1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division
504th Parachute Infantry Regiment
1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division
"Devil Brigade" / "Strike Hold"
During the reorganizations of brigade and division structure during the 1980s, an attempt was made to re-establish regimental affiliations with divisons that had effectively ended in the period after the Korean War. The battalions within divisions were redesignated and grouped into brigades in order to be uniform. The battalions ended up grouped in the same brigade by regiment and the brigades were often referred to, informally, and confusingly, as regiments. In the 82nd Airborne Division, the informal usage included reversion to a mixing of World War II and Korean War era designations. With the transformation of the brigades of the 82nd Airborne Division to modular brigade combat teams beginning in 2006, the informal designations remained, despite the brigades retaining only 2 battalions with the regimental affiliation.
The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment was one of the 3 infantry regiments of the 82nd and had served as such for more than 50 years. The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment stood more ready than ever to deploy anywhere in the world within 18 hours, fully prepared to fight and win. The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment's mission was to deploy worldwide within 18 hours of notification, execute a parachute assault, conduct combat operations, and win. Specifically, the Regiment is able to conduct a forcible entry to seize a defended airfield, build up combat power as quickly as possible and conduct follow-on military operations.
The 504th Parachute Infanty Regiment was first was activated on 1 May 1942 at Fort Benning, Georgia. Later that same year, the United States War Department announced plans to form an Airborne Division. The 82nd Infantry Division, under the command of Major General Omar Bradley, was selected as the first American Division to wear the Airborne tab and include the term "Airborne" in its official unit designation. Subsequently, the 504th Parachute Infantry became the first Parachute Infantry Regiment in the newly designated 82nd Airborne Division. Relative to other units in the Army, however, the 504th was quite young. Nevertheless, few units were more highly decorated or have a prouder heritage than "The Devils in Baggy Pants" of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Attached to the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the 3rd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry helped spearhead the airborne invasion of Sicily. The 504th paratroopers crossed over the Sicilian coast on schedule and jumped on their assigned drop zone on 9 July 1943, an event which British Prime Minister Winston Churchill termed, "not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning."
On 11 September 1943, the 3rd Battalion Headquarters and G and I Companies landed on bloody Salerno beach. The military situation deteriorated with each passing hour as German tanks and infantry forces tried to push the unit back into the sea. On standby at airfields in Sicily, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 504th Parachute Infantry were alerted, issued chutes, and loaded on aircraft without knowledge of their destination. Receiving their briefing aboard the plane, the men were told that the Fifth Army beachhead was in danger and they were needed to jump in behind friendly lines. Flying in columns of battalions, they exited over the barrels of gasoline-soaked sand that formed a flaming "T" in the center of the drop zone. The Regiment assembled quickly and moved to the sounds of cannon and small arms fire within the hour.
By dawn, the unit was firmly set in defensive positions. The days that followed were, in the words of General Mark Clark, Commander of the Fifth Army, "responsible for saving the Salerno beachhead." During their 8 week stay on the Anzio beachhead, the men of the 504th found themselves fighting defensive battles instead of the offensive operations for which they were better suited. For the first time the men were engaged in trench warfare like that of the First World War, with barbed wire entanglements and minefields in front and between alternate positions. It was during this battle that the 504th acquired the nickname "The Devils in Baggy Pants," taken from an entry found in the diary of a German officer killed at Anzio.
It was assumed that the 504th Parachute Infantry would rejoin the 82nd Airborne for the upcoming invasion at Normandy. As D-day approached, however, it became apparent that the 504th Parachute Infantry would be held back. A lack of replacements prevented the Regiment from participating in the invasion, so only a few dozen 504th troopers were taken as pathfinders. The 504th thus remained in England as "Dry Runs" came one after another. Word came on 15 September 1944 for the 82nd to jump in ahead of the Second British Army, 57 miles behind enemy lines in the vicinity of Grave, Holland. The operation would require seizing the longest bridge in Europe over the Maas River and several other bridges over the Maas-Waal Canal. On 17 September 1944 the pathfinders of the 504th landed on the drop zone, followed 30 minutes later by the rest of the Regiment and C Company, 307th Engineers, to become the first Allied troops to land in Holland as part of Operation Market Gardenk, the largest airborne operation in history.
The war officially ended in Europe on 5 May 1945. The 504th Parachute Infantry returned briefly to Nancy, France until the 82nd Airborne Division, the British 11th Armored Division and the Russian 5th Cossack Division were called upon to serve as the occupation forces in Berlin. Here the 82nd Airborne Division earned the name, "America's Guard of Honor," as a fitting end to hostilities in which the 504th had chased the German Army some 14,000 miles across the European Theater.
