Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) was authorized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 20 May 1986 and activated by SOUTHCOM on 4 August 1986 in Quarry Heights, Panama. SOCSOUTH used to be part of the SOUTHCOM J3 section, and Charlie 3rd of 7th was a component of United States Army South (USARSO). Originally a small unit, SOCSOUTH functioned primarily as a staff office of SOUTHCOM. In August 1986, it was reorganized as a separate headquarters and moved to Albrook Air Force Station, Panama, where its offices resided in the basement of the Department of Defense Schools building. In 1988, in accordance with the Panama Canal Implementation Treaty, SOCSOUTH moved to Corozal East, Panama. In June 1999, as one of the last units to leave the Republic of Panama, SOCSOUTH moved to Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico.
To allow for the closing of Roosevelt Roads, SOCSOUTH moved to its current location at Homestead Air Force base in April 2004. The "temporary" headquarters consists of 32 modular office facilities. SOCSOUTH is a joint headquarters, with 4 permanently assigned operational units: Charlie Company 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group; Charlie Company 3rd, Battalion 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment; Naval Special Warfare Group-Two Detachment South; and the Joint Special Operations Air Component sourced by AFSOC. Honored 5 times, SOCSOUTH received an Expeditionary Streamer for Just Cause, and 4 Joint Meritorious Unit Awards (JUMA).
Significant Operations
Operation Just Cause/Promote Liberty: In December 1989, SOCSOUTH activated a task force and played a significant role in executing Operation Just Cause, the U.S. invasion of Panama. The key objective of Operation Just Cause was the capture of Manuel Noriega and restoration of democracy in Panama. To accomplish this objective the task force identified 3 principal missions: the capture of Noriega; destruction of the Panamanian Defense Force (PDF); and the rescue of an American citizen held captive. The Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF), commanded by Major General Wayne A. Downing, was divided into smaller Task Forces (TF): TF Black (Army Special Forces), TF Red (the Army's 75th Ranger Regiment), and TF White (SEALs and Special Boat Unit assets).
During the initial invasion, each TF was given H-hour missions. TF Red successfully assaulted the Torrijos and Tocumen Airfields. TF White executed 4 separate missions: Deny use of the Paitilla Airfield; destruction of a Panamanian patrol boat; and securing the Atlantic and Pacific entrances of the Panama Canal. Finally, TF Black composed of 3rd BN, 7th Special Forces Group (A), commanded by Special Operations South Commander Colonel Robert C. Jacobelly, was tasked with 2 reconnaissance missions, a direct action assault to deny PDF access to the Pacora River Bridge, and removal of Panamanian TV Channel 2 from the airways. In addition, TF Black played a significant role in several post H-hour missions. TF Black's post H-hour missions included stopping pro-Noriega radio broadcasts and executing capitulation missions. Special Forces' (SF) presence in Panama prior to the invasion enhanced their knowledge of the culture and language making them an ideal force to secure the countryside through capitulation missions. These capitulation missions resulted in the surrender of 14 cartels, 2,000 troops and 6,000 weapons. Following the surrender of each military component, TF Black left behind a small SF element to help the rebuilding effort.
On 3 January 1990, after having his facility surrounded for 10 days, Noriega surrendered to American forces. In the end, Special Operations Forces (SOF) proved to be an effective force in executing the objectives of Operation Just Cause. SOF played key roles in the capture of Noriega, capture of Panama City, the security of Panama Canal, the rescue of an American citizen, and the restoration of democracy in Panama.
Humanitarian Relief Operations: Following the devastation caused by Hurricanes Georges and Mitch in 1998, SOCSOUTH provided immediate distribution of relief supplies while participating in humanitarian relief missions. More than 80,000 pounds of supplies were delivered to needy victims by helicopter within the Dominican Republic, and over 1,000 flood victims were transported to safety, in Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Operation Safe Border: In early 1995, a long-standing border dispute between Ecuador and Peru resulted in armed conflict. SOCSOUTH was designated the executive agent to plan and organize the initial Military Observer Mission Ecuador/Peru (MOMEP), a peacekeeping mission established to seek a resolution. SOCSOUTH initiated a command and control element, provided military assets, and deployed troops for the multinational peacekeeping mission. Also providing support were Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. The observer operation significantly reduced tension in the region, leading to the withdrawal of 10,000 troops and demobilization of 140,000 troops. Ultimately the dispute was resolved in 1998. The operation highlighted the important role SOF can play in the United States' Preventive Defense program, and MOMEP also marked the first time SOF were used in a multinational observer and observer support roles in South America. The long-standing presence of SOF in the region improved their language skills, knowledge of the region, and culture and interoperability with Partner Nations (PNs), making them an invaluable asset in helping to resolve the dispute. The command was also a participant in the Inter-American Defense Board demining program. SOCSOUTH's support of the program resulted in the removal or destruction of 3,629 mines and the clearing of 275,241 square meters of land.
Operation Willing Spirit (OWS): On 13 February 2003, a contracted reconnaissance plane carrying 4 U.S. Department of Defense contractors, Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves, Tom Janis, and Tom Howes, and 1 host nation rider, SGT Luis Alcides Cruz crashed in the jungles of Colombia. The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) executed Tom Janis and SGT Cruz at the crash site, and took Keith, Marc, and Tom as hostages. The U.S. immediately initiated efforts to recover the 3 survivors. In 2005, under Operation OWS, the U.S. along with the Colombian government and military began persistent activities from June 2005 to July 2008 with setting the conditions for a hostage recovery. SOCSOUTH deployed a command and control element (C2) in Colombia, Special Operations Command Forward (SOCFWD), for the purpose of providing on-site coordination to aid in the recovery effort. On 2 July 2008, after over 5years in captivity, Keith, Marc, and Tom were successfully rescued. The recovery was executed with no shots fired, no loss of life, no wounded - and with the capture of 2 senior FARC leaders.