After months of deteriorating relations between the governments of the United States and that of dictator Manuel Noriega of Panama, the situation became critical with the killing of a Marine officer and the harassment of American personnel by the Noreiga forces. When it came time for President Bush to call a halt to Noriega's repressive regime, The Red Diamond was standing in the wings and ready to be called. A part of the division had been deployed in the Panama City area in May 1989 to secure American facilities.

The following September these troops were replaced by "Task Force Regulars", named for the sobriquet of the 6th Infantry Regiment earned at the Battle of Chippewa in 1814. This task force consisted of the 4th Bn., 6th Infantry, 5th Division (Mechanized) with supporting elements and was assigned the mission of the assault of "la Comandcia", the headquarters of Noriega’s Panama Defense Forces (PDF). Augmenting the 4th Bn., 6th Infantry were Co. A, 7th, Engineers, elements of 5th Bn., 1st Field Artillery, 5th Support Bn. (Forward), Co. C, 508th Airborne Infantry Regiment, four M551 Sheridans from the 82nd Airborne Division, four Marine light armored vehicles (LAVs) and two platoons of military police from Fort Benning GA.

The invasion of Panama opened in the first hours of December 20, 1989 when Task Force Regulars, briefed on their mission the previous evening, moved into position shortly after midnight to establish road blocks north and south of La Comandancia. Companies B and D and a platoon of Co. C, 6th Infantry led the assault with the Airborne company and the engineers following. The Sheridans and the Marine LAVs set up fire support positions to help isolate La Comandancia. Close air support was provided by the Air Force's AC 130 Spectre fire support aircraft.

An estimated 300-400 PDF troops defended the 15 building compound of La Comandancia and fought fiercely to defend their positions against the advancing American task force. Heavy fighting continued for the next three hours. Heavy fighting was also taking place in other parts of the city. Company A, 4th Bn. 6th Infantry was attached to the 5th Bn. 87th Infantry Regiment and this force became involved in heavy fighting to seize key positions around Panama City. A mechanized platoon with supporting Sheridans and Marine LAVs were later sent to provide security for the American Embassy.

By dawn of the 20th, all the task force objectives were secured. The heavy fighting was over but some sniping continued. At 11:00 a.m. a Ranger company was added and the task force began clearing the Comandancia and remaining buildings in the compound and had them secured by 5:00 p.m. Some sporadic fighting continued for the next several days as Task Force Regulars performed security missions in the area. The task force's mission, Operation Just Cause, came to an end with the loss of personnel of two Regulars killed in action, one each, in companies A and B, and 34 wounded. With the successful completion of the division's mission the President's objectives had been met and Manuel Noriega was taken into custody and returned to face charges in American court.

Task Force Regulars returned to their station, Fort Polk, in late January and were replaced in Panama by Task Force Gator, a mechanized company of 3rd Bn., 6th Infantry Regiment with supporting units. The returned veterans of the Panama engagement were honored with a division review on February 9, 1990 with awards being made at the ceremony.

Another chapter has been added to the long and distinguished history of one of the finest divisions in the U.S. Army: THE FIGHTING FIFTH!

(Source: HQ. 5th Div. Ft. Polk)

Joseph G. Rahie
Former National Historian