did not have enough loudspeakers to cover our operational areas, so what we did was we took a number of reserve units' vehicle-mounted loudspeakers systems and converted them for back pack use and deployed them in a load pack (which is the internal frame backpack), and we threw these things together and went and got certification for them--airborne certification. It was a pretty big triumph for the strategic dissemination company's electronic shop. They've got some really talented technicians down there. And in my shop for just the logistics of coming up with all the pieces to put it together and to get all the certifications done so we could jump it.
MAJ COOK: Do you think that possibly that's a type of equipment you might want to lay on now?
CPT KEETH: Well we have equipment like that, but we did not have enough of it for the actual mission. And loudspeakers are one of those things that are ... a loudspeaker for PSYOPS is what a machine gun is for the infantry. We call it the PSYOPS crew-served weapon. And we just simply did not have enough of them for the mission. And you can't go downtown and buy one. And so we ended up having to put them together.
MAJ COOK: The reserve units you borrowed them from, were they ones that were close by to Bragg or on the installation or did you have to shop far and wide for them?
CPT KEETH: We pretty much just moved out and ... we'd obtained some earlier and we were playing with the idea on what we could do to modify them. And then SDC [strategic dissemination company] and my shop managed to get their heads together and put them together for the mission.
MAJ COOK: How about your regular motorized equipment. 2LT [Thurinton] Harvell4 was describing a maintenance check procedure he and your warrant [officer] had gone through were you familiar with that or watch that?
CPT KEETH: Yeah. They ... I had ... that was part of the deployment SOP that we created. And we had a marshalling plan inside the motor pool, and it consisted of checking stations operated by the unit, and then operated by group inspectors, that to provide a two-level check system and ensure we could get the equipment on the airplane on the first try. And 2LT Harvell was pretty much running that with my maintenance tech[nician], CW2 Cilley. And they were the insurance to make sure that when the equipment rolled up for a joint inspection out at Green Ramp5 we could get it on the first time.
MAJ COOK: Is your warrant officers name S-I-l-l-y?
CPT KEETH: It's C-i-l-l-e-y, Mr. Cilley. He's presently ... he got ... he is in Panama now on a PCS [permanent change of station] working with an engineer detachment down there. It was kind of interesting.
MAJ COOK: In moving back to the first few days--from say the 20th to the end of the week--describe how the shop here ran. Did you set up, for instance, on a 24 hour schedule or ... ?
CPT KEETH: We;;, we initially ... when I came down they'd been operating out of our S-4 shop which is located on Son Tay Road, probably half to three quarters of a mile from where the Group EOC is. And when I got there I moved myself into the Group EOC with the S-3 so we could better keep up with the tactical situation. Set up a bunch of butcher boards and brought some of our references down. Then I had 2LT Harvell and my NCO [noncommissioned officer] operated our of the main S-4 shop running down the resources and coordinating things in the motor pools and stuff as we needed them. 2LT Harvell and Mr. Cilley would spell me off on some of my shift so I could get some down time. But it was the only way we could keep up was ... we literally moved into the S-3 shop.
MAJ COOK: Tell me something about how you were communicating with your deployed units. Were you using your own log[istic] channel or log net, or was ... did you rely on the [S]-3 or command group to get information? How did you get information back from your deployed units?
CPT KEETH: It kind of depended on how fast they had to communicate with me or me with them. The ... we had secure telephones in the EOC--a bank of them--and they were pretty efficient for quick messages. You would get cut off very rapidly and it would take you a period of time to get a message through. For any kind of fax [facsimile] or hard copy, we were getting messages to the SOCOM [1st Special Operations Command] Current Operations Center and the USASOC [US Army Special Operations Command] Current Operations Center, and that pretty much constituted our information flow. Messages were traveling back and forth--but the secure phones we used heavily.
MAJ COOK: Did the ... 2LT Harvell talked about the fax. Is the fax a TO&E part of the unit?
CPT KEETH: Well the we have different kinds of facsimile machines. The ones that we used the most were the secure facsimile machines which you run with a secure telephone. The ... we also have the tactical faxs we can use with the communications equipment. But I wasn't too involved with the C&E [communications and electronics] side I don't know how heavily those were used.
MAJ COOK: Now, later on you did deploy down to Panama?
CPT KEETH: Yeah. I deployed on the 23d of January and came back on the 2d of February.
MAJ COOK: Could you describe to me what your role was in country?
