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A guided tour of Fort Richardson’s airborne brigade
The 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, has an austere task organization reflecting the agility required for the unit to fight immediately after hitting the ground.
“I am an elite trooper – a sky trooper – a shock trooper – a spearhead trooper. I blaze the way to far-flung goals – behind, before, above the foe’s front line.” – The Airborne Creed
According to “Airborne: A Guided Tour of an Airborne Task Force” by Tom Clancy, the U.S. Army was late in developing airborne forces, falling behind Italy, the Soviet Union and, most notably, Nazi Germany in training, equipping and employing paratroopers.
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Airborne infantrymen may jump carrying more than 150 pounds of equipment, including main and reserve parachutes, a weapons bag with carbine, a rucksack with three days of Soldier sustainment supplies and MOS-specific equipment, such as radios, batteries or mortar rounds. graphics by David Bedard/Fort Wainwright PAO
The German invasion of Scandinavia and the Low Countries in 1940, spearheaded by airborne forces under the command of Gen. Kurt Student, served notice to U.S. Army staff that ignoring airborne warfare was no longer a viable option, Clancy wrote.
Maj. Gen. William Lee was charged later that year with rapidly establishing an American airborne capability by founding the Provisional Parachute Group at Fort Benning, Ga. Lee’s efforts eventually led to the establishment of two airborne divisions, the 82nd and the 101st, which distinguished themselves during World War II by jumping behind enemy lines in Sicily, Salerno and Normandy, forever cementing the U.S. Army’s reliance upon airborne forces for contingency operations, Clancy wrote.
Fort Richardson’s 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, which recently received orders to deploy to Afghanistan, is the sole contingency airborne unit assigned to Pacific Command, according to Capt. Matthew Gregory, 4-25th BCT public affairs officer.
“We are the only airborne brigade west of the Mississippi, and we are the only forced entry capability in the Pacific Theater,” Gregory said.
Gregory explained modern airborne units fulfill the forced entry role by jumping into hostile territory with the mission of seizing airfields or other key terrain, establishing an “airhead” and paving the way for follow-on forces, such as armor and mechanized infantry units.
According to Gregory, the brigade’s table of organization and equipment is composed of two parachute infantry battalions (1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, and 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment), a cavalry squadron (1st Squadron (Airborne), 40th Cavalry Regiment), an artillery battalion (2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment), a support battalion (725th Brigade Support Battalion) and a special troops battalion (425th Brigade Special Troops Battalion).
Gregory said the 425th BTSB is the combination of the brigade’s specialized companies, comprised of HHC, 4-25th BCT; HHC, 425th BTSB; an engineer company (A Company); a military intelligence company (B Company) and a signal company (C Company).
Gregory said the 4-25th BCT is built around the unit’s maneuver elements, consisting of two PIBs and the 1-40th. While the PIBs have the mission of closing with and destroying the enemy, the 1-40th provides the brigade with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, giving the 4-25th BCT commander an accurate and timely picture of the battlefield.
The 2-377th provides the brigade with lethal and nonlethal cannon artillery fires. The 725th BSB provides the brigade’s logistical needs through forward maintenance companies charged with repairing their assigned maneuver battalion’s equipment, a truck distribution company responsible for moving the brigade’s supplies across the battlefield and a brigade support medical company in charge of the brigade’s combat health support.
HHC, 725th, has the brigade’s rigger platoon responsible for packing parachutes, rigging equipment and supplies for airdrop, as well as the maintenance of all parachutes and airdrop equipment.
While HHC, 425th BSTB, provides the headquarters and staff to the battalion, the BSTB also contains HHC, 4-25th BCT, consisting of the brigade commander, his staff and many of the brigade’s operational and administrative functions.
The engineers of A Company, 425th BSTB, provide the brigade with mobility, counter-mobility and survivability functions, which are accomplished through reducing enemy obstacles, constructing obstacles to limit enemy maneuverability and providing fortification of friendly battle positions.
B Company, 425th BSTB military intelligence is an intelligence collection and analysis organization that supports the efforts of the brigade’s intelligence section. C Company, 425th BSTB signal establishes and maintains the brigade’s digital and voice communication networks.
Gregory explained that, unlike mechanized forces, airborne paratroopers do not have a tracked or wheeled platform to fall back on for protection or firepower during the initial stages of a forced entry operation. Additionally, paratroopers are limited by the cargo capacity of the Air Force aircraft that deliver them and by what they can carry on their person and on limited airdrop platforms.
“Airborne Soldiers are going to jump in behind enemy lines and be the first on the ground,” Gregory said. “They have to fight the moment they hit the ground.”
Clancy wrote the airborne infantryman may jump with more than 150 pounds of equipment, including main and reserve parachutes, a weapons bag with carbine, a rucksack with three days of Soldier sustainment supplies and MOS-specific equipment, such as radios, batteries or mortar rounds.
Paratroopers do not exit an aircraft like skydivers, who jump out of airplanes above 3,500 feet into freefalls before deploying a steerable parachute.
Rather, due to the considerations of maintaining unit integrity and avoiding collisions during a “mass exit,” Army paratroopers exit the plane below 1,000 feet with a static line attached to the parachute that deploys the canopy shortly after the Soldier steps out the door, Clancy wrote.
Gregory said paratroopers are required to understand the mission at brigade and sometimes division levels, because the potential is high for airdropped Soldiers to be separated from their squads and platoons.
This leads to the tendency of far-flung gatherings of Soldiers to coalesce into what are affectionately termed “little groups of paratroopers,” who charge on to the objective despite often chaotic circumstances.
Gregory explained the challenges associated with jumping behind enemy lines with limited supplies, firepower and protection from enemy fire and the elements coupled with the paratrooper’s determination to accomplish the mission, despite harrowing circumstances, set an airborne Soldier apart.
“When you are talking about a paratrooper, you are talking about a Soldier who can hit the ground and move to the sound of the guns,” Gregory said.