A brief history of Colonel Chris Miller's experiences in Panama
Assault on Rio Hato : Howard AFB : Tour the AOR : Write Me
|Howard was the bastion of US air power in Central and South America. In its heyday, it was the center for counterdrug operations, military and humanitarian airlift, contingencies, joint-nation exercises, and search and rescue. Carved out of a jungle a 500 yards from the Pacific Ocean, it opened in 1942. It was name after Maj. Charles H. Howard, who flew in Panama in the late 1920s. Once the busy hub of Air Force operations in Latin America, Howard boasted fighters, cargo planes, tankers, airborne warning and control system planes, “executive” jets, and search and rescue helicopters. It was also home for a host of Army and Navy aircraft. Its people tracked drug traffickers out of South America. And its cargo planes provided airlift for US Southern Command contingencies, exercises, disaster relief and conducted search and rescue in the vast region. Yet, only the C-27 Spartan transports and executive jets belonged to the wing. The others were Guard and Reserve planes that rotated into the base.
[borrowed from www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/howard.htm]
|Looking towards "The Mall"
|Looking down the main drag
Although our intial assault was an "out and back", meaning we didn't remain overnight (RON) at Howard, we did come back. About a squadron's worth of personnel were alerted on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and deployed back to Howard to support the flow of men and equipment into the backwoods areas of the country. We were formed up into hard crews, with a select few of us assigned to the Headquarters Element. I was assigned as the tactics mission planner. When we arrived back at Howard, most of the base had been vacated, most likely because of the pending transfer of the canal to the Panamanians. Most of the military housing area was vacant, and the houses were adapted for aircrew living quarters. We could sleep two C-130 crews to a house, with the HQ Element guys spread out two to a house.
Probably the worst part of our living arrangements was the closure of the Class VI store on day 2. We'd gone to great effort to "SOLL 3" a few cases of mixer, and all of a sudden were cut off from the bar. Luckily, I had deployed with a Vietnam veteran who quickly demonstrated his superior wisdom gained through experience when he unpacked his 30-day bag... which contained 3 changes of underwear and socks, a shaving kit, and 2 fifths of Johnny Walker Red.
In addition to the Class VI being closed, the club was closed, the pool was closed, and we were restricted to base. The rec hall and chow hall were available, and for some reason, the commissary was still operational. Since we were living in family quarters, several of us opted to buy groceries and cook for ourselves.
I learned a good lesson about priorities, since the flight surgeon was also staying in our hootch. We weren't in our quarters for 24 hours before he went wandering through the housing area distributing boxes of condoms. He was followed closely bby the chaplain, who was handing out pocket-sized copies of the New Testament.
One of the more interesting conversations I had while I was there was with a flight engineer off of one of the AC-130 gunships. He and I had been stationed together in Germany, and he had moved into Special Ops on his return to the States. We ran into each other out in housing, and he related a funny story of how his crew had been tracking insurgents for a week in the forested areas around the housing area. The insurgents didn't appear to be trying to infiltrate the perimeter, but were causing security concerns. So about a week into it, they succeeded in getting a ground team to go check it out. With the help of the thermal sensors on the Spectre, the ground team moved thrrough the trees to discover... a tribe of large monkeys foraging for food.
Sadly, my friend, SSgt Damon Kanuha, was the flight engineer on Spirit 03 when it was shot down outside of Khafji in 1991.
Last updated on 23 May 2006 by Chris Miller
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