CPT KEETH: I went down there primarily to ensure that the PSYOPS support element we had down there (we had a 50-man element) was tied into the logistics situation down there and get everything they need on their local purchases and their routine logistics. Plus I was trying to tighten up on the accountability from everything we deployed down there--I wanted to make sure I could everything back; and had a system in which they could be supported. I could track everything and be ... plus I was hunting down a few things that got misplaced; police them up and bring them back with me.
MAJ COOK: Could you tell me something about how the local purchases worked? Was that something you had set up as ... the Group would do as a plan, or did you interface with the support people down there?
CPT KEETH: The ... we had sent a Class A agent down from the 528th Support Battalion which was a support command unit to handle some of our local purchases. And down in Panama the Contracting Office down there was just super. And they would get you something just literally as quickly as they could make the regulations work. They provided really good support for us down there.
MAJ COOK: Did they also assist in any local maintenance you might have to do? Or maintenance on your equipment you might have to do locally.
CPT KEETH: We had some problems with our printing presses for a while because we were running so much stuff that we were burning them up. And the they got some contract maintenance done on our printing presses. And they're still doing that right now for us down there.
MAJ COOK: So the equipment is still there?
CPT KEETH: Yeah. The ... our ... we still have equipment down there that's still working, and they're still supporting it down there. In fact, everybody in Panama was really supportive of our efforts and you could call them up and they'd take care of you. When I went down there, I went and saw them all because I was producing a service support annex to issue to the battalions for the PSYOPS support element. And I got to meet all the POCs [points of contact] and I was amazed by just how they'd managed to keep their attitude up because there was literally just scads of people wanting to get to see them for logistics, for money, and everything else. And they really worked to support us. And even if they couldn't help you, they made the effort to try to get you what you wanted. So both USARSO [United States Army South] and the SOUTHCOM [US Southern Command] people were super.
MAJ COOK: Let's go back and look at a couple of classes? How was Class I handled for your people that were deployed? Let's say from the start till once they were down there a few days.
CPT KEETH: For Class I, the operations order [OPORD] specified how much Class I would be carried by different elements. And they deployed with that in the rucksacks; they jumped in; and then we I coordinated a resupply for some units that was aerial resupply, for others it was resupply by airland. When the bulk of the support command moved down there, we sent MREs with them and they were carrying a small supply in their rucksacks and then we palletized some and sent them down there. And they utilized those till they got hooked into the Class I in the 41st Area Support Group, who took care of them from there.
MAJ COOK: Is the ... you say there was the 528th Support Battalion that went down?
CPT KEETH: Right.
MAJ COOK: Do you normally work with them?
CPT KEETH: The 528th Support Battalion is the support battalion for the 1st Special Operations Command. And most of the SOCOM units work with them. I used them probably pretty heavily because at one time I was the battalion S-3. I'm pretty familiar with their capabilities.
MAJ COOK: And the unit in Panama was the 41st?
CPT KEETH: 41st Area Support Group
MAJ COOK: Area Support Group. Now the initial rations were MREs.
CPT KEETH: Right.
MAJ COOK: How did the transition to hot meals occur?
CPT KEETH: Well, as they got into the system down there they the ... Civil Affairs, of course, is a different situation. I had so many units down there. The Civil Affairs were running a refugee camp and they were primarily feeding the refugees MREs, and they got set up to where they were serviced by a mess hall for their own soldiers. The PSYOPS units: we located in areas where there was actually operating mess halls for the soldiers inside those installations. And they just bucked up and fed our people. So our people were primarily eating A-C-A.6
MAJ COOK: How about POL [petroleum, oil and lubricants]? Was that handled by the 41st for your vehicles that you had in Panama?
CPT KEETH: POL down there was pretty much handled by the installations. The TMP [Transportation Motor Pools] Motor Pools down there were handling refueling. The 528th has a refueling capability, but they were primarily committed to other missions down there.
MAJ COOK: And how about Class V? Was that pushed from here or down there?
CPT KEETH: Class V we ... when I pushed people out, we ran consolidated Class I/Class V points down at Green Ramp. And then we would issue the soldiers their basic load of ammunition and their basic load of MREs. And that's how we pushed it out from here. It was issued together. We do a consolidated support command draw, and then issued to them when they were getting on the airplanes.
MAJ COOK: Could you tell me something about the routine report procedures that your deployed units (I would presume their ... the battalion S-4s) would feed to you on a daily basis on critical supply issues and the critical needs? What sort of routine procedures did you have for them to report back up to you?
