If you have photos from 1911-1995 of Fort Sherman, coastal batteries and JWC training please send a electronic copy to this site. We are trying to preserve a closing chapter in history. THANK YOU!

 

 

BACKGROUND

America was embroiled in the Cold War and the beginning of the Korean Conflict in April of 1951 when the Commanding General of the U.S. Army, Caribbean was given the mission "to keep the art of jungle warfare alive in the Army". Recent worldwide events demonstrated a need for proficiency in jungle operations. The French were struggling in the jungles of Indo-China against the Vietminh in hopes of reclaiming part of their pre Second World War empire. The British were successfully fighting a counterinsurgency war in the jungles of Malaysia, and the U.S. had recently fought numerous bloody campaigns in the tropics of the Burma-China-India Theater, and the South Pacific during World War Two (WWII). Given America’s interests and responsibilities as an emerging superpower, and our global focus, it was likely the United States would again be called on to wage war in a jungle environment.

 

THE BEGINNINGS OF JUNGLE OPERATIONS AND TRAINING IN PANAMA

Until the Second World War, many military experts believed that jungles were impenetrable and unsuitable for modern military operations. The successful Japanese attack on the British in Singapore through the Malaysian jungles in 1942 changed conventional thinking. However, American experiences in conducting training and maneuvers in the jungle began in 1916 with a cross Panama Isthmus trek by a U.S. Army infantry detachment. The defense of the Panama Canal required U.S. forces to operate and train in the jungle; thus elements of the U.S. Army serving in Panama had fairly extensive experience in jungle survival and movement prior to U.S. participation in WWII. The Japanese defeat of British forces during the early years of WWII caused an Army-wide examination of its ability to conduct operations in the jungle.

The Panama Mobile Force (PMF) was the primary Army element with experience in jungle operations. The PMF aggressively promoted their abilities to the War Department in order to secure a role in America’s war effort. The PMF’s higher headquarters, the Caribbean Defense Command (CDC) expanded training in jungle operations after being tasked by the War Department to train 1500 replacements for the Pacific Theater; training camps were established at Pacora and Rio Hato, Panama. The first sixty-day training cycle was completed on 15 March 1943. While these sites provided valuable training, the terrain was not as rugged nor the vegetation as thick as that of most jungle in the Pacific. Another jungle training site was then established at Camp Pina, just south of Fort Sherman; the terrain at this site was as challenging as anything in the Pacific Theater. This site was used until the end of the war.

Coincidentally, the most suitable area to conduct jungle warfare training under U.S. control at that time was Camp Pina (currently the Pina Range Complex) and Fort Sherman; the site of coastal artillery and anti-aircraft artillery batteries located on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. The Fort Sherman Military Reservation covered an excess of fifty square miles of jungle and had an extensive infrastructure that included logistical and transportation systems. The combination of usable maneuver area and preexisting base facilities made Fort Sherman an ideal location for a jungle warfare school.

 The Original Bushmasters This is the unit that started jungle training in Panama.

 

FORT SHERMAN AREA

The areas used throughout the various incarnations of the U.S. Army jungle warfare school include Fort Sherman and the Pina Range Complex. Fort Sherman Military Reservation is bordered to the North and North-West by the Caribbean Sea, on the South and South-West by the Rio Chagres, and East by Limon Bay and Gatun Lake. It consists of 23,000 acres of single and double canopy jungle, which is cross-compartmentalized with steep rolling hills, numerous tributaries, mangrove swamps and coastline. The contonment area includes barracks and mess facilities, cadre headquarters and offices, a boathouse with docks, classroom and instruction sites, and recreation facilities. Training areas on the Fort Sherman Military Reservation include the maneuver area with several fortified or semi-permanent objectives, a jungle land navigation course, and jungle combat maneuver lanes, helicopter landing zones, a drop zone, and two coastal artillery batteries that have been converted into small arms ranges and special warfare training sites.

The Pina Range Complex is immediately South of Fort Sherman, across the Rio Chagres. This complex includes several small arms live fire ranges and maneuver lanes, a mortar maneuver course, a live fire village, and a demolitions range. White Drop Zone and other areas of Gatun Lake are used for airborne insertions and small boat operations. The Rio Chagres is also used for small boat and tactical riverine operations and as part of the Sapper (light combat engineer) live demolitions maneuver course.

The coastal artillery batteries and anti-aircraft gun emplacements on Fort Sherman were obsolete by the mid-1940s; most of the large caliber guns had not been fired in years. Attack from the air was the major threat, and mobile anti-aircraft guns and missiles, and motorized ground forces had replaced most of the static defenses of the Canal. This left Fort Sherman with a caretaker garrison and the primary mission to billet troops stationed on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. The change in mission was another factor that made Fort Sherman a desirable location for jungle warfare training.

