FORT BRAGG, N.C. (WNCN) – The 82nd Airborne Division celebrated its centennial by hosting a public training exercise at Fort Bragg.
Thousands of paratroopers participated in Thursday’s mission, before a crowd of many thousands more.
The 82nd Airborne formed shortly after the United States entered World War I in 1917. The division earned the nickname “All American” as its original members came from every state.
Fort Bragg holds All American Week each year. Many veterans of the 82nd Airborne return to the Army post to see old friends and the current active-duty soldiers.
“It’s like a brotherhood, and every year you never know you’re going to run into that you served with,” retired Sgt. John Urbach said.
Urbach, who served from 1962 to 1965, was among a few veterans to wear uniforms from past eras. He quickly made friends with Danny Shoaf, who was a paratrooper from 1961 to 1964.
Although their years in the 82nd Airborne overlapped, Thursday was the first time they ever met, more than 50 years after they left the service. Urbach said he attends the Airborne Review almost every year, and this was the fourth or fifth time for Shoaf.
“Today’s Army is a lot smarter than I was. A lot sharper. They have weapons I couldn’t even begin to understand or work,” Shoaf said.
The 82nd Airborne put several of those weapons on display to demonstrate the equipment’s capabilities and the soldiers’ skills. Planes and helicopters delivered equipment, crews on the ground fired rounds, and a tactical team used a variety of vehicles to seize an airfield.
“It is amazing what they’re able to do and how coordinated they are, how sophisticated they are. It’s impressive,” North Carolina governor Roy Cooper said of the exercise.
Eighteen planes carrying about 2,000 paratroopers flew over the airfield, but strong winds prevented the soldiers from jumping.
However, the crowd got to see some skydivers earlier in the day, as about a dozen members of the Golden Knights Army Parachute Team landed right in front of the bleachers.
The soldiers who were unable to parachute joined many more in a march across the airfield at the end of the demonstration. There were about 5,000 paratroopers in all, and they saluted hundreds of 82nd Airborne veterans who had their own march of honor. A handful of those veterans served during World War II.
“The paratrooper is the lifeblood of the division, and as you look at them coming by, you see the lineage as they come forward, and that’s who we are,” Maj. Gen. Erik Kurilla said.
The national president of the 82nd Airborne Association, Ed Herlihy, led the march of honor. He said it was great to have many visitors on hand to see what the division does.
Some of the guests came from far away, including soldiers several American ally countries. Nick Flower, a lance corporal in the British army’s Royal Corps of Signals, arrived at Fort Bragg earlier in May. It is his first trip to the United States. He said he was pleasantly surprised by the hospitality of the American soldiers and North Carolina public, and wowed by the military activities.
“We’ve never seen anything like this. All the guys that are out with us, there’s about 15 of us, we’re super looking forward to this,” Flower said.
A group of youth from inner-city Orlando also observed the exercise and on Saturday will visit Fort Sumter in South Carolina. They are mentored by veterans in the University of Central Florida’s Soldiers to Scholars program.
“We offer our services to the community, trying to make sure that we expose our youth to things that will make them better,” veteran Jamel Clark said.
“We try to be a positive deference for these at-risk kids. We had a couple of students that performed extremely well, and wanted to reward them with something that we thought would leave a lasting memory in their minds.”
Clark said he hopes the students will experience Army values such as hard work, dedication, commitment, and getting away from excuses.