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
LTG Carmen Cavezza
Former Commanding General,
7th Infantry Division
Interview Conducted 30 April 1992 at Building 2025, Fort Lewis, Washington
Dr. Larry Yates, US Army Combat Studies Institute
Dr. Robert K. Wright, Jr., US Army Center of Military History
Mr. Joe D. Huddleston, I Corps Historian
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview JCIT 097Z
DR. WRIGHT: This is an Operation JUST CAUSE interview being conducted at Building 2025, Fort Lewis, Washington, on 30 April 1992. The interview is with LTG Carmen Cavezza, Commander, I Corps; formerly Commander, 7th Infantry Division (Light). The interviewing official is Dr. Larry Yates, assisted by Dr. Robert K. Wright, Jr., XVIII Airborne Corps (former XVIII Airborne Corps) Historian, [and Mr. Joe D. Huddleston, I Corps Historian].
DR. YATES: The first thing I wanted to get on tape was what you mentioned yesterday,1 when I was talking about Operation NIMROD DANCER,2 how the guidance given and the rules drawn up put the security of the U.S. servicemen below that of the political consideration. You indicated that your guidance to COL [Dave] Hale3 (I don't know how you'd want to describe it, unofficial or whatever, since he was OPCON to JTF PANAMA4) was that the security of the soldiers should come first.
LTG CAVEZZA: Force protection was his top priority is what I told him. If he as a commander felt that one of his soldiers was about to be endangered, he had my authority and my support to take whatever action was necessary to prevent that. I felt comfortable in saying that with a commander like Hale because he's a very mature commander and totally in control of the situation. I felt that if he had to shoot first, it would be justifiable.
DR. YATES: I talked to you in January 1990, when you were briefly the JTF PANAMA commander, and I covered NIMROD DANCER at that point with you. There are a couple of questions about that [that] I have left. One would be: How much latitude did you have with COL Hale and COL [Joseph Keith] Kellogg, [III]5 since they were OPCON to JTF PANAMA? I know when you went down, you were able to keep the paint and the rag top6 even though JTF PANAMA at that point had done away with it. What other major decisions ... ?
LTG CAVEZZA: When I was back at [Fort] Ord, [California], still?
DR. YATES: Yes.
LTG CAVEZZA: There were some differences which you detected, obviously, but it did not interfere with the chain of command. Both [MG] Bernie Loeffke and [MG] Mark Cisneros7 recognized that our chain still existed. Although those guys were OPCON to them, they reported directly back to me. I went down there whenever I felt it was necessary. Communications were good, but so were the relations between the division and JTF PANAMA. We, to the best of my knowledge, even at the staff level, had good a relationship. So it was not a problem at all.
DR. YATES: [Reference] COL Hale's experience once he arrived. GEN [Frederick] Warner8 is there, MG Loeffke is there. The guidance from the national command authority is, "Don't start a war, but be aggressive." And as a result of his experience, he talked about an FTP. Was that something that was translated back here in terms of OPD, or in any way studied? I know--well, I will just back off. To what extent was COL Hale's experience studied back here?
LTG CAVEZZA: Are you talking about before, during, or after?
DR. YATES: During and after.
LTG CAVEZZA: You remember GEN [Carl E.] Vuono9 had a meeting with his four-stars and they flew Hale back to brief the four-stars. He just gave a super briefing of what NIMROD DANCER was all about and what his specific role was; what was done and the challenges. And I don't know if you've seen that.
DR. YATES: I have.
LTG CAVEZZA: That was really well thought out, well presented. We watched Dave very carefully, and he set the trend, the pattern for the following brigade. The next brigade down was Kellogg's, and then [COL Linwood] Burney10 was on deck, but he never got there for the NIMROD DANCER.
It set the pattern that Kellogg stepped in on and followed suit. It was really a model, I think, for those kinds of operations, and so we continued to look at that. I didn't know what you were going to say when you made your presentation at the Battle Analysis Conference yesterday, and I certainly didn't want to steal your thunder. But I felt, in order to talk about JUST CAUSE, you've got to touch on NIMROD DANCER, because it was so important. And I would say, as a division commander, I was more uncomfortable during the NIMROD DANCER time than I was in the JUST CAUSE time. There was no question in my mind during JUST CAUSE what the mission was.
Does that answer your question?
DR. YATES: Yes, it does. Had you known or worked with some of the other general officers involved in JUST CAUSE: GEN Thurman; LTG [Carl W.] Stiner;11 MG Cisneros?
LTG CAVEZZA: GEN Thurman was the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army when I was the Executive Officer [XO] to Secretary [of the Army John O.] Marsh, and I worked very closely with GEN Thurman in, you know, the typical way an XO interacts. I got to know him, and he got to know me, and I think we were comfortable with each other. I understood him and had a great deal of respect for him. LTG Stiner was the CG12 of the 82d Airborne Division when I was the ADC(S), and [MG] Jim Johnson was the ADC(M).13 That went well. I had not met Cisneros before. The first time I met him was the first time I visited Panama after I took the 7th Division. Loeffke I had known off and on for a few years.
DR. YATES: The plan originally called for the 7th ID to go in early. Then, before GEN Thurman took over but before GEN Warner left, the plan was revised and the 82d was put in ahead of the 7th ID. What was the reasoning given to the 7th ID for that switch?
LTG CAVEZZA: There was no reason given except that the plan called for quick, decisive involvement; do it quickly and get it over with. I accepted that. Once GEN Thurman came in and made LTG Stiner his war fighter, there was no doubt in my mind that that was going to be that way. I didn't have any problems with it. If they left the plan as originally drafted I think it would have worked as well. I'm not going to say it would have worked better; I don't know that. But I think it would have worked as well. Here you've got the guy in charge making the decisions, and I was one of his guys, so I supported his decision.
