This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri January 8th 2020. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
There is a saying around Fort Bragg and Fayetteville, North Carolina; “When the President calls 911, the phone rings at Fort Bragg”. On New Year’s Eve, the United States Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq was attacked. A few hours later, the 82nd Airborne Division got the call. That is the call, for which, the 82nd Airborne Division trains. It trains for combat in cities, for combat in the desert, for combat in the mountains, and it practices being alerted. The EDRE (Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise) is just that. The 82nd practices being alerted over and over. I was involved in many practice alerts, while serving with the division. Sometimes they only last a few hours, ending on the runway at Pope Field on Fort Bragg. Sometimes they are a full blown forcible entry exercise, lasting several days.
One of the 82nd’s three Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) is always on standby alert, prepared to be “wheels up” to anywhere in the world, within 18 hours of receiving the call. One of that BCT’s three infantry battalions, the DRF (Division Ready Force) battalion, is on two hour call. It has a formation, with all present, within two hours of receiving the call.
The 82nd Airborne Division is called the “All American Division”, and “America’s Guard of Honor”. It is the US military immediate reaction force. The tip of the spear. The 82nd trains and works harder than most military units, and it still has the highest morale of any. Why? Partly due to the history, which is unequaled by any other unit, partly pride in being the best at what they do, the Army sends its’ best officers to the 82nd, as evidenced by a long list of four star generals who served in the 82nd, including the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, whose career started in the 82nd, and perhaps because they take their business seriously. They know that if something blows up in the world, they will be sent to put out the fire. Many of the NCO’s (non-commissioned officers) (sergeants) in the 82nd spend most of their career there. There is an attachment to the 82nd that is hard to explain even to veterans of other units. There is an 82nd Airborne Division Association of veterans of the 82nd, with 96 chapters scattered around the country. The Association has a convention every summer, and participates in the 82nd’s big annual show, called All American Week, the week before Memorial Day weekend.
This time, the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 1st Brigade Combat Team was the DRF battalion. The Devils in Baggy Pants.
After fighting in Sicily, Salerno, and Italy, in 1943 and early 1944, the majority of the 82nd Airborne Division loaded ships for England to prepare for the Normandy invasion, but it’s 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) remained to help with the invasion of Anzio, 35 miles south of Rome. Anzio saw some of the most intense brutal combat of the war, the 504th was greatly outnumbered and down to 20 and 30 men in 100 man companies, fighting in defense, but they continued to aggressively patrol at night, harassing the enemy. A diary was found on the body of a German army major, in it was this passage; “American parachutists…devils in baggy pants…are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night; they pop up from nowhere and we never know when or how they will strike next. Seems like the black-hearted devils are everywhere…”. The 504th became known as those “Devils in Baggy Pants”.
A lot of things start happening simultaneously, during an alert, and everyone knows their job. Paratroopers on standby always have their combat gear packed, they get in uniform, grab their gear and get into their company and draw their weapons. An alert also goes to the support brigade, which will help load the deploying unit. The FRG (Family Readiness Group) (wives/soldiers’ families) leaders notify the spouses of a meeting. In this case, it was only a few hours until the Brigade and Division commanders met with the families, to brief them on what was happening, who would be their point of contact in a remaining rear detachment, how to communicate through the Red Cross in the event of a family emergency, and generally answer questions.
The Chaplain’s Assistant (a sergeant) takes care of the Chaplain’s gear, because the Chaplain is meeting with the families, then mingling with the troops. Most of the young troops are pumped about possibly getting to do what they have trained for – go kick some butt – Hooah!! Some will be stressed. Chaplains like to be with the troops, because some of those stressed troops are comforted, just being able to talk to the Chaplain. Sergeants, combat vets, have a different attitude during an emergency deployment. First, they have a hundred things to check, troops gear, weapons, gas masks, any problems. Make sure troops have everything they are supposed to have and not too much extra junk. “I got it sarge”. “I know, but I’m going to check it anyway”. Sergeants also have that internal prayer, “God please let me bring everybody home alive.” There are formations, ammunition is issued, radios are issued, and before boarding the plane, MRE’s (Meal Ready to Eat) are issued.
The mission this time was, get there, the mission will be determined by whatever events occur. About 2:30 AM on January 2nd, the 2nd Battalion, 504th PIR landed at Al Seram Air Base in Kuwait.
On Saturday morning, January 4th, the remainder of the 1st Brigade Combat Team loaded aircraft and took off for Kuwait.