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The 82nd Airborne Division is one of the most legendary U.S. military units. It is known as the “All Americans,” which is not in any way related to college sports, though many members of the 82nd are excellent athletes. The nickname dates back decades before the 82nd Infantry Division became an airborne division. Many divisions in World War I were recruited from one state or area. But the 82nd Infantry Division was recruited from all the states, hence the All Americans.

The division’s WWI origins had enabled a friend of mine, who was in the 101st Airborne, a chance to tweak the members of the 82nd he encountered by reminding them that the most famous member of the unit had been a “leg” (non-airborne qualified). He was, of course, referring to Sergeant Alvin York, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor with the 82nd Infantry Division during WWI.

During World War II, elements of the 82nd Airborne Division made a total of four combat jumps: Sicily, Salerno, D-Day and Market Garden. During the U.S. invasion of Panama in December 1989, members of the 82nd Airborne made their fifth combat jump. There also had been one previous quasi-combat jump, when three battalions made a “training jump” into Honduras that was designed to send a message to the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, who withdrew from Honduras after the arrival of the All Americans from above.

Brigade System
Although it still trains for airborne operations, the 82nd has been deployed as elite ground combat troops. Despite being one of the most combat-ready U.S. units, its combat ability has sometimes kept it out of combat. During the Korean War, for example, the 82nd was kept as a strategic reserve ready for instant deployment to combat a Soviet threat. Likewise, during the Vietnam War only one brigade of the 82nd was sent to Vietnam, while the remainder of the division functioned as a strategic reserve.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 82nd was ready to jump over Cuba if necessary. The 82nd did see action in the Dominican Republic in April 1965, and it was put on alert for a possible jump over Iran to rescue American hostages in November 1979. In March 1980, when the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) was formed, the 82nd Airborne was one of the task force’s key elements. Though the RDJTF was deactivated in January 1983, the 82nd Airborne has always remained a quickly deployable ready unit.

During the October 1983 invasion of Grenada, elements of the 82nd took part, but they were air-landed with the parachute assault being carried out by the 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions. Prior to the start of the First Gulf War, the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne was the first U.S. ground unit committed. The 325th and other elements of the 82nd played a key role in the ground war. In September 1994, 82nd Airborne paratroopers were in the air, ready to jump over Haiti; however, upon hearing the 82nd was on its way, the Haitian dictator stepped down.

December 1995 saw the 82nd prepared for another airborne assault in Bosnia, but the operation did not prove necessary, though some members of the 82nd Airborne would serve there in support of the 1st Armored Division. Again, in the former Yugoslavia, members of the 2nd Battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the 3rd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Battalion were deployed along the Bosnian/Albanian border in 1999 and 2000.

Since 2001, elements of the 82nd Airborne have been in Afghanistan and Iraq almost constantly. Beginning in January 2006, the 82nd began reorganizing from a divisional-based system to a brigade-combat-team organization. This allowed more flexibility in deploying the brigade combat teams during the War on Terror. Under the brigade-combat-team organization, each brigade has two Parachute Infantry Regiments, with the exception of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which has two Airborne Infantry Regiments. Although 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment are both parachute qualified, they retain the “airborne” designation in honor of the WWII 325th Glider Infantry Regiment. Additionally, each brigade combat team has a squadron of the 73rd Cavalry Regiment, a battalion of the 319th Field Artillery Regiment, a support battalion, and a special troops battalion (comprised of an engineer company, military intelligence company, signal network support company, plus military police, medical, CBRN {chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialists}, maintenance personnel, and battalion staff). All of the elements of the brigade combat team are airborne qualified. Additionally, the 82nd Airborne Division contains a combat aviation brigade and a headquarters and headquarters battalion.

To allow the U.S. to project force quickly anywhere in the world, one of the brigade combat teams functions as the “ready brigade” prepared to deploy wherever needed. Within the ready brigade is the DRF (division ready force) battalion, which is prepared for 18-hour recall. One company of that battalion is ready for two-hour recall.

What It Takes
Members of the 82nd Airborne first have to complete their basic training and advanced infantry training or other specialty training. If they enlisted with the option of going to airborne training, that is the next step. The basic airborne course lasts three weeks and entails ground, tower and jump weeks as well as rigorous physical training. Five static line jumps are made to receive the jump wings, including two with equipment and one night jump. Even though the 82nd is an airborne unit, troops must also be qualified to carry out helicopter-borne operations.

As a result, many members of the 82nd will have graduated from Air Assault School, which lasts ten days and incorporates tough physical training along with air-mobile techniques. During the first three days, trainees learn about combat air assaults, including medical evacuation, support by helicopter gunships and so forth. The next three days are spent learning sling-loading operations, with three more days spent on rappelling and fast-roping. Finally, the course ends with a 12-mile march. Note that almost all of the 82nd Airborne’s heavier equipment is designed to be dropped by parachute.
Training for the 82nd Airborne is constant and more intensive than it is for the rest of the Army. Paratroopers are expected to be able to run 8 miles in an hour or less and will spend more time in the field and more time deployed than most other units. Despite this, the reenlistment rate is very high. Members of the 82nd also undergo an array of additional training. Many members go to Ranger School, and others attend sniper training. At Fort Benning, the sniper course is normally five weeks, but a mobile training team also offers an intensive four-week version of the course at Fort Bragg for members of the division.

A percentage of the division is free-fall qualified (HALO/HAHO). Some 82nd paratroopers will be trained as pathfinders to jump in ahead of an airborne or helicopter assault, to establish DZs (drop zones) or LZs (landing zones). Training constantly, medics in the 82nd Airborne must know how to sustain injured troops behind enemy lines until medevac is possible. Members of the division also train frequently with allied airborne units and will frequently be seen wearing the parachute badges of other units they have jumped with.

Weaponry
Many of the weapons used by the 82nd Airborne are the same as those used by the rest of the Army, though there are a few exceptions as the 82nd is often among the first units to receive new weapons. The basic rifle is the M4 Carbine, often with the SOPMOD package, and normally with a Trijicon ACOG, EOTech or Aimpoint optical sight. Some paratroopers will have the M203 grenade launcher mounted.
Designated marksmen and snipers/observers of the 82nd have been using the M110 SASS (semi-automatic sniper system) since first deploying it in Iraq in 2008. Some are also armed with scoped versions of the M14 rifle, while some snipers still use the M24 SWS (sniper weapon system) as well. The primary anti-materiel rifle is the Barrett M82A1. Members of the 82nd use Mossberg 500/590 shotguns as well as the M26 MASS (modular accessory shotgun system), which fits under the barrel of an M4 Carbine. The M9 Beretta is the standard handgun.

Heavier weapons include the M141 BDM (bunker defeat munition), the M249 SAW (squad automatic weapon) or M249 Para, the M240B machine gun (which may be replaced by the lighter M240L), the M2A1 heavy machine gun, the M224/224A1 60mm mortar, the M252/252A1 81mm mortar, the M120 120mm mortar, the FIM-92 Stinger AA missile, the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile, and the BGM-77 TOW anti-tank missile. Artillery pieces used by the 82nd are designed to be light enough for parachuting or air-landing. These include the M119 105mm howitzer and the M877A2 lightweight 155mm howitzer.

The mission of the 82nd Airborne Division is to strategically deploy, conduct a combat parachute assault, and secure key objectives within 18 hours of alert for a mission. Known as “America’s Guard of Honor,” the 82nd has reaffirmed its right to that title again and again and will, no doubt, continue to do so.

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