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 Robert W. Caspers
8th Psychological Operations Battalion
Interview Conducted 13 April 1990 at the Headquarters of the 8th Psychological Operations Battalion, 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 068
MAJ COOK: This is an Operation JUST CAUSE interview. I'm MAJ [Robert P.] Cook, 326th Military History Detachment. This is the 13th of April . MAJ Caspers, could you give your full name, middle initial, rank, serial number, your unit and duty position and duty position for JUST CAUSE; and if it's changed since then, please give me that too.
MAJ CASPERS: I'm MAJ Robert W. Caspers, ***-**-****. I am--and was throughout JUST CAUSE--the executive officer of the 8th PSYOP [Psychological Operations] Battalion. Currently in this interview as acting commander with the battalion commander deployed south for the time being.
MAJ COOK: Thank you very much. Could you tell me when and what you were doing when you first became involved with Operation JUST CAUSE? And then describe to me your role and function and the events for the next couple of days, certainly through the alert and up until, say, 23d, 24th of December ?
MAJ CASPERS: Let me address this, if I can, from the perspective of myself and the battalion commander for the unit. The ... we were (or had been given the mission by 4th [Psychological Operations] Group) to be the tasking contingency planning support for the PSYOP group to XVIII Airborne Corps. Our real involvement, I guess, goes back into probably September or so, as contingency planning for an exercise or a possible operation was really ginning up. We side-saddled with the 1st Battalion representatives, who were, of course, the regional experts in the area1 to help plan the PSYOPS support to the corps operation. Our involvement was a little sporadic in terms of actual participation at corps as due to size of meeting groups and so forth like that. At times they only wanted the regional representative there; that having priority, for obvious reasons, in terms of going into a specific geographical area.
But we worked almost at this level or within this unit in preparing for I guess what you could call a generic operation. Very restricted information as to actual contingency provided; focused on our HB2 or loudspeaker assets as the most likely portion of the unit to be utilized during this operation. Which of course, in turn, for this unit turned out to be precisely true. What that did let us do and what I think we were very effective in this unit was to have both the people and the equipment required (both the man-packed and the vehicular systems) ready to move on a relatively short notice to anywhere. The loading lists and so forth that were prepared and implemented were, in fact, capable of operating in a wide variety of areas.
So when it came down to a specific area, there was very little in the way of last minute changes that had to be made. I think everybody had their own little glitches that they hit but nothing significant. This battalion, in fact, ended up deploying the three HMMWVs3 that were actually dropped--loudspeaker-equipped HMMWVs that were actually dropped on the operation. All of which did, in fact, come up on line once recovered from the heavy drop equipment platforms and operate during JUST CAUSE.
We continued in that mode up to, well, really through the last couple of days prior to the deployment with a variety of intensity as the political events evolved in theater and so forth. The number of knowledgeable people here in the battalion as to the actual scenario was very restricted. Simply, well, for operational security purposes and under the ... we were following the control guidelines given to us by group and corps as closely as we could possibly do so.
And then as the alert phase started, we were able to stand up and respond very quickly and read people in on the necessary information that they had to have, make last minute adjustments, and fall into the flow. The process we ended up with [gave us] seventeen people on the assault wave, actually jumping in with man-packed and to accompany the vehicular systems in; with liaison officers for the battalion and brigade from the 82d [Airborne Division]4 that were going in. And they all, of course, went through the full cycle of ... through the Personnel Holding Area and all did, in fact, participate in the drop.
MAJ COOK: Let me ask you this: in terms of the early preplanning, were you at, say, from September on up to the alert, would this have been involvement in the Operation Plan 90-2?
MAJ CASPERS: In the contingency planning that led to that, yes.
MAJ COOK: Okay.
MAJ CASPERS: And actually it was more the ... our corps LNO,5 which for most of that time was MAJ Lynn Hanson, and the battalion commander, LTC Jeff Jones ...
MAJ COOK: Okay.
MAJ CASPERS: ... that were actually involved in it. There were others of us that knew considerably less detail, quite frankly, during the early phases--largely to the extent that there was something going--and then in the latter phases, we knew what. But not really until very near the actual alert time for what is now known as JUST CAUSE.
MAJ COOK: What were, in the ... that portion or annexes or appendices that would describe your mission, what were some of the initial taskings that you expected to get on the basis of the initial or at least the last plan that went operative of the alert plan?
