The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) is an air assault division of the United States Army. Nicknamed the “Screaming Eagles,” the 101st has consistently distinguished itself by demonstrating the highest standards of military professionalism since its activation on Aug. 15, 1942.
On Aug. 19 of that year, the first commander, Maj. Gen. William C. Lee, promised his new recruits that although the new division had no history, it would soon have a “rendezvous with destiny.”
As a division, the 101st has never failed that prophecy.
General Order number five, which gave birth to the division, reads:
“The 101st Airborne Division, activated at Camp Claiborne., has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny. Like the early American pioneers whose invincible courage was the foundation stone of this nation, we have broken with the past and its traditions in order to establish our claim to the future.
Due to the nature of our armament, and the tactics in which we shall perfect ourselves, we shall be called upon to carry out operations of far-reaching military importance and we shall habitually go into action when the need is immediate and extreme.
Let me call your attention to the fact that our badge is the great American eagle. This is a fitting emblem for a division that will crush its enemies by falling upon them like a thunderbolt from the skies.
The history we shall make, the record of high achievement we hope to write in the annals of the American Army and the American people, depends wholly and completely on the men of this division.
Each individual, each officer and each enlisted man, must therefore regard himself as a necessary part of a complex and powerful instrument for the overcoming of the enemies of the nation.
Each, in his job, must realize that he is not only a means, but an indispensable means for obtaining the goal of victory. It is, therefore, not too much to say that the future itself, in whose molding we expect to have our share, is in the hands of the Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division.”
The origins of Fort Campbell go back to the Army mobilization for World War II.
As it became apparent to Army planners in the late 1930s that war was a very dangerous possibility, surveys were conducted to locate potential sites for mobilization and training camps should the Army need to rapidly expand.
One such potential site was identified between Hopkinsville, Ky., and Clarksville, Tenn. Army planners felt the site would provide adequate space and infrastructure to build a camp supporting the training of 14,000 Soldiers associated with an armored division and 9,000 support Soldiers.
Plans were made for such a camp in early 1940. However, since the U.S. remained neutral throughout 1940 and most of 1941, building funds were not authorized. The bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 changed all of that. Funds were authorized for the purchase of 105,000 acres of land at a cost of $4 million, and construction began two months later in March of 1942.
The camp was ready for occupation in four short months. Over 21 million square feet of billets, warehouses, classrooms and motor pools were built at a cost of $35 million.
After a spirited public debate about what to name the new mobilization and training camp, it became Camp Campbell, named after William Bowen Campbell, a former Tennessee governor and a Civil War Union brigadier general.
Initially the new camp was thought to be located in Tennessee because the majority of the land was located on the Tennessee side of the state-line. However, after further review, it was later changed to Kentucky because the U.S. Post Office building was located on the Kentucky side of the state line.
The official designation became Camp Campbell, Ky., in August 1942 by General Order from the war department.
The purpose of the wartime camp was to provide a training and mobilization base for a new type of Army organization—the armored division.
The 12th Armored Division began its training here in September 1942 and the 14th Armored Division followed. The 20th Armored Division also served here, providing basic training for armored Soldiers to be replacements in other armored divisions already deployed overseas.
Before the end of World War II, the 20th Armored Division converted to a combat division, completed its training and deployed overseas to fight as a combat unit in Europe.
All totaled, Camp Campbell trained and deployed more than one quarter of all armored Soldiers who fought in the Army’s armored divisions.
The 101st had many successes during World War II. They led the way on D-Day in the night drop prior to the invasion and during the Battle of the Bulge, when the 101st was surrounded at Bastogne and ordered to surrender to the German army, Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe famously replied, “To the German commander: Nuts!—
The American commander,” and the Screaming Eagles fought on until the siege was lifted.
One unusual mission performed at Camp Campbell during the war years was that of providing a prisoner of war camp. Victory in North Africa in 1942 netted an unplanned capture of a quarter of a million German soldiers, mostly from the famed Africa-Corps. Prisoners here were segregated between three stockades by rank and by Nazi vs. Anti-Nazi sympathies.
Many German officers and NCOs were utilized in post support details, while many of the enlisted German soldiers were available for hire on a daily basis to local farmers and dairies. A small POW cemetery located in the southeast corner of the former Clarksville Base stands as a reminder of this era.
For their valiant efforts and heroic deeds during World War II, the 101st Airborne Division was awarded four campaign streamers and two Presidential Unit Citations.
However, victory in 1945 led to the inevitable demobilization of the 8 million-man force and it appeared the fate of Camp Campbell, like so many of other wartime contingency mobilization and training camps, was to close and be consigned to the memory of history.
International tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, what became known as the “Cold War,” intervened in the expected fate of Camp Campbell.
Location, transportation, infrastructure, and the existence of a large airfield made the location ideal for one of the nation’s top-secret nuclear weapons storage and modification facilities.
Thirteen of these facilities were required and built upon 5,000 acres in the southeast corner of the camp. Underground tunnels, storage areas and work areas were burrowed into the rolling limestone and the area was separated from the camp by four fences, including an electrified fence.
The facility was operated by both the military Armed Forces Special Weapons Project and the civilian Atomic Energy Commission. The presence of such a secure and secret facility almost demanded the occupation of the camp by an elite military force.
As if by coincidence, the 11th Airborne Division, then an occupation force in Japan, was transferred to take permanent occupation of the camp. They arrived in May 1949. To recognize the now permanent status of the camp, on April 15, 1950 Camp Campbell was officially changed to Fort Campbell.
