Operation Just Cause: Remembering PFC Scott Lee Roth

scott-l-roth-photoPrivate First Class Scott Lee Roth, served in 1st Platoon of 401st Military Police Company, 720th Military Police Battalion, 89th Military Police Brigade, Fort Hood Texas and was Killed in Action (KIA) on December 20, 1989, as part of Operation Justice Cause in the Republic of Panama. PFC Roth was just 19-years old when he was killed.

PFC Roth military police unit was on a four- month rotating security detail in the Republic of Panama. On December 18, 1989, the company completed its four-month tour and was packed and standing by for rotation back to Fort Hood when they were ordered to ‘load down’ and await further orders from the 519th MP Battalion (Fort Meade, Maryland), to which they were assigned subordinate.

On December 19, 1989, at 1900 hours the 401st MP Company received their new combat support orders for Operation Just Cause. The Company moved out to their assignments just before H-Hour (2400 Hours).

On December 20, 1989, during the early morning hours of the start of “Operation Just Cause”, the 1st Platoon, for which PFC Roth was a member was the M-60 machine gunner. 1st platoon was tasked with preventing the movement and consolidation of Panama Defense Forces (PDF) in their area of operation at Check Point-12, in the Diablo Heights area. This was a strategic location that must be held to prevent the PDF from having road access to one of the planned dropped zones of the Rangers and Paratroopers who were about to conduct a combat jump to engage the enemy forces.

At 0015 hours on December 20, 1989, a platoon size squad of PDF were surprised to encounter a Military Police Blocking/Checkpoint manned by two squads of the 1st platoon. PFC Roth was manning the M60 machine gun on the checkpoint and the PDF refused orders to drop their weapons and surrender peacefully. The PDF soldiers opened fire on the military police position and were met with overwhelming and well planned defensive. A violent firefight ensued that lasted only about 10 minutes. PFC Roth was engaging enemy with the M60 machine gun when he was struck in the chest by three rounds fired by an enemy PDF soldiers. PFC Roth was killed instantly and the M60 machine gun went silent, another MP manning the checkpoint jumped behind the machine gun and started scanning for enemy targets, but the remaining PDF broke off the engagement, leaving their wounded and dead on the road. Two PDF members who were injured in the failed attack on the military police checkpoint surrender and were taken as enemy prisoners of war (EPWs). They were given medical attention by members of 1st platoon and secured.

The military police did do not pursue the fleeing enemy soldiers. The military police manning the checkpoint knew this position had to be held and if they pulled out the designated drop zones would be comprised and the Rangers and Paratroopers could be vulnerable to a counter attack during airborne operations. 1st platoon suffered no other casualties during the attack on the checkpoint. The military blocking/checkpoint held and Army Rangers and Paratroopers swarmed onto the drop zones, assembled, and moved out to attack their primary and secondary objectives. Shortly after the first waves of Rangers and Paratroopers secured the DZ, the two squads of 1st platoon were pulled out to regroup with their company and receive new combat support orders.

The military police from 1st platoon where young and this was their first time in combat. Each member of PFC Roth platoon testified to his strength of character, duty, and quick reaction with returning fire using the M-60 machine gun of the squad. PFC quick reaction and accurate fire on the enemy broke off any attempt at a PDF organized counterattack efforts and ended the fire fight quickly by disbursing the enemy as they retreated from the area. 1st platoon of the 401st Military Police Company fulfilled the combat support role of the military police by providing force protection and maintaining the blocking/checkpoint position until relieved. PFC Roth actions were in keeping with the military police motto “Of the Troops and for the Troops”.

scott-roth-headstonePFC Roth received a full military funeral on December 29, 1989, and was laid to rest in his hometown of Rock Island, Illinois at the Rock Island National Cemetery.

PFC Roth for not having served very long in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps prior to Operation Just Cause received the following unit and personal decorations as a testimony of his faithful service to our Great Nation.

Army Valorous Unit Citation Ribbon

Purple Heart Medal

Army Good Conduct Ribbon

Armed Forces Expeditionary Ribbon

National Defense Service Ribbon

Army Service Ribbon