Within the Army are a number of units whom draw upon an extensive and proud lineage. Often stretching across many of the World’s greatest wars of the 20th century, one such unit with notable participation in US actions is the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. In this unit, the men and women have served with distinction in locations attributed to some of the most intensive fighting and both current service members and veterans draw immense pride at claiming their unit affiliation.
Formed on July 6th, 1942 the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) was activated at Fort Benning, Georgia. By the following year the 505th PIR was placed under the auspices of the 82nd Airborne (ABN) Division and the 505th PIR achieved a fully operational and manned status on February 4th, 1943. For many of the initial recruits, their training would several exotic locations as the regiment moved into the European theatre; North Africa, Tunisia, before finally making their initial parachute assault on July 9th, 1943 into Gela, Sicily. Its timely arrival would prove significant as the United States contributed to the growing effort in World War II and by its closure, the 505th PIR will have participated in seven major land campaigns and for regimental airborne assaults.
With Sicily’s dust fresh off their boots, the 505th participated on the landings against the Italian mainland and launched their second airborne jump on September 14th, 1943 into Salerno, Italy. This daring maneuver earned the 505th the prestige of the first unit to enter Naples. Between landing in Italy and early 1944, the 505th was moved to the European theatre in anticipation of the assault against Western Europe climaxing with the unit’s participation on June 6th, 1944 in the “D-Day” landing spearheaded by the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. Landing on the Normandy Peninsula at 0300 hours as part of the pre-invasion force against the beachheads, the 505th was the only unit to move as part of “H-Minus” (the phase of the operation prior to the ground invasion) to liberate the closest town of St. Mere-Eglise, France
By September 17th, 1944 the 505th then conducted its fourth combat jump as part of Operation MARKET GARDEN into Holland. MARKET GARDEN was the largest airborne assault in history drawing upon the 505th as a major contributing unit due to its rapidly growing combat experience. This ferocity was demonstrated during the operation when two platoons of the 505th were cut off and surrounded by a combined German infantry and armor battalion. Yet despite the German firepower, the platoons were able to capitalize on the terrain and their own daring to hold their ground until relieved by Allied forces. Later that winter, the 505th also carried the day at the infamous “Battle of the Bulge” where despite lack of winter perpetrations, the 505th endured the wintery battle conditions and held back the German forces.
After the close of World War II, the 505th PIR returned to its home garrison in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. By 1957 the Regiment was reorganized, and relieved from assignment to the 82nd Airborne Division during the post-war drawdown and redesigned the 1st Airborne Battle Group, 505th Infantry in Mainz, Germany.
On May 25th, 1964 the 505th Infantry was reassigned to the 82nd Airborne as the 3rd Brigade, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment and centered on a three battalion-strong light infantry unit: 1-505th PIR, 2-505th PIR, and 1-508th PIR. This peacetime administration of the 505th PIR was short-lived however as soon it would again be called upon by the nation to support both domestic and overseas service.
Following a number of growing international tensions, on April 30th, 1965 the 3rd Brigade received mobilization orders as part of Operation POWER PACK. Following several months of intense jungle fighting in the Dominican Republic the 3rd Brigade again redeployed back to its home garrison. However, just a few years later on July 24th, 1967 the 3rd Brigade was tasked to deploy to Detroit, Michigan in support of local authorities quelling civil disturbances during America’s growing unrest.
This led into the 3rd Brigade’s mobilization on February 12th, 1968 for the increasing conflict in the Republic of Vietnam following the setbacks of the Tet Offensive. Known as the “Golden Brigade,” it took 13 months, countless hills and jungle engagements with the enemy, but by 1969 the 3rd Brigade had secured its sector and again returned to the United States. It became the only unit of the 82nd Airborne to participate in the Vietnam War.
Over the course of the next decade, elements of the 505th PIR would be again mobilized to assist federal domestic and international security forces. First, in 1971 the 3rd Brigade was sent to assist federal
officials against demonstrators from disrupting the daily functions of the federal government. Then in 1980, the 1st Bat., 505th PIR was sent to Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania as part of the Cuban refugee internment efforts and maintain order.
In March 1982 the 1st Bat., 505th PIR, 3rd Brigade was the first US military unit as part of the Multi-National Force Observers to enter the Sinai for a short-term deployment. Then in mid-1983 the entire 3rd Brigade again deployed to Grenada and assists in the evacuation of US citizens and restore the Democratic government as part of Operation URGENT FURY later that same year.
By 1986, change again came to the 505th PIR with all three battalions being reactivated from Infantry units to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battalion of the 505th PIR. As the 1990’s approached, the 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division was mobilized for Operation JUST CASUE in Panama. This operation was to depose the country’s dictator Manuel Noriega and enable free and democratic elections and the 3rd Brigade exemplified America’s military forces.
