You'll Never See This On CNN - #745
Good News (and Reality) From Iraq

Recently Declassified 82nd Combat Jump Released

Alternate Post Title - More Mustard Stains Awarded

For those not in the know - here's a previous entry about Mustard Stains.

Charles C. sent me a story that I had never heard about...the 82nd Airborne made a combat jump into Afghanistan BEFORE Operation Iraqi Freedom. All I have to say about this is that I wish I had gone in with them...

Medals go to 70 who made history

By Kevin Maurer

First Lt. Henry Moltz was about to make his first combat jump when he realized that the static line of his parachute was out of place.

The line was hanging around his knees, instead of hanging properly over his shoulder, as he approached the door of the C-130. Fellow paratroopers were yelling at him to fix it, but there was nothing he could do at that point. He was the first jumper and was seconds away from going out the door.

"I turned in the door and acted like nothing was wrong," said Moltz, a 24-year-old Texan. "I knew that no matter what happened, I was leaving if I had to use my reserve or not." His main chute opened fine and he landed safely.

Moltz was one of about 70 paratroopers from BCompany, 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who jumped in Afghanistan in February 2003. It was the first combat jump by the 82nd Airborne Division since Panama in 1989. In a ceremony today, the paratroopers will be awarded a Combat Parachutist Badge with one bronze star to indicate a combat jump. The star is centered on the shroud lines below the canopy.

The paratroopers had been in Afghanistan for about a month and had been running missions in the eastern part of the country when they were ordered to pack up their gear and move to Bagram air base. The mission was kept so secret that the soldiers didn't know what they were doing until almost a week after they arrived at the base. "Rumors were flying around. I wasn't sure we would jump until the parachutes arrived," said Spc. Raymond Mullenix, a 21- year-old Florida native.

Even getting the parachutes was a furtive operation.

The paratroopers covered the parachutes with their ponchos as they carried them into the building where they were training.

"We had guards around the buildings," said Spc. Eddie Camacho, a 22-year-old team leader from New York City.

Secrecy remains

Parts of the operation are still classified. The paratroopers' mission was to establish an outer security perimeter around the drop zone to protect soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment as they carried out a different mission. They expected to meet some resistance from al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

The drop zone was in a remote part of western Afghanistan. The paratroopers said it was flat and sandy, but surrounded by mountains. "It looked like a white piece of paper with mountains around it," said Sgt. 1st Class John Setzer of Binghamton, N.Y. Setzer is 31. He was one of the jumpmasters and was a platoon sergeant in the company.

The paratroopers jumped at dusk. "We could see forever in every direction for miles," said Staff Sgt. Nathan Buchko, a 24-year-old forward observer in the 319th Airborne Field Artillery. He was attached to the company.

Most of the paratroopers said they had little time to look around before they landed. Master Sgt. Brian Severino, B Company's first sergeant, said he felt like he was in the air forever. All of the paratroopers said it was a hard landing.

Once on the ground, the paratroopers assembled in less than 20 minutes, faster than they ever had at Fort Bragg. "It was flawless," Moltz said. They met no enemy resistance and completed their mission. They were picked up the next day by helicopter and returned to Bagram.

'Quiet professionals'

While the paratroopers were still in Afghanistan, news of the 173rd Airborne Brigade's jump into northern Iraq was reported. Setzer said no news reporters were with the 82nd when his group jumped. He said it was a matter of pride that they received little press attention. "We were definitely the quiet professionals," Setzer said.

After the jump, the hardest part for the paratroopers was keeping their mouths shut. The jump was not declassified for almost a year. When Setzer and Severino returned to Fort Bragg, people were talking about rumors of a jump. Some of the instructors at the Advanced Airborne School said they had heard about it, but that it was probably a lie, Setzer said.

"A lot of people were jealous," Severino said. "It was very difficult not to rub it in people's faces. One company out of nine got picked to do the mission."

Camacho put it this way: "We were told by our battalion commander that 70 of us are going down in history for a combat jump and that right there is the greatest honor a soldier in the 82nd Airborne could ever have."

Damn, right, Camacho.

All the Way!