2,000 U.S. Troops Return - Via Parachute - from Panama
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) _ More than 2,000 paratroopers returning from duty in the Panama invasion jumped from planes today in a spectacular and triumphant homecoming cheered by family and friends.
A roar erupted from several thousand spectators as the parachutes popped open and the soldiers floated 800 feet to the ground from 20 C-141 transport planes promptly at 8 a.m.
The 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers had jumped into Panama during the Dec. 20 invasion that resulted in the arrest of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega on federal drug charges.
The soldiers, clad in battle gear and with black and brown camouflage paint on their faces, gathered their parachutes after landing on Sicily Drop Zone, a huge field on the sprawling Fort Bragg base.
Lt. Gen. Carl Stiner, who led the 82nd Airborne in the invasion, was the first to jump.
″Everyone knew there would be personal danger but not a single one hesitated to go or to enter a battle,″ Stiner said during a welcoming speech. ″You would have been very proud of your soldiers. ... No one has ever been more disciplined under fire or more mature in carrying out their duties.″
Asked why the soldiers returned home by jumping out of planes instead of walking off them, base spokesman Capt. Lewis Boone said: ″Their primary means of deployment is jumping. They will jump whenever possible - over here, over there, anywhere.″
Crowds were brought to the drop zone before dawn for the welcoming. A military band played ″God Bless America″ and marching songs while waiting for the airplanes. Base officials estimated that 3,000 to 4,000 spectators watched the return, said Staff Sgt. Cindy Darst.
″It’s great. I’m trying not to cry,″ said Audrey Frazier, who was waiting for her fiance, Sgt. Lee Andre Perkins. ″It’s just a great feeling to see them finally touch the ground.″
Karie Wilkinson, 20, who also was engaged to a paratrooper, said she planned a quiet welcome with Pfc. William Short, 22, and would open Christmas presents and gifts for their Jan. 26 wedding.
Ms. Wilkinson said she had been worried that the wedding would have to be postponed.
Staff Sgt Vicki Zamora, 27, one of two women soldiers listed on the division’s manifest, worked as an imagery analyst in Panama and was stationed in a building that was under mortar fire the day before she arrived.
She was greeted by her husband, Gus Zamora, 34, and their three children. While her children pulled at her uniform and told what they got for Christmas, she said she felt good about leaving the children because ″they were in good hands being with their daddy.″
Asked if women should fight in combat, she replied: ″We all train as a team and we need to fight as a team.″
Strong winds forecast for this morning had threatened to cancel the jump, according to post officials, who said a landing at Pope Air Force Base was the alternative. The National Weather Service forecast called for winds of 20 to 25 mph, but wind was calm in time for the jump.
The 82nd Airborne Division troops returning today conducted a night parachute assault onto Tocumen-Torrijos airfield east of Panama City, secured the airfield, and moved out within hours to secure other targets, officials said.
On hand for the ceremony were Gen. Carl E. Vuono, the Army chief of staff; Gen. Edwin H. Burba Jr., Forces Command commander; and U.S. Rep. Charles G. Rose III, D-N.C.