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Old 12-10-2009, 12:20 AM
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Default Refusal of Orders Revealed

Author’s Note: The tone of this work is not intended to show my criticism of my own character, MG Charles Thomason. I’m working with different voices. Everyone has his own version of events.

Otto von Bismarck claimed, “There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America...” In the case of MG Charles Thomason and his so-called Southeastern Arizona Military Administrative District (SAMAD), the double reinforcement of God’s protection for idiots and the American nation clearly was at work in 1998 and 1999. Thomason took a titanic risk in removing Fort Huachuca and its emerging cantonment area from the chain of command leading back to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He gambled everything on a single card: the idea that the Mexican General Staff would not prioritize the conquest of Arizona until events worked out in Thomason’s favor. As a command decision, Thomason’s determination to go it alone against Mexico was the very height of folly. The only saving grace of Thomason’s decision in June of 1998 is the fact that events did conspire in his favor and, ultimately, in the favor of the nation.

On June 16, 1998 Thomason received orders to detach the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade from Fort Huachuca and move the brigade to Fresno, CA under the command of 6th US Army. It was anticipated that the brigade would enter combat against Mexican forces in southern California soon thereafter.

There is no doubt that American combat power was needed in California. Since the start of the Second Mexican-American War on June 2, 1998 the Mexican Army had had its way of things. Second Mexican Army crossed the US-Mexico border in California just before dawn on the 2nd and captured the Imperial Valley against scattered and uncoordinated resistance by nightfall. On paper, the American position in southern California was strong. The main base of the US Pacific Fleet was at San Diego, along with important US Marine Corps facilities. Camp Pendleton, a massive USMC installation, was slightly further up the coast. Inland were the US Army’s Fort Irwin and the USMC’s Twenty-Nine Palms. Other facilities abounded.

Yet the American position was quite weak—a fact that the Mexicans exploited in the opening days of operations. Camp Pendleton, Twenty-Nine Palms, and Fort Irwin were shadows of their former selves. Virtually all of the troops and equipment had been shipped out. Only skeleton crews maintained the installations. Los Angeles had been largely depopulated by June as a result of the nuclear attacks against local refineries. San Diego was hanging onto its law and order by a thread. No one was ready for a Mexican invasion; when it came, what stability remained was erased.

Second Mexican Army moved against San Diego and was held up briefly by determined resistance from USN personnel and Marines. Taking what they could with them, the American survivors evacuated by sea to San Francisco. While the fighting was raging in San Diego, Second Mexican Army pushed other units north to Camp Pendleton, Barstow and Fort Irwin, and Twenty-Nine Palms. At Fort Irwin, 49th Military Police Brigade, which had been attempting to reconsolidate its units since the start of the war, was able to repulse the initial Mexican probes and first attack. However, as more Mexican formations moved up, the position of 49th MP Brigade became untenable; the brigade withdrew north along with everything that could be salvaged from Fort Irwin.

6th US Army disposed scanty forces at that time. The rebuilt 40th Infantry Division was at Camp Roberts absorbing replacements, new equipment, and conducting disaster relief and internal security missions throughout the central coast of California. The various commands were reassembled as hastily as possible, and the division was marched south. 221st Military Police Brigade was recalled from Hawaii. Other small commands were absorbed into the 6th US Army structure.

Within a week, Mexican forces had established loose control over everything south of line running roughly between Bakersfield and Vandenburg AFB. Second Mexican Army paused to move up supplies and bring up additional forces.

Acting under orders from 6th US Army, Thomason dispatched 111th MI Brigade to Yuma, which was effectively the right flank of Second Mexican Army in California. The response of the Mexicans shows just how great an impact the 111th might have had in California had 6th US Army been able to continue to employ the brigade in combat. 111th MI Brigade expelled a modest covering force from Yuma, thus securing the Colorado River bridges on the US side of the border. Had the brigade immediately pushed south with any conviction, the brigade could have seized and destroyed the Colorado River bridges on the Mexican side of the border. Instead, 111th MI Brigade sat and waited for Mexican forces to arrive; in response to the threat to his flank, CINC Second Mexican Army had dispatched Second Armored Cavalry Regiment and Ensenada Brigade from the front, thereby bringing the Mexicans’ northward advance in California to a standstill. Without attempting any serious defense of the vital Yuma position, Thomason ordered the bridges at Yuma destroyed. Under his orders, 111th MI Brigade fell back to Tucson, where the MI troops defeated some Mexican raiders.

Upon receipt of orders to permanently attach 111th MI Brigade to 6th US Army, Thomason replied that the brigade was combat ineffective. There was some basis for his claim. The brigade had suffered great losses since the Thanksgiving Day Massacre; the same could be said about virtually every US military command in CONUS, though. Thomason’s G-1 reported that the 111th had 1,800 soldiers available on 16 JUN 98. The brigade possessed a full battalion of 105mm howitzers, plus a small number of Ridgway light tanks and a larger number of APC. Thomason claimed that his troops were exhausted and that to push them further would cause the disintegration of the brigade. The same was true of the troops of 40th Infantry Division and 49th MP Brigade. They fought.

