On March 26, 1963, an experiment began that would change the lives of generations of warriors, their loved ones and our Army. It was the birth of the first, and only, separate Airborne Brigade in the United States Army. It was led by a soldier who both understood and appreciated the strategic value of a parachute assault capable unit as well as the flexibility and mobility of a self-contained, self-supporting separate Brigade.
The exploits of the Sky Soldier Brigade, both in the Vietnam era and in the current struggle against terrorism are well known and need not be repeated here. Fighting with warriors attached to the Brigade from Australia and New Zealand in Vietnam, and along side soldiers from NATO Allies and other members of the international community, Sky Soldiers have set a standard of excellence that other units only hope to equal.
An often overlooked benefit to the nation emanating from the Brigade’s service in Vietnam and continuing through the present is its role as a leadership development laboratory. Superior leaders at all ranks recruited and honed the skills of promising warriors to produce generation after generation of the Army’s leadership. By every standard imaginable, the experiment began 50 years ago was and continues to be a smashing success!
It was not surprising that more than 600 Sky Soldier warriors, active duty and veterans, and their friends and families, gathered at the 173d Airborne Brigade National Memorial on the Campus of the National Infantry Museum to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the activation of the 173d Airborne Brigade.
Gold Star families joined veterans and families of currently serving soldiers to clean the Memorial. Following remarks by Memorial Foundation member BG (R) Jim Yarbrough, reminding us of the Brigade’s heritage and accomplishments, veterans, Gold Star families and volunteers from all generations read the names of 1,678 Americans, Australians and New Zealanders who were taken from us in the Republican of Vietnam.
Ranger Training Regiment Commander Colonel Kyle Lear, a Sky Soldier, spoke movingly of the post 2000 Brigade’s adherence to the standard of military excellence established by Sky Soldiers in the 1960’s and 1970’s, to include its parachute assault accomplishments, at the start of the evening candlelight service. Following the poignant and often gut-wrenching reading of the names of 92 warriors who were taken from us in Iraq and Afghanistan by Gold Star families and veterans of those conflicts, a Sky Soldier color guard and firing party rendered final honors.
Final goodbyes, that were preceded by those articulated at numerous mini-reunions and gatherings that occurred over the three day celebration and commemoration, were spoken following a prayer service at the Memorial on Sunday morning.
Military Excellence! Unparalleled heroism! Exceptional service and dedication to the nation! SKY SOLDIERS!