In 1990, the 505th PIR was airlifted to Saudi Arabia as part of the buildup leading to Operation DESERT SHIELD. Spearheading the US invasion was elements of the 82nd Airborne with the intent of liberating Kuwait from Iraqi forces, and safeguarding America’s ally Saudi Arabia. Continuing on, the ground phase of America’s war against the Iraqi’s elite Republican Guard and other forces began on February 25th, 1991 and would last eight months before the 505th PIR again redeployed home upon successful completion of its combat operations by April that same year.
By 1999, multiple elements of the 3rd Brigade would deploy of an assorted number of overseas deployments, demonstrating the unit’s continued operations tempo and dynamic flexibility. First, C/3-505 deployed between January and June to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation DESERT FOCUS. In conjunction, between February and June A/3-505 participated in Operation SOUTHERN WATCH in Kuwait during the same timeperiod. That same year, between March and July, B/2-505 deployed to
Haiti as part of Operation UPHOLD DEMOCRACY, while between April and June B/3-505 partnered with TF 2-505 to go to Albania for Operation NOBLE ANVIL and a follow-on operation from June to September to Kosovo for Operation JOINT GUARDIAN.
In September 2005 elements from the 505th moved in support of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts for New Orleans. In only six hours of mobilization Paratroopers were boots-on-the-ground and patrolling the flooded streets of New Orleans and the historic French Quarter searching for survivors and establishing security. Evacuating over 5,000 residents and rescuing over 1,000 trapped in various structures, the Paratroopers also assisted in refurbishment to key facilities necessary for quality of life. After four weeks, the 505th returned home knowing well they had provided aid to their nation when it was needed most.
Entering into the more recent Global War on Terror, Paratroopers of the 3rd Brigade, 82nd Abn. Div. have conducted eight separate deployments since 2001 – three to Iraq and two to Afghanistan totaling for over 41 months service overseas. This unparalleled dedication to mission and brotherhood have led to the 505th, along with elements of the 82nd Airborne, to be dubbed “America’s Strategic Response Force”. Today over 3,500 soldiers comprise the 3rd Brigade Combat Team across six separate battalions. Most are jump qualified and maintain their airborne proficiency with a minimum of one quarterly jump from an aircraft in flight.
More recently, in April 2006 all six battalions of the 3rd BCT deployed across Iraq’s Selah ad Din and Diyala Provinces for their 15-month deployment. This mission, aside from continuing the stabilization of Iraq and the War on Terror; was to establish, mentor, and guide the fledging Iraqi Police to secure their local areas. Their efforts led to continued free democratic efforts and the Panthers were the first elements of the 82nd Airborne to deploy under the new Army Brigade Combat Team concept. The 505th would go on and redeploy to Iraq during 2008 before assuming the US Army’s Global Response Force Mission in October 2010. Several battalions would then go on to deploy to Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012 offering security and stabilization while also taking the fight to the Taliban and insurgency of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.
Colonel (COL) Michael R. Fenzel, an infantry officer who earned his commission in 1989 at John Hopkins University, today commands the 3rd Brigade Combat Team and serves as the 505th Parachute Infantry Regimental Commander. COL Fenzel holds a Masters degree in Public Administration from Harvard, a Masters of Arts from the National Security and Strategic Studies from the US Naval War College, and is working words his PhD at the Naval Postgraduate School. Over his career, COL Fenzel has served as a rifle platoon leader in both the 1/18th Infantry Regiment and 3/75th Ranger Regiment. He then went on to serve as an aide-de-camp to the Deputy Commanding General at Fort Benning, Georgia, then several positions at the 3rd Battalion, 325th Airborne Battalion to include; Battalion S4, Rifle Company Commander, and Headquarters and Headquarters Company Commander at their garrison in Vicenza, Italy. In 1996 COL Fenzel deployed as part of Operation ASSURED RESPONSE to defend the US Embassy in Liberia with the 508th Infantry Regiment (formerly his 3/325th now reflagged).
As COL Fenzel continued on in his career for the next several years, he would serve as an analyst at the Department of the Army’s Office of Strategy and Policy, Director for Transnational Threats, and Director for Combating Terrorism at the National Security Council on the White House Staff. He was then assigned as the Brigade S4 for the 173rd Airborne Regiment, and then the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment’s Executive Officer where he would go on for his first deployment to Iraq in 2003. After his year overseas COL Fenzel was then assigned as the Deputy G3 for the Southern European Task Force and served as a duel-hat when that unit deployed again to Afghanistan in 2004 as the Deputy J3 for Combined Joint Task Force 76. In 2005 COL Fenzel served as the Deputy Brigade Commander for the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division participating with that unit’s Afghanistan deployment between 2005 and 2006. Shortly thereafter, the also deployed again to Afghanistan as the Battalion Commander for the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment between 2006 and 2008. Finally, most recently COL Fenzel commanded the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division until 2010 when that unit was attached to TRADOC and he assumed his current position as the 3rd Brigade, 505th PIR Commander.
