When soldiers walk past each other, first they look for officer/enlisted insignia and then their eyes gravitate towards the right shoulder sleeve in search of a combat patch; the patch worn on the left sleeve is worn as the unit patch. It wasn’t until I was assigned to an Army unit, I became aware of this phenomena and the importance of the combat patch was explained to me. Unlike the Air Force who stopped wearing their combat patches in 1950’s, the Army proudly wears them on their uniform like a badge of honor. These patches identify which combat unit they have or are assigned to. The combat patch signifies their unit’s active participation or support of ground combat operations against hostile forces in which they have been exposed to the threat of enemy action or fire, either directly or indirectly.
Today was an opportunity to see my new teammates being awarded their combat patch in a ceremony held next to the camp’s flag poles. Most of these members already wore a combat patch but this was a symbolic service held for those who didn’t have one or were newly assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat
Team. The 173rd is currently headquartered in Vicenza, Italy and has a rich history dating back to 1917. But the “Sky Soldiers” notoriety stems from their combat action in Vietnam. They received their official nickname (Tien Bien translates to Sky Soldiers) from the Taiwanese locals during exercises when they were parachuting in Taiwan. The 173rd was the only major conventional airborne operation (Operation Junction City….82 days) during Vietnam War. Since Vietnam, they have been actively participating in Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. On 26 March 2003, 1,000 Sky Soldiers parachuted opening up the northern front in Iraq.
You might have recognized the 173rd combat patch in Hollywood films, such as Apocalypse Now and Lethal Weapon. Country duo Big & Rich sang about them in their hit “8th of November.” This song was a tribute to the 48 Sky Soldiers who died in Vietnam when their brigade was ambushed by 1,200 VC soldiers.
These country singers also performed live to help raise donations for the 173rd Airborne Memorial being built near Fort Benning, Georgia. This memorial will honor the 1,790
Sky Soldiers lost in Vietnam and the 69 lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan so far. In addition, legislation was passed naming former Illinois Route 173 as the 173rd Airborne Brigade Highway.
Prior to the ceremony, my team inspected the vehicles. It was only 8 1/2 months ago, that I found myself in the same position as them. But
this time, instead of being the student, I was the teacher and explaining about the MRAP’s engine and functions. Before long, they will assume all of our responsibilities and duties after we finish our year long deployment. One of our HMMVWs was inoperable and we had to connect a tow bar to it. This is the primary method of towing these types of vehicles.
Lastly, “my Captain” has returned from his R&R. He also got stuck in Kuwait for a few days, but has since returned. It just wasn’t the same without him here. He and I make a great team and since his return, he has motivated me to go to the gym with him. Upon returning home, my wife Liisa and I have decided to go hiking in Acadia National Park in Maine, so I need to get back into hiking shape. Liisa is also training, because when we hike, we search out for difficult trails to test our endurance. Also, some of nature’s best sights can only be viewed after a grueling hike to them. Training at this elevation should transform me into a billy goat …. lol.
Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: | 173rd Airborne, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 8th of November, Afghanistan, Big & Rich, combat patch, Deployment, ETT, HMMVW, Sky Soldiers, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, Vicenza