The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) is hosting its annual Week of the Eagles from June 17-25, bringing thousands of Soldiers, Families, veterans and community members from across the U.S. together to celebrate the division’s past and future.
“We’ve held the event since 1974, and it’s always an amazing opportunity to reinforce the Screaming Eagle legacy,” said Maj. Matthew McMillan, deputy public affairs officer, 101st Abn. Div. “The 101st Airborne Division has a storied history that has become a part of American culture itself. When our Soldiers see our veterans who lived that history and built that legacy, it’s a reminder to all of us how much it means to be a part of the division.”
This year’s event will commemorate the 30th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm, the largest air assault operation in history, and marks the first time the installation has been able to host Week of the Eagles since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Aside from the many different events involved with the week, it’s a special time in general when the history of the division is on full display, he said.
“It’s great to be able to welcome people back to Fort Campbell,” McMillan said.
“We have made significant progress against the scourge of COVID-19, and because our teammates, Family and friends are doing the right thing we can hold amazing events like this,” he said.
All visitors will be required to stop at the TC Freeman Visitor Control Center near Gate 4 to receive a visitor’s pass. Attendees are recommended to arrive early to allow themselves plenty of time to go through the process before attending any events, and should bring their license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance.
The Don F. Pratt Museum, located a short distance from Gate 4, will host the Week of the Eagle Welcome Center from June 21-25 to provide directions and information about the events taking place, from the Boots on the Ground display honoring fallen Soldiers to the Division Run.
Some of the other major events scheduled for Week of the Eagles include:
Run for the Fallen
7:30 a.m. June 19, Division
Headquarters and Town Center Park
Soldiers, Families and the larger community are invited to honor fallen service members by participating in the annual Run for the Fallen, a noncompetitive event highlighting the installation’s memorials and the Boots on the Ground display.
“The Run for the Fallen has been part of Week of the Eagles now for the past four years,” said event coordinator Ryan Noble, chief, Sports, Fitness and Aquatics, Fort Campbell Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. “It’s an open event for all Family members and unit representatives, and especially the Family members of the fallen service members.”
Participants don’t need to sign up or register for the event, and Gold Star Families can pick up a bib from unit locations throughout Town Center Park to honor their Soldier. Community members not directly associated with a unit can visit MWR’s tent for a blank bib to write a fallen Soldier’s name on.
“We’re in that COVID-19 rollback right now, but historically it’s been 3,000-5,000 people participating,” Noble said. “We’ll have hand sanitizer stations with a designated separate start and finish line so there’s no cross-contamination, and we’ll also have all the units spread out between Town Center Park and the plaza next to the PX for social distancing. We do suggest that people wear masks at the venue site, the start line and the finish line, but not when they’re out on the route.”
Attendees can choose to run a 1.2-mile route around the perimeter of Division Headquarters, or an extended 3-mile route that includes seven memorial sites.
“We’ll basically be calling out all the brigades and the tenant units in order, and we’ll kick off the event with the Gold Star Families,” Noble said. “Each unit has individual start times, but it’s really just a fall in formation where they walk out onto the route and complete it as a unit element ... Family and community members can fall in any time.”
Soldiers and MWR staffers will be on hand to coordinate traffic and safety along the way, with snacks and water for runners at the finish line.
“It’s not about how fast you run it or how much fun you’re having,” Noble said. “It’s really about coming out and building the camaraderie within the community, and really proving our dedication and remembrance to those we’ve lost here at Fort Campbell.”
Retiree Appreciation Day
8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. June 19,
Soldier Support Center
More than 20 agencies and vendors will offer services to retirees during the 2021 Annual Retiree Appreciation Day, from routine vaccinations to help with receiving benefits and entitlements.
The event is a chance to honor former service members who remain Soldiers for Life and typically draws hundreds of retirees. The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Band will perform during the event, and visitors can also view static displays by Screaming Eagle Soldiers.
“Every day since you served on active duty, you remain an important and critical member of our Army Family,” said Marcus Ufeanyui, Retirement Services Officer, Fort Campbell Retirement Services Office. “This event brings together all kinds of services such as the VA and health care providers so they can answer (your) questions.”