DR. YATES: Either the Warner concept or the Thurman concept, you think would have worked?
LTG CAVEZZA: The Warner concept of execution would have put us in Panama City quickly, which I think was the key to that whole thing, get in there and take control. The Stiner/Thurman concept was to put a lot of forces everywhere and take things down. So you could make a good case for either one.
If we had gone in the city quickly one advantage would have been, it would have stopped the looting. Remember all that adverse publicity? You have to stand the heat of the publicity until you get time to correct the problem. It would have stopped, I think, if we had not had the looting.
I don't think that is the critical element. Had we not brought additional units in, it may have caused reinforcement of the PDF14 from outlying areas if the plan had not blocked it. We were relying on the in-country forces that you had, but there was no airborne assault coming in. I think we could have done it. But then again, we wouldn't have as large a force as we had under the plan we executed.
DR. YATES: LTC [Johnny W.] Brooks15 said yesterday that the 7th had--or his battalion had--a one-to-one ratio up in the Colon area to the PDF. I know the 193d [Infantry Brigade] felt that they were undermanned to do their job as well; that the ratio was not in their favor, and there were some tussles in terms of assets between the 7th and the 193d during the planning. I just wondered, is that something that you got involved in, or was that at staff level?
LTG CAVEZZA: No. I felt we had adequate numbers, we had better weapons, we had better soldiers, and I think the problem that LTC Brooks felt was [that] he was stretched so thin. But it was my belief then, and it's my belief now, numbers were not a problem. I felt he could handle whatever mission that they gave him. When I went in with the 2d Brigade, I had the flexibility of putting a battalion up there, and later I did, so I didn't feel like it was a risky mission.
DR. YATES: There's a comment you made yesterday about the two kinds of MPs16 and how they performed, respective to one another in a combat situation.
LTG CAVEZZA: I use that as an example of the training that we do with our people. You can't take a unit out of the garrison environment and mix them with a tactical unit and send them on a combat operation without some kind of field training, without having worked with the unit before. And that applied to the MPs that we took out of Panama City; that applied to truck drivers who drove tactical vehicles for us. I use that as a teaching point: don't forget to train those people. You don't always have the opportunity to do these kinds of things.
DR. YATES: My understanding from the 7th ID AAR17 was that, on the Atlantic side, that those law-and-order MPs essentially were not performing well the combat functions that combat-oriented MPs can do.
LTG CAVEZZA: That's right. Well, they were with the units--you heard Johnnie Brooks yesterday--they actually moved with one company because they needed them to control the flow of people on the outpost, traffic for roadblocks, and things like that. But they were moving with them in a tactical formation, which makes it a little more uncomfortable.
DR. YATES: On the other hand, during the phases prior to JUST CAUSE, the MPs were generally touted as proving their worth--weight in gold--because of the political dimension to the crisis.
LTG CAVEZZA: Yes. It wasn't that the MPs were not valuable. They were extremely valuable in that role. All that I would do is make sure the valuable people are trained. Just like we send a lawyer out with a brigade to stay with the brigade on those operations; make sure that lawyer has fired his weapon and knows how to use that thing in case he has to. There's a point in time where everybody might have to do that. And you can joke about it, but I tell you, around here I am a stickler on that. Everybody has to get out and fire their weapons, pass the PT18 test, go through the gas chamber. I don't care what they're doing, they're vulnerable and we make them do it.
DR. YATES: Soldier first?
LTG CAVEZZA: Right.
DR. WRIGHT: In looking at both JUST CAUSE and the follow-on operations down there, and [Operations] DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM, the military police with the automatic weapon on the vehicle with the radio, as a mobile asset ... the Army perhaps doesn't have enough of those assets. Do you see any kind of movement, or would you like to see any kind of movement toward enlarging the MP structure at the division level?
LTG CAVEZZA: I think it would be nice, but I don't think we can afford it. If I advocate increasing the number of MPs, I am also advocating reducing something else. We've got to look at what is the right balance. I don't think there are enough MPs. You know, we've got an MP company here that meets itself coming and going. But we've got another one coming back from Europe. I think the guys in DCSOPS and FORSCOM19 have retained, I think, a larger number of MPs in the force. I am going to end up, when the 7th Division comes up here, with three MP companies versus the one we have now. I don't know if that's typical throughout the CONUS Army, but that solves my problem to a large extent.
You saw the POW problem in JUST CAUSE and DESERT STORM, and infantry ended up taking care of POWs. My feeling was--and I was at Benning20 at the time--was, if this war keeps up, we're going to have to send light divisions over to supplement those heavy divisions because they flat don't have enough infantry to do what they got to do. That was my opinion. However, we never got to that point.
DR. WRIGHT: The British diverted infantry battalions for EPW21 control. Now, had you anticipated, in JUST CAUSE, the flow of prisoners that you wound up taking?
LTG CAVEZZA: Yes. Prisoners were not a problem at that point. We took quite a few, but there weren't near the numbers we're talking about in DESERT STORM. What caused the problem in JUST CAUSE was civilians. That occurred primarily because of fires as a result of fighting around the Panama City area.
In Colon, Johnnie Brooks kept saying somebody kept canceling [the final assault]. Well, that was me, because I did not want to go into Colon if there was any risk of burning that place down. We would have had a heck of a mess on our hands. There was just one way out of that city. It was a tinderbox. You guys have been there, probably. Not only that, we would have had a bunch of civilians killed in the fire. What would we do with all those civilians? And in my mind, there was not anything militarily essential that we had to do right then. We were trying to keep the pressure on, hoping they would surrender more and more, and do it that way as opposed to burning down the city.
