2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 2010-2011 Deployment Challenge Coin

506TH-PIR-DICE Between 2010 and 2011 one of the unit’s involved in Afghanistan’s International Security Assistance Forces was an infantry regiment with a long and historic record in America’s strategic efforts.  The 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment (PIR) was made famous in the Stephen Ambrose book “Band of Brothers,” the HBO series of the same name, and the Stephen Spielberg movie “Saving Private Ryan.”  The battalion’s deployment challenge coin was presented by the Command to assigned members during its time in eastern Afghanistan, to commemorate the soldier’s continued involvement with the unit and its heritage. This tradition provides a significant point of pride for deployed soldiers as the coin represents acknowledgement of their sacrifices and struggles during that time period.

The 506th was first constituted on July 1st, 1942 as the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) and garrisoned at Camp Toccata, Georgia in anticipation for US involvement in WWII. The 506th PIR quickly garnered the unit nickname for “Currahees” after the Native American Indian name for a nearby mountain on the boundaries of the camp. Prospective soldiers were required to hike three miles to the base of the mountain, run three miles up and three miles down, and then hike the required three miles back to the camp. The Cherokee word for Currahee also translates to “Stand Alone” and was adopted as the official unit motto. [1]

506th ParaThe first major operation the predecessor of the 2nd Battalion, 506th was during WWII in Operation Market Garden between September 17th and 25th, 1944. As part of the operation the larger 101st Airborne was assigned five bridges just north of the German defensive lines northwest of Eindhoven. The parachute drop was in daylight, was well targeted, and provided for controlled drops into the assigned drop zones. The 101st captured all but one bridge, the one at Son, which was destroyed with explosives by the German defenders as the 101st units approached. The ground forces of XXX Corps linked up with elements of the 101st Airborne on the second day of operations, but the advance of the ground forces was further delayed while engineers erected a Bailey Bridge at Son replacing the destroyed bridge. XXX Corps then continued its advance into the 82nd Airborne area of operations where it was halted just shy of Arnhem due to German counterattacks along the length of the deep penetration. The 101st Airborne continued to support XXX Corps advance during the remainder of Operation Market Garden with several running battles over the next several days.

Currahees at BastogneThe other significant operation for the 506th in WWII was its participation in the Battle of the Bulge between December 1444 and January 1945. Following Operation Market Garden, while resting and refitting in France, General Eisenhower called upon the 101st Airborne on 16 December to occupy the Belgian town of Bastogne by December 18th 1944, in order to deny the Germans access/control of its important crossroads. The short notice move left the unit ill supplied on essential items necessary for combat such as food, ammunition, arms, men, and winter clothing. German forces encircled the 506th, along with the rest of the 101st Airborne, almost immediately. In initial exchanges between combatants, approximately one third (about 200 men) of the battalion were killed in action, but likewise inflicted up to 1,000 German casualties and destroyed 30 enemy tanks. The 506th’s 1st battalion was put into reserve and the 2nd and 3rd battalions were put on the front lines. A supply drop on December 22nd helped to alleviate the hardships of troops to some extent, but the winter landscape still proved challenging. After the Third Army broke the encirclement, the 506th stayed on the line and spearheaded the liberation of Foy and Noville in January 1945, until being transferred to Haguenau. They were pulled off the front line in late February but still participated in the assault against the Ruhr Pocket and capture of Berchtesgaden. Lastly the 506th occupied Zell am See before preparing to deploy to the Pacific theatre, but the war ended in August 1945 negating the need for the 506th redeployment.

Over the next two decades the 506th would undergo a series of reorganizations as the unit moved from its post-war role to a mainstay of the US military. In addition, the 506th moved out of and back into the responsibility of the 101st Airborne Division and changed garrisons to its current home at Fort Campbell, Kentucky by 1964. The next time the 506th participated in major US military action was for combat in Vietnam.

