Operation Just Cause Soldiers’ valorous actions recognized after 34 years
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Four former U.S. Army Soldiers receive the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device at the U.S. Army South holiday ball, Dec. 8, 2023. The valorous awards were upgraded from Army Commendation Medals and presented for their heroic actions during Operation Just Cause in 1989. Pictured from left to right: Maj. Gen. William Thigpen, commander of U.S. Army South; former Army Capt. Linda Bray, 988th Military Police Company; retired Army Lt. Col. Mikel Russel, former commander of the 108th MP Company; former Army Capt. Kimberly Brodbeck, former platoon leader with 988th MP Company; retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Mackey, former platoon leader with 108th MP Company; and Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Graves, Army South senior enlisted advisor. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Taeckens) (Photo Credit: Spc. Joshua Taeckens) VIEW ORIGINAL
Operation Just Cause Soldiers’ valorous actions recognized after 34 years
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Maj. Gen. William Thigpen, commander of U.S. Army South (left) presents retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert Mackey (right) the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device, at the Army South holiday ball in San Antonio, Texas, Dec. 8, 2023. Mackey, former platoon leader assigned to the 108th Miltary Police Company, received the upgraded award for his heroic actions during Operation Just Cause in 1989. Then a second lieutenant, Mackey led two teams while clearing a five-story fortified building, overrunning enemy forces and forcing the abandonment of weapons, ammunition, and critical intelligence. While responding to the intelligence collected, Mackey surprised a heavily armed enemy armored vehicle and lept from a moving High Mobility Wheeled Vehicle armed with only an M72 Light Anti-Tank Weapon, leading the enemy to abandon the vehicle allowing Mackey and his team to capture it, intact. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Taeckens) (Photo Credit: Spc. Joshua Taeckens) VIEW ORIGINAL
Operation Just Cause Soldiers’ valorous actions recognized after 34 years
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Maj. Gen William Thigpen, commander of U.S. Army South (left), presents former Army Capt. Linda Bray (right) the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device during the Army South holiday ball in San Antonio, Texas, Dec. 8, 2023. Bray, former company commander of the 988th Miltary Police Company, received the upgrade award for her heroic actions during Operation Just Cause in 1989. Bray rushed from her command post to take direct command of one of her platoons when it came under heavy enemy fire. She offered the enemy an opportunity to surrender but ended up leading her Soldiers on a direct assault of a heavily fortified compound, resulting in the enemy fleeing and abandoning a large cache of weapons, thus accomplishing her assigned mission. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Taeckens) (Photo Credit: Spc. Joshua Taeckens) VIEW ORIGINAL

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Four former U.S. Army Soldiers recently received the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device, or BSM(V), for their valorous actions in Panama 34 years ago.

Previously awarded the Army Commendation Medal (ARCOM) following Operation Just Cause — a campaign to overthrow Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and restore the democratically elected government of Guillermo Endara in 1989 — the prior service military police officers received upgraded awards at the U.S. Army South holiday ball, Dec. 8, 2023.

“Tonight was just amazing,” exclaimed Kimberly Brodbeck, a former Army captain and one of the four BSM(V) recipients. “Originally, when Mike Russell and Robert Mackey reached out to me, I didn't want to pursue this at all. In my mind, it was done, and it was a long time ago. Then, [Army South] Command Sgt. Maj. [Ronald] Graves called me and told me about the upgrade, and I was in tears. It felt really good [to receive this award] tonight.”

Operation Just Cause Soldiers’ valorous actions recognized after 34 years
Maj. Gen. William Thigpen, commander of U.S. Army South (left) presents Kimberly Brodbeck (right) the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device at the Army South holiday ball in San Antonio, Texas, Dec. 8, 2023. Brodbeck, then 1st. Lt. Kimberly Thompson assigned to the 988th Military Police Company, received the upgraded award for her heroic actions during Operation Just Cause in 1989. She led her platoon to repulse coordinated enemy attacks over four days leading to numerous personnel, vehicles and equipment being neutralized and preventing the retreat and escape of several senior members of the enemy government. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Taeckens) (Photo Credit: Spc. Joshua Taeckens) VIEW ORIGINAL

Brodbeck, then 1st Lt. Kimberly Thompson and platoon leader with the 988th Military Police Company, was honored alongside her former company commander, Capt. Linda Bray and retired Lieutenant Colonels Mikel Russell and Robert Mackey, who led the 108th Military Police Company during the invasion.

