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A part of history: reserve airlifters help the Army celebrate the 75th anniversary of the first air drop of American paratroopers.

Airlifters from the Air Force Reserve Command helped the Army celebrate an important milestone in its history: the 75th anniversary of the very first air drop of American paratroopers.

Members of the 908th Airlift Wing from Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, and the 315th AW from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, were invited to participate in the celebration that took place Aug. 16 at Fort Benning, Georgia, while the 440th AW dropped troops in a similar event at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

"To be a part of such an important milestone in Army history was a distinct milestone in my career," said Capt. Brian Powell of the 908th. "It was certainly a rare experience and one that our whole crew was honored to be a part of."

On the same date in 1940, 10 members of the Army's Airborne Test Platoon, led by 1st Lt. William T. Ryder, made the first official parachute jump from a Douglas B-18.

At Fort Benning, an audience of roughly 500 people watched as the airlifters--flying one C-130 Hercules and two C-17 Globemaster III aircraft--dropped paratroopers onto Lawson Army Airfield, temporarily renamed King Drop Zone in honor of Pvt. William N. "Red" King, the first enlisted man to jump.

The event began with jumps by members of The Liberty Jump Team, an organization of re-enactors dressed and equipped as World War II-era paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The Liberty Team flew to altitude aboard a World War II vintage C-47 Skytrain. Members of the U.S. Army Pathfinder School followed by jumping from two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from Fort Benning's Ranger Flight Company.

Once the Pathfinders touched down, they set up communications with the AFRC aircraft for the final series of jumps.

For Master Sgt. Al Larson, a loadmaster in Charleston's 701st Airlift Squadron, the mission brought back vivid memories. Before donning an Air Force flight suit, he, too, wore the uniform of an Army paratrooper.

"I started with the Army in 1983 at Fort Benning and being part of the 75th anniversary of the Airborne School 32 years later is really awesome," Larson said. "I know what these Soldiers go through, and they have my utmost respect. I can still feel the adrenaline you get each time you prepare to jump, and on days like today it took everything inside of me to keep from going out that door with them."

At Fort Bragg, the event included static displays and demonstration jumps by the U.S. Army Golden Knights and the Army Special Operations Command's Black Daggers parachute demonstration teams.

The guest speaker for the event was retired Gen. James Joseph Lindsay, former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and 18th Airborne Corps, and the first-ever commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command.

"Unfortunately, the 75th anniversary only happens once," said Lt. Col. Korey Brown, commander of the 1st Brigade, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, which executes the training mission of the airborne school. "Otherwise, we'd be trying to set it up again for next week. Thank you for being here. This is a pretty huge deal. You're a part of history."

(Hughes is assigned to the 908th AW public affairs office at Maxwell AFB. Also, the 315th and 440th AW public affairs offices at Joint Base Charleston and Pope AFB, respectively, contributed to this story.)

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Author:Hughes, Gene H.
Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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