118th MP CO ABN Grenada Video
118thMP Company (Airborne)
40 Years Ago
The year 1983 was quite an historic year in the legacy of the 118th MP Company (Airborne). The legacy began with the changing of command from Captain Samuel Lombardo to Captain Russell Cancilla. The leadership of the company was staffed with the highest quality and most magnanimous platoon leaders (Lt’s Greene, Blandford & Todd) and the highly trained and combat-experienced platoon sergeants (SFC’s Cullinan, McIntosh & Rosa).
Additionally, the junior NCO’s and the paratroopers of the unit proved to be the best military police in the US Army as the company won the prestigious FORSCOM Eagle Award (the top Military Police Company in FORSCOM) and the General J.P. Holland award (the top Military Police Company in the world) in 1984 for the company’s overall performance in 1983. Our paratroopers were further recognized by being chosen to provide personal and physical security for President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in Washington DC in January 1984.
Operation Urgent Fury (OUF)
In 1983/84, the 118th MP Co paratroopers participated in numerous important and sensitive missions. The most noteworthy mission was its deployment to Grenada as a part of the initial invasion force in support of Operation Urgent Fury. Initially attached to the 82d Airborne Division, the 118th operated under the control of the 82d Abn Div Commander, MG Edward Trobaugh until the 16th MP Bde (ABN) deployed to the island in November.
The unit performed numerous difficult and challenging combat/combat support missions. Most significantly:
The establishment and operation of a detention facility housing over 1100 Cubans and People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA) members. This was the first combat operation for the military police since Viet Nam and involved dealing with detainees who were not legally prisoners of a war. Therefore, the standards of the Geneva Convention which apply to “POW’s” were not to be used in this operation. 118th leaders rapidly developed an ad hoc system for processing, segregating and detaining those combatants. The unit accepted responsibility for detainee health & welfare and for processing them for release, as determined by intelligence analysts. Among the detainees were foreign intelligence operatives from East Germany and Cuba. 118th leadership coordinated closely with US Intelligence Community representatives to ensure vital information was collected and protected.
The responsibility for joint and interagency coordination between the US Army, US State Department, Central Intelligence Agency and the US Air Force for the return of Cuban detainees to their homeland rested with the 118th. The unit exercised command and control of the detainees to include processing, separating for interrogation, feeding, sheltering, caring in accordance with International Red Cross protocols, and around the clock security.
The evacuation of US Students and other foreign nations from the True Blue Campus of St. George University and out of Grenada rested with the 118th. At one point during the evacuation mission, troopers came under enemy fire and responded to ensure the safety of all evacuees. In fact, the Deputy Director, US Agency for International Development and Executive Coordinator of American Evacuation was at the campus during this attack and wrote an official letter commending the unit for bravery and courage under fire during operations to evacuate American medical students. The letter, in part reads, “The members of the 118th MP Co bravely and swiftly reacted to the threat, immediately moving us to a safe area and selflessly gave the personnel their flak jackets for protection.” A copy of the letter was provided to the US Ambassador to Grenada. That letter is a part of a large plaque hanging in 118th MP Company Headquarters.
Across the island of Grenada, paratroopers of the 118th conducted combat support missions of roadblocks, ambushes, and checkpoints that resulted in the capture of numerous enemy weapons and ammunition.
118th paratroopers performed the mission of escorting and providing security for the expulsion of the Russian, Cuban, Libyan, North Korean and East German diplomats from Grenada. The unit was instrumental in uncovering hundreds of weapons and ammunition at the airport in the “luggage” of departing diplomats. While the diplomats claimed immunity from search, crates were opened and contraband was discovered and confiscated.
The unit provided personnel, escort and facility security for over 68 congressional delegates, 13 White House Representatives, the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (General John Vessey), Secretary of state (Secretary George Schultz) and Chairman, House Arms Services Committee (Senator John Tower) during the initial and sustained phases of Operation Urgent Fury.
The 118th was the only unit to deploy female paratroopers into the initial phases of Operation Urgent Fury. This was possibly one of, if not the first time, where female soldiers were directly involved in a combat operation since Viet Nam and set the tone for the Services’ consideration in expanding the role of women in combat. The sterling performance of the 118th female paratroopers demonstrated the value of including female soldiers in combat operations.
As US service members began their redeployment from Grenada back to the US the 118th established US Customs operations in the weeks/months following combat operations and US sustained nation building efforts.
