Section V

The Middle Fehrenbach Era

26 August 1977

The new trends and standards so vigorously exercised during the previous month continued in perseverance and refinement. Disciplinary penalties continued, though they proceeded to slow down by the end of the year. This whole period was aimed primarily at one event’ the IG re-inspection. Inspection after inspection devoured the unit as battalion seemed satisfied that their standards were met. Yet, the IG didn’t hit. Monday after Monday the unit expected them, but nothing happened. Sacrifice after sacrifice and still no IG. At the time of this writing the IG is being expected in early January, some six months after the initial catastrophe.

Commitments after showing signs of a slow down began to suddenly and briskly pick-up. The last several weeks of October last several weeks on October, in particular, produced viscous schedules. The whole month of November was itself somewhat hectic. Besides the always demanding JOTC, other units and organizations required varying degrees of support including 4/10, 3/7, the NCO Academy, FAA, the Navy, USARSA, 518th Engineers, 475th TC, DFAE, 396th, the Embassy, the Sea Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Boy Scouts, and 4/20. Several other missions of special flavor occurred. Another Contadora Island mission was conducted from 20-21 September for the Embassy. SSG Wendell Pease led this two-vessel expedition (8588 & 8595) to its rip-roaring conclusion. In late December a fishing trip was organized for the command which featured excursions to the Taboga area and also out into the Caribbean. In mid-December dependants were invited to lock through Gatun on 8596. All who participated enjoyed their trip, as did the crew of the 96 led by SP4 Roberts.

Late in the afternoon of 12 August (Friday of course) word was received about a Sea Scout cabin cruiser in distress around Isla Grande, some 40 miles north of the breakerwall. 2LT Crenshaw, SGT Loveless, and SP5 Whitmore hastily organized a relief expedition utilizing the 8600 with a makeshift crew. They reached the area around 0200 the following morning when a very nasty reef materialized dead ahead, which nearly ripped the 00 in half. Thanks to the swift reactions of SGT Loveless and SP5 Whitmore no damage was incurred. After that incident desgression was decided to be the better part of valor and the vessel dropped anchor until first light when the search was continued. When the search was continued the obviously distressed vessel was sighted rocking on a reef several miles west of Isla Grande. The whole morning was spent at varying attempts of freeing the vessel. The cruiser had no wholes in her hull but had merely been swamped by the pounding surf. SP5 Mark Cresse maneuvered the 00 as close as he dared while SP4 Buschemi tried in vain to get a towing line secured. He finally bribed a native for the use of his canoe which proved successful (though not graceful) in making the link-up. In the meantime, the 00 got too close and temporarily broached on the same reef. In finally freeing itself, the 00 rammed the scout vessel several times which had everyone quite concerned. After some meticulous operating the 00 freed itself along with the scout vessel which had been pumped out by SP5 Whitmore and his salvage pumps. After the just endured adventure, the sea scout master informed everyone that he had additional gear stored at Isla Grande itself and asked if we would mind going there and picking it up. Hesitatingly and with fatigued un-desire the 00 headed for Isla Grande. As it came into view a whole new world was discovered, especially as opposed to the stormy seas which we had been subjected for many previous hours. The water was calm and crystal clear and the beach was dominated by beautiful white sand. Upon this storybook setting landed a grungy old LCM towing a badly battered and listing cabin cruiser. The crew which by now assembled uncouth and barbaric pirates gleefully evaded the lounge and bar in eager anticipation of getting monumental thirsts quenched. CPT Don Allen, the resort proprietor, was a most gracious host and his unique personality helped to liven up the gathering to that festival. After several hours 2LT Crenshaw regretfully began to reorganize for the return trip. The 8600 chief engineer, SP4 Andrea Varsi dutifully volunteered to temporarily deadline the vessel for the evening but the decision to move out was executed. If the opportunity to visit Isla Grande ever presents itself again…

Improvements in existing facilities continued. Largely through the efforts of SFC Null, a 90’ telephone was erected at Dock 45 upon which radio commo to the Pacific side was introduced. Commo was even established at Contadora Island. Also SP4 Leindecker and her bulldozer continued improvements at Mindi Landing. One of the two office trailers at Dock 45 was, again due to the efforts of SFC Null, taken to Mindi Landing as a base and office. Mr Bob Dohle of USACC laid telephone line which established land commo. Unfortunately several members of the unit got rowdy late one evening and vandalized it one evening that its use was discontinued. In early December perimeter lights were installed at Dock 45. This lighting system greatly illuminated the area and was a noticeable asset to the security of the area.

Personnel changes also continued within the unit. 1SG Thompson was relieved after barely a month on the job. SFC Null was chosen as his replacement. SSG Hard was returned to maintenance and replaced as the Second Platoon Sergeant by SSG Chuck Williams, several more people DEROS’d back to the states including SP5 Mark Cresse, SP5 Tom Jakositz, SP5 Tom Kirpatrick, SP5 John Kernall, and SP4 Mike Buschemi. Replacements were slow in materializing and vessels were often operated with three man crews or even less. By late December the replacement rate had begun to pick up. Still other personnel changes were executed or planned. SP5 Tyson went to training, SSG Jack Brown went to Second Platoon, SFC McAllister went to First Platoon as first platoon sergeant, SSG Tim Lynes went back to First Platoon, SGT Rusty Hogan went to First Platoon and SSG Pedro Cameaga went to operations replacing SP5 Conway who went back to First Platoon.

