By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Jan. 26, 2017) -- With just 18 hours of notice, the 82nd Airborne Division can deploy and conduct a forcible-entry operation in support of U.S. interests. But the division wasn't always that ready, and they weren't always airborne.
With 2017 marking the division's 100th anniversary, the 82nd is now launching a series of initiatives to commemorate its history, share the story of how it became the unit it is today, and celebrate all that the paratroopers have done for the United States and the world.
"This is our centennial, our 100th anniversary, and the entire calendar year of 2017 is a celebration of our legacy," said Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, with the 82nd Airborne Public Affairs office.
Among those initiatives is a new podcast series, "All American Legacy Podcast." The 82nd plans to produce one or more podcast episodes each week, over the course of the year.
The first of those episodes, "All American Legacy Podcast: Episode 1 - Birth" details how the division was formed back in 1917. The episode went live on YouTube, iTunes, Google Play and the 82nd's Facebook page, Jan. 17.
FROM INFANTRY TO AIRBORNE
As the first podcast explains, the 82nd started off in August 1917, at Camp Gordon, Georgia, to contribute to the fighting in World War I. At the time, there was no airborne capability in the U.S. Army. The 82nd was an infantry division. It would go on to fight in some of the critical battles of the First World War.
"St. Mihiel comes to mind, as does Meuse-Argonne," Buccino said. "Alvin York was our biggest moment in that war: Alvin York in the Argonne Forrest. A lot of people, I don't think, associate Alvin York with the 82nd, but he was our second Medal of Honor recipient."
In 1919, after the First World War, the 82nd was deactivated. In 1921, it stood up again, going on to operate for 20 years in the Army Reserve as a drilling Reserve unit. In March 1942, a little more than three months after the attacks at Pearl Harbor, the 82nd was recalled to active duty.
At the time, Buccino explained, the Allies were looking to "introduce this new airborne concept: vertical envelopment."
"Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway, the commanding general at the time, had trained the division above the platoon level," Buccino said. "He trained so efficiently that the 82nd was selected to become an airborne division."
So it was, in August 1942, that the 82nd Infantry Division became the 82nd Airborne Division, just 25 years after it first stood up at Camp Gordon.
"It was chaotic because the division had been trained for standard infantry operations in World War II," Buccino said. "And the division had to be reorganized. Half the division was sent off to the 101st."
JUMPING INTO WWII
Around that time, the airborne concept was still new, Buccino said. The Germans had been doing it, he said, and now the allies wanted to do it, too. But it remained to be seen whether the concept would work in large numbers.
"When Gen. Ridgway announced that ... we're going to an airborne status for the European theater," Buccino said, "[Soldiers] had the option to stay in the division, or leave, or go somewhere else. But the overwhelming majority decided to stay in the 82nd."
In 1942, commercial aviation in the United States was still in its infancy. Most Soldiers in the 82nd Airborne had likely never even been on an airplane. And now, the Army was asking them to jump out of one. Many of them were terrified, Buccino said.
"We know now when we do these airborne operations that the equipment will work, and that we will arrive safely on the ground," he explained. "But then, people didn't really have that reassurance."
When the first paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division embarked on the first operational jump mission in Italy, many of them were just novices at parachuting by today's standards, Buccino said.
"They all had done this less than 10 times in training -- as aircraft to train on this were not available in the U.S. back then," he said. "Today, we have paratroopers here who have jumped 70 or 80 times. They are very familiar and comfortable with it."
Today, he said, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 82nd Airborne Division Soldiers conduct 10,000 training jumps a month.
ALL AMERICAN LEGACY PODCAST
Buccino said the division plans to cover as much of the 82nd's 100-year history as possible in the "All American Legacy" podcast series, in many cases, through the voices of its own veterans.
"There's an awful lot to cover here Buccino said. "What we're looking to tell are unique and cool stories that people are going to be interested in. It's an in-their-own-words format."
Buccino said his office at the 82nd has been seeking out not just veterans, but relatives of veterans as well, through social media and the 82nd Airborne Division Association to ask them to come in and tell their stories.
The team developing the podcasts has already spoken with the family of Alvin York, for instance, and also with his grand-nephew, who is serving in the 82nd.
"It's kind of a coincidence there," Buccino said. "We talked to him for this next podcast."
Future topics include the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, an all-black parachute battalion, he said, who "served as smoke jumpers on the West Coast of the United States during World War II and were incorporated into the 82nd after the war. That's a great story."
They also plan to feature Dan Carlin in an episode and will cover the 82nd's involvement in the Cold War as well, including operations in Panama, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.