Strategically, unit missions were in direct support of President Regan’s firm commitment to the Truman Doctrine ensuring no encroachment of Communism into the Western Hemisphere. It is posited that Operation Urgent Fury, 1983, was the inaugural event of the collapse of the Soviet Union, 1989 and the end of a Cold War lasting almost 45 years. The 1980’s saw a rapid and steep decline for the Soviets, and the liberation of Grenada was a blow to Communist aspiration, albeit a glancing blow. Operation Urgent Fury and Operation Island Breeze successes were fundamental in projecting US Foreign Policy and Defense initiatives to stem Marxism and Communism in the Caribbean, South and Central America, and arguable the world.
Several paratroopers receive various awards including the Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medals and Army Achievement Medals. The unit received the Meritorious Unit Commendation which the Department of the Army awards for exceptionally meritorious conduct in performance of outstanding achievement in combat or non-combat.
Operation Island Breeze (OIB)
Operation Urgent Fury follow-on mission was named Operation Island Breeze. Paratroopers of the 118th accepted the vital task of establishing the foundations for the sustained Caribbean Peacekeeping Force, and provided training, transportation and communications support to an emerging Eastern Caribbean Police Force. The missions consisted of continuing the pacification of the Island to ensure stability for the new Grenadian Government, teaming with the Grenadian and East Caribbean police forces to reestablish local authority and assisting to reestablish security and law and order in seven Grenadian towns.
While the majority of the 118th remained deployed to Grenada during the sustained phases of Operation Island Breeze, several members of the unit sponsored a drive to obtain clothing, toys and other items for the US to enhance the condition at the islands’ orphanage. Additionally, many of the soldiers who remained deployed to Grenada donated their limited free time to work at the orphanage on construction, plumbing and other badly needed repairs to improve the orphanage’s facilities.
Post Operations Urgent Fury & Island Breeze
Following Operation Urgent Fury, leaders of the 118th provided detailed data and insights to the United States Army Military Police School (USAMPS) staff on the challenges and demands of conducting combatant detention operations in a low intensity conflict and non-conventional combat operation in a “non-wartime” yet hostile environment. These unit debriefs, insights, and experiences led to a doctrinal evolution in the MP Corps operating procedures. Field Manuals and Department of Army Policy doctrine were updated to provide more current and appropriate guiding principles for the processing, handling and detention of combatants in a low intensity conflict.
This new detainee doctrine, executed during the Panama intervention and Desert Storm, proved to be an important transition for the handling of combatants as the proliferation of terrorism increased over the following 20+ years.
Based upon the lessons learned during Urgent Fury, paratroopers of the 118th participated in the production of a Rear Area Combat Operations (RACO) instructional film that was produced in conjunction with USAMPS and the Combined Arms Center, Ft. Leavenworth, KS. This instructional film trained US and international field grade officers at the US Army Command & Staff College on the Department of the Army new initiatives on RACO.
The most impressive fact of the 118th MP Co is that as a separate company, not a part of the 503d MP Bn at the time, the 118th provided its own organic vehicle maintenance, communications specialist, and logistical and supply support as well as having leaders who possessed the ability to plan and operate, without the assistance of a battalion staff. Company Headquarters Platoon, led by SSG Nick Stines ensured mission success by coordinating logistic and sustainment operations in Operation Urgent Fury’s very limited support environment. Aided by SSG Mark Mason, Communications Chief, SSG Stines kept unit paratroopers fed, sheltered, moving and, most importantly, kept morale high by establishing company postal operations. As an independent XVIII Airborne Corps asset, the 118th deployed with no S-Staff support and initially, limited support from the 16th MP Bde. The effectiveness and resourcefulness of the unit is amplified even further when its stand-alone character is considered.
Paratroopers from the 118th deployed to four (4) continents and eight (8) countries in support of fourteen (14) XVIII Airborne Corps exercises and operations. Either the entire unit or a platoon-sized element remained deployed 10 months during FY 1984.
These Operation Urgent Fury/Operation Island Breeze experiences, along with the unit’s steadfast commitment to the highest state of combat-readiness, distinguished the 118th as the best MP Co in the US Army in 1984. A title that resonates, still today, throughout the entire Military Police Regiment. Paratroopers of the 118th are respected and renowned across the globe. Hell Bent and Heaven Sent, forged by Dragon’s breath, this historic unit continues to rise to the top and shine amongst its peers. Glory to the Combat Veterans of Operation Urgent Fury and Island Breeze who carried on the hallowed traditions of this storied Military Police Company.
Written By Russ Cancilla