By Kristin Molinaro, The BayonetAugust 20, 2009
FORT BENNING GA - "I want to do that," said 2-year-old Kaden Perkins as he watched a Silver Wings parachutist glide through the air carrying the American flag above Eubanks Field.
Perkins, son of SGT Anthony Perkins, joined his mother, sister and grandmother for his father's graduation from Airborne School Friday.
The Army family planned for a graduation, but got a crash-course in paratrooper history since the event coincided with National Airborne Day.
"As a young man, I learned about a hardy band of brothers called paratroopers," said MG Michael Ferriter, commanding general of Fort Benning, and speaker for the event. "Venerable Airborne veterans gathered here today, I thank you for being the kind of leaders who inspired me to become a paratrooper 32 years ago."
Hundreds of families and veterans gathered to celebrate both the graduation of more than 400 Airborne troops and to remember the achievements of 69 years ago at Fort Benning, where the first Airborne troops trained under a pilot program called the Airborne test platoon. The test platoon led to the creation of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, considered the father of future regiments of Airborne troops.
To kick off the celebration, a team of parachutists from Fort Benning's Silver Wings, the Air Force's Wings of Blue, 82nd Airborne Division's All-American Free Fall Team, the 101st Airborne Division's Screaming Eagles, the U.S. Special Operations Command's Black Daggers and the Special Operations Command's Para-Commandos jumped onto Eubanks Field, landing just a few feet away from the crowd.
"We just happen to be on some of the most sacred ground in the Airborne world: Airborne Walk and Eubanks Field," said LTC Jon Ring, commander of the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, to the families. "Almost every paratrooper in American history has trained right on this ground."
"The Airborne test platoon troops led the way," he said. "We need to always remember that. Their numbers are down to two, which is unfortunate. We lost some pretty stalwart members of the platoon last year ... they are the ones who won the fame we bask in these days."
The most recent original test platoon member to pass away was CW4(R) Benjamin Reese in March, Ring said.
Reese spent time in both the 502nd and 504th Parachute Infantry Regiments following his stint in the test platoon. Reese attended last year's celebration.
National Airborne Day wrapped up with families pinning wings on their graduating paratroopers.
"It was wonderful," said Denise Ryals, mother of SGT Perkins. "We were so proud of him."