MAJ CASPERS: Actually, our knowledge was fairly accurate from I would say about October on, other than in final details. The assumptions (and some of this I am kind of assessing from what we were originally told where we were) at about the time that it seemed that a general organization or size of force became, at least in concept from the corps level, we were given a set of taskings from group on equipment and number of man-packed loudspeaker teams that we had to have available. And in fact, that is, plus or minus one or two people, exactly what we ended up deploying. I think group-wide we ended up with more equipment ready to go than actually went. But it was phased and staged throughout. So that we knew all of it would not go on an assault phase; we knew that there would be some of it that if it went, would be air-landed later and some of that did happen. I really don't know just precisely how much or what percentage of the total equipment from the group.
We were tasked to have three ready and those three went up and actually went into the assault phase. So all three of our vehicle systems went. And our man-packed teams went. Plus we fulfilled the initial LNO requirements for the conventional forces.
MAJ COOK: Of the teams that you sent, they were, as I understand it, they were to be attached to different organizations and different line units?
MAJ CASPERS: That's correct.
MAJ COOK: At the time the teams assembled here, was the load ... got ready to move, was there anything set up, sort of a pre-liaison, shall we say, where names, point of contacts, who the teams would marry up with, who had PSYOP responsibility for them once they got married up with their unit at the assembly point? Were they ... did they have ... what kind of an idea did they have themselves about how that was going to work?
MAJ CASPERS: I don't think the individual loudspeaker teams (other than to know they would be attached at line company level working for the company commander and that there would be an officer at battalion) knew that much. And I don't think they knew that until really probably the start of the alert phase or early on in the alert phase. They were told you'll be going with ..., and we'll have an officer at battalion level. During the move to the holding area they were linked up, the teams were linked up with the LNOs that would be specifically going.
It was almost impossible to do it any earlier than that because of the other requirements that had to be continued. So we had to make changes in LNOs and units of assignment and so forth as we went through the period, because [it took] three to four months and having to maintain a more or less normal posture within the unit. There were just natural changes that occurred. And the role and function of the loudspeaker teams and of those LNOs was such that we had a reasonable group of people that were quite--both physically and mentally--prepared to assume those duties. And I think that worked out reasonably well.
The duties of all of them were common enough that we had that luxury: the basic function of both the LNOs and the loudspeaker teams. Especially for the initial, say, day and a half, two, maybe three days of the exercise or of the operation. There's too much training creeping in there, everything is exercising and here we do one real world. And in this, of course, I was not actually deployed on the operation but in talking with the LNOs and some of the team members [that] actually [have] returned, through the initial phases, that organization worked very well. Later, it took some maturity in the communications channels to be able to change product or change acquisition of control and so forth of the PSYOP assets to get things to where they were really optimized as they needed to be shifted. But for the early phases, the system we went in with worked very, very well.
MAJ COOK: I'd like you to discuss or to describe how the battalion staff worked, certainly through the first several days. What your functions and roles were, how did you decide who would do what. Did you go 24-hour battle roster shifts? Who was going to deploy down? Those kinds of events that would be sort of unique to the staff itself while it is still trying to run its battalion.
MAJ CASPERS: Just to set the stage just a little bit, the commander, the [S]-3 and the [S]-2 were the three people that we had tied in and were most knowledgeable. So they knew precisely where we were going. I probably fit in next simply from having to direct the [S]-1 and [S]-4 in terms of preparation of people for deployment and of course, the equipment and logistical support requirements. The [S]-1 and the [S]-4 were pretty much responding as directed with little real knowledge at all of the actual content of the operation. They responded very well. Some of that's [due] in part to the officers that happened to be in those two jobs at the time. But also because the nature of what they were doing could be done, in this case, without excessive detail anyway, as to what they were actually preparing for.
If you're given (in this case) for logistics, this type of operation for this number of days and this kind of continuity of operations of your equipment. Things like battery life and so forth like that are reasonably well known and can be projected with a fair degree of accuracy. That doesn't necessarily avoid the last minute scramble when things that were ordered 60 [or] 90 days ago haven't yet come in. But we were able to minimize that quite effectively.
Once the alert went, we worked really from I guess you could say from critical node to critical node, watching as best we could that key personnel had breaks and periods of time where they could, in fact, get some rest. Within the staff here, we only had to go really for about, oh, between 48 and 72 hours from the time things started kind of screwing up. And really, it was more like ... the real crunch period was more like probably 36 hours until deployment. And since the battalion staff itself was not deploying, although I would say all of us maybe but the battalion commander, were in a ... to be prepared in case other liaison officer requirements came up. And he, in fact, was prepared also because at that time we weren't sure that a second command and control element might not go. The ... so we worked pretty much first team across the board, a luxury that a unit that was deploying would not have had. But at that time we faced, I think, less than a 50 percent probability of actually deploying the battalion staff.
So we were able to do that and with the natural flow of preparation and once we got through the first about eight-hour crunch of getting people and equipment physically up, packed and moved to link up with the units they were supporting, we didn't have that much of a protracted period of involvement.
