FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - The key leaders and staff of 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment “Red Currahee”, 1st Brigade Combat Team "Bastogne," 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) traveled to Toccoa, Georgia, to pay homage to their unit’s legacy while building bonds with veterans from their regiment while taking on the historic Currahee Mountain.
Fresh from their training deployment at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, the battalion saw fit to celebrate their accomplishments by bringing honor to their historic lineage.
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Farmer, battalion commander, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, felt the need for his Soldiers to honor the regiment and the veterans that contributed so much to their unit history.
“As the 1st Battalion of the legendary 506th Infantry Regiment, we attempt to provide an opportunity for our Soldiers and leaders to come to Toccoa, Georgia, once a calendar year and learn more about our unit’s history,” said Farmer. “Additionally, this professional development training exercise serves as an opportunity to honor the birthplace place where our regiment was founded in July 1942. We honor the Currahee troopers who have selflessly served before us by running the infamous Currahee Mountain originally run by 506th Airborne troopers prior to their deployment to the European theater in support of WWII.”
After the 7-hour bus ride to the Toccoa National Guard Armory, the Soldiers of Red Currahee quickly changed into their distinctive unit physical fitness uniforms, stretched and headed straight to Currahee Mountain to follow in the footsteps of the regiment’s legendary WWII paratroopers running three miles up and three miles down the 1,700 above the sea-level peak.
At 4:00 p.m. on a crisp October afternoon, the Soldiers began running at their own pace bearing the battalion colors and each company’s guidon every step of the way.
At the beginning of the trek up the mountain, the route was relatively flat with a few hills at every turn, making the route appear easier than what the legendary stories told by veterans of the 506th dictated the famed mountain to be.
Then came the hill during the last mile up the mountain that quickly made every Soldier realize what each member of the regiment went through during their training back in 1942 preparing to defend the world against the Axis Powers.
“I could not imagine doing this in boots,” said 1st Lt. Nikole Hairston, distribution platoon leader, Company J, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. “I was at JRTC just last week, but I can't imagine those guys doing this every day sometimes twice a day. That's incredible."
Once each Soldier made it to the top of the mountain, they were joined by a few veterans of the 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment Association to celebrate their success and witness the promotion of 1st Lt. Zachary Crews, infantry officer, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team.
Crews served on the battalion staff patiently awaiting a coveted platoon leader position to open and he finally gets his opportunity to lead a platoon. Combined with the promotion of first lieutenant on top of Currahee, the young leader was elated and struck for words.
“I’m just honored to be here,” said Crews. “I’m ready to be a platoon leader.”
After several pictures were taken to commemorate their success and serve as proof that they accomplished the feat with beautiful Toccoa in the background, the Soldiers made their three-mile journey back down the mountain to shower and fellowship with veterans from the 506th Infantry Regiment.
Sharing a hearty recovery meal of spaghetti at the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Toccoa, the Soldiers past and present shared stories ranging from the WWII era to Operation Inherent Resolve.
Retired Col. Joe Johnson, 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment Association secretary, was elated to be a part of the events with the Red Currahee Soldiers who share his lineage. Johnson served in Company A, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment during Vietnam in 1970. He served in every position within the platoon during that time as an initial graduate from the Noncommissioned Officer Candidate Course. Johnson makes it his duty to attend as many events with the unit as he can, and has made the Currahee trip six times.
“I have had a very good relationship with the commanders and command sergeant’s major for years,” said Johnson. “I’m glad to see the unit pride and history living on. When I went to Vietnam all I knew was the 506th did some awesome things in WWII and I was off to Vietnam in the field. These Soldiers may not realize it now, but this association will definitely mean a lot to them when they get to be my age. They don't realize that they are truly the lifeblood of this association. I'm so proud of them."
The following day, every Soldier got to see history before their very eyes once more as they visited the Currahee Military Museum alongside the veterans of the 506th Association.
From witnessing and being able to touch the WWII era uniforms to seeing their historic battle flag that flew during WWII operations, each leader gained a new appreciation for their regiment.
1st Lt. Jared Perez, executive officer, Company J, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, has visited Currahee three times but this trip is the most special for him.
"This is my third time coming on this trip," said Perez. "I've been blessed to be here three times but this is my first time being able to visit this museum. This is definitely an eye-opener for me. I've always had a great level of respect for our veterans, but what I witnessed over the past two days gives me a brand new respect for them. I'm a runner, but I can't imagine our veterans running Currahee every day. It shows just how tough they were and why they were able to endure so much during the war. I have a lot of pride in Red Currahee."
The words of Perez echoed throughout Currahee nation during this trip, especially after a challenging year through the pandemic and a standard-setting execution at JRTC. The battalion commander's intent for this trip and his leaders were met wholeheartedly.
“At the end of the day, our current Red Currahee Soldiers have gained a better appreciation for the sacrifices made by those who came before us,” said Farmer. “Now they understand what it means to be associated with this proud and distinguished infantry regiment.”