Collectively, their actions ranged from attacking Panamanian Defense Forces’ (PDF) positions, defending crucial checkpoints, clearing fortified buildings, dodging sniper fire, being pinned down by enemy fire for days, and fighting enemy forces in close combat.

Russell’s display of heroism began when PDF combatants fired on his Soldiers' positions. He acted quickly and with disregard for personal safety to run across the street, alone and only armed with a pistol, to neutralize the threat. When he tried to return to the defended perimeter, an enemy in a multi-story building began firing on his position.

Operation Just Cause Soldiers’ valorous actions recognized after 34 years
Maj. Gen. William Thigpen, commander of U.S. Army South (left), presents retired Lt. Col. Mikel Russell (right) the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device at the Army South holiday ball in San Antonio, Texas, Dec. 8, 2023. Russell, the former company commander of the 108th Military Police Company, received the upgraded award for his heroic actions during Operation Just Cause in 1989. Russell was tasked with securing key government buildings of the enemy when his company came under intense sniper and light machine gun fire from surrounding residential buildings filled with both combatants and noncombatants. With little regard for personal safety and only armed with a pistol, Russell neutralized an enemy manning a machine gun, shot out a streetlight to incapacitate enemy visibility and returned to the defended perimeter under gunfire. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Taeckens) (Photo Credit: Spc. Joshua Taeckens) VIEW ORIGINAL

Since it was nighttime, Russell’s first sergeant yelled at him to shoot out the streetlight above him. He did so, eliminating the enemy’s ability to see him as he ran back across the street under enemy fire.

“I did it because I was mad that they were shooting at my Soldiers,” said Russell. “There was no time to be scared; it was just about protecting my guys.”

Russell said he wrote a letter to a U.S. senator to reconsider the ARCOM he and his fellow Soldiers received. Award recommendations are processed through the U.S. Army Human Resources Command, and the award upgrades were approved in November 2023.

The BSM, instituted on February 4, 1944, is presented to individuals who, while serving in any capacity within or alongside the United States Army after December 7, 1941, have demonstrated exceptional heroism or meritorious achievement in connection with military operations against an armed enemy or an opposing armed force.

The "V" device is affixed to decorations as a symbol of valor, representing acts of heroism beyond the ordinary during direct combat with an enemy of the United States. Such actions involve exposure to enemy hostilities and personal risk, showcasing extraordinary courage and dedication.

The BSM(V)s were not the only awards presented that night.

Operation Just Cause Soldiers’ valorous actions recognized after 34 years
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – U.S. Army South Commanding General, Maj. Gen. William Thigpen (left), and Army South Senior Enlisted Leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Graves (right) affix the fifth Army Superior Unit Award to the unit’s colors during the Army South Holiday Ball in San Antonio, Texas, Dec. 8, 2023. U.S. Army South received the award for its exemplary performance in 2020, during which time the unit supported U.S. Southern Command and Joint Task Force-Bravo in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations throughout Central America following two category 4 hurricanes, Eta and Iota, which both made landfall within a two-week period. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Taeckens) (Photo Credit: Spc. Joshua Taeckens) VIEW ORIGINAL
Operation Just Cause Soldiers’ valorous actions recognized after 34 years
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – U.S. Army South Soldiers conduct a historical display to demonstrate the contributions that 6th Army and Army South have made overtime, during the Army South holiday ball in San Antonio, Texas, Dec. 8,, 2023. During the ceremony, U.S. Army South received its fifth Army Superior Unit Award for its exemplary performance in 2020,, during which time the unit supported U.S. Southern Command and Joint Task Force-Bravo in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations throughout Central America following two category 4 hurricanes, Eta and Iota, which both made landfall within a two-week period. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Taeckens) (Photo Credit: Spc. Joshua Taeckens) VIEW ORIGINAL

Thigpen and Graves adorned the fifth Army Superior Unit Award streamer onto the Army South colors. The organization was recognized for its exemplary performance in 2020, during which time Army South supported U.S. Southern Command and Joint Task Force-Bravo in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations throughout Central America following two category 4 hurricanes, Eta and Iota, which both made landfall within a two-week period.

After all awards were distributed, something was missing, according to several of the BSM recipients. While grateful to be recognized, Russell shared that there are other fellow service members who also deserve to be honored.

“There are three Soldiers out there that we need to find so we can get their awards upgraded because they deserve BSMs for their actions,” he said. “My hope is that the Army publicizes this, these three Soldiers read this, and we find them to upgrade their awards. For me, that would be the greatest reward.”