Following their occupation duty with the 82nd Airborne Division in Berlin, the Devils reported to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Regiment remained at Fort Bragg until 1957, when it reorganized into the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Airborne Battle Groups, 504th Infantry. The 1st and 2nd Airborne Battle Groups were reassigned to duty in Germany with the 8th Infantry Division and the 11th Infantry Division respectively, while the 3rd Airborne Battle Group was inactivated. Although its battalions were not always co-located, the 504th remained as a strategic reserve for the United States during Korea, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Vietnam.
On 26 April 1965, the 82nd Airborne Division received orders to prepare to deploy forces to the Dominican Republic. Two days earlier, a revolution had erupted in the Caribbean nation which put the safety of almost 3,000 American citizens in jeopardy. The initial deployment of 82nd Airborne soldiers came on 30 April 1965, and the 504th followed on 3 May 1965, landing at San Isidro Air Base to perform both military and humanitarian missions in support of Operation Power Pack. The Regiment conducted military operations to help establish and maintain control of Santo Domingo and to provide security along the All American Expressway that ran through the city.
During these operations, the 504th was often subject to sniper fire and in repeated contact with enemy factions, as it contributed greatly to the establishment of security and to the distribution of food and medical supplies to those in need. Only 5 days after the arrival of the first US forces, approximately 2,700 American citizens and 1,400 civilians from other nations were evacuated without injury. However, it became apparent that to restore stability to the Dominican Republic would require a continued US presence, so the 504th remained as part of the Inter-American Peace Force for over a year, not returning to Fort Bragg until the summer of 1966.
In March 1988, 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 504th Parachute Infantry were joined by soldiers from the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, California in a deployment to Honduras as part of Operation Golden Pheasant. This was a deployment ordered by President Reagan in response to actions by the Cuban and Soviet-supported Nicaraguan Sandinistas that threatened the stability of Honduras' democratic government. On 17 March 1988, 1st Battalion landed at Palmerola Airfield, a Honduran Air Force Base that was the headquarters for the U.S. military presence in Honduras. The 2nd Battalion jumped onto the airfield a day later, and the troopers of the 504th began rigorous training exercises with orders to avoid the fighting on the border. Had those orders changed, the Devils were prepared to fight, but the invading Sandinista troops had already begun to withdraw. In only a few days, the Sandinistan government negotiated a truce with Contra leaders, and by the end of March the paratroopers of the 504th had returned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
On 20 December 1989, the 504th Parachute Infantry was again sent into battle as part of Operation Just Cause. The intent of this operation was to protect US civilians in Panama, secure key facilities, neutralize both the Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) and the "Dignity Battalions," and restore the elected government of Panama by ousting General Manuel Noriega. The 3rd Battalion had been prepositioned at Fort Sherman 2 weeks prior to the operation and was under the control of the 7th Infantry Division. The Battalion conducted air and sea assaults in northern and central Panama to seize the dam that controlled the water in the Panama canal, a prison, several police stations, several key bridges, a PDF supply point, the PDF demolitions school and an intelligence training facility. The operations were designed to neutralize the PDF while protecting U.S. nationals and the canal itself during the first few hours of the battle.
The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 504th, along with 4th Battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment and the 1st Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment, conducted a parachute assault on the Omar Torrijos International Airport. Following the airborne assault, the paratroopers soon found themselves engaged in fierce combat in urban and rural areas. As a testament to the discipline of the soldiers, however, the unit achieved all key objectives while causing only minimal collateral damage.
On 2 August 1990, the Iraqi Army (the world's fourth largest) attacked Kuwait with a visciousness that angered the world. Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division were quickly committed to the defense of Saudi Arabia and were positioned against an enemy that greatly outnumbered them. As diplomatic efforts failed, it became clear that the Iraqi Army would not withdraw. Plans were thus developed for the liberation of Kuwait. President Bush's warning to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait by 15 January 1991 went unheeded, and on 17 January 1991 the air war began. Allied sorties pounded the enemy for more than a month as the XVIII Airborne Corps made a rapid movement westward to position its units to roll up the flank of the multi-echeloned Iraqi defense. In a powerful offensive lasting only 100 hours, the Allied forces, with the 82nd on the far western flank, crossed into Iraqi territory, devastated the Iraqi Army and captured thousands of enemy soldiers. The dangerous task of clearing countless enemy bunkers was quickly completed by the 82nd troopers, and the 504th returned to Fort Bragg in April 1991.
In August 1992, 2nd Battalion, 504th PIR was alerted to deploy with a task force to the hurricane-ravaged area of South Florida to provide humanitarian assistance following Hurricane Andrew. For more than 30 days, the troopers provided the citizens with food, shelter and medical attention, instilling a sense of hope and confidence in a grateful Florida population.
Demonstrating its readiness again in September 1994, the Regiment was called upon to take part in Operation Uphold Democracy, an operation intended to be the largest airborne invasion in history. As the main effort of the 82nd Airborne Division, the 504th Parachute Infantry, along with 2nd Battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, was tasked to conduct an airborne assault to seize Port Au Prince International Airport and to secure key objectives in Port Au Prince and the surrounding area to oust Haiti's military dictator. Several months of rigorous training had been conducted prior to the invasion to ensure that the mission would be a success.
