FREDERICKSBURG — Their jump list includes Normandy, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now they can add Stafford County to the list.
Eighty-two paratroopers from the U.S. Army’s famous 82nd Airborne Division — America’s Guard of Honor — jumped into Stafford Regional Airport on Thursday as part of a training exercise.
The troops began jumping from 1,100 feet at noon from two Air Force C–130s that made the 275-mile flight to Stafford from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They were welcomed at the airport by flag-waving, applause and cheers from hundreds of veterans, wounded warriors and their families, who patiently waited in the hot morning sun for their arrival.
Sgt. Maj. Gregory Seymour of the 82nd Airborne Division said the paratroopers had come mainly from the infantry regiments within the division and Thursday’s jump was a routine training exercise.
“There’s no formal mission after this, just the jump,” Seymour said. “From here, they’ll be getting into vehicles, going back to Fort Bragg.”
Once paratroopers touched down, they gathered gear and quickly formed at the runway’s edge for a briefing. Each paratrooper carried anywhere from 35 to 55 pounds of gear in addition to their primary and reserve parachutes.
“This is an outstanding training event for all of us because we’re dropping into an unfamiliar drop zone,” said Master Sgt. Alexander Burnett, 35, of the 82nd Airborne Division. “Today really lets us get some repetitions in for our big mission—which is the ability to jump anywhere in the world with only 18 hours’ notice.”
Army officials say airports are selected for these types of training exercises through direct coordination with the airports and the Federal Aviation Administration.
“One of our actual missions is to secure airfields,” said Bill Bauer, executive director of the 82nd Airborne Association. “Every once in a while, we jump actual airfields because we can’t replicate the fences, runways, runway lights of what an actual airfield looks like.”
“Stafford just happened to be in the area and it met all the prerequisites,” said Lt. Col. Mike Burns, public affairs officer for the 82nd Airborne Division.
Most of the guests in attendance for the troop’s arrival traveled to Stafford by bus from the division’s 73rd annual convention in Arlington, which runs until Saturday.
“It’s taken me 31 years to make this reunion,” said retired Sgt. Maj. Patrick Michael Crouse of Gambrills, Maryland, who served with the 82nd Airborne from 1972–74. “I am fired up. I am motivated. Put me on the manifest.”
For Clifford Stump, 95, of Flower Mound, Texas, Thursday’s jump brought back a flood of memories. Assigned to gliders during World War II, Stump touched down in Normandy and eventually lost his best friend, who was killed by a sniper during the campaign.
Stump always enjoyed watching paratroopers and was eager to greet the paratroopers arriving on Thursday.
“I feel excited inside,” said Stump. “It’s been a long time.”
Vietnam veteran Dan Roof of Buffalo, New York, served with the 82nd Airborne for three years, deploying to that war in 1965. While waiting for paratroopers to arrive on Thursday, Roof was overjoyed to be among friends he had previously served with and reflected on the years he served with the airborne division.
“I enjoyed it,” said Roof. “It was a gung-ho unit. All of us were volunteers; everybody wanted to be there.”
Not everyone at Thursday’s event was affiliated with the military. Some came to simply admire the marvels of aviation and America’s armed forces.
David and Jenny Faux of Amissville were seated near the runway with their children Sarah and Jonathan. The Faux’s say their son has an interest in joining the Civil Air Patrol and someday possibly U.S. Coast Guard.
“It’s a nice family event. My children like aviation and engineering,” said David Faux. “It’s interesting for the family.”
The 82nd Airborne Division has a significant place in American history. The 82nd Division was first created in 1917 and saw action in France. Following the outbreak of World War II, it was redesignated as the 82nd Airborne Division.
The division fought in Sicily, Italy, Normandy, Holland and Germany. Post-World War II, it saw action in the Caribbean, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The 82nd Airborne Division is the only airborne division in the U.S. Army.
“The 82nd Airborne Division is unique,” Burnett said. “You go to Fort Bragg and we’ve got 18,000 paratroopers ready to go. America’s Guard of Honor is on watch.”
As to whether 82 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division jumping into Stafford was more than a mere coincidence, Burns admitted: “It was a little intentional. We try to make things a little significant when we can.”