The Attack on El Bosque
Shortly before New Year’s 1984, MSG Dutton; SFCs Sena and Jorge M. Reyes; SSGs Moosey, Gary Davidson, and Loyd Palmer; and SGTs Beko and Dave Janicki boarded a U.S. Air Force C-130 “Hercules” transport aircraft at Howard Air Force Base, Panama, to fly into Ilopango Airbase in San Salvador. Sergeant Major Carlos Parker, 3/7th SFG operations sergeant, met the military aircraft when it arrived. He had made arrangements to secure the ODA-7 pallet of equipment before taking the team to the MILGP in the U.S. Embassy. The eight Special Forces soldiers, dressed in guayaberas (short-sleeved, open neck Panamanian dress shirts worn over trousers—a climate-driven equivalent to a sports jacket) and slacks, were carrying small gun “tote bags” to lower their profile as American soldiers. After several days in the Sheraton Hotel, ODA-7 boarded a U.S. Army UH-1D Huey (TDY from Panama to support the Defense Attaché) for the trip to San Miguel.
28 Reyes interview, 2 May 2007.
29 Garrett e-mail, 19 June 2007.
CPT Leeker met them at the 3rd Brigade helipad and took them to the messhall for their first of hundreds of meals consisting of rice, beans, tortillas (mealy thick corn version), and soup. SSG Chuck Studley, the last member of the Mortar MTT, took the helicopter back to the capital en route home to Panama. “I thought that we’d be going to the jungle. Instead, it was dry, dusty, and flat terrain like central California. I really didn’t know what a coastal plain was like, but I was happy and excited to be there,” said SGT Beko, the team medic.
30 Per USMILGP policy, the “two-man rule” applied to Americans throughout El Salvador. To stay at San Miguel cuartel during the Christmas holidays. SSG Studley remained with CPT Leeker. Leeker interview, 21 June 2007.
31 Garrett interview, 19 May 2007.
“What wasn’t so good was discovering that we were going to live in the El Bosque area of the cuartel. In November, when the FMLN attacked, they drove a herd of cattle in front to conceal their movement and broke through the Bosque. It was a ‘huge attack’ that penetrated deep inside the cuartel. The FMLN controlled the camp for several hours. ESAF casualties were high . . . most were new conscripts that had not been issued weapons. There were twelve KIA [killed in action] in El Bosque alone. The cuartel ammo storage facility was destroyed as were numerous vehicles. Before they withdrew, the guerrillas killed several nurses and all the wounded in the hospital and set the building afire. The brigade was still doing clean up and rebuilding when we did the site survey. Security became my highest priority,” said SFC LeRoy Sena, the heavy weapons sergeant.
32 Sena interview, 27 March 2007; Moosey and Garrett interview, 20 May 2007; Leeker interview, 17 July 2003; Stringham interview, 29 May 2007.
SFC Sena got serious about security shortly after ODA-7 arrived. The third week in January 1984, the 3rd Brigade cuartel was attacked again just as intelligence had indicated they would. The previously coordinated plan for the Americans to move up inside the cuartel inner perimeter when under attack proved foolhardy. CPT Leeker alerted the brigade tactical operations center using the telephone in the Bosque guardhouse that the SF team was coming up to the cuartel. But halfway up the interior road to the cuartel center, the well-armed ODA “bumped into” a Cazador element returning from patrol. The Special Forces team froze when they heard the weapon safeties of the unknown group coming off as the individual soldiers, or guerrillas, fanned out into assault formation. Cazadores patrolled with weapons loaded and safeties on. There was a lot of gunfire and outgoing tracer fire visible when SSG Moosey calmly spoke, “Americanos. Fuerzas Especiales . . . ” and then repeated it in English. After a long pause, a Salvadoran lieutenant stepped forward and asked “what the hell they were doing.” CPT Leeker intervened and both groups proceeded into the upper cuartel perimeter.
33 Moosey interview, 3 April 2007.
After that close encounter, the rest of the night was spent sitting in a defensive ring outside the headquarters, watching the ESAF response to the attack. “Salvadoran soldiers, dispatched to reinforce the perimeter, would stop to fire their weapons while others manning sand-bagged bunkers just blasted away. Fortunately, most ESAF fire was directed outside in response to the initial guerrilla firing. New conscripts, though armed, simply sought shelter. The soldados did explain afterwards how they knew the guerrillas were about to attack—dogs would be barking all around the cuartel,” said SGT Beko. To avoid being accidentally killed by the ESAF during an attack, ODA-7 reached the conclusion that it would be safer to simply protect themselves in El Bosque.
34 Moosey and Garrett interview, 20 May 2007.
The near fratricide with the Americans was not a major concern to Lieutenant Colonel Domingo Monterrosa, the former BIRI Atlacatl commander who had just recently been assigned to command the 3rd Brigade. Since the aggressive leader had already had all the vegetation in and around the cuartel burned off, it was not difficult for CPT Leeker to broker an agreement that the SF billeting area would be “off limits” to Salvadorans at night for “safety reasons.” In the meantime, SFC Sena and SSG Moosey put together an escape and evasion plan with contingencies, and started making range cards for two-man defensive positions adjacent to their quarters.