Much like any of the other units within the 101st organization, many come from a long lineage highlighting their involvement in American military history. Often partnered with other elements within the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 502nd Infantry Regiment (IR) the 2nd Battalion (BN) recently returned in 2013 from its year-long tour in Afghanistan’s Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and marked the successful completion of the US transition to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and highlighting the 2nd BCT motto of, “Deploying rapidly worldwide by air, land, or sea, and on order, conduct an air assault or ground operation to destroy enemy forces, seize key terrain or facilities and control specific land areas including populations and resources”.
The Origins of the 2nd Brigade, 502nd Infantry Regiment
Much like the 1st BN, the 2nd also has many of the similar origins within the 2nd BCT, 502nd IR once the brigade was established. But the 2nd BCT, 502nd (2/502) IR can trace its proud heritage back to the Headquarters, 159th Infantry Brigade, 80th Division in August 1917. Initially assembled for US involvement into WWI, the unit distinguished itself in the Somme, Meuse-Argonne and Picardy Campaigns. With full honors, the unit returned to the States in May 1919 and was deactivated at Camp Lee on June 26, 1919. Although its time was short lived, the 159th established the first of many units that would evolve into the 2/502nd IR.
Reactivated on July 1st, 1941 under MAJ George P. Howell as the 502nd Parachute Infantry Battalion (PIB), the then 2/502nd PIB was constituted again as a pre-WWII experimental parachute unit sliced from the 501st PIB to at Fort Benning, Georgia. Formally established and fully manned on March 2nd, 1942 the now 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) (oft referred to among its members as the “Five-O’Deuce” or “The Duce”) and its three subordinate battalions (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) were then brought under the 101st Airborne (ABN) Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in August 1942 just in time for entry into WWII.
2nd Battalion, 2/502nd Infantry in WWII
Landing in England in 1943 for training, the “Strike Force” Battalion, 2/502nd PIR participated in a variety of Normandy invasion operations to include the June 6th, 1944 jump onto Utah Beach. Of the three battalions, the 1st was the only one to land on its assigned target, while 2nd and 3rd BNs either suffered from a variety of weather complications or poor in-flight coordination. The 2nd BN would go on to participate in the largest airborne assault of the war, Operation MARKET GARDEN on September 17th, 1944 whereupon the 2nd Battalion’s CDR, LTC “Silent Steve” Chappuis, was forced to assume command of the regiment after its previous commander and executive officer both became wounded following an errant German artillery round. The 2nd Battalion would go on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne in December 1944. For its participation in World War II, the Strike Force battalion, as part of the 502nd PIR, received two Presidential Unit Citations, the French Croix de Guerre, the Belgian Fourragere, the Netherlands Orange Lanyard, and recognition in the Orders of the Day of the Belgian Army. At the close of World War II, the 2nd BN and its two partnering battalions were deactivated on November 30th, 1945. (Global Security) (Fort Campbell Public Affairs)
In September 1956, “The Deuce” was again temporarily reactivated within the 101st ABN Division to provide training and support missions and formalized on April 25th, 1957 as the 1st Airborne Battle Group (ABG) before it was again deactivated on July 1st, 1958.
2nd BN, 2/502 IR Deploys to Vietnam
By 1965 all three battalions of the 2/502 IR were reactivated under the Regimental Commander, LTC Hank “The Gunfighter” Emmerson, and deployed to Vietnam. In 1966 as part of Operation HAWTHORNE the 2nd BN’s “Charlie” Company Commander, CPT William Carpenter was forced to call for a “Danger Close” napalm strike after encountering a larger North Vietnamese Army element while on patrol. In the exchange, both the Company Commander and 1SG Walter Sabalauski distinguished themselves for establishing the defense and evacuating the wounded, and would go on to receive the Distinguished Service Cross.
As the conflict and the US involvement widened, by December 1967 the 2nd Battalion started its seven-year deployment with Operation EAGLE THRUST. Going forward the 2nd BN would participate in most of the 2/502nd IR’s twelve major campaigns and countless unit engagements, including the 1968 Tet Offensive. Beginning in early 1972, the 2nd BN redeployed throughout the year until 1973 to its home station at Fort Campbell, and for its service the 2nd BN, 2/502 IR again earned two Presidential Unit Citations, the Valorous Unit Citation, the Meritorious Unit Citation, and four Republic of Vietnam Crosses of Gallantry.
