Fort Benning marked the 20th anniversary Thursday of Operation Just Cause — the invasion of Panama — with an airborne jump at Fryar Drop Zone.
Armor School Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell was a tank commander with C Company, 3rd Battalion, 73rd Armor Regiment (Airborne) assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade when then-President George H.W. Bush ordered the operation be carried out Dec. 20, 1989.
At the invitation of Maneuver Center of Excellence, Command Sgt. Maj. Earl Rice, Troxell traveled to Fort Benning from Fort Knox, Ky., to participate in Thursday’s event. It was the first time in 10 years the soldier has leapt from an airplane and the first opportunity in decades he has had to reconnect with the men who fought alongside him in Panama.
“We trained as we fought,” Troxell said. “And the jump during Operation Just Cause and how we fought down there as a combined arms team, it validated that our training was real and that we were hitting it right. It was just so refreshing and exhilarating that when I got back to Fort Bragg, N.C., I said, ‘You know what? I’m part of the best thing going in the world — the United States Army, 82nd Airborne Division — because we fight like we train. And that’s the reason I’m still serving today 27 years and counting because of the experiences in Operation Just Cause.”
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Troxell’s battle buddy for the 20th anniversary jump was Sgt. Brian Bingham. Bingham, a recent graduate of Airborne School, was grateful to have been made a part of this tradition.
“You only get opportunities every once in a while to do something different, something special you can always look back on years later and say, ‘I did that with these guys.’”
The invasion of Panama was the first time the military used its special operations forces — Rangers, SEALS and Delta Force — as a single instrument, said Dave Stieghan, Infantry and Fort Benning historian.
The mission, which succeeded, was to capture Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who had hijacked a national election and was trafficking drugs from South and Central America.