 

ORIGINS OF A FORMAL JUNGLE SCHOOL

The U.S. Army, Caribbean (USARCARIB) was still conducting limited jungle warfare and survival training for it’s forces, when they received the formal mission from the Department of the Army of "keeping the art of jungle warfare alive in the Army" in April of 1951. In compliance with this directive, USARCARIB issued Training Memorandum Number 9, which established a Jungle Warfare Training Board (JWTB). The JWTB was a study group "responsible for continued research and study, analysis, and reporting of final findings and recommendations on changes or additions to established U.S. Army doctrine and techniques of jungle warfare and equipment designed for jungle operations." Standards of individual and unit jungle training were also established. One major result of the JWTB’s study was the establishment of a provisional headquarters to plan, organize, and evaluate a 2,000 man, field training exercise. BRUSH BAY was conducted on Fort Sherman from 4 May to 4 June 1953. Elements of the 33rd Infantry, the 370th Engineer Amphibious Support Regiment, and the 45th Reconnaissance Battalion stationed in Panama were joined by nearly 1,000 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division, organized in a Battalion Combat Team. The provisional HQ was replaced by the 7437th Army Unit, Jungle Warfare Training Center (JWTC) on 15 June 1953; this was the origin of the Jungle Operations Training Center (JOTC).

In November of 1953 the JWTC was attached to the 33rd Infantry; its focus was to train Panama based soldiers in jungle warfare and survival. Improvements were made to Fort Sherman facilities, and formal training of the 33rd Infantry was begun in the Spring of 1954; the objective was to make the entire regiment proficient in jungle operations. In May of 1956 the 33rd Infantry was inactivated, and was replaced by the 20th Infantry Regiment, which inherited the JWTC and the mission of the 33rd Infantry.

The majority of soldiers trained by the JWTC were from the Panama area, though CONUS based units were also being trained. An example of this was Exercise JUNGLE JIM, where a 1,200 man reinforced battalion combat team (2/188 AIR, 11th Airborne Division) received a month long (9 May to 7 June 1955) program of instruction (POI) and maneuvers very similar in scope of the POI used by the JOTC in the 1990s. In December of 1957, the JWTC began regular cyclic training of units from outside of the Panama area as part of the recently reorganized 1st Battle Group, 20th Infantry; this established the Jungle Operations Course.

The JWTC normally ran ten, three week long, cycles annually. Specialized cycles (some were taught completely in Spanish for instance) and support of training exercises also occurred in addition to the ten regular cycles. A normal cycle conducted training on three levels, individual soldier skills, small unit, and company. The bulk of the instruction was conducted for the infantry rifle company, but specialized training for a heavy weapons company, a heavy mortar company, a headquarters company, a combat engineer (Sapper) platoon, and a medical platoon was also available. Individual training included jungle survival, camouflage, navigation, mines and boobytraps, and jungle plants and living. Upon completion of the "core" classes, the training focus shifted to small unit patrolling, attack, and ambush tactics and techniques. Once the small unit was proficient in jungle operations, training moved to company and occasionally battalion level offensive field training exercises. By 1960 the JWTC had trained eleven infantry battalions, one artillery battalion, nine infantry companies, one mortar battery, three provisional non-commissioned officer groups, and three provisional officer groups from the Continental United States (CONUS). Concurrent with these cycles, numerous soldiers from the USARCARIB, LA Guardia National (Panamanian Police), numerous soldiers from Latin American countries, and American Special Warfare Units received jungle-specific training.

On 1 July 1963 the mission and functions of the JWTC were assumed by the Jungle Operations Committee (JOC) of the School of the Americas, based at Fort Gulick, Canal Zone, Panama (the JOC continued to operate at Fort Sherman). Fort Gulick was located approximately ten kilometers east of Fort Sherman, adjacent to the city of Colon. The JOC extended the course to five weeks in duration, with the emphasis in jungle survival skills, and less focus on tactics. The reduction in tactical operations was mainly due to a shortage of resources and trained cadre available from the School of the Americas. Fortunately, an influx of Special Forces qualified instructors and increased supervision from the 8th Special Forces Group, in late 1965, brought fundamental changes to the program of instruction. The course was shortened to two weeks in length, most of which was spent in the jungle, and the training focus returned to combat tactics, techniques, and procedures.