DR. YATES: The cancellation of the mission is one point I wanted to mention. I've talked to MG Cisneros, who was up there the second night, I believe. The first night, he was at [Fort] Amador, and then he moved to the Colon side. Did he confer with you--consult with you--on that decision to cancel the mission?
LTG CAVEZZA: Yes. I think we talked about it. We both agreed that we should not go in there. I wasn't being pressured to go in and take that city. We were told that there's a garrison in there. We didn't know how big that garrison was. Very honestly, I was more concerned about the looters than I was the garrison, because the garrison couldn't do anything. The looters became a bigger problem than the garrison.
DR. YATES: When you were asked to bring down more troops, why wasn't the 82d called in instead of the 7th?
LTG CAVEZZA: I don't know. LTG Stiner came to me and said, "I'm not sure we have enough forces to go into Panama City. Can you get another brigade down there?" I said, "I got one locked and cocked. They're ready to come." He said, "Well, go ahead and bring them down."
DR. WRIGHT: The supposition I had on that, was simply that with the entire Ranger regiment already committed with the DRB-122 out of the 82d already committed, our forced-entry capability for another contingency was limited to just the two brigades of the 82d.
LTG CAVEZZA: It could be. You know, we didn't discuss why not the 82d. That was not even a point. He just asked me if I could bring a brigade, and I said "roger that." As a matter of fact, I ended up, every one of our battalions got down there except the one that was in the Sinai.23
DR. YATES: As for the transition to stability operations, and also your taking over as JTF PANAMA commander, to what extent did you prepare for that? You indicated yesterday that had you known this was coming ... ?
LTG CAVEZZA: Yes. Well, you know, we do think of those things, but when you're out there and a policeman is shooting at you and a guy blows his car away with a LAW24 it's hard to blame the guy for blowing the car away with the LAW. But then later you're out there trying to find some damn police cars and you can't, you say, "Why didn't that guy just shoot the policeman and not blow the car away?" [LAUGHTER]
It's a tough job doing those kind of things for a number of reasons. I was at an extreme disadvantage because I did not speak Spanish. That's my own personal opinion, but I was not communicating directly with Herrera, who was running the police, and with the other officials. I was talking through Mark Cisneros, who is a very competent guy, and I was getting their feedback. I wanted to try to respond to the country and get the mission done, yet I was frustrated because the stuff wasn't there to do it. I felt like decisions weren't coming fast enough from the Panamanian authorities. I asked them what I thought was a simple question and it took a long time to get what was an obvious answer. I felt like if I could have spoken Spanish, I could have cut out all the middle people and gone right to whoever I wanted, and maybe I would have had a better understanding of their rationale. You know how things go as you talk through interpreters.
Very honestly, they should have made Cisneros the JTF commander. They should have left me running the division. I have wished that could have been [that way]. Cisneros was much better qualified to do it. He knew the people, the people knew him, but they needed my staff. As a matter of fact, I brought people down from Ord to supplement the JTF staff because when Stiner came down with his staff, he brought a lot of people in and virtually took over the whole organization. Then when he left, they left with him, and boom, there are all kinds of voids. I had to supplement that, so I think that was one of the reasons they brought me up. Also, I was senior to Mark, but, you know, that's not important. It worked out okay, except it was just a long, frustrating process; to do the kind of things that you would think would happen quickly, they just didn't happen.
DR. YATES: And you mentioned the new Panamanian government was not making decisions on a timely basis. What about Washington?
LTG CAVEZZA: I didn't have any problems with that. Well, I mentioned the aid problems. I kept looking for help in the civil affairs area, for more people to come in to relieve the combat troops, and they weren't forthcoming. We were getting some pressure from the Panamanian government. They were concerned about the security of the refugees. They were concerned about losing control in those little villages we put together, and I wanted to turn that over to the right kind of people and let them start working the social problems and get my troops out of there so they could do the other things that they needed to do. That seemed to take a while.
DR. YATES: You mentioned the reserve issue yesterday in our Q&A,25 and I didn't get it on tape.
LTG CAVEZZA: On the reserve issue, the guys that came down there, the volunteers, they're heroes in my mind. They're a great bunch of people. You know, "Sunday? Yeah, I'll go; send me," kind of thing. But I think [MG] Wayne Downing26 and his guys have got a handle on it now. We should have the units that we would activate ready and say "Send that civil affairs detachment down, send that PSYOPS27 detachment," rather than, "I need a bunch of volunteers to go."
DR. WRIGHT: The teamwork aspect of it? That if you bring an intact unit, you have a defined chain of command? I have heard stories that they spun a lot of tires trying to get themselves started up.
LTG CAVEZZA: When you get a group of people, regardless of what their motives are, it's hard to get them moving and organized without a chain of command. We in the military recognize that very well. It's not that they didn't want to do a good job and it's not that they don't work hard. Another part of it is, they were only there for so many days and then came out.
I think the new 100-528 that's being written has given more thought to the post-combat operations period. I don't think we can stop our manuals at combat operations, because even the tactical units are going to continue to be involved after that. We need to think about that and talk about that, and it needs to be part of our doctrine. Consequently, if we make it part of our doctrine, the force structure will be developed to support that part. I think that's been a weakness, but I think we're getting a handle on it.
DR. YATES: During this transitional period you're the JTF PANAMA commander and MG Cisneros is in the wings. What I noticed seemed to be a very good working relationship where he consulted with you.
LTG CAVEZZA: We're good friends, and I don't know if you've noticed, but we always walked in a room together, we always left together. I never put him in a position where he had to stand at attention for me, and if there was anything controversial, I always asked him his opinion. I think that was important, for a couple of reasons. One is that he's more knowledgeable than I was. Second, he was going to run the show when I leave there, and he needed to maintain his credibility.
