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UTAHNS WHO LIVED IN PANAMA SAY INVASION WAS LONG AWAITED

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Utahns who have lived in Panama said they have been expecting Wednesday's military invasion for some time and believe most Panamanians are grateful for the U.S. intervention.

"I think basically everyone that has lived in Panama has been waiting for it to happen," said Laura Jobe of Ogden. She and her husband, Tom, who is now stationed at Hill Air Force Base, lived in Panama for four years and just returned in August."More than anything we saw what Noriega has done to the country and what he's doing to the people," she said.

"To me it's all worth it. It's true that people are giving up their lives, but he's got to be stopped."

Laurie Ellington, Ogden, said she had a gut feeling Tuesday morning the events were about to change after she spoke by phone with her husband, Joel, who is stationed with the U.S. Army in Panama.

"He knew it was coming Tuesday, but he didn't tell me about it." She said she could tell by the tone in his voice that something was different there. Ellington has yet to hear from her husband, and although she believes he is OK, she has spent many anxious moments carefully watching media reports of the situation.

Jobe said she, too, has been carefully monitoring reports from Panama. She is especially concerned that the events might mean her husband could be sent back to Panama to participate in the military maneuvers.

Jobe said she witnessed the quick deterioration of the atmosphere in Panama while she lived there. Last year, several U.S. personnel who had been living outside the military bases and in the city were ordered to live on base. During the last six months the Jobes were there, U.S. personnel were not allowed even to leave the military base.

"You can imagine watching some guy walking up and down the street with an AK-47. It's scary. You don't know what's going to happen next," she said.

Wednesday, the highest alert was issued, prohibiting any movement by unauthorized U.S. personnel.

"I imagine everything's pretty scary for everybody," she said. "The military (personnel) are briefed, but the dependents don't know what's going on until they see it on TV . . . . The stress is really high and it's really hard."

Robert Taylor, Bountiful, flew C-130s in the Air Force and lived in Panama for 2 1/2 years before he and his family returned to Utah in August. "President Bush finally did it," he said, adding that he believes the majority of the citizens in Panama would welcome the U.S. intervention.

"The people that I know . . . I would suppose are in favor of the actions being taken. That's been my experience with the limited contacts I've had," he said. "It's probably not viewed as an invasion but more of a liberation."

Jobe said that living in Panama has caused many Americans to understand and love the country. "What's remarkable is the people are willing to lay down their lives for democracy in Panama. They wanted to help the Panamanians so bad," she said.

"The people need us there. We're trying to help these people restore democracy. We're trying to help them get a better life," Jobe said. "We just hope that it will be over soon."