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Base Celebrates Anniversary By “Invading Panama” Again

July 13, 1990

SEATTLE (AP) _ One successful military invasion deserves another, or so say officials planning a second ″attack″ on Panama to celebrate McChord Air Force Base’s 50th anniversary.

The highlight of Saturday’s day-long show of military might is a re- enactment of the December invasion. The event is billed as a ″joint services air power demonstration,″ complete with explosions and strafing runs, paratroopers dropping from the sky and planes zooming in from overhead.

″We in this office never intended to call it the Panama re-enactment, but a lot of the planes and (some troops) that are jumping did actually participate in the real invasion,″ said Maj. Art Dearing, an anniversary coordinator.

″It’s the same general attack scenario we used in World War II, in Vietnam, in Panama and in Grenada,″ Dearing said Friday.

Still, an earlier press release promised ″the most spectacular event″ of anniversary celebrations would be a ″re-enactment of the invasion of Panama, with the actual aircraft, aircrews and soldiers who were there participating 3/8″

The action at the base south of Tacoma begins with a simulated bomb run by an A-10 Thunderbolt, followed by a fake strafing run by a Canadian Air Force CT-33. Charges will be planted in the ground for the explosions, Dearing said.

After the area is cleared of the ″enemy,″ an Air Force combat controller team will jump from 6,000 feet but not open their parachutes until 1,000 feet above the ground.

That will be followed by more simulated bombing and a drop of simulated heavy equipment and ammunition and more control team members.

The finale is when C-141 transports drop 150 Army Rangers from nearby Fort Lewis onto the field. The Rangers belong to a unit that went to Panama, where they jumped from only 500 feet in seizing the Rio Hato military airfield, Dearing said.

But there will be some major differences between ″Panama II″ and the original. No one will be standing in for Gen. Manuel Noriega, who as a result of the real attack is in custody in Florida on drug-smuggling charges.

Nor will the ″attackers″ be shielded by the cloak of night from the enemy. The event begins in mid-afternoon. There won’t be an enemy, either, just onlookers on what is expected to be a clear, sunny day.

The base expects around 100,000 people to attend the simulated attack, Dearing said.

″I would say the controversy over Panama or Panama II has increased interest,″ he said. ″And it’s free.″

About 625 Rangers from Fort Lewis flew out of McChord to participate in the real thing. Two were killed and 36 injured in the Dec. 20 pre-dawn assault and subsequent action.

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