Airborne Operations in the Post-Cold War Era
Responding to Presidential order issued 18 December 1989, the Division Ready Brigade (1st Brigade: 1-504, 2-504, 4-325) had three vital missions: protect U.S. citizens, secure the Panama Canal, and capture the Panamanian dictator, General Manuel Noriega. As part of Joint Task Force South, including 3rd Battalion, 504th (Airborne) which was in Panama for jungle warfare training, the All American Troopers carried out their combat assignments with superb skill, courage, and tenacity. Meticulous planning, preparation, and execution resulted in hard fought, decisive victories over the Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) at Tinajitaas, Panama Viejo, and Fort Cimmarron. Within 24 hours, the PDF was routed and stability operations were undertaken. The capture of General Noriega several days later brought a wanted dictator to justice and opened the door for democracy in Panama.
The 75th Ranger Regiment formed Task Forces Red and Red-T to conduct forcible entries by parachute assault of Tocumen/Torrijos and Rio Hato airfields during Operation JUST CAUSE. The 75th Ranger Regiment spearheaded the assault into Panama by conducting two simultaneous Battalion Task Force (+) airborne assaults at these airfields. The Rangers jumped in the dark onto the main airfield at Tocumen to take it prior to the airborne operations of the 82nd Airborne Division. At Rio Hato, the Rangers jumped from 400 feet into enemy gunfire to seize the airfield and neutralize the PDF companies based there. Between 20 December 1989 and 7 January 1990, numerous follow on missions were performed in Panama by the Regiment.
The US invasion of Panama in 1989 also prominently featured Air Force combat controllers. During Operation JUST CAUSE, combat controllers, pararescuemen and US Army rangers jointly deployed into two separate airfields controlled by Panamanian Defense Forces. Combat controllers helped secure these airfields and then established an air traffic control capability for the follow on fixed and rotary wing aircraft landings of assault forces. Their actions were instrumental to the success of airlift operations during this military action.
Air Force pararescuemen were among the first US combatants to parachute into Panama during Operation JUST CAUSE (1989). Their combat medical expertise was heavily utilized during this short, intense action. Using specially modified all-terrain vehicles, they recovered and cared for the majority of the US casualties that occurred on the two Panamanian-controlled airfields that were taken by the initial invasion forces.
Operation UPHOLD DEMOCRACY was the peaceful restoration of democracy to Haiti via the permissive, or peaceful entry of 25,000 U.S. troops beginning on 19 September 1994. This operation came within two hours of becoming the biggest airdrop of paratroopers since MARKET GARDEN during World War II. Sixty-one C-130s were airborne and sixty C-141s were on runways on the East Coast of the U.S. with 3,700 hundred paratroopers when the mission was canceled.
On September 30, 1991, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled Haiti for Venezuela. The 82d Airborne Division promised to be the primary force to enter Haiti if an evacuation were required. From September 1991 until February 1992, the 82d staff at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, dusted off and revised an early 1980s plan, designated Contingency Plan (CONPLAN) 2367, calling for a noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO) in Haiti. The option calling for the use of the airborne division postulated a forcible entry into Haiti, with an expected ten-day NEO to extract up to ten thousand noncombatants.
The division anticipated securing forty D-day objectives that would require 3,848 paratroopers using 113 U.S. Air Force transports over two designated drop zones (DZ). The battalions from the 1st Brigade (the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, or 504th PIR58), 82d Airborne Division, would seize the primary DZ, Port-au-Prince International Airport, and establish a second lodgement at a port facility. The division's 2d Brigade (the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment) would relieve the 1st Brigade after the airborne assault and expand the lodgement. An additional 4,500 paratroopers, to include the division artillery, would arrive by aircraft once the airport was secure. Meanwhile, north of Port-au-Prince, several battalions from the 3d Brigade, or 505th PIR, would seize Pegasus, the second DZ.
Twenty minutes after the initial H-hour attacks, 445 Rangers would parachute onto a deserted farm field west of Port-au-Prince to establish Forward Operating Base Dallas. If all went well, the plan assumed that the entire JSOTF assault would be over in less than four hours. Army Special Forces teams, meanwhile, would also be landing in Haiti, primarily to secure the countryside and search for hidden weapons caches.
On September 19, 1994 the first C-130 aircraft were launching at 1846. A total of sixteen C-130s carrying paratroopers had lifted off at 1847 and were now en route to Haiti. Another group of paratroopers was scheduled to lift off at 1930. Shortly after 2030 it was announced that there was an agreement for Cedras and his junta to leave Haiti by October 15. By that time there were now sixty-two aircraft in the air. There would be an administrative landing of US forces rather than a combat operation.
On 15 September 1994, units from the XVIII Airborne Corps, the 10th Mountain Division (Light), and the 82d Airborne Division deployed to Haiti as part of Operation UPHOLD DEMOCRACY. Their missions were to protect U.S. citizens, designated Haitians and third country nationals, and U.S. interests in Haiti; restore civil order; assist in the reorganization of the Haitian armed forces; and assist in the transition to and the maintenance of a democratic government.
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