Following the Vietnam War, the 2nd BN reorganized as part of a modernization effort, and reassessed its modern Cold War airborne operations. This included temporarily paring down the 2nd BN back into the 1st so that the unit could be rebuilt following draft-time operations. And part of that rebuilding process into an all-volunteer force meant a lot of training. While the foundations of the 2nd BN existed within the first, the 502nd would make multiple training and operational deployments worldwide including to Jordan, the National Training Center (NTC) and the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC). In 1980 the elements of the 2nd BN would participate with the 1st as part of a joint training exercise in Egypt known as Operation BRIGHT STAR, and then 1982 for Operation KINDLE LIBERTY in Panama. The battalion would maintain it’s training role and provide a much-needed experience to other units as they themselves built their tactics, techniques and procedures. It would take until 1984 before sufficient numbers of soldiers were trained to reconstitute the 2nd BN back into its own Command.
The First Desert War
By 1990 as Iraqi aggression became more concerning, the “Strike Force” 2/502 IR deployed in August with the other units under the 101st ABN Division in response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. From the time of its arrival, the 2nd BN continued as part of Operation DESERT THUNDER (training) that morphed into the Coalition’s invasion of DESERT STORM on 24 February 1991. The 2nd BN worked with its sister unit, the “First Strike” 1st BN, to successfully secure parts of Forward Operating Base (FOB) Cobra in the Abu Ghraib Palace of Baghdad. The 2nd BN partook in the largest helicopter assault in history to cut off enemy lines of communication while striking deep within the country’s interior, while isolating Baghdad to prevent any potential escape of Republican Guard forces. Following the foray into Desert Storm the 2nd BN returned to their home garrison in March 1991 for a well-deserved rest and refit cycle.
The rest would be short-lived however and starting in 1994, while the smaller 4th BN was relocated to Fort Campbell and the 5th and 6th BNs in Germany were deactivated, the 2nd BN received orders to prepare to deploy to Panama in response to a Cuban migrant crisis between December 1994 and February 1995 dubbed Operation SAFE PASSAGE. By 20 February, the Battalion moved over 4,000 Cuban nationals fleeing violence and oppression, in a two-week period, without incident or harm. On the heels of that operation, the 2nd BN deployed in 1999 to Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of the Quick Reaction Force for Stabilization Force 6. This operation would continue under United Nation authorities until 2000, and then transitioned to Kosovo and the Republic of Macedonia as part of that UN peacekeeping force.
The Second Desert War
These training and peacekeeping efforts were to perhaps best prepare the 2/502 IR by 2003 for involvement into looming conflict with Iraq as part of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF). The Battalion helped support the 3rd Infantry Divisions primary push into Iraq, as well as secured the city of Mosul enabling reconstruction of hospitals, schools, and other civil structures. By 2004 the 2nd BN returned home from their combat deployment, and as part of the Force Modularization Concept, transitioned with the entire 101st Airborne Division to include elements with the 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment; 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment; 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion; and the 526th Brigade Support Battalion to complement the 2nd BN and greater 2/502 IR (now referred to as the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT)).