CPT KEETH: We ... our deployment SOP, which was being modified when this thing kicked off, lists critical classes of supply--same as everybody else in the Army does. And they would feed that back to me over the telephone. What made the whole thing really interesting, though, was the support command units were tied into and supporting and attached to everybody down there. So a lot of times I didn't have direct links to supported units. I would have to determine their needs through other people ... because roughly ... I'd say 50% of our elements were attached to somebody else, so all their feeder data was coming up on somebody else's logstat [logistical status] reports, and I wasn't even sure where they were at a lot of times. And so they were feeding data through the JSOTF [Joint Special Operations Task Force], [Joint] Task Force SOUTH, and everybody else. And I was having to pick out my little pieces and try to put together exactly where we stood.
MAJ COOK: Did that seem to work, or do you think there might be another way to go about that?
CPT KEETH: I think it worked about as well as you could expect when you you're ending up just attached to so many people. And we usually just use butcher paper and we would try to sort out exactly what status all of our elements were in. All our soldiers that were attached to other elements were taken care of very well by them, and they did what they could to try to ensure they had everything they needed.
MAJ COOK: Did were any of the units attached and detached and reattached?
CPT KEETH: Usually if ... I couldn't answer that as well as the S-3 could. The ... I don't remember any multiple attachings and detachings. There were situations in which that element would deploy--jumped in with somebody else--and they'd perform the mission pretty much until the tactical scenario was over and then they were reattached back to our element back there. But there wasn't multiple attachings.
MAJ COOK: That didn't become a problem on the [S]-4 side ... of momentarily losing or finding out where somebody else's logstat he was here on?
CPT KEETH: Probably the most confusing thing was our loudspeaker teams, which are two- to three-man elements where the liaison officers were attached to just numerous tactical units down there. And it was pretty much impossible for me to reach out and touch one of them. And it would take me a period of time to get any kind of logistical data on one of these individuals.
MAJ COOK: When it came time to redeploy the units back to Bragg what new S-4 taskings developed out of getting the units back?
CPT KEETH: It was pretty much the reverse of sending everybody out. When everybody went out we set up this system of flat bed trailers and buses and forklifts and everything to load them out. When they came back it just worked in reverse. We policed everybody up at the ... at Green Ramp and brought them home. On the other end the S-3 shop had deployed a couple of their Air Op[eration]s people down there to handle some load planning at that end. And then I would be notified ... the S-3 and I at the other end and we would have the logistics set up to support them when they reached back here.
MAJ COOK: Did you have any salvage equipment that you left there and had to turn over? Or, how did that work?
CPT KEETH: Well we really we didn't have large equipment losses in that all of our vehicles came back reasonably intact, and although we had equipment losses, it tended to be small tactical equipment. Nothing large.
MAJ COOK: What ... as you look back on it, what do you think was the most amusing or most anecdotal event that you ran into? What was the best story?
CPT KEETH: The ... CPT Henderson (who was the rear S-3 when they deployed the S-3, LTC Kelleher) and CPT [Alan T.] Mather7 and I ran the EOC--for I hate to think how many days and too many hours--and we got pretty amused with talking on the secure telephone. Because a lot of times you can't understand people or you get cut off, and you just get totally frustrated. And the ... we got into this routine when it'd be late at night and we'd like be sleeping with our heads on our desks (finally getting some sleep) and this secure phone would go off, and CPT Henderson or CPT Mather would grab their tongue so they couldn't talk very well and say "prepare to go secure." We just bust out laughing. I guess that was one of the most amusing things.
Probably the other amusing thing was when they were playing the loud speakers down there around the Papal Nuncio and it was making CNN--and we have CNN in the EOC, so we could follow it. After about four hours after that story made CNN, we were getting ... rock radio stations around the country were calling in on the green EOC telephone line with record suggestions for the playing in Panama. And it's pretty funny when you're really tired and the phone rings at eight in the morning and you pick it up from some stale coffee and some old doughnuts and you get: "This is Catfish So and So from WR-Whatever in Sacramento, California. You're on the Bob and Mike show." And they're giving you a list of rock and roll suggestions to play to Manuel Noreiga. And those are pretty funny. Of course we had to tote the party line there and tell them they needed to contact our PAO [Public Affairs Office] office and ... .
MAJ COOK: It's comforting to see how our civilians come to help.
MAJ COOK: What do you think, CPT Keeth, was something that you personally learned about the JUST CAUSE operation.