It was more one of individual preparation and then monitoring our people as they moved with their supported units to insure they had any last minute, to some extent, comfort items, quite frankly. And in other cases, to adjust their loads as they went into detailed planning and come up with additional batteries and so forth. We had to have some additional copies of tapes for the loudspeakers and so forth made during that time frame. And for those deploying loudspeaker elements, because we had the liaison officer commitment, we had teams from I think every battalion but 1st. Most of their teams were already committed to some of the SOF6 units going in or were, in fact, in country already. We had loudspeaker teams from the other units but our LNOs.
So we handled most of the link with them down in the PHA7 and delivery of tapes and things as they were produced. And that involved a variety ... I was from the staff here, from the commander on through. POR8 of all of the people had been done, I think, effectively. We had ... let's see, we had 17, there were a total of I believe it was 40-some odd personnel that ended up actually on the assault phase, perhaps a little more than that. I don't--don't quote me on the exact number on that, from the group. And I think we had two, I believe it was two, two or three last-minute need to sign a new SGLI9 form, need to do this to make sure ... were all the adjustments we had to make in that time frame. And that those were people who had returned from other commitments at the last moment and because of their capability, dependability or whatever, had been filled into a slot simply because of the nature of the fact that we were actually doing this thing and you wanted your best people there.
MAJ COOK: In the people that you sent, was there any particular linguistic problem? Did you have sufficient native speakers for that region of the world?
MAJ CASPERS: We were able to put, either from our own assets or from the assets of the supported units, at least one Spanish speaker with pretty good fluency with each team. Now we did have to draw some Spanish speakers from the infantry units that we were supporting. Of course, only 1st is regionally oriented. Each of our units, though, do possess some native Spanish speakers just by the make up of the units. A lot of those guys are not by MOS10 PSYOPers, we had 76Ys11 that were Spanish linguists that went and performed exceptionally well in the role. Some of these guys had done it before, most ... I'd say the guys that went from our unit, though they might be a com[munication]s MOS or in one case a supply MOS, had been out with our loudspeaker teams before. So they weren't completely new to the function they were performing. But they did, in retrospect, performed exceptionally well because they did know and they did understand. And a lot of what our people do in the HB role is basically a logic function. That you have a certain mission and you do this and the purposes for it are fairly clear.
MAJ COOK: As the operation progressed, the units that you had deployed, they have married up with their supported units, what ... could you describe or tell me about how you were then able to communicate with them? You had spoken earlier that you monitored them, how did you communicate and how did the particular needs of particular technical support, such as batteries or whatever, get back to you or did that really go through another channel?
MAJ CASPERS: No, that went pretty much directly from us until the time they actually moved to Green Ramp and loaded the aircraft. We did that primarily by messenger. We stayed--we intentionally stayed in personal contact, either with the commander or myself or others here on the staff or the company commanders of the people that were out there--stayed in touch with the people. We ... I would say we had someone at least every four hours for the preparation phase that went down and talked to the LNOs. Now we did not see each individual then, but the LNOs were looking at mission requirements and checking loads and so forth. Normal holding area-type preparations. And as things were identified that were a problem, they let us know. We got with the group staff and decided on the best solution and then sort of as the conduit for that materiel moving back to them.
MAJ COOK: How did that communication link continue once they got to Panama?
MAJ CASPERS: Once they went into Panama, they were pretty much on their own for the first couple of days. We moved or deployed a second group of LNOs in, I believe it was on the 23d [of December] that they left Bragg. Yeah, I think that's right. And they actually picked up, because they moved in to work brigade level and so forth. And one of them ended up at the 82d Division level. And then we had pretty much a continuous ... from that point on, we had pretty much a continuous set-up of LNOs throughout the chain of command. And it was one or two of those LNOs that were initially able to make contact with the 1st Battalion command and control element, the JPOTF12 that was on the ground there with LTC [Dennis] Walko13 and his people.
And from then on we could ... the communications were generally still face to face. There was not an established radio or phone system specifically dedicated to command and control that reached all the way down to the LNOs at battalion level and so forth. Most of that had to flow through the normal S-3/G-3 operations traffic to control the assets. That worked from our observations, reasonably well. Well, fairly well early on because the mission was clear and through the point of the initial objectives and so forth like that, it was pretty much get in and execute with responding to guidance from your supported unit.