By way of comparison, the Nellis Group had been in continuous disaster relief and security action in southern Nevada since the TDM. The Nellis Group consisted of airmen from Nellis AFB near Las Vegas, plus some Army Reserves and National Guard troops, and a variety of law enforcement personnel using Nellis AFB as an operating base. They had been struggling to maintain law and order in Clark County for more than six months. By June, the Nellis Group had endured 70% losses in manpower; yet they fought on. The same day that Fort Huachuca was issued orders to send 111th MI Brigade to California, the Nellis Group received orders to move its surviving personnel, equipment, and dependents to Sacramento. Within ten days, the Nellis Group was on the road. The 111th was in a much more favorable position, but Thomason refused orders to move them.

The Joint Chiefs intervened on 20 JUN 98. Anxious to avoid placing Thomason in the position of refusing orders that he claimed not to be able to execute, the Joint Chiefs gave him thirty days to prepare the brigade for movement. Thomason had claimed that approximately 450 lightly wounded soldiers would return to duty within that time. The Joint Chiefs rightly believed that this was adequate time to prepare the brigade dependents for movement and make other preparations.

In fact, Thomason had no intention of moving the 111th. The Joint Chiefs received intelligence that Thomason had, with very dubious legality, engineered the creation of a new political entity in Arizona: the Southeastern Arizona Military Administrative District. SAMAD incorporated all of Cochise, Pima, and Santa Cruz Counties into a sort of quasi-state that combined federal, state, and county functions under his own control at Fort Huachuca. Thomason took under control all federal, state, and county assets and personnel within SAMAD and reorganized them in his vision. Entirely without authorization from the Joint Chiefs, Thomason disbanded all USAF, USN, and USMC units in SAMAD, including the USAF 355th Wing at Davis-Monthan AFB. At the same time, Thomason formalized his usurpation of control over 3rd Arizona State Guard (AZSTAG) Brigade. Neither the Arizona legislature, governor, nor adjutant general authorized any such action.

Those who defend Thomason’s actions point out that in the post-Exchange climate consolidations of command were commonplace. In California, Army and Marine survivors of the fighting in southern California were incorporated wholesale into the command structures of 40th Infantry Division and 49th MP Brigade. With increasing frequency, airmen with no aircraft to service were used as replacements in Army units. However, these actions occurred within a framework of legal standing. Commanders who swept up members of the sister services and consolidated Army units were following the orders of their chain of command at the time. Thomason was acting outside the chain of command. By gathering up all of the various Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force personnel and assets within SAMAD at the time, he robbed the Joint Chiefs of the opportunity to use those badly needed forces in California.

Had 111th MI Brigade been dispatched to California in a timely manner, there is every reason to believe that the scales might have been tipped in favor of 6th US Army. The probable loss of southeastern Arizona would have been a fair trade for the strong possibility of pushing Second Mexican Army out of California in 1998.1

By opting to hold his ground in southeastern Arizona, Thomason effectively pitted his relatively tiny enclave against the nation of Mexico. He acknowledged as much in his own command log. The rogue general pinned his hopes on two factors: effective utilization of the meager resources at his command and the belief that the Mexicans would continue to view Arizona as a subsidiary theater.

The Mexican senior leadership did in fact view Arizona as a secondary concern—and for good reason. In the post-Exchange American Southwest, agricultural land with reliable irrigation or adequate rainfall was the most valuable asset. Industry and men under arms ran neck-in-neck in second place. Farmland, industry, and manpower were to be found in California and Texas, not Arizona. This is not to say that Arizona was a barren wasteland; SAMAD could not have survived on sand and rock. However, the agricultural output of either Texas or California so far outstripped that of Arizona that the Mexican leadership remained focused on the first two states right up through the beginning of the Second Mexican Civil War. In the same light, the Mexican leadership did not believe the United States could be knocked out of the war by even the total loss of Arizona (and New Mexico); nor would Mexico gain much by absorbing Arizona, save to national pride. To the degree that a decision in the Second Mexican-American War could be reached, it would be reached in California and/or Texas.

The secondary status of Arizona notwithstanding, the Mexican General Staff planned to conquer SAMAD as the opening move of Operation De Soto [the planned 1999 offensive in California]. For this purpose, a force of five brigades was prepared and outfitted in the Mexican interior. The brigades in question were Tampico Brigade, San Luis Potosi Brigade, Queretaro Brigade, Veracruz Brigade, and Zacatecas Brigade. Although these forces were earmarked for Second Mexican Army, the General Staff opted to keep them in the interior until the last possible minute to maintain some degree of operational surprise. There were other reasons for keeping these formations in the interior. The rumblings and civil disorder that would lead to the outbreak of a new Mexican Civil War were being heard even as early as late 1998. The General Staff wanted to keep these regional brigades in place until new, loyal militia units could be raised to take the place of the reinforcements for Second Mexican Army. Also, stockpiling the supplies for 30 days of intensive operations for each brigade proved more difficult than anticipated.