CPT KEETH: I think what I learned the most about JUST CAUSE--having been a battalion S-3 operations guy and now was a Group [S]-4--it is the importance of a strong S-3/S-4 interface. In that you gotta work the whole operation together. And if you do a.) it eliminates a whole lot of frustration because the [S]-4 can end up being able to work with and plan ahead, rather than always trying to keep up with the S-3; and ... the S-3 and the S-4 we worked really tight in the EOC together and made it measurably more enjoyable, and I think it probably made it better for the soldiers, in that we were able to anticipate their needs. And I probably value that more than anything else is just the ... having learned the logistics and the operation is a very close net we have to work them together.
MAJ COOK: And during that period of time most of that communication was probably oral?
CPT KEETH: Yes sir.
MAJ COOK: In ... rather than a formal reporting system or a series of SOPs that click in?
CPT KEETH: Yeah. We were, of course ... we were working in the same room together, after I moved in, and everything was oral. Of course we made numerous trips up to our higher headquarters. We were always getting together. The S-3 had to go see the SOCOM G-3; I would go along. And if I had to go check on my logisticians at my higher headquarters, he would go along. And we were able to keep everything wrapped really tight that way, to ensure that the tasking/logistics interface stayed together and they probably got tired of seeing the two to three of us traveling around in our four wheel drives together, but it was the best way we could keep the operation running.
MAJ COOK: Tell me something about your people that worked for you or even your battalion [S]-4s. What ... how did they perform and what were some of the things they achieved?
CPT KEETH: The [S]-4s overall ... the battalion [S]-4s that were deployed just did a super job. The 96th Civil Affairs [Battalion], they did a super jobs supporting that refugee camp and 1st [Psychological Operations] Battalion was down there against immeasurable odds trying to beat the logistical situation on the first couple of days in Panama. They worked really hard. In my shop I had a warrant officer who was who was doing everything, and it was just putting a lot of stuff together it was totally out of his field. The Senior NCO that wouldn't accept no for an answer. And I had a second lieutenant, a brand new second lieutenant, that was just accomplishing anything he was asked of ... he wasn't always sure what he was doing, but I'd give him my pick up truck and send him off in the snow and then he'd come back in an hour later with a load of whatever I asked for and don't ask any questions. [LAUGHTER]
MAJ COOK: The ... how do you feel just in terms of yourself and your immediate people in the [S]-4 arena that worked for you? Did you find that training that you had had--either schoolhouse training or exercise training you had done among yourselves--did you find that that was adequate, or do you see some areas now that you would want to add some training to or change?
CPT KEETH: The ... everything they teach you is valid. And the whole kicker is, and this is one thing we were stressing to the units deployed in Panama, that if you interface in the logistics system the way you're supposed to: if you show up with a signature card and assumption of command orders, then you can get whatever you want. And the only thing you have to lick is where you take it. And at Ft Bragg we were living off of Ft Bragg [Regulation] 700-1, which was how to get anything logistically in the middle of the night. And we made face-to-face contact with all these people when we were writing our deployment SOP. And that really paid off because we knew everybody's name, and we had everybody's home telephone number so we could get them in. In Panama it was the same way. I think the logisticians don't need to teach anything, really, other than what they're teaching now. If people stick by the basics then you'll maintain accountability and you can get what you need. I think, like I said before, the most important thing is you just got to stay in the hip pocket of the operators so you can anticipate and be ready for his next move.
MAJ COOK: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
CPT KEETH: No, sir.
MAJ COOK: How do you feel overall about the mission?
CPT KEETH: The I'm really proud of how the support command and all its units did down there. And the soldiers performed real well. And we were very fortunate in that our organization didn't have any deaths, and I think that's really good right there.
MAJ COOK: Thank you very much CPT Keeth. This is the end of side one and of this interview.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
1. Womack Army Hospital is the Army Medical Activity at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
2. Correctly, 41st Support Group (Area), a United States Army South asset.
3. Individual organizational clothing and equipment under Common Table of Allowances CTA 50-909.
4. See JCIT-061 for MAJ Cook's interview with 2LT Harvell, the Assistant S-4 of the 4th Psychological Operations Group.
5. The personnel and equipment loading area at Pope Air Force Base, adjacent to Fort Bragg.
6. Ration cycle of hot, fresh food (Class A rations) for breakfast and dinner, and field rations (Class C) for lunch.
7. Assistant S-3 (Air), 4th Psychological Operations Group. Interviewed by MAJ Cook on JCIT-058.