 

VIETNAM AND JUNGLE WARFARE TRAINING

Although highly beneficial to the survival and combat effectiveness of U.S. troops in Southeast Asia, the Jungle Operations Committee remained fairly low profile throughout the early 1960s. However as American involvement in Southeast Asia increased, so did the importance and utilization of the JOC. An example of this increase is number of students who graduated from the course. In FY 1961, about 1700 students graduated from the course; 9145 students graduated in FY 1967. One of the major reasons for this increase was the participation of 60 officers and non-commissioned officers from the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in July of 1966. Extensive positive feedback about the value of instruction was quickly brought to the attention of LTG Creighton Abrams, the U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff. Soon the Department of the Army (DA) increased the quota of trainees for the JOC, and agreed to increase instructors and funds late in 1967. A rapid increase in class size and number of two week cycles occurred before additional funds and manpower was provided by DA; one of the JOCs higher headquarters, U.S. Army South (USARSO) was tasked to provide additional resources in the interim.

The Jungle Operations Committee continually took measures to improve the quality of instruction. In addition to conducting course after action reviews, the JOC sent questionnaires to officers and NCOs that deployed to Vietnam about 90 days after they had been in country; this questionnaire asked for a reappraisal of course curriculum based on their experiences (see Appendix C). The commentary received was very positive overall, but valuable suggestions were made that led to modifications in the course. In October 1965 a team from the USARSO G3 visited a jungle operations course being taught in Hawaii. The POI was similar to the Panama jungle operations course, but the Hawaii course included a cordon and search of a mock Vietnamese village; this was added to the Panamanian course. This program of cadre/instructor self-critique and rotational unit after-action reviews (with the goal of constantly refining the Jungle Operations Course) continued until the school was closed in 1999.

 

 

 

JUNGLE OPERATIONS TRAINING CENTER DEVELOPMENT

The Jungle Operations Committee, of the School of the Americas was separated by the Department of the Army on 1 July 1968, and became the Jungle Operations Training Center (JOTC). The JOTC was placed under operational control of the 8th Special Forces Group on 1 July 1970. In July of 1975 the JOTC became an independent major subordinate command within the 193rd Infantry Brigade. These were primarily administrative moves, with little impact on the content of the Jungle Operations Course. The school did receive other responsibilities in addition to running the JOC; a USARSO RECONDO course was established in March of 1969, and operation of the USARSO NCO academy was given to the JOTC in October 1971.

The Jungle Operations Course was three weeks long throughout the early 1970’s with minor alterations in the POI; most of these were caused by technological improvements in night vision optics and heliborne mobility. Slots to the JOTC were given primarily to CONUS based light and airborne battalions. Slots were still allocated to individual soldiers in a manner similar to Airborne School. Organic units such as a squad from 1-504 Parachute Infantry Regiment did not attend the course. Soldiers from throughout the Army came to JOTC and were assigned to a provisional squad / platoon for the duration of the course. The jungle warfare skills learned and the opportunity for NCOs to test their leadership was undoubtedly very valuable, but a major change initiated in the mid-1970s vastly improved the benefits gained from attendance.

The Jungle Operations Training Center was reorganized in Fiscal Year 1976 to train battalion sized units. The basic POI was still taught, but soldiers now attended all training with members of their organic teams, squads, and platoons. This did much to improve unit teambuilding and to enhance leadership skills of junior NCOs and officers. After core week training, platoons went through situational training exercises (STX) where squad and platoon leaders were placed in difficult tactical situations. These exercises, in addition to live fire ambushes and react to contact maneuver courses, honed the warfighting skills and esprit of the small unit. The third week added company and battalion level operations during a battalion led field training exercise (FTX). The FTX exercised the battalion command group, the battalion staff, and company leadership. Units experienced the challenges of command, control and logistics in the jungle. The overall benefits of a rotation to the JOTC were now battalion wide and covered almost all of the Battle Operating Systems. Rotations were sought after throughout the Army light infantry community and the Marine Corps. Additionally, many Special Operations units received training from JOTC instructors or used JOTC facilities while conducting internal training events.

 

 

OPERATION JUST CAUSE

The unit that operated the Jungle Operations Training Center was redesignated the Jungle Operations Training Battalion (JOTB) during the invasion of Panama in December 1989. The battalion was notified of possible contingency operations as tensions between the American and Panamanian governments increased, and prepared and trained accordingly. The JOTB was augmented with additional combat and combat support assets and as JUST CAUSE began, was designated Task Force Sherman. The task force served with the 3rd Brigade, 7th Infantry Division (Light) as part of Task Force Atlantic.

Task Force Sherman successfully maintained the security and defense of Fort Sherman and the Gatun Locks complex, including numerous key communications and transportation facilities, the Gatun Locks, dam, spillway bridge, and hydroelectric plant. The Task Force also cleared and 27 towns and villages, and 140 kilometers of coastline. They conducted 19 air assaults and Civilian Military Operations in four villages. Patrols from Task Force Sherman eliminated all Hunter Platoons south of the Rio Chagres, captured numerous prisoners of war, weapons, and large amounts of ammunition and equipment. They cleared the town of Portobello, Isla Grande and other villages located north of Colon during a joint operation with Navy SEALs and Special Operations Aviation. Patrols continued until 12 January 1990, when Task Force Sherman became the reserve for Task Force Atlantic. The Jungle Operations Training Battalion was awarded a battle streamer for its actions during Operation JUST CAUSE, making it the only TDA unit in the U.S. Army to receive this distinction.

