The 101st Airborne Division is an elite American fighting force known as the Screaming Eagles. In fact, it is a U.S. Army modular light infantry division trained for air assault operations. They move fast, hit hard, and then hopefully disengage.
The 101st has a long and storied history as an Airborne Division, but they have not been Airborne since the Korean War. But don’t let that fool you. They remain one of the most lethal divisions in the Army today and have a particular niche to fill. And in places like Afghanistan and other rugged countries that would bog down a traditional Infantry Division, their expertise is essential.
In World War II, it was renowned for its role in Operation Overlord—the D-Day landings starting 6 June 1944, in Normandy, France—, Operation Market Garden, the liberation of the Netherlands, and action during the Battle of the Bulge around the city of Bastogne, Belgium. During the Vietnam War, the 101st Airborne Division fought in several major campaigns and battles, including Hamburger Hill’s fight in May 1969.
The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) has demonstrated the characteristics of military professionalism since the unit’s activation on Aug. 15, 1942. On August 19, 1942, the first commander, Maj. Gen. William C. Lee promised his recruits that the 101st has no history, but it has a “Rendezvous with destiny.”
101st Airborne Divison in World War I
As a division, the 101st has never failed that prophecy. During World War II, the 101st Airborne Division led the way on D-Day in the night drop before the invasion. When surrounded at Bastogne, Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe answered, “NUTS!” and the Screaming Eagles fought on until the siege was lifted. For their valiant efforts and heroic deeds during World War II, the 101st Airborne Division was awarded four campaign streamers and two Presidential Unit Citations.
General Order Number Five, which gave birth to the division, reads, “The 101st Airborne Division, activated at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny. Like the early American pioneers whose invincible courage was the foundation stone of this nation, we have broken with the past and its traditions to establish our claim to the future.
“Due to the nature of our armament, and the tactics in which we shall perfect ourselves, we shall be called upon to carry out operations of far-reaching military importance, and we shall habitually go into action when the need is immediate and extreme. “Let me call your attention to the fact that our badge is the great American eagle. This is a fitting emblem for a division that will crush its enemies by falling upon them like a thunderbolt from the skies.
“The history we shall make, the record of high achievement we hope to write in the annals of the American Army and the American people, depends wholly and completely on the men of this division. Each individual, each officer, and each enlisted man must, therefore, regard himself as a necessary part of a complex and powerful instrument to overcome the enemies of the nation.
In his own job, each must realize that he is not only a means but an indispensable means for obtaining the goal of victory. it is, therefore, not too much to say that the future itself, in whose molding we expect to have our share, is in the hands of the soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division.”
Reactivation after World War II
The 101st Airborne Division was reactivated as a training unit at Camp Breckinridge, Ky., in 1948 and again in 1950. It was reactivated again in 1954 at Fort Jackson, S.C., and in March 1956, the 101st was transferred, with less personnel and equipment to Fort Campbell, Ky., to be reorganized as a combat division.
Military engagement during the years
In the mid-1960s, the 1st Brigade and support troops were deployed to the Republic of Vietnam, followed by the rest of the division in late 1967. In almost seven years of combat in Vietnam, the 101st participated in as many as 15 campaigns, earning additional laurels to their proud name. In 1968, the 101st took on the structure and equipment of an airmobile division.
Today, the 101st stands as the Army’s and world’s only air assault division with unequaled strategic and tactical mobility.
In January 1991, the 101st once again had its “Rendezvous with Destiny” in Iraq during the deepest combat air assault into enemy territory in the world’s history. Miraculously, the 101st sustained no soldiers killed in action during the 100-hour war and captured thousands of enemy prisoners of war.
Fort Campbell soldiers have supported humanitarian relief efforts in Rwanda and Somalia, then later supplied peacekeepers to Haiti and Bosnia. In quest of its “Rendezvous with Destiny,” the division has been chosen to develop and exploit the doctrine of air assault – Tomorrow’s Division in Today’s Army.
Its unique battlefield mobility and high level of training have kept it in the vanguard of US land combat forces in recent conflicts. More recently, the 101st Airborne has been performing foreign internal defense and counterterrorism operations within Iraq and Afghanistan.
101st Airborne in modern warfare
Today, most people think of Airborne as a canopy only, but this is not accurate; the original meaning of the term included glider-delivered infantry; the original 82d Airborne division was two regiments of the glider and one regiment of the parachute.
Helicopters are the new gliders. Much more effective at delivering troops and equipment than the old gliders ever were. Look at today’s operations; there are so very few canopy drops in the last 75 years, but massive amounts of operations involving helicopter insertion.
The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, has a mission to provide forcible entry capability through heliborne ‘air assault’ operations. Capable of inserting a 4,000 soldier combined-arms task force, 150-kilometers, or about 100 miles into enemy terrain in one lift, and possessing 281 helicopters, including three battalions of Apache attack helicopters, the division was one of the most versatile in the Army.
For this reason, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) was said to be the division most in demand by combatant commanders. The Airborne Division that still is 100% “airborne,” in that they are populated with airborne qualified personnel (paratroopers), is the 82nd Airborne Division, stationed at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.