Initially following that, as missions began to change and branch out, there was a period there that was ... I, again second-handedly, perceive there was a short period there that reallocation, realignment of assets might could have been done a little more effectively. Certainly with a little less, I don't know, confusion is not a real good word, but just a little easier, I guess. Because once the loudspeakers were on the ground and had shown themselves to be effective at reducing the level of resistance met, nobody wanted to ... seemed to want to turn loose of them. And an asset in hand is always better than one that somebody promises you will come back later. So it's ... I don't think there was anything abnormal in either our response in a given particular situation and certainly not in the mind of the maneuver commanders that were on the ground. They had an asset that was working for them and it is just simple that when you have that, you don't turn it loose until your next higher tells you that it must go somewhere else for a different priority.
I think if we were going to change anything, from what I've seen, we would go in with an LNO ... go in with an LNO established at each level. Division ... the division headquarters actually did not have an LNO until a few days into the operation. Had it had it initially, it would have been easier to move or to prioritize wedding of PSYOP assets, in particular the loudspeaker teams, from one element to another. And after a few days that mechanism worked out and I think, in general, that's probably the only change that I would see, significant change other than conceivably the addition of a command and control element for the tactical assets going in.
Essentially a ... well, it would ... a small command and staff element to do work perhaps at division, perhaps at corps level, depending on who's the JTF14 and who's the actual maneuver command element. That element should probably be at the maneuver command level. In the case of JUST CAUSE it would have been the division level. And that way they could coordinate those assets and the commander of that element would serve then, essentially as the LNO and the ... in the same fashion that your air defense commander serves as the air defense officer to division, etc.
MAJ COOK: And have the team with them?
MAJ CASPERS: Oh, and have command and control of the teams to the point that as they were shifted, they would move back to him and be reattached (or direct support or OPCONed) or whatever the right command and control relationship with the supported unit was for a particular mission.
MAJ COOK: As you look back on it, what were some of the, shall we say, the real triumphs or some of the ways that you and the rest of the staff feel fairly positive that this battalion was really able to contribute to the overall success of JUST CAUSE?
MAJ CASPERS: I think the biggest thing was being able to, in a timely fashion, put these people and equipment into the flow. Individual training, preparation, right selection of people all play into that. And I think we did those things, I think we did those very well. I'm not sure that we did them any better than any of the other battalions around or anything like that. But I think we have a feeling of satisfaction in choosing the right people for the jobs that were there.
Our equipment was ready in a timely fashion and went and functioned. We had very little maintenance down time on the equipment down range. Other than once the operation extended beyond the initial time frames we had planned for, our people had adequate supplies of batteries and so forth like that. And they were able to adjust and adapt through the supported units down there once the time frame extended. So those things, there was nothing that was sent down that was not insurmountable. And it's that kind of thing is why we choose our best people for that.
And the support from here continued to be good. Once our people went and were on the ground, the battalion staff, other than staying in contact with group and then later deploying additional liaison officers and so forth, was largely out of it--other than monitoring and staying in touch with dependents and so forth back here and trying to keep their problems and worries and so forth under control. And I think we did that very effectively too. And I don't mean to diminish that mission at all but it was, I think even for those of us that were back here, a very antsy Christmas and a very different kind of holiday season that most of us would normally expect.
The people on the ground and the way they executed their mission down there, ours and those from the other battalions, is the high point. It's ... there are numerous stories of various loudspeaker teams, both those from this battalion and those from other areas, that played very significant roles in, I think, diminishing casualties on both sides. Like capturing and processing information and so forth, or helping talk people into surrendering and so forth--it all leads but the bottom line to that is very minor for the size of the operation, number of US casualties that we took. And considering the nature of things, I think the numbers of Panamanians were very light compared to what could have developed. And we certainly can't take all the credit for that, but I do think the individual efforts of the people there on the ground really did contribute to that.
MAJ COOK: Thank you very much, sir. Is there anything else that you would like to add that I might not have asked or we might not have touched on?
MAJ CASPERS: Not that I can think of at this point.
MAJ COOK: Thank you very much, sir.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
1. The 4th Psychological Operations Group is organized with its subordinate battalions having regional or functional specialization. 1st Psychological Operations Battalion has regional responsibility for Latin America; 8th Psychological Operations Battalion is the functional broadcasting and loudspeaker component.
2. Heavy Broadcasting.
3. M-998-series High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicles.
4. The 1st Brigade, 82d Airborne Division, formed the task force that made the parachute assault on 20 December 1989.
5. Liaison officer to XVIII Airborne Corps.
6. Special operations forces.
7. Personnel Holding Area, the secure area at Fort Bragg adjacent to the "Green Ramp" as Pope Air Force Base where deploying units conduct their final preparations before moving on to the Air Base to board aircraft.
8. Processing for overseas replacement.
9. Serviceman's Group Life Insurance.
10. Military Occupational Specialty.
11. Supply specialists.
12. Joint Psychological Operations Task Force.
13. Commander, 1st Psychological Operations Battalion.
14. Joint task force.