On this day: Rescue of Kurt Muse, Panama

A topic for real-life experience in the subject matter. Experience versus training, expectation versus experience, worst and best experiences.

Moderator: jimothy_183

Post Reply
User avatar
Posts: 2810
Joined: Sun Apr 10, 2011 3:10 am
Location: Australia

On this day: Rescue of Kurt Muse, Panama

Post by Ryan » Sat Dec 21, 2013 3:21 am

“War is an extension of politics, and the Soldier is the last few feet of diplomacy.” — Dale Comstock.

On this day in 1989 I was the breacher that blew open the annex doors on top of Modelo Prison in Panama to rescue Kurt Muse. I was an assaulter-breacher with the U.S. Army's "Delta Force" that made history by conducting the first successful hostage rescue mission in U.S. Military History. We then chased Manuel Noriega across Panama until we cornered him in the Papal Nuncia where he finally surrendered.


Excerpt from my [Dale's] book "American Badass"--

Now, without compromising trade secrets, I will say that I pulled the hell out of those firing systems, which were on a ten- second delay.

Because it was dark, I wore standard-issue flight gloves, and with all of the noise and smoke, I wasn’t sure if my systems had fired and the time fuse was burning. I contemplated this conundrum, expending at least four or five seconds analyzing the situation. This meant I had about five seconds left to get up and on the other side of the annex before this charge went nuclear and sent me into orbit in pieces and parts.

I jumped and began running. The excessive long tail on my priming system, conveniently, and with malicious intent, grabbed my assault boot and decided the entire ensemble was coming with me. Out of my peripheral vision, I saw the charge come off the door. It looked like a small tree slowly falling over, and I almost think I imagined the word “Timberrrr.”

Plop! The damn thing landed behind me and in front of the assault team. I stopped immediately and turned to see this horrific scene. My troop commander yelled to my team leader, “Fix it, Stephen, fix it!” I remember thinking, “What the hell is Stephen going to do? He’s in charge but I’m the guy turning wrenches here. Get the fuck outta my way!”

By this time, I had counted the seconds in my head and knew we were safe. The charge had not armed. I ran back into the hail of little gray matter bits—bullets—and grabbed the charge. I returned to the door, took a deep breath, and told myself, “By the numbers, Dale, by the numbers.”

I reattached the charge securely, removed all safeties, and then pulled each ring on the igniters. When I pulled the first one, it felt like it didn’t fire. In fact, the ring didn’t even release the firing pin. So, I moved on to the second ring and pulled. This time it was nice and smooth, and I could feel the firing pin hit the primer and pop. The charge was burning, and we were going into a devil's lair to dance with Santa Muerte.

In my excitement I yelled, “Fire in the hole!” I ran around the side of the annex, which was exposed to enemy gunfire, and jumped into the stack. Kaboom! A beast of a charge shot both doors across to the far side of the wall like flying platters. They hit the wall flush and then slid down the wall. They landed perfectly, resting out of our pathway down the stairs.

The shockwave was incredible. Kurt Muse, who was two floors down in a small jail cell, later described the experience, saying that the overpressure blew the hair on his head back. I can just imagine what the guards were thinking when this shockwave bounced off the walls throughout the building, notifying them that it was game time.


A question: Someone just asked me why I was wearing a different helmet and about the P-factor.

Answer: Yes, I decided that at the last minute to put on a K-Pot over a plastic helmet, since I would be standing in the fatal funnel placing a breaching charge and in direct line of fire from the guard towers and Barber shop below. I am also the only guy to wear chicken plates groin protector, and ballistic collars during that era. It wasn't until Blackhawk Down that everyone else thought the added protection may be beneficial. P-factor - I added about an extra .5 lbs to my charge to make sure the doors would blow, just in case there was some kind of reinforcement on the door. Turns out that I was right and made a good call.


Another question: "I've always wondered about that part. Is it true one operator was hurt badly when the little bird went down by a prop that hit him in the face and he went over to Muse to just ask him if he was OK, despite the injury?"

Answer: All four of the operators on board and the pilots were badly injured and wounded. Kurt was the only one to escape injury because he was inside the hull of the bird protected with body armor. When the bird was shot down he assumed that he was the only survivor and thus exited the crash The engine was still running and rotors turning. My team mate on Foxtrot Team - ATL "Tom C" was on the ground unconscious when Kurt grabbed his .45 to defend himself. Tom awoke just as Kurt started to walk aimlessly into the spinning blades (helo was sitting canted) and then immediately got to his feet, grabbed Kurt and pulled him out of danger. That is when Tom received a severe rotor strike to head, shaving off part of his protect helmet and rendering him unconscious again. Tom was still being treated for his head injury 5 months later when we crashed again in the Darien Jungle. Unfortunately, my brother was paralyzed for life. Tom is the hero - not me. Had he not done what he done, Kurt may be dead and the mission would have been an epic fail. Much respect for Tom.


- Dale Comstock, Ex-Delta Force Operator. His book: "American Badass: The true story of a modern day Spartan". Make sure you check it out!
CQB-TEAM Education and Motivation.

"Pragmatism over theory."
"Anyone with a weapon is just as deadly as the next person."
"Unopposed CQB is always a success, if you wanted you could moonwalk into the room holding a Pepsi."

Post Reply

Return to “Experience”