CIVILIANS (DC) CAMP OPERATIONS
H-Hour, 20 0045 Dec soldiers of the 4-6th Inf, 5-87th Inf, and attack helicopters
from the 1-82d Avn assaulted the Commandancia complex in Panama City. They
met stiff resistance and began to use the precision weapons from the AG-64
attack helicopters, AC-130 gunship, and M551 Sheridan assault vehicles to suppress
positions inside the large complex. As U.S. fire into the complex increased,
Dignity Battalion members and PDF soldiers began starting fires in the civilian
housing area adjacent to the Commandancia to confuse and distract U.S. forces.
The flames, heat, and thick smoke frustrated U.S. attempts to assault the complex
and to concentrate fire on the positions within. Few assets were available
to fight the now consuming fires raging through the housing area in the Chorrilo
district. An estimated 10,000 people lost their shelter and swarmed to the
DC camp established at the U.S. Balboa High School. As the economy was shut
down by the fighting, more and more people flocked to the camp for food and
safety. An estimated 30,000 people were in the camp during peak periods from
20-25 Dec. Inspections by the International Red Cross cited the camp operations
as some of the best ever observed.
DC camp was established to handle the flow of refugees from the city, whose
numbers far exceeded initial estimates. Civilians came to the camp for three
reasons: housing, security, and food. The most critical problems were medical
care, sanitation, concern for family units, care for the elderly, security,
and identification of former PDF/DIGBAT personnel.
computer registration data base is essential. DCs would come and go from the
camp, often losing their registration cards.
camp became an informal, but effective, intelligence collection center, primarily
because the phone number was one of the published American points of contact.
The camp needed additional staffing (personnel and communications) to exploit
expertise and leadership should be used whenever possible. For example, the
mayor of the devastated area was one of the DC camp members. He was made mayor
of the camp and organized a staff and six suborganizations which took over
the functions of administering the camp. This took a large burden off the U.S.
forces and demonstrated our confidence in the Panamanians.
and materials, such as tents, concertina wire and sanitation supplies should
be planned for in detail in advance.
unit should be designated as the security element for the camp. Rotation of
administrative elements; i.e., medics and clerks, as security only degrades
the camp's ability to function.
medicine specialists are especially important as sanitation is a constant problem.
needs to address nondisplaced persons who will show up at the camp for different
reasons and how they are to be identified and handled.
of Contents, Volume III
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