Some of the organizations participating in the event include Women Veterans of America, Army Substance Abuse Program, Fisher House and the Tennessee State Veterans Service Office. Blanchfield Army Community Hospital is also hosting a health fair on-site to administer shingles, flu and pneumococcal vaccinations and share information about COVID-19 and hospital services.
“We’re looking forward to showing our appreciation to our retiree population and giving them some information on their health and well-being,” said Sgt. 1st Class Russel Akers, noncommissioned officer in charge of the BACH Health Fair.
Doors open at 8:30 a.m., followed by a socially distanced opening ceremony with limited seating at 9:55 a.m. Speakers will include Maj. Gen. JP McGee, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Fort Campbell; and Maj. Gen. Tommy H. Baker, interim commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs. Vendor and health fair services will be available from 11 a.m.- 2 p.m.
Mass Reenlistment Ceremony
1 p.m. June 21,
The Sabalauski Air Assault School
The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) is expecting one of its largest reenlistment ceremonies in history, with 122 Soldiers planning to extend their active-duty status during this year’s Mass Reenlistment Ceremony.
“Whenever you’re reenlisting a Soldier to stay in the organization, it’s always a special moment,” said Sgt. Maj. William Bastian, 101st Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 101st Abn. Div. “It says a lot about the organization as well because they’re willing to extend their service on active duty.”
Major General JP McGee, commanding general, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Fort Campbell, will administer the oath of enlistment to each Soldier participating. Families and community members are invited to support them as they add a combined 400 years of service to the division.
“It’s the Soldier’s decision to pick and choose the amount of time they’re willing to serve,” Bastian said. “It can be anywhere between 12 months and 6 years ... and whenever you reenlist a Soldier, you reenlist a Family, so the Families of those Soldiers are also remaining with the team.”
The event will follow the installation’s COVID-19 protocols, so Soldiers are required to wear masks unless they have been fully vaccinated. Families in attendance will also be seated according to social distancing guidelines.
“This can’t be made possible without the support from the leadership throughout the 101st,” Bastian said. “To have this many Soldiers reenlist says a lot about the leadership even at the company level and the great job that they’re doing. It’s because of them that we’re able to reenlist this many Soldiers.”
Air Assault Demo
1:30-2:30 p.m. June 22,
Campbell Army Airfield
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) will host a comprehensive Air Assault Demonstration for the public at Campbell Army Airfield.
Attendees are asked to bring camp chairs because of COVID-19 seating limitations and prepare for hot temperatures. They can also take a closer look at the division’s aircraft with a static display featuring vehicles from units across the installation until 4 p.m.
“Primarily, it’s a demonstration of the capabilities within the 101st,” said Maj. Jacob Rykken, brigade aviation officer, 2nd Brigade Combat team, 101st Abn. Div. “This is the Air Assault division, so this showcases some of its unique aspects while celebrating the 30th anniversary of the largest air assault in history.”
To kick off the event, the division will conduct a jump from a historic Douglas C-47 Skytrain, which was used extensively by the Allies during World War II. Afterward, Soldiers will showcase more modern capabilities.
“The audience will see a live parachute drop, and then we’ll be highlighting elements of TSAAS,” Rykken said. “Pathfinders will help to mark the landing zone, we’ll have AH-64E Apaches performing security and then we’ll move to our gun raid of M119 howitzers before the main assault that’s coming out of 2nd BCT.”
Strike’s involvement in the demonstration is significant because its 502nd Infantry Regiment traces its lineage directly to the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, a key player in World War II’s European theater.
“I think a lot of what we want people to take away is pride in what the 101st has contributed to service of the nation, as well as confidence in current capabilities,” Rykken said. “There’s a lot of great things Soldiers are doing, and they’ll be on display on June 22.”
Honorary Air Assault Ceremony
1 p.m. June 24,
The Sabalauski Air Assault School
More than 400 veterans who served in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm will be recognized during the Honorary Air Assault Ceremony June 24 at TSAAS.
Major General JP McGee, commanding general, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Fort Campbell, will serve as master of ceremonies, talk to the honorees about their accomplishments and present their certificates.
This week marked a first for the Army as one class of more than 250 Strike Soldiers entered The Sabalauski Air Assault School to become air assault qualified.
The initiative was the result of months of meetings with Fort Campbell leadership and developed as an effort to increase the number of Soldiers who successfully graduate TSAAS.
