In a dazzling display of their power, thousands of paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division showed a glimpse of their century-old history and their unique capabilities to rapidly deploy, seize airfields and destroy enemy targets.
The Airborne Review on Thursday ended All American Week, the division’s week-long celebration of paratroopers past and present.
“The 82nd Airborne Division remains — as it always has — a symbol of strength and freedom in a dangerous world,” said Maj. Gen. Erik Kurilla, as he led the division formation.
The event kicked off with a free-fall demonstration from the U.S. Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights. Demonstration jumps of paratroopers and heavy equipment, including Humvees, were canceled because of high winds.
Nonetheless, F-15 jets from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base completed an impressive fly-over of the drop zone.
Then, although abbreviated, the 82nd Airborne Division showcased its unique capabilities to rapidly maneuver across hostile space, fire artillery, and identify and destroy enemy assets.
The various units put on a synchronized display as they worked destroying a structure on the airfield, simulating an enemy building that needed to be wiped out.
Chinooks with M777 howitzers slingloaded underneath flew over the drop zone, demonstrating how the Army can rapidly move cannons.
A call for fire came, and the division’s artillerymen from 1st Battalion, 319th Field Artillery, fired several rounds from M777 howitzers.
Two AH-64 Apache helicopters from the division’s Combat Aviation Brigade made an approach on an air strike ahead of an infantry assault. Once the enemy in the building was suppressed, the ground commander moved troops across the airfield.
Paratroopers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team’s 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment laid suppressive fire with .50-caliber guns from the top of Humvees while ultralight tactical vehicles maneuvered across the airfield.
The paratroopers rapidly dismounted under the concealment of smoke and moved closer to the building.
Combat engineers from the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion placed an explosive charge on the door of the building to gain access. A four-man assault team cleared the building of hostile forces and sensitive items. The engineers placed charges against load-bearing beams inside the building and quickly exited. Within minutes, the building was a ball of fire.
The demonstration concluded with a rocket launch from the 18th Field Artillery Brigade. Although not part of the 82nd Airborne Division, that brigade is in high-demand to provide rocket support to maneuver units, such as the division’s infantrymen.
A crowd of thousands watched the display, erupting in applause and screaming “Hoo-ah!” at the paratroopers.
About 7,000 of the division’s soldiers were on display for the event.
While most of the division has participated in the week’s events, about 1,800 paratroopers from the division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team are deployed to Iraq and Kuwait.
Next month, about 1,200 soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team will deploy and join about 300 soldiers from the brigade already in Afghanistan. Another 300 will deploy to Kosovo.
Over the past week, the 82nd Airborne has celebrated its paratroopers, veterans and families of fallen soldiers.
Before the review and demonstration began, people were invited to examine military vehicles, weapons and equipment on display at Sicily Drop Zone. Soldiers explained their jobs and helped as children climbed into vehicles.
Some veterans expressed their amazement to the soldiers about how much the technology has changed.
Spc. Alexander Vickers, a .50-caliber gunner for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team’s 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, said he was thrilled he had an opportunity to showcase his job to the public.
“It’s nice coming out here and doing this,” he said. “Kids want to see what their dads and moms do.”
Veteran Robert Beckworth traveled to the review from his home in Macon, Georgia. He was determined to see the large airborne jump, he said.
“I was assigned to the 82nd and I went to every airborne school they had,” said the 78-year-old veteran. In 1955, Beckworth completed basic training with the 101st Airborne Division and worked as a mechanic. A few years later, he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
He worked hard to become a jumpmaster and spent as much time as he could under a canopy.
“I used to enjoy jumping,” he said. “When you jump out, you get that sudden blast of wind.”
In 1964, Beckworth deployed to the Dominican Republic, but was ordered home midway through his tour after he received news of his brother’s death in Vietnam.
Beckworth discharged, but joined the Air Force National Guard. He retired with 22 years of service.
Decades after his service, Beckworth still feels the pride that connects him to small, unique groups of soldiers who choose to jump from aircraft.
It is a pride that he could only describe as that bright, spit-shine on jump boots and pants so starched they had to be pulled apart to put legs into.
“The pride was being gung-ho,” he said. “Knowing you’re No. 1 and you’re in a No. 1 division.”
Staff writer Amanda Dolasinski can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3528. ___
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