DR. YATES: Were you insulated from having to deal directly with the embassy? What was the relationship?
LTG CAVEZZA: I didn't have much contact with all of that. Jim Steele; I guess he's a brigadier now?
DR. YATES: Yes.
LTG CAVEZZA: He and Mark worked with the embassy security group.
DR. YATES: You mentioned yesterday about not seeing stability operations as part of the METL.29
LTG CAVEZZA: For training purposes. I am not sure I could ever train adequately. I think the best thing I could do is to make sure my leaders understand the possibility of having to do that, and incorporate it in our training, but not make it a METL task because it would consume all our training time.
DR. WRIGHT: To follow up on that, one of the biggest problems that I heard articulated was: even in pretty cut-and-dry NEO30 operation rehearsals, it becomes very, very hard to get any sense of reality to it without a lot of role-players. Have you, since you've been back, come to try to employ more role-players in the exercises?
LTG CAVEZZA: Exactly. Role-players are a key part of that. The simple part is the military part: isolating, moving in, and securing. But the getting out the pregnant women, and the lady with the dog, and the people don't want to go, and all those kind of things, just botch up the operation big-time. I think that you're going to see all around the Army more and more role-players employed in that kind of thing. I think it's essential that we do that.
DR. YATES: You talked yesterday about what came to be known as the "Ma Bell approach." The Special Forces were in the countryside, with perhaps an AC-130 and a 7th ID company behind them. At the same time, MG Cisneros, and this PDF officer31 who came down to Fort Clayton with him began making calls into the countryside. Is this taking place simultaneously, and did the Special Force initiative--did they play off MG Cisneros?
LTG CAVEZZA: Cisneros was calling the big guys and talking in basically the same terms with them. The SF guys were complementing what he was doing in more specificity. Yes, I think they were complementing him.
DR. YATES: Would the SF have done it anyway, or was this something that MG Cisneros started that they picked up on and were able to use?
LTG CAVEZZA: I think that the SF may have done it anyway because they knew the area and they knew the people, and they knew some of these guys they were calling on a first-name basis. In effect, what they were doing was giving them an opportunity to keep at least from getting beat up, and it worked a lot better for all of us.
You know, after the first 48 hours on the ground, hostilities really weren't a problem and I felt very comfortable with a platoon going into a village without having to have fire support. We took precautions, but I didn't anticipate any major problems in doing that. And all these reports about guerrilla bands in the jungle and guys coming in at night--after a while we reacted to so many of those we were chasing shadows, and I just told them not to bother.
DR. YATES: One impression I had from being in the operations center that first night was that when they lost Noriega, that I distinctly remember somebody saying 'That's not the primary objective; push on; we're taking down the PDF, etc." Yet when I got back to the States on the 23d or 24th, the press was playing up the fact that Noriega was still loose, and low and behold the operation was a failure even though what I had heard was he was one of the objectives but not the principal objective. What was your reading on that?
LTG CAVEZZA: I think the primary objective was getting rid of the threat. And you know, we really didn't have a handle on how many Dignity battalions there were, how many people were in the Dignity battalions. We were probably more concerned about the Dignity battalion than we were the PDF. We had an idea of the numbers in the PDF, we had an idea what their capabilities [were]. But in my mind, and I think in MG Stiner's mind, the Dignity battalions represented a bunch of hoodlums with guns and they were probably more of a threat than the PDF.
Those were the things we wanted to get a handle on real quickly. Noriega, obviously, was an objective. There were people worrying about that besides us that had him as the primary mission. Very honestly, the 7th Division didn't get involved that much except when we were asked for assistance, to provide various units to cordon off areas and things like that. So that was kind of a separate action altogether.
If you read the media, of course, we would have reacted to chasing Noriega rather than fighting the war.
We should have said, "Let's get into Panama City and stop the looters," and risk soldiers getting killed because we did it haphazardly. We should have rushed into the Marriott rather than doing it right and making sure we knew what we had and making a good plan to do it without getting a bunch of people killed. I give LTG Stiner great marks on his approach on how we did the operation.
DR. YATES: How high was the concern in the operations center regarding the potential hostage situation?
LTG CAVEZZA: Well, there was concern. We were all concerned. The planning began immediately, and we started working options. I was there when LTG Stiner was getting the calls, and I was involved with some of the planning. We didn't sit around and say we'll get to that later. We did it fairly quickly. But we didn't get on a phone and say, "A Company, move up to the Marriott," that kind of thing.
DR. YATES: Before the operation began that morning, GEN Thurman stated that if an American looses his or her life, then the operations were considered a failure. The point he was making was that a hostage situation could detract or even undermine a successful military operation.
LTG CAVEZZA: I didn't hear him say that. But I can understand what the intent was. You know, if you get a hostage situation, that's a tough deal. I would rather fight a PDF company than deal with a hostage situation. Everybody was concerned about that. Obviously he had the most concern because he was getting all the phone calls about it.
DR. YATES: Before you became commander of JTF PANAMA, where were you located during JUST CAUSE? How often did you get into the field? Did you visit each of the brigades, etc.?
LTG CAVEZZA: I had a command-and-control helicopter with a TACSAT32 radio and everything, and I moved from one location to the other constantly. We had a CP.33 Initially, at the officers club there, where was it?
DR. YATES: Albrook Air Force base?
LTG CAVEZZA: At Albrook. We put the CP in there. I would go in there for the briefing at night, and then I remained there at night most of the time. Sometimes I would stay with the brigades. But during most of the time I was in my helicopter or I was in the ground with one of the brigade commanders or battalion commanders. We later moved to--what's the other place where the golf course is down there?
