I don’t know why there is such an adversarial relationship between Special Forces and the MP community or when it started. No doubt it was from the earliest days of the O.S.S. when our earliest operators had to return to the flagpole and some guy couldn’t help but try to bust his chops over some random BS.
But it existed then and I’m sure it no doubt still exists today. MPs have a hard-on for SF guys and by and large, SF guys had no use for MPs. But the simple fact was no matter where we went or what we did, if there was another American MP unit nearby, they’d try to shove a monkeywrench up our fourth point of contact.
Of course, I’ll admit now, many moons later, that there were times (perish the thought) that I was my own worst enemy. My naturally sarcastic sense of humor would often get the best of me. Well, they don’t call those of us who were raised in the Greater Boston area “Massholes” for nothing.
I saw something on the news this week that jarred one of those unpleasant memories about how our not-so-great relationship was. After the nonsense in Panama was over, a small group of Americans was tasked with cleaning up the mess. Noriega was in an airconditioned jail cell in Miami, courtesy of the DEA, a new government was trying to pick up the pieces, and the Panamanian Army was disbanded.
The country was transitioning to the Panamanian National Police (PNP) and SF were tasked to be the police advisors and trainers. PNP was struggling to drop its operating methods which gave scant attention to human rights, honesty and protecting the citizens. They brought over law enforcement types from the U.S. to give them the basics and the SF guys ran the shooting ranges and were the on-the-ground guys with the cops in the towns.
Panama was broken up into six Areas (A to F). Myself and John P. were given the largest land area with the smallest population, Area F. John was a badass SF medic who was into martial arts in a big way. His idea of fun was to duct tape a telephone pole behind our house and smash 100x on each side of each forearm to build it up. His forearm bones were like a Louisville Slugger. He’d always ask me, “B-man, you want to spar some?” My answer was always the same…thank you very much but no, I’d like to keep my limbs exactly where they’re at.
Our area stretched from Tocumen national airport down to the Colombian border. We would spend days upon days driving the back roads between the police substations. The police headquarters in Area F was in Chepo, where we rented a really nice place from a rich Panamanian family. Our team from A-3-7 was located there until the teams were stood down and the advisory roles took over.
We were issued credentials and a letter from the CG of the project that we were not subject to the curfew rules that were issued from SOUTHCOM and were authorized to carry weapons in civilian clothes due to our mission. Those exemptions would be put to the test time and again.
At first, things went swimmingly. John and I had a confiscated Toyota Land Cruiser that belonged to one of Noriega’s officers. It was decked out: BOSE sound system, curb feelers…the whole nine yards. Huggy Bear would have been green with envy. The best part of it was that it had Panamanian tags, so it didn’t attract too much attention as a “gringo mobile”– however that would soon change.
The head shed eventually told us we had to turn the Toyota in and get issued a vehicle from the motor pool at Ft. Clayton. Now we had U.S. government tags which put a big bullseye on our ass. Frequently, our day would consist of visiting our substations in the middle of freaking nowhere and coming back to Panama City to report in, usually well after dark. Before making the trek back to “Chepo-slovakia” as we called it, we’d stop for dinner at one of those gazillion Panama City chicken places. And sure enough, some Barney Fife would see the tags on their rounds through the city and stop.
Countless times, we’d come out or off the sidewalk to find some kid, rubbing his hands with glee. “Sir, you are not authorized to use a government vehicle for personal use,” I heard the phrase so many times that I would even hear it in my sleep.
As usual, my tact would immediately diffuse the situation into a small nuclear meltdown. “Wrong answer turkey lips,” I’d say. “We have the authority to break curfew, carry concealed and use this vehicle 24 hours a day because of our jobs.” Next came the answer that had also been rehearsed ad nauseam… “Sir don’t confuse your rank with MY AUTHORITY!”
That’s when we’d show our “get out of jail letter” that was always, always, always ignored. Fife would then invariably once again ask for the keys. That’s when the Masshole came out. “I’m going back to my dinner Fife, call your supervisor and have him explain it to you or I’ll explain it to him…and be sure to use small words.”
See what I mean, you just can’t be nice to some people. Soon a supervisor would show up and threaten to take us into custody until one of their officers would come and diffuse the situation and allow us to go on our merry way. The Panamanians would look upon this with quiet amusement. I’m sure they were thinking, “how the hell did we get our asses kicked by these “pinche payasos.”
