Fort Johnson honors National Airborne Day

Published 10:00 am Thursday, August 31, 2023

By Keith Morrow / Fort Johnson Air Officer

Aug. 16 may be just another day to some, but to a paratrooper it’s National Airborne Day, which celebrates the birthday of the airborne. On that date in 1940, a soldier stepped out of a plane and into the skies for the first time. It was the birth of the Army’s airborne program.

The concept of parachuting troops into combat by jumping out of a plane began when Brig. Gen. William Mitchell came up with the idea after the end of World War I. It then went through development and testing at Fort Benning, Ga. Airborne operations became reality with the first implementation during the North Africa campaign of World War II, and proved to be immensely successful along with other operations, including D-Day.

One historical fact most folks probably aren’t aware of is the birthplace of the 101st and 82nd airborne divisions. They began just down the road from here at Camp Claiborne, which sits just south of Alexandria. The 101st and 82nd were already organized units but officially got their airborne designation there.

There’s lot of history across the Army’s airborne program. Even Fort Johnson’s own 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment has some great lineage by being the first unit to conduct an airborne assault in 1942, as well as conducting four more airborne operations, which gave the unit five total combat paradrops. They makes them the only unit in history to earn that many.
Over the years there have been many more historical instances where parachute operations have been used. This could include anything from dropping paratroopers and equipment to resupplying cargo to those in need.

I started and ended my 20-year Army career on airborne status, retiring from the 1st Bn, 509th Inf Reg and ending with 122 total jumps logged in my book. It was more than a way of life. Even after retiring in 1999, I’m still committed to the Army’s airborne program as the installation’s air officer.
I first got hooked on the idea after watching an Army recruiting video on airborne training and seeing John Wayne’s movie “Green Berets.” I decided that was for me. After I completed basic training in the summer of 1979, I attended airborne school, where I got my five jumps and earned my basic wings. After completing the Ranger indoctrination training, where I added another 15 jumps to my logbook, I was assigned Charlie Company, 1st Battalion (Ranger), 75th Infantry.

Little did I know we were going to be part of airborne history. During our various training events with the unit, one of our main training missions was conducting an airborne assault onto an airfield, clearing and securing it for follow-on aircraft to land. The main reason we did this was training for our part in the rescue of our fellow Americans being held by the Iranians.
During the Iran hostage rescue mission, our Ranger company was to do just that — secure an old Iranian airfield so the helicopters and Delta Force could bring the hostages to us, transition to aircraft and fly them to safety. Sadly, due to other events, we never got to conduct our portion of the airfield seizures.

Our training set the future for those types of airborne assaults, techniques and procedures. They have been used during several operations to include Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s a great feeling to know we helped set the blueprint more than 40 years ago that’s still used today by our airborne units. However, retiring didn’t stop me from working with airborne units. In 2004 I became Fort Johnson’s air officer. Over the past 19 years, I have helped more than 130,000 soldiers, in one way or another, conduct their airborne training. This could have been their month jump training, support for a Joint Readiness Training Center rotation or even helping an out-station unit come here for their own training.

It’s a great feeling when I see our soldiers getting the training needed to prepare them by helping units work up their plan, support them with the aircraft and equipment they need and watch the unit’s mission unfold as planned. As they say, “I love it when a plan comes together.”