DR. WRIGHT: Fort Amador?
LTG CAVEZZA: Amador.
DR. WRIGHT: Down to that building where the COGECODESE34 was?. The building that MG Johnson used?
LTG CAVEZZA: Yes. We were in the officers club, again at Amador. And I had a CP there. I left early every morning, and sometimes if there was an operation I would leave at night and go out with a unit. But I stayed forward most of the time. I made it back in at least once a day and I tried to get to Stiner at headquarters once a day to talk to him one on one, just to see what he was thinking and what was going on.
DR. YATES: Were you ever the ARFOR?35
LTG CAVEZZA: No. Stiner kept that to himself. He was both the JTF and the ARFOR, which was not a problem. It really wasn't.
DR. YATES: In terms of your command style, talking to Johnnie Brooks, he gave us an example in Colon in the free zone, taking decisions at his level and COL Kellogg's level, then your coming out, and while you may not have been happy with everything, you would let them run things.
LTG CAVEZZA: In that kind of operation you've got to be decentralized. You can stymie everyone. You've got to have confidence in the commanders, and I am kind of a decentralized person, anyway. These guys are good or they wouldn't be there.
DR. YATES: Were there problems with MOUT.36 You addressed some yesterday. Are there others? Night operations?
LTG CAVEZZA: I just think that we can never lose sight of how difficult night operations are. The common thoughts are that you take a light division and you can put them in a MOUT environment and they can do very well. And they can, but if you have a large city like Panama City, it takes forever. Plus, I think your casualties would be too high, so you've got to be a little more fluid. I think you've got to go in there and blow some holes in buildings to make entries rather than to risk a soldier following a grenade in. Obviously, you're going to run out of grenades; hopefully not soldiers. You've got to make the METT-T37 decision: you know, how much is it going to take to go into this city and what's it going to cost to take it? What is my risk assessment, what's it going to cost me to do that? If it's going to cost my high in soldiers, let's just blow the buildings down.
DR. WRIGHT: That gets back to the second sort of question that you alluded to earlier with armored infantry. We have a shortage of true infantry. Going into a large urban environment "eats" your people to secure properly, because you have to leave stay-behind parties, perimeter guards, etc.
LTG CAVEZZA: You have to secure a portion at a time and then make a decision where you're going to go next. You could never clear Panama City. We'd still be down there trying to do that. It goes to show you that if we got into an area where there is a heavy urban environment, it would be a tough, tough battle.
DR. WRIGHT: It's fairly easy to pull in your soldiers with a light division in terms of airplanes, getting them to the theater. You get on the ground, though, and then you've got a problem moving them around. How did you deal with that in Panama?
LTG CAVEZZA: In the infantry we walk a lot, obviously. But we had Panamanian trucks.
When I was trying to get people from Tacumen over to David, I was left to my own devices. They wouldn't give me any assets to do it. And we conned a bunch of South Carolina National Guard C-130s38 into flying them over. They just did it out of the goodness of their heart. So we just do whatever we have to do to make it happen.
MR. HUDDLESTON: As you expand to the west and even on further, the C-130 becomes the critical asset because now you're outside the legs of our helicopters.
LTG CAVEZZA: The C-130 became very critical. We used them for wet-wing operations. For example, the fuel at David airfield was contaminated; we couldn't use it for helicopters. So we would bring in 130s, we would drain their tanks, all except for enough to get them back to Howard [Air Base], into our bladders, fill them up, and then they'd go refuel on the next load, and we'd drain them again. That was the kind of operation that we had to do for our expansion. The C-130 played a very critical role in expanding into the country.
DR. WRIGHT: The other problem we had in terms of aviation, Army aviation, was a very limited rotary wing fleet down there. Your battalion basically is the only UH-60 [Blackhawk] battalion that's there.
LTG CAVEZZA: Yes, there were some, probably. There was a unit, a company from Panama.
DR. WRIGHT: The 1st of the 228th.39 But it is still operating with UH-1s [Iroquois or "Hueys"].
LTG CAVEZZA: That's right.
DR. WRIGHT: And the CH-47s [Chinooks] we had in country were C models, not D models.
LTG CAVEZZA: Yes. That's why I didn't have the exclusive use of my aviation to move my people around, because the whole task force needed them, and I understood that. However, I kept my C&C40 when the corps aviation officer tried to confiscate it. I took and I kept it with me all the time. But that was about the only aviation assets I could count on.
Toward the end, though, after the Panama City thing got under control, I got the aviation back, and as a matter of fact, I attached a task force with COL Burney to let him work the western area. You might remember we invaded Costa Rica at one time--they got disoriented and landed on the wrong side of the border and walked up to the border guards, said, "Excuse us, we ran into the wrong place, and we're walking back." [LAUGHTER] The embassy was on us about that. But we were able to finally get some there.
Then we started working out to the east. We haven't talked about it much lately. It was not glamorous because everything was pretty much dead, but we worked all the way out to the Colombian border.
DR. WRIGHT: Because there were garrisons out there that you needed to have their surrenders taken.
LTG CAVEZZA: That's right. It took a while to do that, and it became more of a medcap.41 The garrisons were ready to surrender. As a matter of fact, one garrison had captured their PDF and had them tied up when we got there. Medcap became the key role. There were a lot of medical problems out there. I accused our doctor, Dr. Bausch,42 of buying a loincloth because he was getting native boats with some of the Panamanians and going off to their villages and work with them. I just knew one day he wasn't going to come back. [LAUGHTER] But that became kind of a challenge down there.
DR. YATES: Did you anticipate any missions outside the Canal when you originally went down?