One night after we returned to our house in Chepo we got a message that we needed to be back at our base on the Atlantic side (Ft. Davis). But I lived on Ft.Gulick (Espinar) and thought it would be easier to drive across late at night, sleep at our quarters and hit the meeting early. Wrong answer.
The usual scenario played out at the gate: some young pimply-faced shithead wanted me to “Exit the vehicle, leave your keys in it and walk to your quarters; you have broken curfew and you will have to answer for it.” With that, pimple-face got a smirk. That smile went to shock at my response.
“Hey Junior, go F*** yourself, call your Lieutenant and tell him to meet me at my quarters.” With that, I told him my quarters’ address and stomped the gas. Charming Charlie, that’s me.
I lived in a small cul-de-sac right behind the swimming pool known as “the pit.” I pulled into my driveway and could see back at the gate the blue lights approaching. I walked into the house and got a beer from the fridge and walked back outside. My roommate, Wade Chapple, had just arrived in himself. I told him what happened and he started to laugh.
Wade told me that he had almost the same conversation about two minutes before me. So, we walked out into the driveway and here comes not one but two MP cars tearing into the cul-de-sac with blue lights blazing. The MP Lieutenant was cool and when we showed him our letters of authorization, he asked, “This is all in order, so why didn’t you guys just explain it to our gate guards?” We looked at each other and laughed. Wade tried to explain that we’d done exactly that countless times in the few months that we’d been doing this mission and it would invariably fall on deaf ears.
Rather than things simmering down, they only got worse. Whenever we were in Panama City, we’d have MPs on us faster than a speeding bullet. Things got really heated one night: I had gone into town with “Papa Joe” Pinerro and we were grabbing dinner to-go at a chicken place. Joe was an LA County Sheriff, a Sergeant Major in an SF National Guard unit and a tremendous guy. He was assigned to us as someone who actually knew police work. He was invaluable.
While we were paying, the same MP who had jerked us around a couple of times had stopped and was harassing some Navy intel type girls. The MPs had exited their vehicle and were across the street reading the riot act to them. I looked at Joe and asked: “Did they leave their vehicle running with the doors unlocked?” He laughed and said, “here we go again.”
I walked out in the street, reached in the vehicle and turned the key off and closed the door quietly, I then walked back to wait with Papa Joe in front of the chicken place. I then hit the lock button which made an audible beep. That got their attention. With my back to the street, I heard them rush back to the vehicle and begin looking around. With my back still turned, I raised my arm and began spinning the keys around on my finger.
The young SP4 was livid….”I’ll take those keys…RIGHT NOW!” I replied in a low voice: “Please lower your voice when addressing an officer, and I’ll be happy to give you back your keys…as soon as you write yourself a ticket for leaving your government vehicle running and unsecured.” That started a shitstorm with MP guys in uniform screaming at the ones out of the vehicle. It looked like the mess it was. And right in the midst of it, some enterprising Panamanian kid began washing our vehicle. I had to laugh.
That little fiasco went all the way up the chain. John, Papa Joe and I had to go see General Steele who was in charge of our operation and the guy who signed our authorizations in the first place. He was on the phone with the Colonel in charge of the MPs. Each promised the other that the BS would stop.
About a week later John and I went to Clayton to have vehicle maintenance done. We were there early and hit the gym. We began talking with an older guy…and low and behold, it was the Colonel in charge of the MPs. He gave us the sideways glance at first, but things got better and we walked out of the gym pretty laid back. As we were walking, what do we see, another junior G-man writing us a ticket for “unauthorized use of a government vehicle.” The Colonel told the MP to tear it up. We just smiled and as we drove away, I winked at the kid and mouthed the words “F*** off” as clear as day. That was the end of the BS until I left and someone else took over about two months later. Why can’t we all just get along?
Later, the Navy intel girls became frequent guests out in Chepo, doing whatever they were doing. They’d visit the Police HQs who were as confused as we were as to what the hell they were doing there. To this day, I still don’t know what they were doing. All the stuff they asked the police made no sense. But whatever, they never interfered with what we were doing and they’d always drop us a bottle of rum “Old # 7” whenever they’d come calling. That’s what I call interservice cooperation.