Some of the other traditional problem areas within the unit somehow began to function almost properly. Most noticeable were the areas of transportation. TMP provided a regularly scheduled (newly promoted CPT Morra was OIC) bus for unit utilization which was temporarily put out of service when SP4 Jose Regina slightly damaged it in a mishap. The motor pool usually responded with a 2-½ ton truck on most days too. TMP also provided a pick-up truck for the unit to be used as a duty vehicle during off-hours. Vessel Maintenance likewise began to show some positive results. An unwavering schedule of dry-docks was initiated. The problem with frequent vessel breakdowns while on commitment was another problem, which hopefully has been remedied. The next wave of heavy scheduling should answer that question. On several occasions during late October and early November, at least nine (!) vessels were down. The support rendered by DS/GS maintenance showed some degree of improvement.

Troop and some leadership resistance to the new ways continued and continued to breed more bitterness and resentment. The troops demonstrated their displeasure by, among other things, billet vandalism and repeated ripping the commanders picture off of the wall in the stairwell. The two old officers left, 1LT Hardy and 1LT Crenshaw, sometimes displayed overt dismay with the situation and sequence of events. Still the pressure bore down with uneasing vigor which slowly but definitely made its impact upon the unit.

One extremely sorry area within the unit was that of supply and property accountability. SGT Harris had proven so inadequate that almost irreparable damage had been inflicted. He was later judged to be mentally unsound and shipped back to the states. That left SSG Martinez with his two chief assistants SSG Lynes and SGT Hogan to sort out, reconstruct, investigate and manipulate the supply section into a once again workable scheme. The unit owes these three along with SP4 Jerry Briston and SP4 Davis Scott a sincere thanks for their outstanding accomplishments. Property accountability was extremely botched and out of kilter. The total inventory conducted in September produced four surveys against the PBO 1LT Crenshaw, which threaten to produce severe consequences.

In late November a unit FTX was planned and coordinated by 1LT Hardy in conjunction with B Battery, 22nd Field Artillery. He out much time and effort into the affair, planning such activities as a mess hall contingent led by SGT Sigmon which would actually "burn" aboard the vessels; SSG Martinez with a supply function; riverine type operations including patrolling and anti ambush measures; live fire with .50 cal machine guns; a commo detachment led by SP5 James Melvin; a representative from maintenance, SP4 Mike LeClair; MIIJI Reports; plus many other drills and activities associated the beat field. 1LT Hardy in person, along with SFC McAllister were leading the aggressor force and had specially outfitted, LCM 8543, in which to carry out their diabolical scheme. SGC Mac had somehow secured several motorized PABs and several canisters of tear gas. The Second Platoon which was carrying out the mission, knew that it had to remain extra vigilant so to avoid such evil plotting as could only be manufactured by a Hardy McAllister tandem. 1LT Hardy had his diabolical all conjured up and 1LT Crenshaw and SSG Williams had their defenses and countermeasures ready. The big confrontation was set and eagerly anticipated by all concerned. Much to the disgust of everyone concerned, an ORE was called the night before which materialized in a mission to transport 4/10 to Las Cruces Landing. The unit FTX was aborted which infuriated everyone concerned. It was not rescheduled.

That mission to Las Cruces proved unexpectedly exciting despite the disappointment of the aborted FTX. While approaching and traversing Gamboa a zero visibility fog descended upon the flotilla. Even the lighted channel buoys disappeared. The vessels proceeded ahead at dead slow ahead if they proceeded at all. Near grounding and collisions almost occurred on several occasions but were diverted by decisiveness and quick response on the part of the vessel crews. After finally negotiating Gamboa, word was received from the battalion changing the destination from a well-lighted Las Cruces to darkened Gamboa Airstrip. With frustration the convoy slowly executed a slow U-turn and headed back through Gamboa to the airstrip. All during this time the fog maintained its blinding intensity. When the approximate location of the airstrip was guesstimated, LCM 8607 coxswained by SP5 Hector Garcia was dispatched to leave the main channel and negotiate a link-up. After some time he finally radioed that he had indeed located the site. He switched on his spotlight (which no one could see) and repeatedly sounded his vessel’s horn (which no one could hear). The other vessels, by this time, were all turned around not knowing north from south or even if they were still actually in the channel. With meticulous effort the flotilla regrouped and finally reached its destination. The vessels anchored at that site for the remainder of the night before disembarking the next morning for Las Cruces where they once again linked up with 4/10 for the return trip back to Dock 45 which was completed shortly after dark. In mid-December, 1LT Hardy and 1LT Crenshaw were notified that they were being transferred out of the unit and moved to the Pacific side of the Canal Zone. 1LT Hardy was being moved effective 9 January 1978 to the 475th Trans Co (Lt-Md Trk) and 1LT Crenshaw was being ousted in disfavor to Recreational Services. Replacements were scheduled to become available by the end of January. LT Dave Brestrom from the 475th Trans Co was due in on 9 January 1978 to assume control of First Platoon and Operations. Two other lieutenants were due on 15 and 30 January respectively. CPT Fehrenbach’s tenure continues until an undetermined time. With the departure of Hardy and Crenshaw, the last officer links with the old ways evaporated. The purge was nearing completion.

 

31 December 1977