The name designated for this particular class is Operation Hawthorne Strike, an operation carried out during June of 1966 in Vietnam, and the same one in which Walter J. Sabalauski earned his distinguished service cross.
Graduating from TSAAS is one of many distinguished accomplishments Soldiers can obtain while serving at Fort Campbell, but passing the school is not an easy task.
Command Sergeant Major Charles Walker, senior enlisted adviser, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) said that the idea of putting larger numbers of Soldiers from a single brigade through the school started as a way to increase the chances of Soldiers successfully completing TSAAS. Each brigade must maintain a percentage of air assault qualified Soldiers.
The challenge of keeping with the threshold and finding better ways of preparing Soldiers for the school led to Operation Hawthorne Strike.
The commanding general at the time, Brig. Gen. Brian E. Winski, was looking for volunteers to try the initiative. Strike stepped up to the challenge, Walker said.
Sergeant Major Jason Conde said he was humbled and excited to be able to take on the task, and with cooperation from leadership in 2nd BCT, he turned the idea into reality. He is proud the Strike Brigade was given the opportunity to lead by example.
“This is why 2nd BCT took on the full brunt of 250 slots, so we can have an outstanding number and show other brigade combat teams that this is a great idea to supersede the standards and bring up those numbers for air assault qualified individuals,” he said.
Aside from being an effort to increase numbers, sharing the experience as a unit is also a great way to build unit cohesion, Conde said.
“When your buddy’s next to you or someone you don’t know is going through a bad day or having a rough time, both of you can pick each other up,” he said “You might talk very minimal during the course but you’re seeing that person going through the same thing as you, and when you get back to the unit, you can look at each other and laugh.”
The strategy behind Operation Hawthorne Strike was that Soldiers would be more likely to succeed when set up for success through prior preparation, and by going through TSAAS as a unit rather than with Soldiers from across the installation.
The planning rendered positive results and the initiative was well received by leadership and Soldiers alike, who said there has been a notable difference in performance, particularly on one of the most difficult days of training, Day Zero.
Sergeant Kyle Taylor, an air assault instructor assigned to 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Abn. Div., noticed the difference, and on Day Four said Strike Soldiers were already ahead of the curve.
A few Soldiers going through the school said they think going through as a team is what will make the biggest difference in success rates.
Sergeant First Class Ricky Spence, currently in the school, said the teamwork was especially visible when Soldiers completed the obstacle course on Day Zero.
“Day Zero was one of those moments,” he said. “You’ve got your battle buddies there to cheer you on, and other people to pick you up. Like if someone didn’t make it through the first time, they’ve got their buddies to bring them over and say ‘hey you’ve got this’ and hype them up, watch them do it again and then see them succeed.”
Captain Kelvin White, 2nd BCT, also is going through the school and said this new strategy will not only increase the rate of graduation among Soldiers, but also set a new standard for how brigades approach and prepare for TSAAS.
“I think Soldiers in general, whenever they go to a school like this, they usually make bonds pretty quickly and rely on each other to make it through the course,” he said “But whenever you put 250-275 people that are in the same unit who are essentially doing the same thing trying to increase our air assault standard across the brigade, there’s a little more added, I wouldn’t say pressure, but thinking ‘I want to be successful because I can see these guys, who are my leadership, be successful as well.’ I think it really sets the standard.”
First Sergeant Michael Dufault, senior enlisted adviser, TSAAS, said he believes this layout will yield positive results next week.
“I think they’ll have really good graduation numbers here in a week and a half now,” he said “I think they’re doing really well, I think the preparation prior to the course was executed really well.”
Looking to the future
If the graduation rate is higher, Walker said other units may adopt the same approach to TSAAS.
“The thing that I’ve taken away, with the train up and getting the Soldiers in through Day Zero and through the arches and starting Day One, is that our company-level leaders now understand what it takes to get the remaining 40% of the population to a level to where they can successfully complete the course,” he said. “They understand now, OK this is what it’s going to take to get everybody else prepared to go and be successful at air assault school.”
Hundreds of Screaming Eagle Soldiers pushed themselves to their limits during Expert Infantryman Badge, or EIB, and Expert Soldier Badge, or ESB, testing, and 151 were ultimately recognized during a graduation ceremony June 11 at the division parade field.