Less than 3 hours from drop time, however, the mission was terminated, and the aircraft returned with the 82nd units to Pope Air Force Base. Last minute negotiations and the knowledge that paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne were enroute proved to be the decisive factors in the Haitian dictator's decision to submit to United Nation's directives and U.S. resolve to restore the duly-elected government to power.
In late 2000, the Devil Brigade conducted an Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise (EDRE) to test the unit's ability to deploy anywhere in the world within 18 hours of notification. The target was North Army Airfield. The mission was to seize the airfield. The Brigade flew the 2nd Battalion with all combat multipliers and Brigade Assault Command Post to North, South Carolina and assaulted with over 400 paratroopers. By daybreak, all objectives had been seized and the White Devil paratroopers were ready for follow on missions.
After completing Division Ready Brigade 1 (DRB 1) status at the end of November 2000, the Brigade sent key leaders and staff to assist with the 10th Mountain Division's Warfighter Exercise. All Devils returned home just in time for the Brigade's Christmas block leave. As the New Year rolled around, the Devil Brigade quickly transitioned back to the Intensive Training Cycle, which was capped off with a Brigade Field Training Exercise (FTX). The first phase of the FTX included a simultaneous Helicopter Air Assault of over 200 troopers, combat vehicles and equipment and a Parachute Assault of almost 900 paratroopers on a simulated airport at Normandy Drop Zone, all done at night with zero illumination. The brigade's mission was to seize the airfield from an enemy Special Purpose Force (SPF) platoon and establish a lodgment.
Before the sun came up the next day, the airfield was repaired, the enemy was defeated, and all assault objectives were secured. The Devils then conducted a movement to contact across the western half of Ft. Bragg with the 1st and 3rd battalion. The 2nd Battalion served as the opposing force. Long hard movements, cold weather, and driving rains did not deter the paratroopers from 1st Brigade from aggressively seeking out the enemy and destroying him where contact was made. With the movement to contact complete the Brigade turned its sights on the attack of an enemy company in a fortified urban environment.
The Brigade attack of the urban complex on Fort Bragg began with a Ground Assault Convoy Movement of the Red Devils east, across the southern portion of the reservation. The Red Devils cleared a Brigade security zone, which allowed the forward positioning of artillery, intelligence collection assets, and mortars. They also secured the landing zone to be used by the main effort for the attack, the Blue Devils. The Red Devils then cleared an axis of advance, and breached the obstacles into the city (Military Operations in Urban Terrain Training Facility) for the Blue Devils. Once the Red Devils began clearing the axis of advance, the Blue Devils conducted an air movement of the battalion to the secured landing zone and immediately began their attack on the town. The village was secured rather quickly due to the hustle of the Devil Paratroopers and excellent support from an AC-130, Specter Gunship, and their own artillery preparation, which provided preassault fires.
After an intensive 7 days of executing the brigade FTX, the battalions capped off the intensive training cycle by completing a "March and Shoot" training event. The Devil battalions marched their soldiers to different ranges at Fort Bragg where the units got a chance to test their marksmanship with increased heart rate during both day and night. At the conclusion of all this great training the Brigade prepared to assume the Division's highest alert posture as the Division Ready Brigade 1.
From December 2002 to May 2003, the 504th Parachute Infantry deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. They also deployed from September 2003 to April 2004 to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in order to bolster security there. Over 200 Paratroopers comprising Task Force 1-504 PIR would returned in the begining of February, 2006, when they were deployed on short notice in September, 2005 to establish the first maximum security detention facility in Iraq, train Iraqi Forces and conduct combat operations in a remote area of Northern Iraq.
On 15 January 2006, as part of the Army's transformation towards a modular force, the title and composition of the 1st Brigade was changed. The new modular 1st Brigade Combat Team saw 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry inactivated and reflagged as 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry (Airborne), to become part of the newly activated 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. The Brigade gained previously habitually attached units from the Division Artillery (3-319th Field Artillery (Airborne)) and Division Support Command (307th Brigade Support Battalion, formerly 307th Forward Support Battalion), as well as elements of the 307th Engineer Battalion, 313th Military Intelligence Battalion, and 82nd Signal Battalion, which formed the Brigade Special Troops Battalion. The Divisional commands and other battalions were inactivated under the modular transformation. The Brigade also recieved a Cavalry Squadron, the 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry, which traced its lineage to the 3rd Battalion, 73rd Armor, a previous 82nd Airborne Division asset, inactivated in the late 1990s, and the US Army's last Light Tank Battalion. Despite the transformation, the reorganized 1st Brigade Combat Team remained the headquarters of the parent regiment, the 504th Parachute Infantry.
In 2007, elements of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where they continued to serve into 2008.
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