Beginning with the Tet Offensive in early 1968 the 506th would go on to be involved in a variety of operations and actions;

  • The Battle of Hamburger Hill in May 1969
  • The Battle of FSB Ripcord
  • Currahee river crossingCounteroffensive Operations, Phase III between Jun 1st, 1967 and January 29th, 1968
  • The Tet Counteroffensive between January 30th and April 1st 1968
  • Counteroffensive, Phase IV between April 2nd and June 30th, 1968
  • Counteroffensive, Phase V between July 1st and November 1st, 1968
  • Counteroffensive, Phase VI between November 2nd, 1968 and February 22nd 1969
  • The Tet 69/Counteroffensive from February 23rd and June 8th, 1969
  • The 1969 Summer-Fall Offensive between June 9th and October 31st 1969
  • The Winter-Spring Offensive of 1970 from November 1st, 1969 and April 30th, 1970
  • The Sanctuary Counteroffensive between May 1st and June 30th, 1970
  • The Counteroffensive, Phase VII between July 1st, 1970 and June 30th, 1971
  • Consolidation I Operations from July 1st, 1971 to November 30th, 1971
  • Consolidation II Operations between December 1st, 1971 and March 29th, 1972

Immediately following the 506Th participation in the Vietnam conflict the unit was inactivated on July 31st, 1972 and responsibility was transferred to the 101st Airborne. From that point on the unit’s lineage is quiet until a short time after the 9/11 attacks when the US Army was again spinning up for the various conflicts in the Global War on Terror for both Operation IRAQI and ENDURING FREEDOM (OIF and OEF). The first elements of the 506th to deploy in support of OIF were the 2004 assignment of the 1st Battalion from Korea to the Iraqi city of Habanera for a one-year rotation. Upon their return, the 1st Battalion redeployed to Colorado via their garrison in Korea. From Colorado, the 1st Battalion moved to Fort Campbell, Kentucky where the Army stood up the 4th Brigade Combat Team (BCT) on September 30th, 2005 under the 101st Airborne. Once established, the Army then added the 2nd Battalion on October 1st, 2005 under the 4th BCT to provide a second infantry battalion. Together, these modern day elements of the 506th would go on to participate in various deployments.

In 2005 the 506th again received its marching orders and deployed both the 1st and 2nd Battalions to Al Ramadi in Al-Anbar Province and Forward Operating Base Falcon in southern Baghdad respectively. The 2nd Battalion also served as cross-attached to the 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division between November 2005 and 2006 to assist in the National Resolution that provided for free and democratic elections. During the Baghdad clearance operations that set the stage for the Iraq War troop surge of 2007 under General David Petraeus, the 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry TF Currahee conducts largest combined U.S., Afghan air assault so farconducted the first deliberate clear-hold-build operation in the Doura Market as part of Operation TOGETHER FORWARD II under Multi-National Division – Baghdad. Careful examination of the 2nd Battalion’s Techniques, Tactics, and Procedures during the joint operation resulted in the Iraqi National Police and Iraqi Police emulating their tactics for similar operations across Baghdad for the next six months, a temporary measure until surge forces could arrive and set up various Joint Security Stations. Following a year of deployment the 506th returned home to their garrisons in the United States. [1]

The dual deployments of the 506th continued for the 1st and 2nd Battalion with a 2008-2009 deployment to Ghazni, Wardak, and Paktika provinces in Afghanistan. As part of OEF the 1st Battalion split to assist the 10th Special Force Group in Kapitsa Province at FOB Kutchsbach. The 2nd Battalion remained predominantly in the Khost province, with slice elements in Paktika and Kandahar provinces as well. The fighting for the 2nd Battalion was particularly stiff and the unit lost seven soldiers in multiple engagements with the enemy during its deployment. In March 2009 the 506th redeployed back to Fort Campbell.

COL Hill and Commanders Sit with ANPThus in July 2010 the 2nd Battalion “White Currahees” began to prepare for its second Afghan deployment. In a ceremony, the 2nd Battalion’s Commander Lieutenant Colonel Donn Hill and his senior enlisted member Command Sergeant Major Christopher Menton cased the battalion’s colors ahead of the unit’s forward mobilization for OEF X-XII. [2] By late August that same year, a majority of the 2nd Battalion had established their positions throughout Paktika Province in the Gomal, Bermel, Gayan, Zerok, Sarobi, and Orgun districts. During the 2nd Battalion’s tenure in Afghanistan the unit would work tirelessly under the organization of Task Force “White Currahee” and achieved such notable accomplishments as the largest Combined Air Assault in the 506th Brigade’s history to that date into Charbaran Valley on October 27th. [3] Later in April 2011 the 2nd Battalion also launched Operation OVERLORD, a joint Afghan National Police and 2nd Battalion air assault into Naka District to clear and eliminate the insurgent staging areas that took months of preparation and planning. [4] By August 2011 the 2nd Battalion’s deployment in Afghanistan met its closure and the unit again returned to its stateside garrison comfortable in the knowledge that they had provided great security efforts in their area of responsibility while working to improve life for rural Afghans. [5]

