High standards, pride and guts have always been the primary requirements for becoming an airborne Soldier -- a Paratrooper. More than 73 years ago, the Soldiers of the U.S. Army Parachute Test Platoon had them all, but a great deal of the latter. Those 48 men executed the U.S. Army's first airborne operation, pioneering a new method of American warfare and blazing the trail for the men and women who carry on the airborne tradition. The ranks of some of the most proud and storied units are filled with Soldiers wearing wings upon their chests.
Veterans, Soldiers, families and supporters came together to pay tribute to Paratroopers of the past and honor airborne Soldiers of the present at the Fayetteville, N.C., Airborne and Special Operations Museum, Aug. 24, to celebrate National Airborne Day. The event marks the 11th observance of the day President George W. Bush proclaimed Aug. 16, 2002, the day to nationally recognize that first jump. It was also an opportunity for family members to gain an understanding of what their Paratroopers do and where their traditions began.
"National Airborne Day is a celebration of all things airborne," said Division Command Sgt. Maj. LaMarquis Knowles, the 82nd Airborne Division's senior enlisted leader. "The 82nd takes immense pride and stands alone as the only remaining fully capable Airborne Division in the U.S. Armed Forces. We consider it our honor and responsibility to uphold the airborne legacy established by those who defined what it means to be a Paratrooper."
Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Alfred Arellano was a Paratrooper for more than 32 years. Arellano served with the 11th Airborne Division before joining Special Forces and completed multiple combat deployments, including four tours in Vietnam. He is also the first of three generations to join the famed airborne community. His son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons are also Paratroopers and he's "proud as hell" of them all. In his opinion, being airborne wasn't an option; it was a requirement to be the best. "Like Gen. Gavin said, anybody who will jump out of a plane will defend their country. And if you'll jump out of a plane, you'll do anything else they ask you to do."
This sentiment was echoed by today's Paratroopers as well. Staff Sgt. Alphaeus Baker, an automated logistics specialist currently serving as the platoon sergeant of the 82nd Airborne Division's All American Chorus, has spent his entire 12 year career in airborne units, including nine years with the 82nd. "When I put on this uniform, I feel like I've done a lot for my country," said the Philadelphia, Penn., native, who has completed three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Being a Paratrooper means being part of something bigger than oneself, he said, which can be said about all Soldiers. However, Baker said for him the difference between a Soldier and a Paratrooper is clear. "Discipline… confidence and appearance. You look at the beret and the uniform and you can tell they take pride in themselves." He said he hopes to spend the rest of his career at the home of the airborne. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else than Fort Bragg.
During his speech at the opening ceremony, Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg Commanding General, honored those who could not be present because they are serving overseas. One of those deployed Paratroopers is Staff Sgt. Maurice Carson, currently serving in Afghanistan with 307th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade. His wife, Shameka, and their children attended the event in support of her husband. Even in his absence, Shameka said attending her first National Airborne Day celebration was a positive experience. These types of events allow family members to gain more understanding of what their Paratrooper does, she said. "It's good to see what he's doing and to be able to show it to the kids."The more things change, the more they stay the same
Volunteers from the 82nd Airborne Division Historical Society's Living History Detachment, donning World War II era uniforms, displayed weapons and equipment for visitors to examine. Their present-day counterparts did the same. All were very knowledgeable of their particular skill sets and took time to explain their job and demonstrate the proper use of their gear.
While the uniforms, weapons and parachutes have changed, the traditions and mindset of the Paratrooper have always remained the same.
Command Sgt. Maj. Knowles said, "Paratroopers from all eras share the reputation for unsurpassed expertise and the ability to overcome any obstacle. Paratroopers are the best of the best our country has to offer. Our reputation precedes us into any fight, fuels us to train harder, and powers us past other's limitations."
Although the most famous airborne assaults into combat were written into the pages of history long ago, the Paratrooper's reputation for excellence continues.
"I see it as essential," Baker said of why airborne units and the Paratroopers who fill their ranks will always be a necessity. "You have to be disciplined to do what we do. To know that someone is disciplined enough to jump out of an airplane, that's someone you wouldn't want to mess with."
As for the future of the Paratrooper, Lt. Gen. Anderson said the youth represent what the airborne force will become. "(I see) young men and women who may one day join our ranks, enabling our army to maintain its legacy of airborne esprit and continuing to provide essential forced entry capability for our nation. This combination of experience and youth compels us to reflect on our heritage with tremendous pride and firm confidence in our future."Always Ready, Always Resilient
Paratroopers are known for being ready at a moment's notice to deploy anywhere in the world to execute any mission. Constantly training to be prepared for any contingency allows for this high level of readiness, but having a solid support structure is what allows Paratroopers to do what most others aren't willing to do.
"You need to have a good family to support you or you're not going to make it," Arellano said. Baker agreed. "It's never easy," Baker said of leaving his loved ones to deploy, "but I have a great support system -- my wife. As long as you have someone you know you can trust, you can do anything. That's what keeps me going."