LTG CAVEZZA: Yes. I knew we'd have to do that because the PDF was so spread around. Out there by David and Rio Hato and those areas, they had a lot of Dignity battalions. So, I anticipated working those areas. I really didn't anticipate working toward the Colombian border as much; that's a very desolate area, with no roads at all.
DR. WRIGHT: To follow up on the point you raised yesterday in the discussion on the attack helicopters: the AH-1 [Cobra] versus the AH-64 [Apache] and the different roles. You saw that in a different context in the desert?
LTG CAVEZZA: Right.
DR. WRIGHT: In terms of LIC43-type environments.
LTG CAVEZZA: We used it for its eyes, actually; you know, tremendous target acquisition. And of course, it has a lot of killing power, a lot of accuracy. But it was a good helicopter for MOUT for its eyes.
DR. WRIGHT: The AH-1 is still perfectly valid in most LIC environments?
LTG CAVEZZA: In that kind of a situation against the threat that we had, yes. They didn't have any air defense to speak of, so the AH-1s were more than adequate. There are some countries in the Third World that have capabilities that make putting AH-64s out there in advance for ADA44 suppression a good idea.
DR. YATES: You mentioned yesterday IPB45 products. You were talking with regard to NIMROD DANCER and that phase between pre-JUST CAUSE and JUST CAUSE, and the lack of adequate information on how many mortars they have and this kind of stuff.
LTG CAVEZZA: Yes, we could never really get a number on them. I was told there were sixteen of them at one point. Then I went over and looked at all the captured weapons, and I saw at least twenty or thirty of them.
This is the best source of intelligence, I think, particularly in the LIC environment, and you would think we would have that in Panama. But we never really did--I think we just didn't pay any attention to what they were doing. I was surprised at how little we knew about the Dignity battalions, because you say to an Army guy, "a battalion," and right away you think of 400 or 500 people. Well, a Dignity battalion could be 10 guys with jeans and machineguns, or it could be 500 guys in jeans and machineguns, and we really didn't know the sizes of these various organizations. Things like that. Then we picked up all kinds of intelligence reports about units that had been off training somewhere else in other countries that were coming back to infiltrate into the country. I never could get any kind of intelligence on that.
When I got up to the JTF level, I found that there was some intelligence coming in, but it really wasn't intelligence; it was so much information that it wasn't intelligence, you couldn't use it very well. It wasn't getting below the JTF level; only the good news. Now we've got some assistance that might solve the problem of sorting that stuff out.
DR. WRIGHT: You have one advantage over the other deploying forces. You get a chance to bring your DISCOM, or substantial hunks of your DISCOM, down. I think that makes life a little easier for you as we stay on longer. I know the original concept had the forces staying a few days and then going home. As that dragged on, feeding and doing all those human things for our own troops became a problem. Were you able to plan that in advance?
LTG CAVEZZA: Well, I didn't bring enough support. When we first flew down I brought in shooters. I didn't bring in enough logisticians. We relied initially on the support group down there.
DR. WRIGHT: 41st?
LTG CAVEZZA: Right. Commanded by COL [Gerald K.] Johnson, who had worked for me before. We had planned on relying on him. That was basically the plan, to rely on him, sort of like a host nation thing. But as soon as I got there, I quickly realized there's such competition for resources here and there are so many diverse operations going on, I needed a lot of logistics of my own. So we started bringing our own down at that point, and I had the flexibility to do that. I brought in my DISCOM commander and a bunch of log planners and then we started bringing in support modules. We got the whole DISCOM cut up into modules, and we started bringing modules down. We had a log bird46 every day between Ord and Panama, and we were sometimes able to supplement the log birds as well.
DR. WRIGHT: In terms of sustaining of Class I, Class III, Class V--I guess Class V was primarily drawn out of the stockage in country?
LTG CAVEZZA: We took our basic loads with us. So we didn't have any problem. As a matter of fact, we took most of it back with us. We had more than enough ammunition.
DR. WRIGHT: To what extent did you have a problem with linguists, given that your MI47 battalion was different?
LTG CAVEZZA: As trained speakers, it was different, but Fort Ord being where it is, I had no problem. Every squad had two or three guys who spoke Spanish. They weren't necessarily the guys you're going to put on the radio and let them monitor the nets, then expect them to give you a structured report on what occurred. But in terms of getting out in the jungle and the ability to talk to people, we had adequate number of guys to do that.
DR. WRIGHT: One last issue. Can you talk us through how Task Force Atlantic's command-and-control relationships evolve during this first couple of days, first COL Kellogg, then you coming in, and then as we start simplifying that command-and-control structure and lumping units together?
[END OF SIDE ONE]
LTG CAVEZZA: You saw the structure yesterday. Task Force Atlantic, Keith Kellogg's guys reported directly to JTF PANAMA, and then LTG Stiner went in they reported directly to JTF SOUTH. When I landed, and the Division CP got on the ground, we picked up the responsibility to take Task Force Atlantic--in effect became Task Force Atlantic. When 2d Brigade came I had 2d and 3d Brigade under my command and control, with 3d Brigade consisting of one battalion out of 3d Brigade and one battalion out of the 82d Airborne Division.
After we were on the ground, Stiner also gave me responsibility for the security of Howard and the Marines that were covering it. So I picked up the Marines under my command and control also.
Task Force HAWK, the aviation, remained under JTF SOUTH the entire time. At times I would get pieces of them, but I never got the whole thing.
When we brought in [COL] Dave Hale, the 9th Regiment48 was attached to the 82d, and we brought them in specifically for Panama City. That's pretty much the way the configuration was.
As the units started pulling out, when the 82d pulled out, we picked up Panama City. I also picked up the 9th Regiment with the Panama City mission. That's basically the way it worked. There weren't changes other than that; the Marines stayed under us for the whole time.