For their efforts in the OEF X-XII deployment, the Command of the 2nd Battalion 506th Infantry established two versions of a deployment challenge coin to present to soldiers in recognition of their accomplishments. When asked about these coins, (then) 2nd Battalion Commander LTC Hill said,

IMG_3034The big thing we wanted was for the Soldiers to be proud of their service and to have a distinctive item that recognized that. Unit esprit was a big focus. Soldiers want to be a part of a special unit and the history of 2-506 served to reinforce that.  We wanted them to have something that said they had served in 2-506 and where they had served. These were deployment coins, different from the Commanders excellence coins. These Deployment Coins were for everybody who served on this deployment.  “Been there, done that, got the coin.”  There were only a few Soldiers who didn’t get one and they didn’t deserve them based on their sub-standard performance and pending UCMJ and separation from the Army.

As such the 2nd Battalion presented a small, and large version of their deployment challenge coin (both with the same design). The smaller measures approximately 3” and the larger is 3.5” and both deployment coins use a base of highly polished brass for both sides of the coin.

Obverse

Obverse
Obverse

Taken from the 506th “bug” the obverse features the famed pocket-patch worn during World War II. The origins of the bug are lost; however, the background is azure blue, which represents the Infantry (it should be noted the only variation between the versions of the 2nd Battalion’s 2010-2011 Deployment Challenge Coin is in the larger version the azure blue is instead a highly polished brass). Superimposed is a parachute, which is symbolic of the airborne history of the Regiment. A pair of dice stands for the nickname of the 506th — the “Pair-a-dice Regiment” — and these combined with the adjoining circle spells the numerical designation of the Regiment, “Five-O-Six”. The eagle stands for the exalted 101st Grand Eagle, poised and ready to strike. Along an outer edge of the Obverse is a white band where at the top; flanked by black spades (to be explained later) was the unit’s Task Force “White” designation during its 2010-2011 tenure in Afghanistan. On either side of the outer band is the name and rank of the unit’s Commander (LTC Hill on left) and Senior Enlisted (CSM Menton on right). At the bottom is written the unit’s motto “Currahee”.

Reverse

Reverse
Reverse

Featured on the Reverse is a brass country feature of Afghanistan centered and against the black, red, and green colors of the Afghan flag as a field. Further centered on the featured Afghanistan is the 2nd Battalions historic black spade with a white “2”.  During WWII the 101st Airborne Division Infantry regiments were represented by playing card symbols, Diamonds for the 501st, Hearts for the 502nd, Spades for the 506th, and Clubs for the 327th Glider Infantry. Above these features and written in white is the predominant location where the 2nd Battalion was deployed during OEF X-XI “East Paktika”. To the right is written “Stands Alone” again heralding back to the units historic translation of the word “Currahee”. At the bottom is written “OEF X-XI: 2010-2011” to commemorate the units time spent deployed. Again along the outer edge of the Reverse is a similar white band denoting the deployment locations for the 2nd Battalion “Gomal, Bermel, Gayan, Zerok, Sarobi, and Orgun” districts.

Works Cited

1. Center of Military History. “2nd Battalion 506th Infantry: Lineage and Honors.” 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment Association (Airmobile – Air Assault). April 12, 2013. http://www.506infantry.org/2506lineage.htm (accessed November 19, 2013).

2. 4th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office. “Casing of the Colors: 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry.” 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment Association (Airmobile – Air Assault). April 8, 2013. http://www.506infantry.org/his4bct/his2ndbn4bctphoto30.html (accessed November 11, 2013).

3. SPC Luther, Boothe L. “TF Currahee Conducts Largest Combined Air Assault So Far.” 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment Association (Airmobile – Air Assault). October 27, 2010. http://www.506infantry.org/his4bct/his2ndbn4bctarticle65.html (accessed November 12, 2013).

4. SGT Boothe, Luther. “TF Currahee Eliminates Enemy Stronghold during Operation Overlord.” 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment Association (Airmobile – Air Assault). April 10, 2010. http://www.506infantry.org/his4bct/his2ndbn4bctarticle72.html (accessed November 12, 2013).

5. SSG Graham, Matt. “TF White Currahee Improves ANSF Capability, Secures Border.” 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment Association (Airmobile – Air Assault). June 21, 2011. http://www.506infantry.org/his4bct/his2ndbn4bctarticle76.html (accessed November 13, 2013).

Contributions provided by LTC Donn H. Hill, Former 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Commander 2010-2011, US Army.

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