While assigned to Fort Campbell, the 11th Airborne Division was tasked to provide one of its airborne regiments in support of UN forces in Korea during 1950-53. The 187th Airborne Regimental
Combat Team fought valorously in Korea and participated in the only two combat parachute assaults of the war.
Many of the memorialized facilities on Fort Campbell were named for combat heroes of this regiment. The regiment returned to Fort Campbell and remained here as part of the 11th Airborne Division until it was tasked to rotate to Europe in support of expanding commitments for the stationing of U.S. troops on
European soil in support of NATO.
Once again, the population of Fort Campbell dwindled and the fate of the fort became uncertain.
This uncertainty dissipated in September 1956 with the activation of an experimental division. The division was activated to test developing Army concepts for a division capable of surviving and fighting on the anticipated nuclear battlefield of the Cold War era.
The colors of this new division were to be those of the 101st Airborne Division. The 101st had been deactivated at the end of World War II. However, the unit, less its airborne status, had been reactivated twice, once as a training division between 1948 and 1954 at Camp Breckenridge, Ky., and again at Fort Jackson, S.C., to train basic infantry recruits.
In 1956, the division was to again regain its combat and airborne status under the new “Pentomic Army Division” concept. The new division was organized into five airborne battle groups, each organized into five infantry companies. Ultimately, the pentomic concept proved unworkable and unsustainable.
1962 and 1964, the Army scrapped the pentomic concept and opted to the change to a brigade structure.
The new structure, based on three infantry battalions per brigade, provided for strategically deployable separate brigades, to defend U.S. interests worldwide. The first test of this concept came in 1965.
Because of the growing threat to the Republic of South Vietnam, the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division was deployed to Vietnam in July. They fought in Vietnam for 26 months, and in
December 1967, the remainder of the 101st Airborne Division was deployed to Vietnam, leaving Fort Campbell empty of a combat division.
During the absence of the 101st Airborne Division from 1967 to 1972, Fort Campbell became the home of the United States Army Training Center. More than 240,000 entry-level Soldiers received basic and advanced infantry training at Fort Campbell before receiving assignments around the world as individual replacements.
Additionally, the 6th Infantry Division—a specially trained unit formed to provide assistance with civil disturbances—was also activated and stationed at Fort Campbell during these years.
The end of the Vietnam War did not assure the return of the 101st to Fort Campbell. While in Vietnam, the division organization changed dramatically, from an “Airborne” organization to an “Airmobile”
Hundreds of helicopters and warrant officers had been added to the division, requiring extensive airfield and the need for additional officer’s quarters throughout the installation.
After a period of uncertainty and debate, it was finally decided Fort Campbell would be upgraded to accommodate the needs of the returning division rather move it elsewhere.
Sometime after the Vietnam War was over, the division switched its designation from “Airmobile” to “Air Assault.” This change reflected the changing mission of the division, from guerrilla war in Southeast
Asia to high intensity combat on the battlefields of Europe, or anywhere else.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Fort Campbell kept up with the demanding changes and support requirements of the air assault division and in the process, became home to two other highly specialized and strategically deployable units: the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne).
The 101st Corps Support Group—an XVIII Airborne
Corps logistics unit, designed to support the division in combat—was also assigned to Fort Campbell in order to be in close proximity to the unit.
Fort Campbell proved throughout the 1990s to be an exceptional installation, capable of supporting the training, deployment and family needs of the finest and most elite contingency forces in the U.S.
Army. In January 1991, the 101st once again had a “rendezvous with destiny” with a deployment in support of
Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, the deepest combat air assault into enemy territory in the history of the world.
Miraculously, the 101st sustained no Soldiers killed in action and captured thousands of enemy prisoners during the 100-hour war.
In addition to major operations, Fort Campbell Soldiers have also supported humanitarian relief efforts in Rwanda and Somalia, and supplied peacekeepers to Bosnia, Haiti and Kosovo.
The United States was called to war after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division answered the call.
The division deployed the 3rd Brigade to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Their mission was to root out both the Taliban and al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden’s network of terror.
The brigade distinguished itself by swiftly toppling the Taliban and freeing the Afghans from tyranny—a feat never before accomplished in Afghan history.
In March 2003, the 101st continued to fight the global war on terror with a deployment to Iraq, this time in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The division stood out not only during the war against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, but even more so after the war when the division quickly converted from a fighting ethos into a successful humanitarian program in Mosul, Iraq.
Upon returning from Iraq in 2004, the division swiftly changed gears and became one of the first divisions to implement Army transformation.
The 101st Airborne Division was called back to Iraq in August 2005.
While the majority of the division replaced the 42nd Infantry Division and assumed responsibility for northern Iraq as Task Force Band of Brothers, the 2nd and 4th Brigade Combat Teams were assigned to Task Force Baghdad, led by the 4th Infantry Division.
With the division dispersed across the country, the
mission remained the same—continue to train Iraqi security forces, extinguish insurgency, and establish democracy in Iraq.
Since its inception in 1942, the 101st continues to demonstrate its hallmark professionalism, which distinguished the mighty division from other fighting units more than 60 years ago.
Today it stands
alone as the most powerful force of its kind—a capable deterrent to any force that poses a threat to the United States, always ready and willing to embark on its next “rendezvous with destiny.” _