On this July 4th, let us take a look at one of America’s fighting forces, the 82nd Airborne. This post is not intended as a complete or thorough history of the division but as a cursory overview with an emphasis on current events in Pennsylvania.
“You can let us in or we can parachute in, but we’re coming in” that’s how I heard one soldier describe the 82nd Airborne in regards to relief efforts in Haiti. In 2003, Capt. Paul Jackson, speaking of the 2nd brigade’s howitzer battery, “Our mission is to jump in denied terrain. (“Reject”). Zinsmeister says
“So if you need to get thousands of infantrymen plus their associated artillery, helicopters, and fighting and engineering vehicles any significant distance from a base, and you don’t have time to wait for snail-paced transport ships, or tortoise-paced convoys or airlift, there is only one alternative: the 82nd (p. 28).A fourth quote is “Army officers like to say that when American dials 911, the phone rings at Fort Bragg (Price, “More”). The 82nd is based at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina but it has a long and close connection to the Keystone State.
The 82nd was the army’s first airborne division. Two of the division commanders have had Pennsylvania ties. James M. Gavin, who was part of the group involved in transitioning the 82nd Infantry Division into the 82nd Airborne, and later served as the commander during part of World War II was raised in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania. Matthew Ridgway, who commanded the 82nd during part of World War II, was a graduate of the Army War College in Carlisle. After retiring from the military he was chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh and died in nearby Fox Chapel.
The 82nd Airborne Association is an alumni group of sorts, for those who served in the 82nd or in any uniformed services on either jump or glider status and were honorably discharged or currently serving on active duty. There are several chapters in Pennsylvania, the 1SG Leonard A Funk Chapter in Pittsburgh, the Central Pennsylvania Chapter in Harrisburg, Keystone All Airborne Chapter in Altoona, The Lehigh Valley Chapter in Allentown, the Northeastern Pennsylvania Chapter, the Sgt Christopher M. Pusateri All Airborne Chapter in Lawrenceville, and the Hajdak – Mokan Chapter in Philadelphia. Jim Tayoun wrote an article about the Hajdak – Mokan Chapter in the May 27, 2010 issue of the PhillyRecord. He describes their mission as “raises money for disabled veterans, surviving families of deceased servicemen and women, provides Honor Guard for funerals, marches in parades, assists returning veterans, and donates to local charities.” David Oh, Philadelphia City Councilman at large, is the current chapter chairman.
A number of other politically connected Pennsylvanians are also veterans of the 82nd Airborne. Anthony A. Mandio of Begley, Carlin & Mandio law firm in Bucks County, served in World War II (517 Parachute Infantry Regiment). Republican candidate for governor Tom Corbett includes David E. Grange, Jr. in his veterans for Corbett leadership committee. Grange served as a parachute infantryman in World War II. State Rep. Bryan Lentz, Democratic candidate for the 7th congressional district, served in the 82nd Airborne in the late 1980's with service in the Sinai and Central America. Lentz, whose father was also in the 82nd, completed 50 jumps in active duty . Later, as part of the Army Reserves, he served in Bosnia and Iraq (Sullivan). Congressman Patrick Murphy served with the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne in Iraq from June through December, 2003 and wrote a book, Taking the Hill, that, in part, describes his experiences there. His regiment, the 325th Airborne Infantry, is known as “the Falcons”
The 82nd’s role is described as “rapid response, with at least one combat brigade – about 5,000 paratroopers including support units – on call, ready to load onto planes within 18 hours, to fight anywhere in the world” (Price). Zinsmeister gives a full and amazing account (pp. 28-30) of how the 82nd moves out.. Here’s an excerpt:
Within a blink, more C-130s and C-17s begin to land within the perimeter protected by the first jumpers. All it takes, in a pinch, is two to three thousand feet of firm dirt, grass, or hard sand, and the dance is on. The very first few birds disengorge an especially exotic cargo: armed Kiowa helicopters (two, wedged head to tail, per school-bus-sized C-130 bay, or seven inside each C-17). If the landing zone is hot, each Kiowa’s seven-man crew can have its fins reattached, its rotor blades locked, and the turbine winding with both pilots strapped into their seats within a half hour.
