Operation Screw Up

Slator said, "Skipper, if the SEALs had to go onto the field, if they knew Noriega was in the Lear, on a helo, could they have done that?"

"Sure. Could have had an assault team at either end of the runway, covered by SEALs in El Torreon, the cement factory, and the slaughterhouse. Could have put another fire team in the Hotel Presidente, which is a six-story residential hotel about 200 meters from El Torreon. El Torreon, by the way, means `big tower.'

"Marines could have reinforced the SEALs across a wonderful little landing beach in the lee of the Union Club. Those grunts could have put their light armored vehicles or amphibious tanks across that beach and been on the airfield in a hot minute. The SEALs in El Torreon could have covered them."

"But Skipper," I said, "is it right for us to talk about what might have been? After all, we weren't there. Aren't we acting like armchair quarterbacks?"

I wish I'd kept my mouth shut. Donkey Dick went after me first. "Listen, asshole. We ain't armchair quarterbacks, we're real quarterbacks even if we're retired."

"He's right, you clump," the Deuce King said. "We're qualified to criticize SEALs just as Terry Bradshaw is qualified to criticize John Elway."

"But we're not talking football," I said lamely.
"Perhaps we should compare it to a plane crash," Slator said. "Does a pilot have to be in a crash to comment on pilot error?"

I wanted to say it depended on whether the pilot had accurate information about the crash, but I kept my mouth shut.

"We're just trying to establish some lessons learned here," Skipper said. "If the SEALs had done a better job of recording lessons learned, perhaps disasters like this could have been avoided."

"But Skipper," Slator said, "didn't you read where the general who commanded the SEALs said that Just Cause was executed with such perfection there were no lessons learned?"

Donkey Dick said, "If the general had taken the point at Paitilla, he'da learned a lesson."

Skipper again sought to move in another direction: "Were the Jedi Warriors in Panama?" he asked.

"Of course."
"What was the Jedi Warriors doin', Slator?" asked Black Mac.
"Looking for Noriega in all the wrong places, but I hear they still managed several decent head shots with their light sabers."

"Shoulda been doin' a little close-quarter battle in the Dairy Queen where Noriega went to call the pope."

"What about the gunboat op, Slator?" Skipper Stein asked.
"Yeah, Slator," said Black Mac. "Tell us about the gunboat op. I hear that was a real frogman steel mission."

"Have Brandy fetch us another round, and I'll tell you the story."
Brandy brought the bottle, and Slator began. "On the night of the invasion, the Panamanians had one of their four patrol boats tied up at Pier 18 in Balboa Harbor. The pier is near the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal, not far from Paitilla. The U.S. naval base at Rodman is about a mile from Pier 18 and almost directly across the mouth of the canal from it.

"The gunboat was a fairly new 65-footer with an aluminum hull, twin propellers, and a top speed of 21 knots. A crew of eight manned her, and she was armed with a variety of machine guns, plus individual weapons and grenades. She had been built by Swift Ships in Louisiana and had been christened the Presidente Porras."

"Sounds like a stretch PCF, one of those Swift boats we used in 'Nam," I said.

"That's right. Not the most formidable craft afloat. But Noriega could have used the Presidente Porras for his getaway, and the crew could have positioned the boat to fire on an army assault against a nearby police station. And a Little Creek team dedicated only to ship attacks and beach reconnaissance had the mission of sinking the gunboat."

"That ain't no SEAL team, that's an underwater demolition team - a fuckin' UDT."

"You're a romantic, Donkey Dick. UDTs are no more. But the commanding officer of this SEAL team took his mission seriously. Even before he knew he would attack the gunboat, he had his men in the water so much they looked like prunes. Some grumbled that he might as well make them wear their Draegers to bed with them."

"What's a Draeger?"
"A German-made rebreather. Same principle as the old Emerson: the diver rebreathes his own exhaled air after it's been scrubbed clean of carbon dioxide and after fresh oxygen has been metered into the air supply. Of course the rebreathing system is completely closed, so no air bubbles escape to reveal the divers. Just as with the Emerson, the divers cannot exceed a depth of 30 feet without risking oxygen poisoning."

"What kind of demo were the divers going to use? The Limpets?"
"No. The commanding officer decided the Limpets were unreliable, despite the thousands of dollars the Navy spent building them. The timer was unreliable - never knew when the charge would blow, if at all.

"The C.O. decided to use MK 138 Mod 1 haversacks with MK 39 safety and arming devices, MK 96 detonators, and MCS-1 clocks - specially designed by our lab up in the Panhandle, in Panama City, for the Just Cause mission."

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