Operation Just Cause 1989 – Ranger kit

Originally intended as a gradual buildup of troops by the United States, Operation Just Cause was significantly changes over the course of 1989. Reasons for these changes in operational procedure came from the events that eventually led to the operation as we know it today. Relations between the US Administration and the Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega had been declining throughout the year and all these events escalated into the eventual Operation Just Cause, but that year was just the tip of the ice berg.

After many interesting events, dating all the way to the 1960s (Noriega assisting the Contra groups in Nicaragua, the US War on Drugs…), the Operation Just Cause was launched on December 20th, 1989. The goal of the operation was to restore the democratic government to Panama, led by Guillermo Endara and arrest Manuel Noriega on drug trafficking charges. There are some very interesting historical events leading up to this. Of special interest to myself, is Operation Snowcap (1987-1994), which was the counter-narcotics operation led by the DEA. Without going more into the details of that particular operation, I recommend reading further about it, if the history and background details about Just Cause interest you.

On this post, I will be highlighting my Operation Just Cause Ranger kit. During the operation, for example, we can see 2nd Battalion Rangers using the M723 carbine, which was common in various configurations with Delta Force. After the operation, few images show Rangers using this particular carbine, as they opted for the RO727 carbine. This was due to the A2 style rear sights of the carbine, which they already had on their M16A2’s. Let’s dive into this one, sports fans!

“How does my hair look?” – The 80s woodland hair

Original photo credit to owner.

While not limited to just Operation Just Cause, the use of strips cut from an old woodland BDU and attached to your helmet is the look which always reminds me of Operation Just Cause. Personally, this was might have been the first time I saw this method being used and I have always found it looked cool. Add some woodland BDUs to that and some retro old school rifles and we have an aesthetic mix of pure visual badassery. Let me show you how I replicated this, but first let’s look at what you need.

The above image shows the overall look we are aiming for. There are some subtle differences between every kit and that is good. While being uniform, you still need to remain an individual. This kit was probably my most prized and built impression, to the extent that it could have passed re-enactment lines, in my opinion.

In addition to the PASGT helmet with the ‘Manchu hair’ cover, the woodland BDUs had made their way to the Battalions as well. During Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, Rangers were using the Vietnam era Jungle fatigues, but changed over to the new M81 Woodland pattern a while after that operation. These, unlike the first version ones, were cotton rip-stop and were much more comfortable in tropical/hot climates than the heavy twill fabric woodlands of the early 1980s.

As is true to the 1980s, the ALICE LBE is the go-to kit for this as well. Common layout of the ALICE setup consists of two canteen pouches, two ammo pouches and two compass/First Aid pouches. There are also cases where more ammo pouches are added. Those who carried a radio, we can see a green custom made radio pouch on their LBE and NCOs and officers seem to almost always have a STROBE light attached to their ALICE suspenders.

The Ranger on the left has a custom green radio pouch attached to his LBE. The Ranger on the center has a STROBE attached to his ALICE LBE. Original image credit to owner.

Kit setup varies according to the role you have, but the basics are the same for everyone. My kit is made according to my own preferences, but it can still be considered period correct. I have modded my ALICE LBE some extent and it has gone through a few different versions over the years. A lot of the mods and information I have used in building the setup comes from images taken during Operation Just Cause and the early 1990s of the Battalions.

My Operation Just Cause ALICE setup, featuring my RO727 carbine replica build. This carbine was not used during Operation Just Cause (to my knowledge).

The armament side of things can be a bit tricky, but very simple at the same time. Most Rangers were armed with M16A2’s, but there were some other weapons used as well. The M723 carbine was trialed during the time of the operation by the Rangers and saw use. In addition, some officers carried the MP5SD6. The M24 SWS was also used by the Rangers. Back then it was a fairly new weapon system. Apologies as I do not know any comprehensive history of the particular weapon system.

On the replica front, for us Airsofters, the M16A2 is a fairly common replica. One can be located with little effort from manufacturers as G&P, G&G and Classic Army. I am not affiliated with any of these brands but I have used them all during the years. Currently, almost every replica I own are from G&P, but all three brands have been worth every euro I have spent on them. If I was to buy and M16A2, it would probably nudge over to the G&G side of things. Depending on availability, of course.

The M723 carbine is a bit more tricky, as you cannot purchase a complete one. Mine was built using a G&P M653 as a base and I replaced the outer slim barrel to an M4 profile one. The upper receiver is the most difficult part to source. The upper has A1 style sights and a brass deflector. Some G&P replicas have this specific upper but sourcing one separate can be difficult.

The MP5SD6, if you want to go that route, is rather common as well in the Airsoft world. Locating one should not be a difficult process. The M24 is manufactured by at least a few brands from what I have seen. I have not really ventured into the Airsoft sniper world and I cannot give any advice on which one to get. Below are some images of the weapons discussed here in actual used during the operation.

The radio speaker/mic that was using during that time is a Motorola and the radio is the Motorola MX-300R (as far as I know). The old speaker/mic can be rewired to work with modern radios, if you want/need a functional one for Airsoft purposes, for example. The pouch used to carry the radio is a tricky one, as I have not seen original ones. Squadron Sew Shop makes an excellent replica of it and it is the one I am using as well.

Motorola Speaker Mic for Operation Just Cause Ranger setup.

Making this kit was one of my personal favorites, as it was the first re-enactment oriented kit I had done in years. It is still a personal favorite of mine and the basis of my LBE setup. I hope this gave you all some ideas about your kits and inspiration to work on them. As usual, I will end the post with some images of the kit discussed. These images were taken last summer and some of the pouches on the LBE have been changed to period correct ones. The layout is still the same.

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