 

 

THE JOTB IN THE 1990’s

The JOTB returned to its primary mission of training light infantry units in the art of jungle warfare after Operation JUST CAUSE. By 1992, twelve light infantry jungle warfare courses, four engineer jungle warfare courses, and four aircrew survival courses were taught annually. In addition to these standard rotations, the JOTB provided support to numerous Special Operations units, U.S. Government, and law enforcement agencies.

The JOTB fulfilled a critical role in the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and USARSO military-to-military exchange programs (which included small unit exchanges, and guest instructor programs) that enhanced relations and aided our efforts to influence the further democratization of the Americas. Countries that participated in these programs included Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

 

The Jungle Warfare Course (JWC) was three weeks in duration and trained light infantry battalion task forces in jungle operations. The first week (core week) of training consisted of individual soldier skills and squad collective tasks that would be performed in a jungle environment. These tasks included: jungle plants and living, land navigation, mines and boobytraps, jungle combat techniques, waterborne operations, and squad react to contact live fire lanes. Scout, mortar, and combat engineer (Sapper) platoons received additional specialized training during core week. The second week consisted of situational training exercises (STX) which included platoon deliberate attacks, raids, ambushes, a company cordon and search, and Sapper, riverine demolition missions. A battalion field training exercise (FTX) was conducted during the third and final week of the JWC. This FTX was normally a four-day long, free-play exercise that pitted the training battalion against a company-sized opposition force (OPFOR). JOTB observer/controllers provided both the training battalion and the OPFOR company with continuous feedback through comprehensive after action reviews.

The Engineer Jungle Warfare Course (EJWC) was similar in nature to the JWC, with additional focus on demolitions and mobility operations. The core week instruction was the same as the JWC, with the second week consisting of a four day FTX that required Sapper platoons to conduct numerous combat patrols, engineer reconnaissance missions, and route clearance missions on the Chagres River and jungle trails using live demolitions to reduce obstacles. The Sapper company would perform construction missions during the third and fourth weeks. These missions included basic masonry, carpentry, and pioneer tasks. The repair or replacement of foot bridges in the jungle, repair of boat docks, and construction of training sites are examples of some EJWC projects.

The Air Crew Survival Course (ACS) was approximately two weeks in duration, and trained Army and Air Force aircrew personnel, U.S. Government, and law enforcement agencies in basic survival, escape and evasion techniques. Subjects included crossing water obstacles, improvised tools, weapons, traps, and snares, food procurement and preparation, and jungle navigation. The course culminated in a four day survival, escape, and evasion exercise designed to test the student’s ability to survive alone or in small groups, while in hostile territory.

Due to the Army drawing down after Operation DESERT STORM, there were only two light infantry divisions, one air assault division, and one airborne division left on active duty. Numerous low-intensity conflicts and sustainment and stability operations in Somalia, Haiti and the Balkans showed the need for skilled light fighters. Many of the battalions that participated in these operations had gone through a JOTC rotation. The environmental experience from the conduct of jungle operations was not the only benefit gained from training at the JOTC. Teambuilding, the focus on small unit combat operations and numerous live fire exercises, honed the critical combat skills of many battalions that participated in these operations.

The value of a JOTC rotation was recognized by all echelons of the "light fighter" community, from division commanders to team leaders. Infantry and Combat Engineer units from all CONUS based active Army, light, airborne, and air assault divisions, the 75th Ranger Regiment, and the United States Marine Corps continued to compete for course rotations to the JOTB until its inactivation in 1999.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

JOTB Historian. FY 97 Annual Historical Summary. USARSO Printing, 1998.

JOTB Historian. JOTB’s Untold Story. JOTB Printing, 1990.

JOTB Historian. History of Fort Sherman and the U.S. Army Jungle Operations Training Center. JOTB Printing, date unknown.

JOTB Historian. History and Mission of Jungle Warfare Training. JOTB Printing, date unknown.

JOTB Historian. JOTB Historical Questionnaires. JOTB Printing, 1998.

Mc Garr, Lionel C. Training Circular: EXERCISE JUNGLE JIM. U.S. Army, Caribbean Printing, 1955.

USARSO Historian. Jungle Training Rooted in World War II Panama. USARSO Printing, date unknown.

USARSO Historian. Jungle Warfare Training in the Canal Zone. USARSO Printing, 1968.