As Freedom Week rolls on here at BwD, we want to take a moment to recognize the service and sacrifice of our men and women in the armed forces on this Veterans Day.
We asked loyal reader and commenter Road Dawg to share some of his thoughts on what it was like to serve our country and specifically serve in the famed 82nd Airborne Division of the United States Army (anyone willing to voluntarily throw themselves out of a perfectly functioning aircraft deserves a little play, don’t you think?).
Take it away, 'Dawg.
Enlisted in 1978 and with a gun-ho attitude, I was signed up to be one of the first “school trained” FIST team members. Most of the members already assembled were recruited from mortar teams and reconnaissance combat support teams.
Not realizing what I was getting myself into, I charged into the endeavor with both feet, signing up not only to be a forward observer, but also to be part of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Although we were taught to call and adjust indirect artillery at Ft. Sill, the mission with the 82nd was unique and demanding. We were taught to provide fire support to the infantry as well as move to forward positions of battlefield maneuver. Our mission was to know where indirect fire support was available, be it artillery, mortars, close air, or naval gunfire. Since the mission of the artillery and mortars was to, shoot, move, and communicate, the commander in the field would rely on his FO to have knowledge of the whereabouts of the fire support and provide indirect fire plans to support his battlefield maneuvers.
Often when on a standard mission, the “grunts” would exit on drop zones of sand cleared by years of artillery impact and groomed for safe landings. Subsequent to their drop, the FO’s at the rear of the plane would drop on small helicopter landing strips, dirt crossroads, or similar postage stamp size drop zones. It was a “mixed bag”, “do I get to land and hump with the grunts, or get stuck in the trees and maneuver as a small force?
Nothing like a small branch in the crotch. Note the lowering lines in the videos. This is a quick decision at zero-dark-thirty whether to deploy the 18-ft lowering line or ride the equipment in during a tree landing to assist and protect your you-know-whats.
These were not free-fall, or skydive drops, but static line drops at about 1000 ft. This allows about 2 seconds to deploy the reserve in the result of a complete malfunction. There were many times we were deployed at much less than 1000 ft. Out of the 80 tactical peacetime jumps, about half were at night and about a third were in the trees. (C123 Galaxy hitting Campbell’s Crossroads at zero-dark-thirty? Not likely!)
In 1982, the “threat” continued to be the Soviet Armored invasion of Europe and Middle East. What use was light airborne infantry against such massive armored assault? But with new laser guided weaponry, such as the “tow” and “dragon” missiles, along with the forward observers handling the brand new “laser target designators” LTD’s (of which I had neither), we deployed in the California desert for Operation: Gallant Eagle, the largest deployment of airborne forces since WWII.
Since there was no secret about the mission, we all told our families and loved ones about the exciting exercise. Even with the tragedy, our mission was a huge success in revealing the potency of light airborne infantry vs. armored assault. This peacetime endeavor was the precursor to most special operations carried out on the battlefield today. My hat (maroon beret) is off to those who choose this endeavor in a combat environment.
Subsequent to my end of time in service, I met my beautiful wife, the daughter of Eugene Hetland, survivor of both the Holland and Normandy invasions with the legendary 82nd Airborne Division. God bless you Gene for your service!
And God bless all the men and women of our armed forces who continue to put their lives on the line both here and abroad in the name of our country and its freedom and liberty.
P.S. While we were in Las Vegas over the weekend, there was a Marine Corps unit at the South Point celebrating a gala/ball. The enduring image we have is of some of these young Marines in their dress blues who could not have been more than 20 or 21 years old and the number combat medals and ribbons they had already been awarded. It was a sobering and humbling sight.