DR. YATES: It's my understanding from the Marines that initially they weren't too happy about it because they had been a separate task force on their own, and then they were one of the first, I believe, to be subsumed under another task force. Was there any problem in that arrangement?
LTG CAVEZZA: Very honestly, I think the commander was disappointed. Their mission was oriented on the west side of Howard, which was a very difficult mission. They had the Arrijan Tank Farm and then they had the area out toward, was it El Chorillo?
DR. WRIGHT: El Chorillo.
LTG CAVEZZA: El Chorillo; that area out there. They felt like they didn't have the resources to do what they needed to do in that area. I coordinated with the Marine commander before he came under my control, and then LTG Stiner told me he wanted me to pick them up. I went out and I gave him my organic battalion and it worked with them for about a week or ten days. Then I went further west, and I couldn't afford to leave the battalion there. That didn't make the Marine commander happy, because he felt like he was out of commission.
As far as I'm concerned, they did a good job for me. They accomplished their mission. They had some LAVs49 which were very, very useful, and I didn't have any problems. But, I think from their point of view, they wanted to be a separate agency under the JTF, they wanted to have a MARFOR.50 But the JTF commander decided otherwise.
DR. WRIGHT: Speaking of the LAVs, sir. In the light division, when you see a vehicle like that with that kind of capability--a wheeled, lightly-armored vehicle?
LTG CAVEZZA: I think the light division is structured the way it should be. I don't think they need to heavy it up. If we find that, based on METT-T, we need better transportation, then we can plug in from the corps level a truck company or whatever. If you ever give a light division organic vehicles, even the wheeled vehicles like the LAV, we're going to lose what light infantry is all about.
DR. YATES: The question was raised yesterday about any interference or pressure from Washington. From what's been put out in the briefings, etc., is that LTG Stiner and GEN Thurman pretty much absorbed it. But there were some exceptions. Although the rule may have been let them do it on their own, there were some issues that came up. Do you recall any?
LTG CAVEZZA: Both LTG Stiner and GEN Thurman did a great job of insulating the war fighters. They didn't bug us with that stuff. I was there when the call came in on the Marriott. I was there when GEN Thurman was getting ready to talk to the President on the phone, and there was a lot of scurrying to get information picked up for that. But none of that rippled down into the ranks. What we find is a normal response when the President is about to get on television to speak to the nation, and he needs some facts. You've got to respond to that and give it to him.
Likewise, when you have Americans yelling for help in a country that's under siege, and they call their congressman back in Washington and he calls the Pentagon or the White House, you're going to say, "All right, I note it. I will do what I can," and do what you can.
They really handled it well. They did not knee-jerk us around, from my perspective now. I'm sure you've talked to Jim Johnson; I don't know what his feeling was, whether he felt he got jerked around. See, he was in Panama City and he got those missions. So he may have a little different perspective. But I didn't feel like we were jerked around.
DR. WRIGHT: Did you get any kind of pressure on the Smithsonian hostages? Those were European, and needed to be secured?
LTG CAVEZZA: I'm not sure I remember that.
DR. WRIGHT: The woman with the little child there, a bunch of research scientists that had been held by the PDF for a couple of days.
LTG CAVEZZA: I just don't remember. We'd gotten into a mess right after I became the JTF commander. Some of our soldiers went into a house that we felt that they had good reason to go into--weapons in the house. They were affiliated with somebody's embassy.
MULTIPLE VOICES: The Nicaraguan embassy.
DR. WRIGHT: Yes, it was the 9th Regiment, and they had cleared that one all the way through. The JTF had checked with the State Department and said it was okay.
LTG CAVEZZA: That's right. Then we got our wrists slapped for doing it, and criticized for doing it. The commander was very concerned. He thought he had screwed up.
I jokingly talked about going into Costa Rica, and we did accidentally. I got a call on it and I said, "We went into Costa Rica because of a navigation problem. There was no damage, we're out of there now, and we'll be more careful next time."
DR. WRIGHT: Is that the sort of thing the GPS51 will eliminate?
LTG CAVEZZA: If you've been there in the western part, its very extreme terrain. It's hard to tell exactly where you are. We're not talking about miles, we're talking 100 meters.
DR. YATES: You mentioned the interaction between SOF52 and conventional forces yesterday. When you became JTF PANAMA and overall commander, did you have any difficulties on that side?
LTG CAVEZZA: No. I think personalities were involved. MG Downing was the command-and-control guy. He and I had been second lieutenants together. We were always close together. I think that helped. And I had a lot of guys that were in 7th Division who used to work on that side of the house. That's the same mold, pretty much, anyway.
I think JUST CAUSE was the major turning point for the SOF-conventional arrangement. Both sides realized that, hey, we need each other. I don't mean this in a derogatory manner. I think the conventional side always realized we needed the SOF side. I'm not sure the SOF side always realized they needed the conventionals. They found out what a mutually beneficial relationship this is, and from that point on it was perfect. Personalities also played in it. If there were any problems between JTF PANAMA and SOF before I got there, I really was not aware of them.
DR. YATES: You didn't inherit them.
LTG CAVEZZA: I didn't inherit them. I continued to work with MG Downing and they pulled out shortly after I took over.
DR. YATES: Speaking of pulling out of there, the one thing I recall from being there in January and attending JTF PANAMA meetings was while you were dealing with this problem of nation-building and black list, etc. And the other thing was "when are we going to leave," with the question mark hanging in the air.
