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National Airborne Day, August 16, was chosen by former President George W. Bush back in 2002 as a day to recognize the past, present, and future contributions of American airborne troops in all campaigns, theaters, and peacekeeping missions. For example, the invasion of Normandy during World War II might have gone the wrong way and cost thousands more lives, if not for Allied soldiers dropping from aircraft behind enemy lines. From the first American use of paratroopers on August 16, 1942 to the 101st “Screaming Eagles,” airborne divisions are some of our best and bravest.
History of National Airborne Day
In terms of young or old warfare tactics, using American airborne forces to surprise an enemy by landing behind battle lines has only been a “thing” since the 1940s. It was just after World War I when, perhaps looking back in hindsight with better vision, Brigadier General Billy Mitchell first came up with a viable version of the idea of “dropping” troops into combat. The idea was developed and tested at Fort Benning, Georgia, and first “went live” in the North African campaign of the Second World War, meeting with decisive success.
Perhaps best illustrated by the film “Saving Private Ryan,” paratroopers in WWII suffered some disadvantages when they parachuted into German territories, such as disorientation or losing their sense of compass directions during a nighttime paratrooper assault. The second was a lack of ready supplies. Airborne troops sometimes had to scrounge, be cunning, and exploit every resource to procure food, weapons, and ammunition. And that’s to say nothing about being surrounded by the enemy on all sides!
With paratroopers now jumping out of an aircraft at the rate of about 118.5 feet per second, National Airborne Day is also a time to recognize the vigorous training of airborne units in the Army. The safety of this training is also important to note. A jumpmasters attention to detail is critical, with equipment checked regularly.
Airborne tactics have steadily advanced alongside other military strategies, up until 2002, when President Bush’s proclamation made the anniversary of the first airborne assault a holiday. The U.S. Senate backed that up in Senate Resolution 235 in 2009. Since then, August 16 is a patriotic day with a special cachet because airborne troops are said to be the elite of the elite, earning top honors across the Armed Services.
National Airborne Day timeline
Following the first successful manned balloon flight, Benjamin Franklin writes on the possible dangers of air attack, envisioning “ten thousand men descending from the clouds.”
The 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion is deployed in French North Africa as part of Operation Torch.
Former President George W. Bush signs his proclamation, reading in part, “Airborne combat continues to be driven by the bravery and daring spirit of sky soldiers.”
Senate Resolution 235 officially recognizes and ratifies National Airborne Day.
National Airborne Day FAQs
Do airborne personnel receive higher pay?
Yes. On top of their base pay, they also get airborne pay — or “jump pay” — in the amount of about $150.
What is the largest airborne deployment in history?
About 35,000 troops were dropped by parachute and glider during Operation Market Garden in 1944 during WWII.
Who did the first paratroop drop?
The first true airborne deployment was by Italy in 1927. They went on to train two battalions, but Allied forces are considered to have truly mastered the tactic.
How To Observe National Airborne Day
Call or email a paratrooper
If there’s a service member in your family or peer group who belongs to an airborne division, take a moment to contact them with gratitude and admiration. It won’t take long, and they’ll appreciate you reaching out.
It may seem extreme, but it’s the experience of a lifetime according to many amateur skydivers, and while you’re in freefall you can think for a second about what it would be like if you were about to land behind enemy lines.
Visit the Airborne Museum
The brick-and-mortar site is located in Sainte-Mère-Eglise, France, so again, maybe out of the reach of the average pocketbook, but the museum’s website holds a wealth of detailed information and stories of the world’s airborne personnel.
5 Amazing Facts About Airborne Combat:
In World War II, British airborne troops were often accompanied on jumps by German Shepherds, “Para-Dogs,” who performed duties such as detecting mines and guarding.
The nature of airborne deployment allows a large number of soldiers to appear almost out of nowhere to surprise enemies, a tactic called “vertical envelopment.”
“Was ist das?!”
During the 1944 D-Day landings, the Allies dropped thousands of mannequins on chutes from above, in hopes of drawing attention away from the actual location of the airborne assault.
A real survivor
During his time with the Special Forces Reserve, TV survival expert Bear Grylls suffered a 16,000-footfall when his ‘chute tore, breaking three vertebrae.
“That’s some heavy stuff…”
Part of the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama including air-dropping several M551 Sheridan tanks — weighing over 16 tons apiece — into action.
Why We Love National Airborne Day
Because the pioneering of airborne operations is in large part an American achievement, it’s a piece of our patriotic duty to observe National Airborne Day with solemnity.
Skydiving itself is an amazing accomplishment
When you think about it, jumping out of aeroplanes thousands of feet above the ground and coming to a safe landing on the ground below is a mind-boggling thing for a person to do. Add the danger and critical need for success added to all that, and you know why we respect paratroopers this day!
Airborne combat is exciting!
We’re not all about glorifying war, but there’s a feeling of childlike wonder and awe when contemplating the military’s airborne operations. Something about gliding down under cover of darkness, swift and silent — well, that’s why movies are made about it, right?
National Airborne Day dates