The Middle Cartwright Era
5 December 1976 – 5 May 1977
With the oncoming Christmas slow-down approaching, great benefits were expected by the unit leadership. The break would surely give the unit time to catch its breath, evaluate progress (?) and plan for future operations. Changes in company personnel continued to be made. 1LT Morra became the XO on a full time basis and 2LT Crenshaw became the Second Platoon Leader. SFC Null likewise went to the Second Platoon as its Platoon Sergeant. SSG Chuck Williams moved over to Maintenance Platoon as the welding sections’ chief. SFC McAllister moved up to the company as its field first sergeant and SSG Jacobs replaced him as the maintenance platoon sergeant. SFC Clemons, with time getting short, escaped to the bowling alley as its director. His slot as First Platoon Sergeant was filled by SSG Tony Jaggers. SSG Berg went to Second Platoon as a section chief as did SSG Willie Kirpatrick with the First Platoon. Changes continued to be made all during the period in an effort to find the very best utilization of personnel. SFC Null moved over as Operations NCOIC replaced in the Second Platoon by SSG Pease. The move was necessary by the tragic illness and subsequent transfer of SSG James Hatcher. SFC Cuffee’s Pacific Operations were shut down and he came back to the Atlantic side as Platoon sergeant of First Platoon. A new brilliant supply sergeant Raymond Martinez arrived on scene in April and took over that aspect of company operations.
Missionwise, further changes and continued commitment evolution occurred. JOTC continued to dominate the commitment picture but even its Waterborne schedule was somewhat reduced. The traditional eight-boat assault on Pina during the third week was eliminated in favor of a weeklong "FTX" at Cowshit Valley just north of Escobal. Some of the night training was curtailed and even viciously grueling "Round Robin" was noticeably reduced.
By mid April, 3rd of the 5th stationed on the Pacific Side, realized that a boat company was in the Canal Zone and vigorous commitments began in their support mostly at Kobbe and Venado beaches. The highlights of the 3/5 support to date include a weeklong operation by the Second Platoon operating out of Rodman and a two practical exercise by the First Platoon also operating out of Rodman. The whole series of commitments with the 3/5 was to acquaint them with waterborne procedures in anticipation of the upcoming 3/5 ARTEP scheduled in June.
Several commitments were also run to Isla Contradora some 56 miles out to sea where treaty negotiations were being conducted. On the first sortie, SSG Willie Kirpatrick who was NCOIC had a very adventurous journey as his vessel, the 8590, blew up a bank of engines and embarrassingly ran out of fuel. The second trip the 8588 conducted by SSG "Pappy" Berg was much more dull…they only had a fuel line rupture.
In February, several First Platoon vessels had a very rough outing as they ended up fortifying themselves on a very nasty and un-obliging reef off of Pina tower. After one week of taking a tremendous beating they were plugged and finally freed from their peril. It took the assistance from a helicopter which got them a towing line to free the vessel. If only we had a line gun…
The unit also worked with divers from 3/7 Special Forces in blowing up stumps in AO Mosquito. The two main areas were around Pelican Island in the Escobal side of the island and the other was around the flag channel off buoy 37. Some further stumpage removal was done in the neighborhood of hill 83 way in from buoy 60. The first day of practice with explosives resulted in the latrine of the 8595 having its door blown off. The second practice that same afternoon resulted in the 8542 having its shaft torn loose from its coupling. The rest of the operation with the 3/7 was done with the 8596, which ended up getting a letter of appreciation for its superb efforts. By the way 3/7 showed itself to be highly professional and its actions were top-notch proportions.
When working around the water, tragedy is destined to strike now and then. In March during an exercise of the Cowshit Valley Campaign, a young PFC from the 101st drowned. He was walking along a slick path along the waterline in preparation to load an LCM when he slipped and fell in. His body was recovered by 3/7 divers later that day.
Organizationally speaking, the 1097th on 7 February found itself a new parent. Under the old setup, operational control was under DIO, and admin control was under Headquarters Command. Needless to say that setup wasn’t always positive and fulfilling. Anyway, on 7 February 1977 a new Battalion was created, thew 193rd Combat Support Battalion (Prov). Along with the 1097th (the only unit in it on the Atlantic side) the other units were; Battery B, 22nd Field Artillery, 518th Engineer Company; the newly reactivated 475th Transportation Company (Md Trk); 408th ASA Company; and the 396th Signal Company. The first commander of this newly created brainstorm was LTC Ernest W. Dill.
The newly created battalion in relations to our own operation was quite a challenge. The commander and his staff were not at all Waterborne wise and coordination and operation between the two were sometimes strained and out of kilter. To this day a smooth running machine has yet to be assembled and more time and further education in our trade has to be realized before it is ever (if ever?!?) accomplished.
Being in an infantry environment creates all kinds of challenges. They don’t really understand us and have shown very little interest in trying to. Because of that (particularly) and because of our sometimes negative backlash we often enjoy a relationship that is not always positive and conducive to the best possible results. In short, we are freaks down here…real bastards. Everyone wants to get their fingers in the pie and many believe that they can become instant waterborne experts.
One thing that has occasionally gotten under our skins is the almost constant parade of brass, which sees fit to descend upon us like hungry vultures. In the beginning the DIO and DIC especially saw fit to grace our areas. Other frequent visitors include the Chief O staff, Tactical Brigade Commander, the HQ Command Commander, and an almost overwhelming swarm of maintenance inspectors. 1LT Hardy seemed to spend more time escorting curious onlookers around than doing his own job. They all seemed to radiate a certain feeling of negativness about us which has continuously confused and baffled us. Besides the brass mentioned above, there were virtual hordes of less prominent majors, captains, etc which nevertheless continued to peck away at us.
Getting back to the commitment side of the house, the very schedule has often been tremendous. The Vessel Maintenance Platoon and the vessel chief engineers themselves were going bananas trying to keep the vessels operational and yet their performance and their results are stupendous. Only two vessels, the 8590 and the 8595, had any sustained deadline time. The commitments were so heavy that in one month, the unit used its monthly fuel allocation two weeks and ended up scuffling for fuel. The fuel crisis got so severe that the use of a back-up vessel was discontinued.
In March the use of Pier 1, Coco Solo was suddenly and without warning forbidden. Normally that site was used as a base of operations for whatever platoon was working seaside. It was a near perfect site having the benefits of telephones, running fresh water, electricity, and shelter. The loss was so sudden that when the vessels scrambled to depart, they were not sure where they were going to be able to drop their ramps for a new base. Two potential locations were pre-picked, one building 61, and the other the old French Canal. The building 61 site was reconed first and eventually chosen. Though both sites were unimproved jungle, the chosen one did offer more potential. At this time plans are underway to bulldoze the area off and drive stakes for the boats to tie up to. Currently they just drop their ramps and tie up together. More than once, they’ve simply slipped back into the water. The possibilities of fresh water electricity, and telephones are also being considered.
In early May, LTC Juan Spann from DOPT arrived in the company very early one morning (late night) and initiated an ORE. The boat crews scrambled to their vessels in record time but a malfunction in getting weapons and NBC masks issued caused a grade of no-go. The exercise was beneficial in pointing out weak areas which the unit immediately set about to correct. After that numerous OREs were called to perfect the best possible degree, that’s exercise.
5 May 1977