NEWS | June 12, 2019

Riggers reflect on D-Day heroics 75 years after harrowing operation

By Terrance Bell, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee

BLACKSTONE ARMY AIRFIELD, Va. – The intensity and magnitude of the great sea, air and land invasion known as D-Day was not fully comprehended by Sgt. Trayon Augburn.

The parachute rigger was wearing a World War II-era uniform while preparing for a parachute jump June 6 at Fort Pickett – the exact day his airborne brethren had landed on the beaches of Normandy, France 75 years ago. The Soldier admitted he knew little about the battle involving 156,000 Allied troops, including 73,000 Americans, 13,000 of them from the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions who would have been wearing a uniform identical to his.

Augburn had gathered enough of an understanding, though, to know the measure of courage required to wade into barrages of German machinegun fire on the beaches or land via parachute behind enemy lines in the darkness of pre-dawn hours under a halo of uncertainty.

“Everyone who did it was brave because it was tough to overcome the almost certain fear of dying,” said the 24-year-old Washington, D.C., native.

Earlier in the day, Augburn had participated in the Aerial Delivery and Field Services Department’s D-Day 75th Anniversary Commemoration ceremony in a maintenance facility where parachute rigger training is conducted. ADFSD’s director, Jason F. Hanifin, said the event served to honor and remember those who fought and died while also educating and bridging generations of the airborne community.

“With it being the 75th anniversary, we wanted an event that connected past and present Soldiers – one that would bring the community together,” he said.

The ceremony drew roughly 100 people. Among them were Brig. Gen. Douglas McBride Jr., Quartermaster General, and other members of the QM School leadership. The attendees watched a historical video, listened to the observations of retired Lt. Col. Tim Gilhool, the QM School historian, and viewed an airborne operation re-enactment performed by ADFSD cadre and students.

Hanifin said the ceremony provided “context for our purpose as riggers, and showed the history connected to what we do and how that history relates to the manner in which we prepare for the large-scale operations of today.”

There was no larger invasion than D-Day. Preceding the Battle of Normandy that eventually liberated Europe, its scale was unprecedented and its significance unmatched. The cost was noteworthy as well – more than 10,000 Allied casualties and more than 4,000 on the American side. Gilhool said D-Day changed the war’s outcome and the course of history, and because of that, the men who fought the battle should not be forgotten.

“It was a monumental undertaking involving years of effort and the massing of thousands of ships, planes and supplies,” he told the audience, “but in the end, it’s not the plan; it’s the people. It’s the individual Soldier working toward a collective goal. It was that paratrooper who landed amid the trees all alone, but he’s got his mission and he carried it out. He knows he’s got to get after it. Those are the folks who made history.”

A short time after Gilhool’s speech, more than 20 of the Soldiers sitting in the audience were transported to Fort Pickett for a scheduled airborne operation. At the installation’s Blackstone Army Airfield, cadre family members, civilian employees and other invited guests gathered under two tents to view rigger-parachutists and others dropping from a C-17 aircraft.

Although ADFSD staff members and students participate in airborne operations twice monthly to validate their skills, this was a special occasion – one that Staff Sgt Jason Earley said is a highlight of his Army career.

“To be out here and commemorating this jump is an opportunity I won’t forget for a long time,” said the ADFSD maintenance NCO.

The event held special meaning to advanced individual training students as well. Pvt. Briana Richards, a rigger graduate, was part of the support crew and not one of those who jumped June 6. Nonetheless, she is now connected to the airborne tradition and sees events such as D-Day as a source of pride and motivation.

“What they did was inspirational,” said the 20-year-old South Carolinian who also attended the morning ceremony. “It helps people my age to understand that we can go through difficulty, find our way through things and still perform our missions.”

Richards’ enlightenment is exactly the outcome Master Sgt. Reuben Greene, and the ADFSD leadership was hoping to accomplish – for Soldiers to grasp and take ownership of the traditions, heritage and spirit of their forebearers.

“We want Soldiers to know the footsteps upon which they follow,” said the ADFSD senior enlisted Soldier. “We also want them to understand they are a part of a legacy, and it will be important for them to continue that legacy because war-fighting in defense of this nation is a job that’s never done.”

More than 13,000 American paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines during D-Day in addition to nearly 4,000 glider troops.

ADFSD is a component of the Quartermaster School. It graduates more than 600 Parachute Rigger Course students annually and offers several courses for senior leaders.

News Archive by Category

All Entries