AUGUST 16, 2017, FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – The Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division are one of the most deployed and recognized divisions in the U.S. Army, with a combat record spanning from the paratroopers of World War II to the Soldiers who are leading Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command-Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq today.
Since today, August 16, is Congressionally-recognized National Airborne Day to honor the nation’s airborne forces, the storied history of the 101st deserves special recognition.
The 101st Airborne Division was activated on Aug. 16, 1942, at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. Its first Commanding General, Maj. Gen. William C. Lee, noted that the Division had no history, but that it had a “rendezvous with destiny.” He added that the new Division would habitually be called into action when the need was “immediate and extreme” and that it would “fall on its enemies like a thunderbolt from the skies.”
WORLD WAR II
Following its activation and initial training, the 101st Airborne Division embarked for the European theater of operations in September 1943. On June 6, 1944, 101st Soldiers were the first Allied troops to set foot in occupied France during the D-Day assault after parachuting in behind enemy lines.
The 101st Soldiers distinguished themselves in subsequent fighting, playing a critical role in the Battle of the Bulge by defending a critical road junction in Bastogne, Belgium, against a massive German offensive. The Division also liberated the Landsberg concentration camp and seized Hitler’s mountaintop retreat in the spring of 1945 as the war hastened towards its conclusion.
After the war, the Division experienced several reactivations and inactivations, but finally redesignated at Fort Campbell in 1950, when the post was established as a permanent Army installation.
The Division also greatly contributed to U.S. military action in Vietnam. When the enemy launched the most prevalent single attack of the war, the Tet Offensive, in January 1968, the 101st was at the forefront of combat operations extending as far south as Saigon and as far north as Quang Tri Province.
After the Tet Offensive failed, the Division continued offensive, civil-military, and “pacification” operations in the northern province of Thua Thien.
In August 1968, the Screaming Eagles earned a new designation, the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), after shedding their parachutes in exchange for helicopter operations. In almost seven years of combat in Vietnam, elements of the 101st participated in numerous campaigns. Notable among these were the Battle of Hamburger Hill in 1969 and Firebase Ripcord in 1970.
FIRST AND SECOND GULF WARS
In August 1990, the 101st Airborne Division deployed to the Middle East for six months in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The Screaming Eagles conducted the longest and largest air assault operations to date during the Liberation of Kuwait, effectively securing Iraqi territory in the Euphrates River Valley.
In April 2003, at the start of the Second Iraq War, the Division was ordered to Northern Iraq and conducted the longest air assault in history. The 101st played an integral role in the initial ground war that toppled the Saddam Hussein regime. Following the initial fighting, the Division redirected its mission to supporting stability operations by building local police and local military units, putting together security organizations, and facilitating free elections.
GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR
In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Division was the first conventional unit to deploy in support of the Global War on Terrorism. In November 2001, the Division deployed the 3rd Brigade Combat Team to Afghanistan as the first conventional unit to fight as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The 3rd Brigade Combat Team returned to Afghanistan to support surge operations in late 2009, and a short time later, the entire Division was deployed to Afghanistan. Although divided between two major NATO commands, Regional Command-East and Regional Command-South, the Division brought its unique capabilities and tenacious reputation to the battlefield with the objective of helping Afghanistan secure its people and resume its rightful place among the peaceful community of nations.
Since that time, teams from the Division have continued to deploy to Afghanistan to assist in stability efforts and provide Air Assault capabilities and aviation support to Operation Enduring Freedom.
In 2014, the Screaming Eagles deployed to Monrovia, Liberia to assist with U.S. efforts to combat the spread of the Ebola virus. Units of the 101st helped to control the outbreak by providing logistical support and building Ebola Treatment Units.
The 101st also contributed to the fight against ISIS by assisting Iraqi Security Forces with training, equipment, advising, and air strikes against Daesh members in 2016.
This year, the 101st continued to make history by supporting force protection efforts in Cameroon. This occasion marked the first time the Division had boots on the ground in that country, working alongside Cameroonian Air Force, the Department of State, and nongovernment organizations.
Throughout its 75 years of existence, the 101st has proven over and over again that it is truly the “thunderbolt from the skies” that Maj. Gen. Lee prophesized all those years ago, ready to defend America’s freedom wherever and whenever the Division is needed.
By Mari-Alice Jasper