HISTORY OF THE 173rd AIRBORNE BRIGADE

 

 

The 173rd Infantry Brigade was allotted to the Regular Army and activated on Okinawa  26 March 1963 as the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Sep). Brigadier General Ellis W. Williamson commanded the unit, which was given the charter to serve as the quick reaction force for the Pacific Command. Under Williamson the unit trained extensively making mass parachute jumps earning the unit the nickname “Tien Bien” or “Sky Soldiers,” from the Nationalist Chinese paratroopers.


Deployed to Vietnam in May 1965, the Brigade was the first major ground combat unit of the United States Army to serve there. They were the first to go into War Zone D to destroy enemy base camps, introduced the use of small long-range patrols, and conducted the only combat parachute jump in the Vietnam conflict on 22 February 1967 (Operation Junction City). They fought in the Iron Triangle and blocked NVA incursions at Dak To during some of the bloodiest fighting of the war in the summer and fall of 1967, culminating in the capture of Hill 875.
 

Elements of the Brigade conducted an amphibious assault against NVA and VC forces as part of an operation to clear the rice-growing lowlands along the Bong Song littoral. The 1st and 2nd Battalions, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne) were the first Army combat units from the 173rd sent to the Republic of South Vietnam, accompanied by the 3rd Battalion, 319th Artillery. They were supported by the 173rd Support Battalion, 173rd Engineers, Troop E, 17th Cavalry and Co D, 16th Armor. The First Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment and the 161st Field Battery of the Royal New Zealand Army were later attached to the Brigade during the first year.
 

In late August 1966, the 173rd received another infantry battalion, the 4-503rd from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The 3-503rd joined the Brigade at Tuy Hoa in September 1967 following its reactivation and training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Another unit assigned was Co N, 75th Infantry (Ranger). At its peak in Vietnam, the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Sep) had nearly 3,000 soldiers assigned.
 

During more than six years of continuous combat, the brigade earned 14 campaign streamers and four unit citations. Sky Soldiers serving in Vietnam received 13 Medals of Honor, 46 Distinguished Service Crosses, 1736 Silver Stars and over 6,000 Purple Hearts. There are over 1,790 Sky Soldiers' names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. The brigade was deactivated on 14 January 1972 at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
 

The 173rd Airborne Brigade was then reactivated 12 June 2000 on Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy, where it served as European Command’s only conventional Airborne strategic response force for the European Theater.  During the next 30 months, Sky Soldiers conducted numerous training deployments to European Theater countries including Bosnia, Kosovo, Hungary, Morocco, and the Czech Republic.
 

On 26 March 2003, the 173rd added to its distinguished history when nearly 1,000 Sky Soldiers parachuted onto Bashur Drop Zone, effectively opening a northern front in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The 173rd Airborne Brigade continued to move south onto the town of Kirkuk, Iraq and established freedom.  The Brigade’s battle space reached as far south as the Jamal Hamrin, mountains, east to the Iranian border and west to the city of Al Hawejah. A number of battalion and company missions were executed, with major engagements occurring initially in Irbil, combat operations in Kirkuk and in villages and towns surrounding Tuz.  The Brigade swept back through Al Hawejah in late December of 2003 to retake the area from pro-Saddam insurgents.  Nine Sky Soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  One Sky Soldier was awarded the Silver Star during the operation.  The sacrifices made by these Sky Soldiers contributed greatly toward establishing a safe and secure environment for the people of Iraq.
 

In the spring of 2005, the 173rd began its second deployment in three years to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom VI. The 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment spearheaded the deployment in February by deploying forces along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Regional Command East. The remainder of the Brigade deployed to Regional Command South, with all elements of the Brigade demonstrating unparalleled bravery fighting anti-coalition forces in the bloodiest spring since the original invasion in 2001. Sky Soldiers fought the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the Provinces of Helmand, Zabul and Kandahar. The Brigade excelled in all aspects of the deployment to include facilitating a peaceful parliamentary election process in the fall of 2005. Seventeen Sky Soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom VI. Five Sky Soldiers were awarded the Silver Star for their heroism, bravery and valor during this operation. 
 

Upon returning to Italy the Brigade went through an Army directed transformation into an Airborne Brigade Combat Team, adding to its formation is the 1st Squadron  91st Cavalry Regiment,  4th Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment, 173rd Special Troops Battalion, 173rd Brigade Support Battalion and reflagged 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment to 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment.  The Brigade was renamed the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team on 18 September 2006. 
 

In the spring of 2007, the 173rd ABCT began its second deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom VIII. 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment deployed to Paktika Province in support of the 82nd Airborne Division. The remainder of the Brigade deployed to Nangarhar, Nuristan, Kunar and Laghman Provinces. The Brigade was tested time and time again in battle, but was able to bring security and economic development to nearly 2 million people in an area the size of Vermont while helping build and train Afghan Security Forces. 43 Sky Soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom VIII. To date, one Sky Soldier has received the Distinguished Service Cross and 31 have been awarded the Silver Star for their heroism, bravery and valor during this operation. 
 

In late fall 2009, the 173rd ABCT began its third deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom X.

 

In June 2012,  the 173rd ABCT began its fourth deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom

503rd Parachute Infantry History

 

Click here to see Videos of the 173d Airborne Brigade

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