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Airborne Units

At Fort Benning in 1940, the Army organized a test platoon to find out and demonstrate how to use the parachute most effectively as a combat instrument. From the efforts of this group of volunteers, the first mass jump, the first parachute battalion, and the airborne concept for World War II and beyond.

The sobriquet of "The Father of the American Airborne" is rightly rendered unto William C. Lee because of his dedication to making the U.S. Army into a dramatic new tactical and strategic military weapon in the period before World War II. His resolve during the late 1930s and early 1940 made it possible to create a new, modern fighting force of specially trained infantry - paratroopers, as they were quickly called. Platoon-size units grew to company, battalion, regiment, and division strengths, later consolidated into corps and armies.

Lee grasped the worth of swiftstriking airborne forces and enthusiastically and persistently presented his ideas. By early 1940 military President Roosevelt ordered high-priority development of a large airborne force. Major Lee was given that assignment and wasted no time. In July 1940, he directed formation of a Parachute Test Platoon to test equipment, training methods, and tactics for parachute troops. In three fast-paced months it was possible to activate the 501st Parachute Infantry Battalion.

In World War II, the Allies jumped into North Africa, Sicily, New Guinea, Burma, Normandy, Southern France, Holland, and Luzon. Compared to ground attacks of the same scope, airborne attacks were remarkably successful. These combat jumps, especially the Normandy jumps by the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions, became legendary. In January 1945, Company C and elements of Company F of the 6th Ranger Battalion executed a tactical operation to liberate American PWs from the Japanese at Cabantuen, Philippines. The two parachute operations of the Korean War by the 187th Airborne RCT were likewise spectacular.

During the Vietnam era, airmobile operations overshadowed airborne operations due to the nature of the conflict and its terrain. In the 1980s, restructuring followed the initiatives and guidelines of the Army of Excellence. TRADOC shaped the airborne division into the light infantry division mold, with major exceptions. For example, the battalions of the 82d Airborne Division had 697 men in comparison to the 559 men of the light infantry division battalions. Nonetheless, airborne units only have equipment that is needed for airborne assaults or airland operations; if the airborne division must conduct sustained combat operations, then it would probably need additional medium artillery, air defense, and transportation.

The 82d has also kept a greater number of vehicles than its light infantry division counterparts. As always, the airborne units of today have an impressive advantage in mobility during the initial stages of an operation, but they are limited in their mobility after landing. For subsequent operations, an airborne operation must be followed by time-consuming regroupment, planning, and staging. The 82d is now the only US division with a rapid, strategic, combined arms, forced entry (airdrop) capability.

Airborne and ranger units are organized and equipped to conduct parachute assaults to close with the enemy to kill him, to destroy his equipment, and to shatter his will to resist. This close personal fight requires combat-ready units composed of skilled soldiers and resourceful leaders. These units are the result of a tough, thorough, and demanding training program conducted by leaders who understand the effective employment of airborne forces, the combined arms team, and joint operations.

Paratroopers must be experts in marksmanship, close combat, individual parachute techniques, and fieldcraft. They should be proficient with their assigned weapons and other weapons in the unit. They should also be familiar with foreign-made weapons that the enemy will use. In the close fight, paratroopers must be skilled in employing all weapons to include the rifle, the bayonet the AT4, grenades, mines, and bare hands. They must be confident in their ability to fight with these weapons They must be highly skilled in land navigation, camouflage, and tracking and stalking techniques. Paratroopers must be able to move undetected close to enemy soldiers. Stealth is required for reconnaissance, infiltration, and achieving surprise. Paratroopers must have the skill and the will to dominate the close fight.

Infantry leaders must be the most capable soldiers in their unit and be tactically and technically proficient. The quality of the leadership determines the unit's success or failure in battle. Leaders must be proficient in land navigation and have an appreciation for terrain and parachute assault techniques. For a foot soldier, the terrain is both protector and ally. When properly exploited, it can increase the combat potential of the unit and support the achievement of surprise. All leaders must also be resourceful, tenacious, and decisive warriors. They are the combined arms integrators closest to the fight. They must be highly skilled in the employment of all the weapons and assets in the combined arms team. Leaders must be innovative and flexible when employing their units. They must have the mental agility to quickly grasp the situation and the initiative to take independent action, based on the situation and the commander's intent. Above all, they must personally lead their unit to success in close combat.

The strength of airborne forces comes from the skill, courage, and discipline of the individual paratrooper. The paratrooper's abilities are enhanced by the teamwork and cohesion that develop in squads and platoons. This teamwork teamwork and cohesion that develop in squads and platoons. This teamwork cohesion is essential to the survival and success of airborne forces in close combat. Cohesion enhances the paratrooper's will and determination to persevere, to accept the hardships, and to refuse to accept defeat. In the close fight, when the decision hangs in the balance, these are the factors that decide the victor. It is at the small-unit level (squad and platoon) that cohesion and teamwork provide the greatest benefits to the combat effectiveness of the unit. Paratroopers must have complete trust and confidence in their leaders. Leaders earn this trust and confidence by sharing the hardships and by displaying leadership.

The fighting teeth of the airborne division is its infantry. The modern airborne rifle company consists of a headquarters section, three rifle platoons, and a 60-mm mortar section.

Airborne forces can vary in size from an airborne company team to a division. Their size depends on the mission to be accomplished and the time, soldiers, and aircraft available. Usually only the assault echelon and its immediate follow-up are delivered into the objective area by parachute. Tactical airhead operations often involve the airlanding of heavy equipment, supplies, and supporting/reinforcing units to consolidate and exploit the initial lodgment.

Airborne Creed

I am an Airborne trooper! A PARATROOPER!

I jump by parachute from any plane in flight. I volunteered to do it, knowing well the hazards of my choice.

I serve in a mighty Airborne Force--famed for deeds in war--renowned for readiness in peace. It is my pledge to uphold its honor and prestige in all I am--in all I do.

I am an elite trooper--a sky trooper--a shock trooper--a spearhead trooper. I blaze the way to far-flung goals--behind, before, above the foe's front line.

I know that I may have to fight without support for days on end. Therefore, I keep mind and body always fit to do my part in any Airborne task. I am self-reliant and unafraid. I shoot true, and march fast and far. I fight hard and excel in every art and artifice of war.

I never fail a fellow trooper. I cherish as a sacred trust the lives of men with whom I serve. Leaders have my fullest loyalty, and those I lead never find me lacking.

I have pride in the Airborne! I never let it down!

In peace, I do not shrink the dullest of duty not protest the toughest training. My weapons and equipment are always combat ready. I am neat of dress--military in courtesy--proper in conduct and behavior.

In battle, I fear no foe's ability, nor under-estimate his prowess, power and guile. I fight him with all my might and skills--ever alert to evade capture or escape a trap. I never surrender, though I be the last.

My goal in peace or war is to succeed in any mission of the day--or die, if needs be, in the try.

I belong to a proud and glorious team--the Airborne, the Army, my Country. I am its chosen pride to fight where others may not go--to serve them well until the final victory.

I am the trooper of the sky! I am my Nation's best! In peace and war I never fail. Anywhere, anytime, in anything--I AM AIRBORNE!

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:33:58 ZULU