Operation Screw Up

"Who knows? Rules of engagement, perhaps. Nonetheless, up that runway they charged, except for one platoon that stayed back to provide security for the command element."

"Two up and one back," murmured Skipper Stein, who was an old Ranger.
"More army shit," said Donkey Dick, also an old Ranger. "Like L-shaped ambushes and the Hammer 'n' Anvil."

"So it goes," said Slator as he paused to drink. "Yes, those SEALs got on line and charged up that runway as they were told. No advance recon to see what might be ahead, no SPECTRE fire support, no fire support of any kind - just those young, powerful, superbly trained bodies hauling ass up that danger area like Pickett's men charging Cemetery Hill.

"But in the beginning they were luckier than Pickett's men. They did not meet shot and ball. All they suffered in the beginning were more shouts and curses from the Panamanians scattered about the field. The SEALs screamed curses back as they continued their midnight dash; they moved out as if they were on a timed run during training. They swept past the lighted hangars on their way to the ramp of the darkened hangar with the Lear. As they reached the ramp, they slowed to settle into an L-shaped ambush that would cover both the ramp to the west and the helo pads some 50 meters to the north and east. The SEALs were about 50 meters in front of the hangar when they slowed to take their firing positions.

"It was over in the time it takes to empty a pair of AK-47 magazines. The two Panamanian soldiers knew their business; after all, our military had created them just as surely as the CIA had created Noriega. The soldiers fired from behind oil drums hidden within the darkened hangar. They kept their fire low, and even the rounds that struck short of the SEALs ricocheted off the tarmac, sparks flying to shatter shins and knees. But few rounds ricocheted into legs; most found flesh and bone higher up. The ramp was quickly filled with the dead, dying, and gravely wounded.

"Those SEALs who could still grasp a trigger returned furious fire. One SEAL who survived the ambush reportedly said, `We were filling that fucking hangar with rounds, 40 mike-mikes were going everywhere.' They say he trembled when he spoke.

"The smaller-caliber rounds from the M-16s, the MP-5s, and the SAWs perforated the walls of the hangar and Noriega's Lear. A 40 mike-mike or perhaps an AT-4 rocket scorched a fine hole in the fuselage. A light plane parked near the ramp was reduced to scrap. But when the firing stopped and the SEALs entered the hangar to tow the jet out, they found no bodies...not even a blood trail. Those two soldiers had emptied their magazines and vanished.

"The SEAL officer in charge did a good job of directing his men into a tight perimeter near the helo pads. His decisiveness may well have prevented further casualties from Panamanian fire or from SEALs shooting each other by mistake. Even before the SEALs set their perimeter, the corpsmen were doing their best to start the breathing and stop the bleeding. The SEALs called for Medevac helos and waited...waited almost two hours. Some say they waited longer."

"They woulda had better luck dialin' 911, fer chrissake," said Donkey Dick.
"Who was flying the helos?" I asked.
"Army, maybe air force, but certainly not Navy."

"No wonder the wounded had to wait," said Skipper Stein. "SEALs were just one more task on the list for those pilots, who I'm sure were busy that night."

The Deuce King said, "The SEALs should have had Navy Seawolf helos dedicated only to them, like we had in 'Nam. In 'Nam our Seawolf crews lived with us, drank with us, whored with us, and were ready to die with us if it came to that. The thing about working for the army is that you begin thinking like the army, depending on the army for timely support when they might have other concerns. You forget your roots and your salvation - the fleet.

"The Navy could have put a can at the six-fathom curve to provide naval gunfire support, to launch Seawolf helos, and even to deploy Marines as reinforcements. Furthermore, that ship would have had a complete emergency bay to stabilize and treat the wounded."

"They didn't even need a destroyer for helos," Skipper Stein said. "The Seawolfs could have been sitting hot-pad at Rodman Naval Station. That's less than ten minutes from Paitilla. Or the Marines could have deployed from Rodman. The Marines saved our bacon in Grenada at the governor general's residence, and they could have done it again at Paitilla."

"So it goes," said Slator. "The Marines are not part of the Special Operations Command."

I asked, "Did the SEALs extract after the Medevac, Slator?"
"No. They stayed at the airfield for at least another day."
"You gotta be blowin' me! Since when do SEALs have the mission of defending an airfield?" Donkey Dick wanted to know.

"Since they started working for the army."
"Who finally relieved them?" I asked.
"An army company from the 82nd Airborne, and the relief was several hours late."

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