The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based at Fort Campbell, Ky., is the only Air Assault division in the world. 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 in the order that activated the division that although the 101st had no history, it would soon have a “Rendezvous with Destiny.” Those words became the division motto, and as a division the 101st has never failed that prophecy.
The 101st began its rendezvous with many successes during World War II. They led the way on D-Day in the night drop prior to the invasion. During the Battle of the Bulge, the 101st was surrounded and outnumbered by German forces at Bastogne and ordered to surrender. Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe famously replied, “To the German commander: Nuts! - The American Commander.” The Screaming Eagles then fought on until help arrived and the siege was lifted.
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.
After a brief hiatus from active duty after the war and two reactivations to serve as a basic training division, the 101st regained its combat and airborne status in 1956 under the new “Pentomic Army Division” concept. The new division was organized into five airborne battle groups, each organized into five infantry companies. By 1964, the Army scrapped the Pentomic concept and changed to a brigade structure.
The first test of the unit in this configuration came in July 1965 when 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division was deployed to Vietnam. 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.
While in Vietnam, the division organization changed dramatically, from an “Airborne” organization to an “Airmobile” organization. Hundreds of helicopters and warrant officers had been added, requiring extensive airfield and the need for additional officer’s quarters throughout Fort Campbell.
Sometime after the Vietnam War was over, the division switched its designation from “Airmobile” to “Air Assault.” This change reflected the anticipated Cold War mission of the division, from guerrilla war in Southeast Asia to preparation for high intensity combat on the battlefields of Europe or anywhere else.
In January 1991, the 101st once again deployed, this time in support of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, and completed what at the time was the deepest combat air assault into enemy territory in history.
Miraculously, the 101st sustained no Soldiers killed in action and captured thousands of enemy prisoners during the 100-hour war.
In addition to combat operations, Fort Campbell and 101st Soldiers also supported humanitarian relief efforts in Rwanda and Somalia, and supplied peacekeepers to Bosnia, Haiti and Kosovo.
Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., the 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade “Rakkassans” were the first conventional Army unit to deploy to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The brigade distinguished itself by swiftly toppling the Taliban government, helping facilitate the country’s development into what is now the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
In March 2003, the 101st continued to fight the 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 adapted from a fighting mission into a successful humanitarian mission 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. During transformation, the division reactivated the 506th Infantry Regiment as its 4th Brigade Combat Team. The unit’s exploits in World War II had been made popular by the television series “Band of Brothers.”
The 101st Airborne Division then returned 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.
As of April 2008, the division’s 1st, 2nd and 3rd Brigade Combat teams are deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom while the division headquarters, 4th Brigade Combat Team, the 101st Aviation Brigade and the 101st Sustainment Brigade serve in Afghanistan’s Regional Command-East sector.