'God, I Thank You I'm An Airborne Engineer'
(October 1, 2010)
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Sept. 24, 2010) – The sound of heavy machine gun fire echoed
across the water interspersed with the splash of oars and the hoarse yelling of
men. A thick shroud of smoke hung over the waterway, obscuring their objective
in the distance.|
Four Zodiac small boats surged through the deep smoke with Paratroopers at
the oars, straining to propel their craft as fast as possible. With shouts
of encouragement, muffled curses, or a cadence to time the rowing, the teams
raced across the lake, churning the still water to froth in their wake.
With the sound of incoming fire zipping over their heads, the boats headed
toward the forest's edge, where their fellow Troopers awaited their return.
As they neared the beach, the energy of the Paratroopers waiting there
reached a fevered pitch and they began to dive into the muddy water to haul
the inflatable craft onto the sodden shore.
But what ensued was nearly a brawl as the crafts' supporters did everything
in their power to assist their fellows to be the first
Straining at the oars, Airborne Engineers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, make their way to shore during a fierce Zodiak boat race held by the four engineer companies of the 82nd Airborne Division's, Brigade Combat Teams, Sept., 24. The race is part of a commemoration, held at Fort Bragg, on McKeller's lake, in honor of the 307th Engineer Battalion's historic crossing of the Waal River during World War II.
onto the beach by pulling, pushing, or dragging with all their might.
These four boats and their Airborne Engineers had “Crossed the Waal.”|
During World War II, at the height of the war with the German Third Reich,
Engineers from the 307th Engineer Battalion (Airborne) and Paratroopers from the
504th Parachute Infantry Regiment accomplished the impossible by crossing the
Waal River at Nijmegen. Under brutal German machine gun and artillery fire, in
broad daylight, the Engineers ferried 504th PIR Paratroopers across the river
five times. Throughout the operation the Engineers and Paratroopers sustained
numerous casualties, but were able to successfully secure the Nijmegen highway
and railroad bridges.
Each year, Airborne Engineers from the 82nd Airborne Division, commemorate this
historic event by holding their own “Crossing the Waal” at McKeller's Lake. But,
this year was special because it was the first in nearly three years that all
the engineer companies from the four Brigade Combat Teams of the 82nd Airborne
Division were able to attend, due to deployment in support of the global war on
Early Friday morning Sept. 24, the Engineer companies assembled along Gruber
Road in the pre-dawn light. To start the event, each company had to carry a
Zodiac boat down Ardennes Road to McKeller's Lake.
As they ran through the crowded streets of Fort Bragg, passing formations of
training Paratroopers, the Engineers traded positions carrying the heavy water
craft in order to save their energy for the main event.
To commemorate the Waal crossing, each company had to create two teams of 15
Engineers. Each team would paddle their boat across the lake, around an anchored
raft and back to the start point. There, they would switch out with the next
15-man team. The first company that completed both legs of the journey would
take home the coveted oar and a year's worth of bragging rights.
What ensued was definitely not a serene, cool morning on the lake, but an
all-bets-off fight to the finish.
With the crack of simulated machine fire and the billowing of smoke, the four
teams dragged their boats into the water and quickly scrambled inside to begin a
frenzied paddle to the turn-around point.
As boats returned from the first lap, the water of the small landing became
packed with Paratroopers as they either tried to slow an opposing team or assist
their own team in making it to the shore.
By forming human walls to keep an opposing team from landing, or by creating a
chain of linked arms from boat to shore, each Trooper did his best to ensure his
Within moments, not a piece of dry clothing was to be found, and the boats were
out for their second lap.
Jockeying for position, the boats raced forward into the lake and as they
returned, the mayhem on the small beach seemed to have escalated. For all the
Engineers knew, only one team could take home the oar.
“Best thing about today was the [82nd Airborne] Division coming together and
seeing the camaraderie between the brigades,” said Sgt. Thomas Anderson,
engineer team leader, A Company, 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4BCT.
“It's coming out and paying tribute to what those men did. It's pretty
Despite the fierce competition, 1st Lt. Courtney Bird, executive officer, A
Company, 4BSTB, said, “The most important part is we are all able to celebrate
the day, no matter who wins or loses.”
But, one company rose above the others and took home the oar. The Engineers of
the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3BCT, Panthers, placed first in the
competition. U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Joel Rackley, the senior enlisted advisor, A
Company, 3BSTB, accepted the oar from retired Col. Jack Cox, former commander of
the 307th Engineer Battalion and guest speaker at the event.
“It's great to see our other engineer companies that have just returned from
deployment,” said 1st Lt. Lamar Cantelou, executive officer, A Company, 2nd
Brigade Special Troops Battalion, “It's an honor to all be able to come together
and come to this one spot to celebrate this event.”
With the commemoration race complete and a celebration underway by all the
participants, Cox summed up the feeling of the day in his remarks to the
assembled Paratroopers by saying: “When you walk down the street, stand proud.
And, when you go to bed at night say one thing; God, I thank you I'm an Airborne
By Army SSgt. John Laughter
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs
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