LTG CAVEZZA: Yes, I got to the point I felt we had too many forces in country. You may remember I had problems with a couple of soldiers in Panama City killing a Panamanian. I just did not want that kind of thing. My soldiers were not busy enough. We were out patrolling, we were out helping them clean up the streets, but there was just too much down time. I had too many people in country, and felt I needed to get them out of there before we started having problems. That was one concern. I felt that what I was doing with a brigade I could have done with a battalion.
DR. YATES: I know one meeting you were at with MG Cisneros, there was the exchange where you put the black list up and you said, "Well, we can't go until we get all these people in." And MG Cisneros said, "In that case, we'll have them for you tomorrow morning."
LTG CAVEZZA: That's right.
DR. YATES: So there was some, I think, anticipation on USARSO's side to move back in.
LTG CAVEZZA: He was anxious to take the reins again, and I think, because it was all nation-building at that point, there were political things that had to be rectified, and he was the guy to do that. He knew that the kinds of forces he needed at that point were civil affairs forces, and that kind of thing. On the other hand, he didn't want me to pull everything out. I made a tactical blunder. We brought our ground cav[alry] unit down out of the aviation brigade. They made a very good presence, very intimidating. Mark fell in love with that organization. He'd have liked to keep them.
DR. YATES: That's Task Force HAWK.
LTG CAVEZZA: Yes. You needed that kind of a presence down there, and they could cover a lot of area in a short period of time and show the flag. And that's what you do.
DR. YATES: Psychological.
LTG CAVEZZA: Yes. The other thing I wanted to do was I wanted to continue operations. I never really felt comfortable with David because that was a Noriega stronghold down there, and I kept wanting to go back in there periodically to show people that we would come back.
I even wanted to drop the airborne battalion out there, let them train, and then bring them back in, just to show the Panamanian people the Americans hadn't gone away. But our restrictions kept getting tighter and tighter as we went along.
DR. YATES: This improved special forces relationship with the Panamanian protective force since they were going to be a police force?
LTG CAVEZZA: I don't think special forces were hampered. Special forces were the people that continued and did the work. But they were the ones also that were asking for us to come back out and show a presence. The people were still afraid of the PDF. If you recall, the police forces we took down were the police forces that stood up when we left. What we did was destroy something, then we put it back in place and go home.
DR. WRIGHT: One last question for you, sir, and I know this has kind of turned out over the years to become a sticky issue: the awards policy. Do you think that we overreacted to the Grenada situation and became a little too stringent on awards?
LTG CAVEZZA: I was pleased with the 7th Division. We were stringent with awards. I had a lot of people who didn't get shot at. I don't see giving a Bronze Star to somebody who wasn't put in a combat situation.
Now, the brigades have a regular awards board and then the brigade commander signs off on an award. Then I had my own awards board, chaired by my chief of staff or my deputy or my ADC. They would sign off on it and I would review it.
We basically tried to follow the spirit of the regulation all the way through and I think we did. I have one problem around the combat medical badge. We had female medics. We were so decentralized we couldn't operate a central holding station or dispensary. We broke up those medical battalion assets, and attached them to the brigades and let the brigades take them with them. And as a result of that, I think I had three or four females who were involved in fire fights and treating people and so on. All the male medics got the CMB and so we gave all the female medics the CMB. That was challenged, but I think you challenge that in ignorance. Once people got into the situation they realized, "yeah, they're in the same situation, why not give them CMBs?" We held the line. But it was the iron majors that tried to turn me down, and I just refused to be turned down. PERSCOM53 absolutely wouldn't pass it on, and I wouldn't move. I said, "I stand my ground, sir." I think it got all the way up to the Vice Chief [of Staff], GEN [Gordon R.] Sullivan, who supported us.
DR. WRIGHT: Is that a function of just needing to take a look at the reg and bringing some of the really Korean War wording up to date?
LTG CAVEZZA: Very honestly, I think it's a function of an action officer afraid that he's making a major change from the way they usually do business, and he wasn't ready to do it. Until it got to the decision makers who make a difference, I had difficulty getting it turned around.
DR. YATES: Any reflections of a general nature you would like to make about JUST CAUSE?
LTG CAVEZZA: It could not have happened at a better time for me because it happened right at the end of my command here. After that, I changed command and went on to Benning. It's almost as if all our training, everything we did, we were getting ready for that. It's almost spooky when you think about it because our contingency was for down there and we trained it over and over again. As I look back in retrospect, I should have realized on our first trip down there that something like that was going to happen.
In retrospect, the thing was so obvious it was going to happen. We had the right training program, and I think the soldiers we had going down there were tremendous. Talk about a disciplined soldier: we could have had so many problems down there. We mixed in with the civilian population. We had, as Johnnie Brooks pointed out, a rifle company living in the same barracks with high school students almost their same age. By the way, that high school never won a football game until that happened, and today, they swear we have soldiers out there playing. [LAUGHTER]
It was just that the timing was just incredible; it could not have been any better timed than that.
I think we talked about decentralization. We've got to decentralize when we do these kinds of operations. We've got to give the people authority. We've got to have confidence in their ability because as soon as we try to micromanage it, we're going to screw it up. So I felt we did pretty darn good.
DR. WRIGHT: The last thing I have always ask, sir: what's the funniest thing that happened to you down there?
LTG CAVEZZA: The funniest thing? Maybe I shouldn't tell you this. My wife had her visions of what we were undergoing, so she sent me a care package down there. I think she assumed I was way out in the middle of the jungle somewhere, really suffering. The only thing in that care package was mouthwash and toilet paper. I made a mistake opening that package in front of the staff, thinking I was going to have cookies. And it took me a long time to live that one down. [LAUGHTER]
DR. YATES: Well, thank you very much for your time.
LTG CAVEZZA: Right. I appreciate you guys coming over and helping us out.
[END OF INTERVIEW]