Operation Urgent Fury and Operation Just Cause

Operation Urgent Fury - Grenada - 1983

In 1983 President Reagan ordered U.S. Marines, Army Rangers, Navy Special Warfare teams, and other military forces to invade Grenada, citing a takeover of the tiny Caribbean Island by "a brutal group of leftist thugs."
U.S. troops, along with a small force from six Caribbean nations, overcame surprisingly strong resistance from Cubans, who supported the island's new regime.

More than 200 Army women participated in the invasion...but they were not considered as having been in combat. Coast Guard women served aboard ships patrolling the waters around Grenada; and Air Force women flew as pilots, engineers and loadmasters.

An Air Force pilot, and future astronaut, Lt Col Eileen Collins, flew the evacuated medical students and their familes out of Grenada while another pilot, Lt Celeste Hayes flew 82nd Airborne troops to Salinas airfield...but they were "not considered as having been in combat."

Operation Just Cause - Panama - 1989

Just Cause consisted of the deployment of numerous US forces from all service branches. These also included US Army Rangers, Special Forces, Navy SEALs, and various Air Force personnel and aircraft. One of the less-publicized elements of the invasion force was the US Army's 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta, whose primary mission involved efforts to locate and secure Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, targeted for arrest by U.S. federal law enforcement agents.

Several hundred Army and Air Force women were a part of this operation. Army women flew Blackhawks ferrying infantry troops and supplies, often under enemy fire. Air Force women flew cargo and refueling missions, also under fire.

Women members of the Military Police engaged enemy soldiers and hostile civilans in order to secure key positions.
December 20, 1989 - At approximately 1:00 a.m., Operation Just Cause began in Panama. The 7th and 82nd Military Police Companies took part in the operation with their respective divisions as well as the 549th MP Company, stationed in Panama. At 1:30 a.m., Captain Linda Bray, of the 519th MP Battalion, lead a platoon of military police in an attack against a Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) compound near Panama City. After calling for their surrender, and receiving fire, she drove a vehicle through the closed gate of the compound, forcing them to flee. Military police quickly secured the compound and captured weapons left behind. They then secured other portions of the Curundu and Curundu Heights areas and protected the Balboa harbor. In the 1989 Panama invasion - at that time the largest US military action since Vietnam - women soldiers gained a new visibility. Almost 800 participated, constituting about 4 percent of the total force. At least 150 were in combat areas, some coming under enemy fire and some returning fire. As the female captain of a US military police unit, Linda Bray, became a celebrity after leading her unit in capturing a military dog kennel - actually a concealed weapons storage location - in a half-hour firefight. The Pentagon first played up her story, which was receiving favorable media coverage. However, when her story threatened to unleash political forces that would exert pressures to lift the combat exclusion law for women Pentagon officials reportedly leaked disinformation to undermine her account (which some media reports had in fact exaggerated). Capt. Bray faced persistent harassment after the episode, and left the Army in 1991. Whether Captain Bray fired one shot or ten, whether the fray lasted one minute or twenty, it was still a combat area and the Army's treatment of Captain Bray was execrable - as was that of the media. Captain Bray did her job, did it well, and was in turn literally made into some sort of pariah by the military and civilian "I I Cs" (idiots in charge). The result - a complete waste of the intelligence, ability and dedication of an exemplary officer.

Women also performed in Intelligence, Signal Corps, Finance, and Special Ops. They were there as aircraft commanders, pilots, navigators, flight engineers, loadmasters, logistics, truck drivers, maintenance and administrative support personnel.

Aeromedical evacuation and medical logistics detachments provided the medical support that saved American lives.

A total of 275 active duty casualties were treated at the main JCCP at Howard AFB, Panama. Of those, 257 were later evacuated to Kelly AFB. In the first 27 hours, 192 casualties were treated, stabilized, and evacuated. Over 20 major surgeries were performed in the first 36 hours. The majority of casualties had extremity wounds and fractures, with several penetrating abdominal and thoracic wounds.

Bob Brannon, who was there at the time has this to say about the performance of the women involved:
"From an Air Force aeromedical evacuation perspective, I can tell you without equivocation that our women were absolutely indispensable! In particular, then Majors Sheila Millette and Kathy Higgins had significant leadership roles, and they were personally instrumental in allocating our scarce nursing care resources to cover a multitude of critical requirements, especially during the first 24 to 36 hours of the operation. There is no doubt in my mind that the dedication and leadership they demonstrated during that tremendously stressful period were instrumental in the saving of a number of lives of the wounded soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. During my many opportunities to brief the operation in the ensuing months and years, I regularly referred to those to as the true heroes (heroines?) of our involvement."

Major Carol Darby later
during Desert Storm.

Major Kathy Higgins later
during Desert Storm.

Women made up more than four per cent of the invasion force ...but they were "not considered as having been in combat."

Women were "not in combat" in Grenada and Panama because the Pentagon and the Congress said they couldn't be according to regulations.

They were "not in combat" because of the military's combat exclusion policy.

The Army's Combat Infantryman Badge was only issued to Infantrymen for valor under fire in Panama and not to the women who served because they were not "legally allowed to be in the infantry or in combat by regulation."

Why does this sound like the old days when we were told:

"If it moves, salute it!

If it doesn't move, pick it up!

If you can't pick it up, paint it!

If you can't salute it, pick it up or paint it , write a regulation that says it doesn't exist!"

Fortunately this too has changed - as you can see by looking at women's roles during Operation Desert Fox in 1998. Baghdad Bombers

The changes were effected by these:

1992 The Defense Authorization Act repealed the long-standing combat exclusion law for women pilots.

1993 President Clinton signed the military bill ending combat exclusion for women on combatant ships.

1994 Defense Secretary Aspin approved a new general policy to allow Army women to serve with some ground combat units during fighting.

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Unless otherwise noted contents © 1996 to date by Captain Barbara A. Wilson, USAF (Ret)