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Fifty years ago today the US Government authorised Operation Power Pack. It was the start of a four month military intervention in the Dominican Republic to suppress a left-wing uprising following from years of internal dispute in the country.
David Hagen, US Army Broadcast Specialist E-4 with the 1st Psychological Warfare Battalion, recalls here the PsyWar support provided to the operation.
In the spring of 1965 I was a broadcast specialist with the 1st Psychological Warfare Battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Wallace J. Moulis, U.S. Army. My specific unit was the 4th Radio Broadcast and Leaflet Company. On the afternoon of 1 May 1965 our broadcast group was alerted for a midnight take off on C-130 aircraft for a mission to the Dominican Republic. Our van mounted radio station was also prepared for departure by heavy airlift. We were told a civil war had broken out in that Caribbean country and there was a need to explain to the population why Americans troops were there. Latin American specialists working for the United States Information Service (USIS) in Santo Domingo could have performed those tasks except that their printing and broadcast equipment were located in buildings now controlled by the rebels. Fully armed, we arrived with our broadcast facilities at San Isidro Air Base near Santo Domingo on 2 May.
We experienced sporadic rifle fire and a few mortar rounds at the airport and slept under our trucks the first night. The next day we drove to a residential area near the Ozama River where there was an existing AM radio tower and an abandoned cement building and set up our broadcasting equipment. Our location on the Eastern side of the Ozama River meant that when the 82nd Airborne Division took control of the Durate Bridge most of the fighting was then confined to the city center on the Western side of the river.
On 4 May we were ready to start broadcasting to the Dominican Republic. I was the only announcer (broadcast specialist) with the 4th RB team and did not speak Spanish so we did not start actual broadcasts until 5 May when an employee of the United States Information Agency (USIA) arrived. So I spent much of my time on guard duty. Our "Voice of the Security Zone" hit the AM airwaves and was powerful enough to be picked up in the surrounding countryside. I was told our broadcasting explained to the population the positive side of the intervention, and the need to restore order and democracy. Civilian specialists wrote scripts and other forms of propaganda under the direction of Mr. Hewson Ryan, associate director of the USIA. Our team was not involved with any "propaganda" planning and was simply tasked with keeping the radio station on the air.
Our radio broadcast equipment consisted of three truck mounted modules and two semi-trailers. The modules contained a communications unit (teletype and voice), an antenna tuning unit, and a power generator. The semis pulled a studio trailer and a transmitter trailer. Most of our equipment had been manufactured by RCA. The team's nine officers and enlisted personnel, all Army, included communications and transmitter engineers, a studio engineer, and a broadcast specialist. Our commander was a Captain and I was the lowest ranking at specialist 4 (E-4).
When the rest of the1st Psychological Warfare Battalion arrived in the Dominican Republic between 3 -7 May, it brought with it mobile printing presses and loudspeaker units. During the first week in May, the entire battalion was moved from our home base at Fort Bragg to Santo Domingo taking along all unit equipment that was transportable.
Within a week I was later told, the first pamphlet drop was made over Santo Domingo using two Air Force C-47s. But our battalion's printing unit ran into a number of difficulties because the troops involved in printing leaflets did not know Spanish. These problems were eventually overcome, but at the height of the civil war such intelligence gaps and language difficulties seriously hampered what was later described as a successful exercise of civilian and military team work. One report stated that by the end of May leaflets were being printed at a rate of 70,000 per day. The printing facilities were in a different location than our broadcasting station so I did not see any of the leaflets. None were air dropped in our area. That was rather strange since we were in heavily populated residential area in the suburbs of the capitol.
There were reports that when Radio Santo Domingo was captured from the rebels in mid-May, 1st PsyWar took over broadcasting from that facility. We also heard that Voice of America was being broadcast in, or to, the Dominican Republic but neither of those operations involved the 4th RB&L Company.
Within two weeks of the American military's arrival in the Dominican Republic the security zone American soldiers and Marines we set up between the rebels and the loyalists effectively ended the civil war. For us, there had only been sporadic sniper fire except for one incident where a few armed men stumbled into our broadcasting site one night and were quickly driven away.
There was no way we could judge the effectiveness of our broadcasting or if any Dominicans even heard us. However, the civilians near us were always very friendly and we constantly had kids hanging around asking to play baseball with us. In the mornings civilians would bring us espresso coffee and ask about the United States. Our loudspeaker jeeps seemed to be the most effective in imparting information. Wherever the jeeps would stop, hundreds of Dominicans would gather to hear the latest news and receive leaflets and pamphlets.
By June of 1965, the immediate crisis had passed and the withdrawal of U.S. forces had begun. During the summer of 1965, elements of our psychological warfare battalion returned to Ft. Bragg by US Navy LST, taking along our radio transmitters, heavy presses, and much of the loudspeaker equipment which had been brought along.