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Grenada, Panama, and Haiti: Joint Operational Reform

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Journal article

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Three joint operations in the Caribbean -- Urgent Fury in Grenada 1983, Just Cause in Panama 1989-90, and Uphold Democracy in Haiti 1994-95 -- reveal substantial limits as well as progress in joint planning and execution as a result of the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986. Questions on the effectiveness of joint operations began in Vietnam. Retiring General David Jones, USAF, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs from 1978 to 1982, described that war as our worst example of confused objectives and unclear responsibilities in Washington and in the field. Each service, instead of integrating efforts with the others, considered Vietnam its own war and sought to carve out a large mission for itself. Jones had experienced the fallout from a joint operation conducted in April 1980 that failed to rescue American hostages from the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Hampered by lack of joint training and inadequate command and control, the effort was aborted after the mechanical failure of three helicopters. As a Navy helicopter prepared to return, its rotor struck the fuselage of an Air Force transport eight men died and four were severely burned. If the Vietnam War and the Iran rescue mission provoked thought on joint reform, events in Lebanon and Grenada in late 1983 sparked action. In October of that year a terrorist truck bomb killed 241 marines in Beirut. The concentration of all marines in one building and restrictions on aggressive patrolling made them easy targets. An investigation revealed that a cumbersome chain of command, unclear objectives, and inconsistent guidance placed them in unnecessary danger. This article describes joint operations in Grenada, Panama, and Haiti. Operational successes in Panama and Haiti were due to lessons learned in Grenada, and the enhanced authority of the Chairman and unified commanders under the Goldwater-Nichols Act to provide specific, attainable objectives and responsive, effective command and control.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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