Military


Operation Powerpack

When civil strife broke out in the Dominican Republic in April 1965, the United States decided to dispatch troops to protect American lives and to prevent a possible Castro-type takeover by Communist elements. Marines were landed on 28 April from ships offshore and two battalions of the 82d Airborne Division and their supporting forces were ordered to move with minimum essential equipment from Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, to Ramey Air Force Base, Puerto Rico, on the 29th of April.

Fighting broke out in the Dominican Republic on Saturday, 24 April. By Tuesday, 27 April, the situation had deteriorated and the U.S. took the precaution of stationing a task force - including USS Boxer (LPH-4) and 1,500 Marines - off the Dominican Coast. Removal of U.S. citizens, however, was not ordered until two days later, when Dominican government officials warned that they could no longer guarantee the safety of foreign nationals.

On the evening of the 28th Boxer airlifted 400 Marines into the city of Santo Domingo for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens. By the following morning, 29 April, 530 Marines were in the city. Later in the day they were joined by 1,000 reinforcements. While Marines cleared a safety zone between the U.S. Embassy and the Embajador Hotel, where refugees were gathered, helos ferried civilians to Boxer for further transfer to other Navy ships in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

POWER PACK I, as the 3d Brigade, 82d Airborne Division, was designated for the move, contained 2,253 men. Approximately 67 hours after it was alerted, lead elements of POWER PACK I became airborne. Employing 111 heavy drop aircraft and 33 personnel carrying aircraft, the 3d Brigade headed for Puerto Rico. While enroute, however, Washington political and military leaders changed the destination of the force to San Isidro Airfield, Dominican Republic and ordered the 3d Brigade to airland instead of airdrop. This change caused some immediate problems since ground materiel handling equipment was not available at San Isidro to unload heavy drop loads and the equipment had to be unloaded manually. In addition San Isidro soon became saturated and only the 33 personnel carrying and 46 of the heavy drop aircraft were able to land on the 29th. This development separated the troops from much of their equipment at a critical moment. Fortunately no opposition to the landings arose and the missing equipment which had been landed at Puerto Rico was flow in to San Isidro the following day.

POWER PACK II, the 2d Brigade (-) of the 82d Airborne Division, was alerted on 28 April and ordered to move to the Dominican Republic on 1 May. The force contained two airborne battalions and supporting elements with a total of 2,276 men. Using the same planes as the 3d Brigade on a shuttle basis as they became available, the POWER PACK II force also arrived in the Dominican Republic approximately 72 hours after it was alerted.

By 1 May paratroop units had been flown into the city, bring the U.S. military strength to about 4,200 men. As the safety zone was sealed off and the waterfront area was secured, Navy ships began to take refugees directly aboard. On 2 May the Navy transported 1,415 civilians to San Juan, raising the total number to 3,000. In Santo Domingo 5,000 more awaited rescue - about 1,500 of them citizens of 30 different countries. On 3 May Great Britain officially thanked the U.S. for having evacuated British citizens from the danger area.

Navy ships which played a major part in the rescue mission included: USS Boxer (LPH-4), Wood County (LST-1178) Ruchamkin (APD-89) and Yancey (AKA-93). Other ships involved were: USS Rankin (AKA-103), Fort Snelling (LSD-30) and Raleigh (LPD-1).

The third echelon of the 82d Airborne Division, POWER PACK III, contained the remainder of the 2d Brigade, consisting of two airborne battalions and support forces, and elements of the 5th Logistical Command to provide logistical backup; it totalled 3,302 men and officers. POWER PACK III was shuttled in between the afternoon of 2 May and the morning of 3 May. With the bulk of six airborne battalions concentrated in the vicinity of San Isidro Airfield located east of the capital city of Santo Domingo, the Army units moved west to link up with the Marine forces that had already established a safety zone in the city itself. A junction between the Army and Marine forces took place on the morning of 3 May and a perimeter was set up.

POWER PACK IV, the fourth echelon of the 82d, consisted of the 1st Brigade with three airborne battalions and support forces with a total of 3,000 men an officers. It began to deploy from the United States on the shuttling aircraft on 3 May and completed its move to the Dominican Republic the following morning.

In the five day period between 29 April and 4 May, over 10,500 men of the 82d Division and supporting elements were airlifted into the Dominican Republic. Additional Army units with a strength of about 3,000 men including the remainder of the 82d Airborne Division, Special Forces troops, psychological warfare units, signal and transportation elements, arrived in the Dominican Republic prior to 9 May. Together with over 4,000 Marines and over 1,000 Air Force personnel, the U.S. Forces in the Dominican Republic established firm control of the corridor between the San Isidro Airfield and of the safety zone in Santo Domingo.

By 8 May U.S. forces in the island republic totaled 14,000 men, including paratroop units flown from the United States and Marines landed by Navy ships. The evening before, in a televised address, the President had said" "What began as a popular democratic revolution that was committed to democracy and social justice moved into the hands of a band of communist conspirators." Later in the same address, he declared, "We will defend our nation against all those who seek to destroy not only the United States but every free country of this hemisphere."

USS Boxer (LPH-4) was acting as flagship for Amphibious Squadron 10 when she answered an urgent call on 25 April from the United States Embassy in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. She steamed to the revolt-torn country to assist in the evacuating of U.S. and other nationals. On Tuesday, 27 April, 294 persons were brought aboard Boxer and were then transferred to USS Raleigh (LPD-1) on Wednesday morning. As the situation worsened, later that same day 705 additional persons were brought aboard. During the entire week Boxer evacuated more than 1,000 men, women and children from the island, administering medical aid, hospital facilities and food, and providing sleeping spaces.

More than 500 Marines from the Sixth Expeditionary Unit and Marine Helicopter Squadron 264, embarked in Boxer, were deployed to insure the safety of the evacuees. Men were berthed in the troop berthing areas, and the women and children in the officers' staterooms. After three days aboard Boxer they were transferred to adjoining ships, USS Ruchamkin (APD-89), Raleigh [LPD-1], and Wood County (LST-1178) for transit to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Many evacuees had gone without food or water for three days, some lost contact with their children during their escape. One woman who arrived aboard was in tears because she was separated from her family. The tears quickly disappeared as she found her children - for the first time in two weeks - already safe aboard. Violence was present in all quarters of the city as shooting rang out from building after building. Many of the people, hearing that they might be evacuated to Navy ships, had gathered in the Embajador Hotel to await their evacuation. For a large number of these evacuees most of that day was spent lying on the ground, listening to the whine of bullets overhead.

After the transfer of the evacuees to San Juan, Boxer stood by off the coast of the island, continuing to lend support in the form of food and medical care, remaining prepared in case additional evacuees were flown aboard.



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