Serving as the unit’s senior enlisted officer, COL Fenzel is assisted by Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Nicholas A. Rolling. CSM Rolling enlisted in the US Army in 1987 and received his Basic and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina where he also received his Ranger Indoctrination Program. Throughout his extensive 20 years of military service, CSM Rolling has served in such notable units the 75th Ranger Regiment as a Rifleman, Squad Leader, Platoon Sergeant, First Sergeant, and Operations Sergeant. Previously, he also was assigned with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, and 173rd Airborne Brigade where he helped activate three new Companies within the unit. He would also serve as the CSM for the 3rd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment and 2nd Battalion, 508th PIR, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne. Most recently, CSM Rolling has served as the 3rd Brigade Combat Team’s CSM from February 2012 to present.
Throughout his career, CSM Rolling has been a large supporter of perusing education. He himself has received a Bachelors of Science in Business Management with a Minor in Political Science from Excelsior University. He has completed the US Army’s Airborne School, Belgian Commando School, was the Honor Graduate in his class at the Ranger School, Mountain Warfare School, Special Operations Master Mountaineering School, S.E.R.E. School, and Jumpmaster school. CSM Rolling would also graduate at the US Army’s Sergeant Major’s Academy (Class #55) after completing the First Sergeant’s Course at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Centered on the Obverse of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 505th PIR Commander’s Challenge Coin is the unit’s official Coat of Arms that includes;
“The leaping black panther is symbolic of the strength, cunning and superb physical condition of the 505th and its troopers. That it is winged, of course, indicated its airborne capabilities and mission. The silver background of the shield represents the shining and unblemished record of the 505th throughout its history. The four slanting blue bars (blue for Infantry) signify the four major parachute jumps made by the 505th during WWII: Sicily, Italy, Normandy, and Holland. The Crest is a red-winged arrowhead (red for courage), which signifies that the 505th was the first unit in the US Army to make a Regimental-sized Airborne attack. The cloud depicts the sky from which the attack came, and the blue-and-silver wreathed bar below the arrowhead indicated the Crest was won in combat. In history past, only the King could make such a grant as it symbolized valor and courage. This tradition persists with the “H-Minus” written in a blue scroll reflecting the actions of the unit to insert into Normandy before H-Hour and adequately sums up the Airborne mission and its philosophy”.
Above the top halve of the Obverse’s outer edge is written “505th Parachute Infantry Regiment” denoting the presenting unit of this challenge coin, and below on the bottom half is written “Panther Brigade Combat Team” to complete the denotation.
The Reverse of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 505th PIR Commander’s Challenge Coin reflects the extensive combat history of the unit in burnished silver and 3D features. Centered is the Airborne Qualification Badge, denoting the unit’s’ Airborne capabilities. The stared wreath above the parachute denotes the unit’s qualification to perform its Airborne mission into a combat setting. Meanwhile, the four bronze stars represent each of the initially historic combat jumps completed by the 3rd Brigade during WWII. In the honorific position above and to the left of center, is the rank of full Colonel, representing the rank for the unit’s Commander. Opposite is the enlisted chevron-and-wreath rank of Command Sergeant Major to reflect the supporting senior enlisted member of the Unit. Below the parachute qualification badge is a plate intended for serialization numbers to identify the owning recipient of the challenge coin. Around the upper ¾ of the outer edge is the unit’s extensive deployment history written in raised lettering. Each deployment is separated by a small star and includes their more recent involvement with the War on Terrorism. Occupying the bottom remaining outer edge is written “For Excellence” signifying that this coin is presented by the unit commander for excellence in duty to the nation, the US Army, and the 505th PIR.
When asked about presenting his unit’s challenge coin COL Fenzel replied,
“Presenting the Regimental Coin to a Paratrooper represents an acknowledgment of excellence. We have often said that in giving our coin to someone we are giving them a piece of our Regiment’s heart. The proud legacy of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment from WWII to Afghanistan gives that expression real weight, especially when you consider the extraordinary sacrifices made by so many during those wars”.
3rd Brigade Public Affairs Office. 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment: Unit History Study Guide. US Army, 82nd Airborne Division, 505th PAO, 2008, 17.
82nd Airborne Public Affairs. 3rd Brigade Combat Team: Command Team. 2013. http://www.bragg.army.mil/82nd/3bct/Pages/3rdbctcmdteam.aspx (accessed November 1, 2013).
Contributions provided by MAJ Loren A. Bymer and SFC Allan N. Baros, 3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.