By Staff Sgt. Jeremy D. CrispAugust 24, 2008
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq- A two-fold ceremony took place at the Al Faw Palace here Aug. 22, one which celebrated a historic birthday as well as honored all airborne-qualified servicemembers from past and present.
The XVIII Airborne Corps turns 64-years-old Aug. 25, while the first official Army parachute jump celebrated its 68th anniversary Aug. 16. Both milestone events were celebrated in ceremonial fashion at the palace - complete with a birthday-cake cutting, a video on the history of the airborne force and a performance from the 82nd Airborne Division's All-American Chorus.
Paratroopers from all branches of service attended the ceremony, including past XVIII Airborne Corps general officers: former XVIII Abn. Corps Commander, retired Gen. William F. Kernan, and Multi-National Force - Iraq Commander, Gen. David H. Petreaus, who was chief of staff for the Corps from 2000 to 2001.
Presiding over the ceremony was the Corps' current 'Dragon 6' and commanding general of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III.
Austin outlined the history of the airborne for those in attendance.
"On August 16, 1940, Lieutenant (William) Ryder's platoon of volunteers lined up their parachutes on Lawson Field at Fort Benning, Georgia." Austin said. "Later that day, they climbed inside a B-18 aircraft and made their first jump from it while in flight. It was on this field in Georgia where a group of young Soldiers became the first paratroopers of the United States Army."
Austin went on to highlight past campaigns and achievements from airborne units, such as the 1943 invasion of Sicily with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment executing Operation Husky, to more recently with operations in Honduras and Panama.
"Since World War II, our airborne forces have earned an impressive reputation," Austin said. "They are known around the world because of their discipline, their tenacity and their will to win."
And that will to win has carried over to the Iraq theater of operations, he added.
"The Sky Dragons of the XVIII Airborne Corps and all paratroopers have continued to maintain a professional, warrior reputation through their actions here in Iraq - which is extremely important in a counterinsurgency environment," Austin said. "As I walk through markets in places like Mosul and Sadr City, it is clear to me that Iraqi citizens have faith and trust in our troopers - and that is absolutely necessary for us to achieve our goals."
One trooper in attendance, Spc. Eric-Brandon Oce, who is deployed with the Corps' security and intelligence section, took part in cutting the birthday cake with Austin, Kernan and Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph R. Allen, MNC-I and XVIII Abn. Corps' top noncommissioned officer.
"It feels great to be able to take part in history, and it was a nice surprise." said 20-year-old Oce, an 11-jump veteran from Cooper City, Florida. "I was made aware yesterday that I was going to be able to take part in the cake cutting, and I'm really glad I did."
While one young paratrooper took part in the ceremony, a veteran of 269 jumps veteran did as well.
"You can't help but feel proud to be Airborne during a ceremony like this," said Chaplain (Col.) John P. Hash, MNC-I chaplain, who gave the invocation.
The ceremony was complete as the Army, the XVIII Abn. Corps and the U.S. colors marched from the rotunda, but it was a final word from Austin, said during his speech, which highlighted that which all in attendance were there to celebrate: "... Airborne!"