A journalist traveling with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team describes their March 2003 move into Iraq, as part of a larger combined force:
The convoy’s route was dubbed “ambush Alley” after several American convoys were ambushed by paramilitary forces. The irregular forces have been attacking convoys in the south dressed in civilian clothes and using civilian vehicles.
1st Lt. Stewart Lindsay said the convoy was on the lookout for such forces but did not encounter any.
The 23-year old platoon leader from Freeport, Pa., is with the 1st battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment. He commands the battalion’s anti-tank platoon. His troops use Humvees mounted with TOW anti-tank missiles. They provide security for the convoy.
“We have no problem engaging Saddam’s army. We’re (wary) of the guerilla tactics. We don’t want to hurt civilians,” Lindsay said. (Maurer, “Bragg”)
Price (“Troops) later writes that the 2nd brigade was attacked 45 times in July, 2003, but there were 20 attacks in August and by his writing in late September there had been “about a dozen.” He later notes that between May, when the 82nd came to Baghdad, and late September, five people in the brigade had been killed in combat and 44 were wounded. In November, 2003 alone 70 service members (blogger’s note: not sure if this is the just in the 82nd or all units total) were killed in Iraq (Maurer, “Rooting”)
While the 82nd ‘s strengths are rapid response and urban warfare, their work is not all combat related. Here is a quote from Zinsmeister (120):
You’ve got to understand, every officer in this division closely studies the classic urban battles, from the Israeli case histories right back to Stalingrad,” states Lieutenant Barbato when I ask about this. “We train all the time for clearing airport terminals and other public spaces.”
Every detail of a decision is mapped out. Zinsmeister describes an intelligence officer and judge advocate evaluating information from a source to decide whether or not it is sufficient to justify a strike (104). Murphy was also a judge advocate and his work covered a broad range of legal duties. He wrote the charges used to capture Iraqis involved with such activities as kidnapping, theft, and conspiring to harbor terrorists (Vick). Murphy writes about this kind of work in his book (see p. 139-151 for examples) but is also noted in the Washington Post: “We don’t want to offend cultural or religious sensitivities,” said Capt. Patrick Murphy, the unit legal adviser who drew up the charges. “but at the same time, we want to establish the rule of law” (Vick). He also met with Iraqi lawyers and citizens to go over damage claims resulting from US military activities (see Amanpour, Hansen, and Murphy, pp. 108-118).
Pennsylvania’s connection with the 82nd are strong, as witnessed not only by the number of men and women serving currently and in past years, but also by the continued work of organizations like the 82nd Airborne Association.
Amanpour, Christiane, “CNN Special: “Five days in Iraq,” [transcript} 12/07/2003.
Hansen, Liane, “ Profile: Iraqi claims against the US for negligence [transcript] NPR 8/10/2003
Maurer, Kevin, “Bragg troops in southern Iraq,” Fayette Observer 3/30/2003.
Maurer, Kevin, “Rooting out danger,” Fayette Observer, 11/30/2003
Murphy, Patrick.J. Taking the Hill. NY: Holt, 2008.
Price, Jay, “More of 82nd to deploy in Iraq,” News & Observer 12/20/2003..
Price, Jay, “Troops from 82nd see contrasts,” News & Observer 9/26/2003.
“Reject 48-hour ultimatum: UN inspectors leave Iraq Saddam & sons defy Bush,” Kuwait Times, 3/19/2003.
Sullivan, Vince, “Saluting our veterans: Bryan Lentz,” News of Delaware County, 3/10/2010
Tayoun, Jim, “82nd Airborne keeps memories of sacrifices alive”, Philadelphia Record 5/27/2010.
Vick, Karl, “Arrest of Iraqi cleric sparks confrontations with Shiites,” Washington Post 10/19/2003.
Zinsmeister, Karl. Boots on the ground: a month with the 82n Airborne in the battle for Iraq. NY: Truman Talley Books, 2003.