Fayetteville community celebrates Fort Bragg way of life
August 20, 2010
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Nearly 70 years to the day of the first United States Army airborne operation, the Fort Bragg and Fayetteville communities celebrated National Airborne Day Saturday, at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville. This day celebrates and highlights Fort Bragg and Fayetteville\'s close community relationship that ensures high quality of life for Soldiers, Families and civilians. Approximately 1,500 people attended the ceremony that paid tribute to the American paratrooper. "National Airborne Day is a big deal and a well-deserved recognition to all airborne paratroopers who have served their country and continue to serve their country with distinction," said Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick, commanding general, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg. The day began with paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division, the United States Army Special Operations Command, U.S. Army Parachute team the Golden Knights, and the Silver Wings, from Fort Benning, Ga., conducting an airborne demonstration. The paratroopers soared through the air, high above the museum with their brightly-colored canopies representing the various Army parachute teams. Following the demonstration, key leaders from the Fort Bragg community held a dedication ceremony for the original Iron Mike statue that was unveiled at its new home outside the museum. "Paratroopers, Rangers and airborne Special Forces are the premiere Soldiers in the contingency force," Helmick said. "Those airborne Soldiers who wear the maroon beret and those Special Forces Soldiers who wear the Green Beret are elite. Only the best Soldiers stand in their ranks and earn the privilege to be in the airborne community." Iron Mike represents the American paratrooper after performing a combat jump in a hostile environment. A plaque under Iron Mike was unveiled during the dedication. The plaque read, "Iron Mike, in honor of airborne troopers whose courage, dedication, and traditions make them the world's finest fighting Soldiers." Helmick was followed by retired Lt. Gen. Richard Seitz. Seitz was the approving authority for the wear of the maroon beret to distinguish the American paratrooper from the rest of the Army, Helmick explained. "Seventy years ago this month, August the 16th, Bill Rider, over Cactus Hill at Fort Benning, Ga., exited from an Army Air Corps B-18 Bomber," Seitz said. "That was the first parachute jump in the American airborne air. "From that very day, we have been intensely aware that the airborne Soldier is a special breed of warrior with great, great, great courage and great resourcefulness," Seitz said. Private Red King, who won the lottery to be the first enlisted man to jump, followed him, Seitz said. King was one of 48 men selected from a pool of 200, by Lt. Bill Rider, to be a part of the first United States Army airborne platoon. Rider and King's exit from the aircraft began a long tradition that has been a part of Fort Bragg since the first paratroopers began training here in 1942. Since then, Fort Bragg has been known as the "Home of the Airborne." After the speakers finished, attendees walked around the museum's parade field. There they got hands-on experience with various weapons, vehicles and medical equipment. Paratroopers stood by their equipment and answered questions about the equipment they use on a daily basis. Connor Morehead, the son of Travis Morehead, a former captain with 1st Bn., 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Abn. Div., got to experience first-hand the amount of equipment a Soldier wears in combat. "This stuff is really heavy," said Connor as he wore the same body armor deployed paratroopers wear. "I can't believe it." Sergeant Benjamin Hernandez, a paratrooper with the 65th Military Police Company helped visitors try on the equipment a paratrooper wears when in combat. "It's a great feeling. To me, it's like a brotherhood and just to wear that maroon beret everyday makes you proud and distinguishes you from other Soldiers," said Hernandez. "Once a paratrooper, always a paratrooper," said Daniel Guthrie, an 82nd Abn. Div. paratrooper from 1964 to 1966. "You will always have the pride of being airborne!"