In 2005 the 2nd BCT returned to Iraq for a 12-month rotation, and was assigned an operational area south of Baghdad, in arguably the most difficult area of operations dubbed “The Triangle of Death”, and supported the effort of stabilizing the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. The unit fought selflessly, disrupting enemy activities and denied terrorist safe-havens, a growing sectarian civil war, and increased notable levels of stability to the people. The brigade later returned to Fort Campbell in late September 2006. Yet as all things in times of war, the 2nd BN’s respite was again short-lived and in October 2007 the Strike Force deployed with the Brigade for its third tour into Iraq. As before, it was reassigned to the “heart” of Iraq until 2008 as part of Multi-National Division – Baghdad while other elements of the 1st and 2nd BNs would remain in Iraq until early 2009. (Fort Campbell Public Affairs)
On December 22, 2009 the 2nd BCT/502nd IR and its “Strike Force” brigade received orders to spearhead the new troop surge into the southern region of Afghanistan in support of OEF. The 2nd BN prepared its soldiers and leadership for operations in the Kandahar Province, an area renown for its rugged terrain and fierce Taliban fighters. With complex training received at the JRTC, Combined Arms Live Fire Exercises (CALFX), and extensive Dari and Pashto language and cultural training, the Five-O’ Deuce entered Kandahar Province in May 2010 fully mission capable. The 2nd BN exemplified the Afghan phrase “Shonna Ba Shonna” (Shoulder to Shoulder), with the forces of the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police and the Afghan Government to deliver targeted kinetic action against the enemies of Afghanistan, establish stabilization, and liberate the people form Taliban oppression. Today, the 2nd BN, 2nd BCT/502nd IR has returned from its second and most recent 2014 deployment to southeastern Afghanistan Nangarhar Province where it assisted in stabilization and election efforts, and continues to represent its unit’s expertise and honorable linage.
Commander of the 2nd BN, 2/502nd IR
The 2013 Commander for the 2nd BN, 2nd BCT/502nd IR was then LTC John W. Lubas, who led the unit through the complex 12-month OEF XIV deployment and commissioned a unique challenge coin to recognize soldiers whom had performed above the call of duty.
The 2013 OEF XIV Deployment Challenge coin of the 2nd Battalion, 2/502nd IR is unique in that it is an irregular-shaped coin much like its sister unit the 1st Battalion’s challenge coin and approximately 2.25” in width, and stylized to represent the 2nd BN’s historic WWII heart-shaped IFF marking painted on the side of the soldier’s helmet. The bottom point of the heart-shaped coin is notched to represent an Eagles talon and doubles as a bottle opener. For their deployment, only 320 of these coins were minted for the Command and presented among individuals within the unit or that supported the 2nd Battalion during their mission.
The Obverse is set against a simple field in high-gloss black, on which is a centered and raised pair of bronzed outlined daggers with the number “2” beneath them to denote the numerical identification of the battalion within the 2nd BCT/502nd IR. In addition, the outer rim of the Obverse is raised in a burnished bronze color.
On the coin’s Reverse, on a solid field of high-gloss black, appears several distinct features unique to the 2nd BN. Offset to the left, and in the honorable positions, are the representative ranks for the Battalion Commander and the Command Sergeant Major in the appropriate color, below of which is written “Awarded for Excellence”. Adjacent is a small placard space for the coin’s engraved serial number, registered to the unit and the receiving individual. Offset on the right of the Reverse, appears “OEF XIV” in engraved gold lettering to denote the operational mission this coin was presented for, under which the unit designation of “2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry” appears in red-filled lettering. Below these appears the joined Afghan and American flag representing the close professional relationship between the Afghan soldiers and their 2nd BN mentors. At the bottom of these flags is the qualification badge for Air Assault, representing the unique mission of the 2nd BN to utilize rotary wing aircraft for rapid mobility. Finally, along the eagle claw notch at the bottom of the Reverse appears the 2nd Battalion motto “Strike Force” in raised lettering.
Previous versions of challenge coins from the 2nd BN stem from the unit’s time spent overseas. Seen here is the unit’s 2010-2011 deployment challenge coin from its time spent serving in Afghanistan.
Contributions Provided by MAJ Ireka R. Sanders, Public Affairs Officer, 2ndBCT, 502nd IR, 101st Airborne Division
Fort Campbell Public Affairs. 502nd History. 28 July 2014. 12 November 2014 <http://www.campbell.army.mil/units/101st/2BCT/Pages/StrikeHistory.aspx>.
Global Security. 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment “Strike Force”. 25 October 2014 <http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/agency/army/2-502in.htm>.
The Institute of Heraldry. 502 Infantry Regiment. 28 October 2014 <http://www.tioh.hqda.pentagon.mil/Catalog/HeraldryMulti.aspx?CategoryId=3732&grp=2&menu=Uniformed%20Services>.