EIB and ESB recipients are considered top-class Soldiers with mastery over the skills needed to succeed in a combat scenario. 1st Brigade Combat Team invited Soldiers from across the installation to prove their worth in the division’s second combined EIB/ESB test June 7-11.
“The awardees who stand before you demonstrate excellence,” said Col. Robert Born, commander, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Abn. Div. “In physical fitness, land navigation, weapons proficiency, calling for and adjusting fire, patrolling, communicating and rendering first aid, just to name a few absolutely critical tasks that we evaluated during testing.”
Bastogne typically hosts EIB/ESB testing every 6-12 months, and the success rate ranges from 14-20%, said Sgt. 1st Class Darryl Dees, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st BCT.
Soldiers had to pass the Expert Physical Fitness Assessment on the first testing day as a prerequisite, which means 49 push-ups in two minutes, 59 sit-ups in two minutes and a 4-mile run in 32 minutes. Successful candidates then conducted day and night land navigation exercises before moving through timed evaluations at patrol, weapons and medical lanes.
“There’s 10 stations per lane, and they have to hit all 10 stations and receive a ‘go’ at every one of them,” said grader Staff Sgt. Landon Wolf, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 1st BCT. “That’s going to take an entire week.”
Tasks ranged from treating simulated gunshot wounds to employing and recovering M18A1 Claymore mines.
Soldiers who maintained perfect scores on the lanes qualified for an Army Commendation Medal and “True Blue” or “Perfect Edge” designations for EIB and ESB recipients, respectively, during graduation.
“It’s just physically and mentally demanding, since you have to go through and do 30 tasks,” Dees said. “There also are smaller steps within each task to memorize. It’s a lot of information to take in within the timeline.”
Those who made it to the final day had to complete a 12-mile foot march before disassembling and reassembling a rifle in under five minutes to receive their EIB or ESB.
“By far, the 12-mile ruck march was the most challenging,” said Capt. Brett Madrigal, 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st BCT. “It was about 99% humidity, 70-degree temperatures, and we were wearing a lot of equipment with a lot of weight. It’s the most difficult 12-mile ruck I’ve ever done, but we were all out there pushing each other to complete it.”
Madrigal served as commander of troops for the ceremony and was the senior ranking Bastogne member to complete testing. For his efforts, he was presented with an Army Commendation Medal and the ESB.
“I feel very accomplished, and I feel better trained for it,” he said. “I wanted to set an example for my Soldiers and lead from the front, to encourage other Soldiers to go out and achieve this badge because it’s the highest level of individual training you can possibly receive.”
Staff Sergeant Christopher Jones, B Co., 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Abn. Div., said the testing was very mentally demanding. He fought to stay focused and motivated to reach his goal of earning the EIB.
Jones said the opportunity to earn the EIB is rare. His first attempt was about six years ago as a private. Although he was unsuccessful, he brought some of that knowledge to last week’s testing.
“Having spent more time in the Army helped me and I also took it a lot more seriously this time around,” he said.
Jones said he is thrilled to have the badge on his chest.
“It’s the biggest relief of my entire professional career,” he said. “I am very proud.”
For Sgt. Anthony Duckworth, 1-506th Inf. Regt., 1st BCT, earning the EIB was a way to prove to himself that he could perform as a Soldier at the highest level.
“It’s very special because it took me five times to get it,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot of training over the past few months, and this feels very good. All the hard work over the years paid off. To the future Soldiers out there, just keep trying and don’t ever give up.”
Duckworth’s fellow Soldiers felt the same way, and each battalion gave it their all as they competed to earn the most badges. 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st BCT, fielded the most EIB graduates with 33 Soldiers, while 2-32nd FAR saw the most ESB recipients with eight. Both battalions were awarded decorative logs to display in their headquarters for their accomplishments.
“The Bastogne brigade is a more lethal fighting force as a result of EIB/ESB 2021,” Born said. “In the process of earning a truly coveted badge, we receive the best individual training of our careers. The entire Bastogne Brigade demonstrated true Air Assault spirit throughout, from the leaders who prepared their Soldiers for success to the cadre who trained and evaluated the candidates, and finally those who won the battle against the EIB/ESB standard.”