“And Don’t Shoot the Goddamn Beanbag Lights”

One of the best perks of this position is that in trying to read all the news concerning the military and Special Operations around the globe every day, everyone now and then something triggers. And as you’re reading something having to do with 1158th Special Operations Squadron of East Overshoe doing a big train up or operation, it will remind of an operation or funny event, long forgotten from days of yore.

So, as many of our readers here at SpecialOperations.com know, the United States invasion of Panama (was it really an invasion? Since we had a slew of bases there), “Operation Just Cause” began on December 20, 1989. And as I said, a lot of the troops that were to take part were already there.

But what many don’t know, is that the invasion…er attack on Noriega’s Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF), nearly happened 18 months prior. And before everyone gets all OPSEC on me here, this isn’t breaking any of that. It is just the background to what ultimately transpired.

Our company in the 7th Special Forces Group (7th SFGA), had just returned from a deployment to Honduras in the early spring of 1988. As soon as we got back the entire battalion was placed on alert and briefed that we were going to conduct an emergency re-deployment to Honduras…uh huh. We were broken down into “training committees”, Sniper, Machine gun and Assault Team committees were assigned and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what was going down and where. I personally was thrilled, my warrant packet had disappeared into the bowels of the headquarters, and I was put on a levy for SWC and the schoolhouse. Anything to put that off for a bit.

We went thru a training cycle and as a member of the Machine gun “training committee” we weren’t rehearing any lesson plans but doing a shitload of firing. We had a nice blend of SAWs and M-60s and we spent as much time debating over where we were going as who was the sorriest machine gunner. That’s because in the Type A personality of Special Forces, every guy KNEW he was the best…LOL.

One beautiful spring morning, we went back out to the range and got our briefing on what would transpire that day. North Carolina only has a handful of these clear, crisp perfect spring mornings before the weather jumps right to mid-summer and the red clay of Ft. Bragg turns it into an Easy Bake Oven.

It was a good day, everyone was motivated, happy to be preparing to go back on another deployment and shooting a bunch of lead down range. What more can anyone ask for? Plus we were doing it with everyone from the entire battalion, which we never did. So, yes everything was as good as it gets. But little did we know that things would get crazy later that night.

The plan was to do range firing in the morning for the gunners, get the AGs (assistant gunners) some range time in the afternoon and then do a night shoot with NODs that evening. So, as the Team Sergeant who was running the range ran thru the schedule of events for the day, we all listened and were gathering all of our crap for the day, as the MSG finished up, he was mentioning the night fire. And with our NODs, the left and right limits would be set up using IR beanbag lights.

Just then one of our Sergeant Majors chimed in, “And don’t shoot the goddamn bean bag lights!” he barked out. Everyone just kind of chuckled but he wasn’t joking. “I mean it, I don’t want to see one of these fucking lights get damaged,” he said with his voice raising an octave higher. We all hushed up and glanced at one another like “WTF was that all about?”

I didn’t know this Sergeant Major, he had just come back from being at Delta, but the guys I knew and trusted all said, that this SGM was a good dude and a kickass, pipe-hitting operator. I don’t know if he was just having a bad day, or his dog bit him but that was a bit surprising.

Out on the range that day, I was next to my good bud Victor V. who was one of the most genuine good guys in SF. Victor was always in a good mood, had a smile always on his face and was universally liked by everyone he came in contact with. We went thru the Q-course together and I knew him to be an excellent Radio Operator (18E).

We were both firing SAWs and as the afternoon was wearing on, Victor was encouraging his AG (whose name escapes me) and then imitating the Sergeant Major he kept yelling, “Don’t shoot the goddamn beanbag lights!” which in his Puerto Rican accent made it seem funnier than it probably was.

That night we sat around waiting for it to get dark enough to do our night firing, we got our safety briefing followed by another rant by the Sergeant Major about firing up the beanbag lights. We were all looking at each other trying to figure out where all of this shit was coming from. One of the Weapons guys from B Company said, “I never even gave it a second thought, thinking what a stupid thing to say….Now, I’m blasting me a beanbag light.”

So here we were, a bunch of steely-eyed Green Berets and unspokenly, we knew what was going to transpire. We had just declared war on those damned IR beanbags. We turned on our NODs and Ft. Bragg turned into that marvelous shade of baby-shit green. As the firing started, I guess no one wanted to be the first… But a few seconds later, someone fired a burst and you could see a tracer round blast the farthest beanbag light on the left (our side) of the range. One by one the beanbag lights were extinguished as SAW and M-60 rounds thudded into them.

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By the time we were finished only one beanbag light was left. The echoing of the guns was still reverberating thru the night sky. Just then, a single six-round burst from an M-60 cut the remaining light off. “OOOPs, so sorry,” came a laconic, sarcastic voice from the right-hand side of the range. You could hear everyone chuckling as the Range Tower, which housed the Sergeant Major unleashed a torrent of “MotherFuckas” at everyone.

He was still hot later as we policed up our brass. Our company commander walked up and asked what was that all about. Several of us retold the entire event chain from start to finish. “Why in the hell would he do that,” our commander asked? “The quickest way to get you guys to do something is to tell you NOT to do it,” he added walking away.

Well, our “emergency redeployment to Honduras” got called off shortly after. But our team did go back there in a few months. My orders for the SWC schoolhouse would have to wait on my return. I went to see Sergeant Major Murray (RIP) who did all the assignments. “I really need guys who are O&I qualified for the committee,” he said. Smiling I told him that I was O&I qualified… “That’s great, he said. “But I really need guys here,” he said pointing to a spot on his big board. SFOT. “We’re starting up a Selection Course and that’s where you’re going.

After about a year at SFOT/SFAS, my warrant packet was miraculously found, and off I went to Ft. Rucker and back to Bragg for the SF Officer Course. And then a follow-on assignment to 3/7 SFG down in Panama. And much rejoicing was had by all…

Photo: US Army