Once Operation De Soto began, the plan was for the brigade group, called Group De Soto, to assemble in northern Sonora under the command of Sonora Army. Sonora Army would crush the forces of SAMAD, and then Group De Soto would detach itself and move to California for the main push up the Central Valley to Sacramento. Given the enormous numerical advantage Sonora Army would have possessed, there is little room for doubt that the Mexicans would have overwhelmed 111th Brigade and its auxiliaries in short order.

Thomason was saved by sheer luck. 5th US Army in Texas launched a counteroffensive based on 49th Armored Division literally days before Operation De Soto was to have begun. The initial progress of 5th US Army was so favorable that the entire Group De Soto was shifted to Texas in response. The American counteroffensive ultimately failed, but Group De Soto was firmly committed to Texas by that time. Later in the year, Sonora Army launched a much weaker than intended offensive against SAMAD, but without the intended reinforcements Sonora Army lacked the strength to make any gains. There was no way Thomason could have taken the fighting in Texas into account in 1998; Bismarck’s Providence had safeguarded Fort Huachuca.

The Mexicans made one more major effort to take SAMAD before the Second Mexican Civil War burst into its full flower in 2000. Sonora Army was used again; however, preparations for the offensive were cursory. Sonora Army had an outside chance to capture SAMAD by this time, since the preliminary fighting of the new civil war already had caused the commitment of resources elsewhere. The 2000 effort to capture SAMAD was little more than a last-ditch effort by the Nationalist leadership to rally the Army and the nation behind a victory. Instead of a victory, the Nationalists earned a defeat in southern Arizona; and this can be said to have sped the outbreak of full war. Once Mexico was embroiled in full-scale civil war, the threat to SAMAD receded.

Thomason’s decision to hold his little kingdom in defiance of the Joint Chiefs made little sense at the time. Indeed, he had no way of knowing that the factors which led to SAMAD’s preservation were present at all. Had the Mexican General Staff placed a higher priority on taking Arizona, Fort Huachuca and Tucson would have fallen in 1998. Had Grupo De Soto been ready for action as little as two weeks earlier, SAMAD would have been conquered before the American counteroffensive in Texas kicked off. Had the Mexican General Staff placed a higher priority on operations in Arizona later in 1999, instead of continuing to send men and materiel to Texas and California, SAMAD would have been taken. And in 2000, the long-term future of Fort Huachuca was only secured by the disintegration of the Mexican state. None of these developments could have been foreseen by Charles Thomason in June or July of 1998.

Why, then, did Thomason go the way he did? His post adjutant may have summed him up best in her journal. “His [Thomason’s] refusal of orders was two parts cold calculation and three parts emotional attachment. He talked about the resources available: the food, the weapons, the stocks of spare parts and ammunition from the CD [Contingency Detachment], and so on. The real reason was that he had put his roots down too deeply to consider moving. The work of three years went into making Fort Huachuca live. After the bombs, thousands gave their lives to keep order and save others. After all that, he just couldn’t bring himself to let go…”

Of course, events after the Second Mexican Civil War got fully underway would seem to justify Thomason’s decisions. Certainly, he played his cards very shrewdly from that time forward. Nevertheless, his most important decision was made based on his inability to make a truly difficult decision and not on military or political insight. The fact that Fort Huachuca and Colorado Springs ultimately made peace does little to alter the fact that Thomason was one of the first of many to turn his back on his chain of command based principally on his unwillingness to place his duty above his personal attachments.


1 Editor’s Note: In an interview conducted after matters in California had been settled, the officer who held the position of J-3 of 6th US Army in 1998 admitted that, given the weapons, manpower, equipment, condition, and training of 111th Brigade in July 1998, the addition of the brigade probably would have made little difference in the state of affairs. The former J-3 confided that in 1998 the logistics of 6th US Army were so constrained that the 111th would have been forced to fight with little more than what it could transport from Arizona.

References: US Army Vehicle Guide, Howling Wilderness, Mexican Order of Battle

Last edited by Webstral; 12-10-2009 at 01:00 AM. Reason: Italics
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Old 12-10-2009, 05:18 AM
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Good read as always. Keep it up.
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Old 12-10-2009, 11:55 AM
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Webstral

More awesome stuff, as usual. I have an outside chance of starting a FtF Twilight game after the new year, and I fully intend on using most of your stuff as a major part of that. The stuff you come up with is leagues better than most for-profit publishers, and I for one really appreciate it!
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Old 12-10-2009, 07:05 PM
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VERY nice read! Well done.
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Old 12-10-2009, 08:38 PM
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Agreed, I like a lot of what I am reading here.
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Old 12-10-2009, 10:10 PM
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Thank you, gentlemen. Positive feedback certainly keeps one at the keyboard working.

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