Tag Archives: OIF

1st Battalion, 2/502nd Infantry Regiment: 2013 – 2014 OEF XV Commander’s Deployment Challenge Coin

1-502The 101st Airborne has many historic units under its guidon, of which is the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 502nd Infantry Regiment (IR) that has seen far-off deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and more going back to the pre-WWII European theatre. Within the 2nd BCT, the 1st Battalion (BN) has been at the forefront of these deployments, in addition to the 2nd and 3rd BNs, fulfilling the 2nd BCT’s stated Mission 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”. As recently as 2013 another chapter in the 1st BN continued as part of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF) XV to southern Afghanistan, and providing assist to the Afghan government and its people.

The Origins of the 2nd Brigade, 502nd Infantry Regiment

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 days 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 were then brought under the 101st Airborne (ABN) Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in August 1942 just in time for entry into WWII.

1st Battalion, 2/502 Infantry Regiment in WWII

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2/502nd in WWII

Landing in England in 1943 for training, the “First Strike” 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 BN either suffered from a variety of weather complications or poor in-flight coordination. The 1st BN would go on to participate in the largest airborne assault of the war, Operation MARKET GARDEN on September 17th, 1944, and again the Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne in December 1944. For its participation in World War II, the First Strike 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 1st 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.

1st BN, 2/502 IR Deploys to Vietnam

LTC Emerson
LTC Emerson

By 1965 all three battalions of the 2/502 IR were reactivated under LTC Hank “The Gunfighter” Emmerson and deployed to Vietnam. As the conflict and the US involvement widened, by December 1967 the Five-O’Deuce started its five-year deployment with Operation EAGLE THRUST. Going forward the 1st BN would participate in most of the 2/502nd IR’s twelve major campaigns and countless unit engagements, including the 1968 Tet Offensive. In February 1972, the 1st BN redeployed to its home station at Fort Campbell, and for its service the 1st BN, 2/502 IR again earned the Valorous Unit Citation, the Meritorious Unit Citation, and four Republic of Vietnam Crosses of Gallantry.

Following the Vietnam War, the 1st BN reorganized as part of a modernization effort, and reassessed its modern Cold War airborne operations. During this effort, the battalion made multiple training and operational deployments worldwide including to Jordan, the National Training Center (NTC) and the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC). In 1980 the 1st Battalion 2/502 IR was even the lead element for “Task Force Strike” as a Multinational Forces and Observer (MFO), in 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.

The First Desert War

By 1990 as Iraqi aggression became more concerning, the “First Strike” 2/502 IR deployed in August with the 101st ABN Division in response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. From the time of its arrival, the 1st BN continued as Operation DESERT THUNDER (training) morphed into the Coalition’s invasion of DESERT STORM on 24 February 1991. The 1st BN successfully secured parts of Forward Operating Bases (FOB) Cobra and Viper deep behind Iraqi lines during DESERT STORM that enabled subsequent missions to seek out and destroy Republican Guard forces. Following the foray into Desert Storm the 1st BN returned to their home garrison in March 1991 for a well-deserved rest and refit cycle.

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IFF markings for the 101st Airborne since WWII

The rest would be short-lived however and starting in 1995, the 1st BN received orders to prepare to deploy to Panama in response to a Cuban migrant crisis between December 1994 and February 1995. By 20 February, the Battalion had moved over 4,000 Cuban nationals fleeing violence and oppression, in a two-week period, without incident or harm. In November 1998, the battalion again deployed 75 soldiers from C Company to El Salvador and Nicaragua in support of the humanitarian efforts following Hurricane Mitch, returning to Fort Campbell between January and February 1999.

By 2000 the 2/502nd IR finally completed the transition from a part-time training force in the peace-enforcement operation associated with MFO mission in Egypt, back to a complete war-fighting focus. The 1st BN worked to ensure its wartime skills was consummate with its modern-day mission. Simultaneously, the 1st BN participated in numerous air assaults, gunneries, and other events to further hone their skills.

The 1st BN started off 2001 with a host of training events now focused on leadership development including; a professional development seminar for officers, a Squad/Team Leader Course, and a Master Fitness Training Program. The unit revitalized its Sergeant’s Time Training Program and further honed the soldier’s edge of unit marksmanship. The summer 2001 developmental cycle fired every element in the 2/502 IR, including several evolutions utilizing combined Air Assaults, and integrating AH-64 Apache Helicopter and 105mm artillery and mortar fire into squad and platoon training exercises.

The Second Desert War

1st BN, 2/502nd in Iraq
1st BN, 2/502nd in Iraq

This effort was to perhaps best prepare the 2/502 IR by 2003 for involvement into looming conflict with Iraq as part of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF). By 2004 the 1st BDE returned home from their combat deployment as part of the transition of the entire 101st Airborne Division to the new modular force concept introducing 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 1st BN and greater 2/502 IR. However, First Strike returned to Iraq that same a year as the new 2nd BCT/502nd IR and led the division through the key battles of An Najaf, south Al Hillah, Karbala, southern Baghdad, Mahmoudiya and Mosul.

In 2005 the 1st BN returned for the third time to Iraq with the rest of the 2nd BCT, 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 1st BN’s respite was again short-lived and in October 2007 the First Strike brigade deployed for its fourth 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 BN would remain in Iraq until early 2009. (Fort Campbell Public Affairs)

Afghanistan Involvement

1st BN, 2/502nd in Afghanistan

On December 22, 2009 the 2nd BCT/502nd IR and its First Strike brigade received orders to spearhead the new troop surge into the southern region of Afghanistan in support of OEF. The unit 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 1st 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 1st BN, 2nd BCT/502nd IR is returning from its second and most recent 2014 deployment to southeastern Afghanistan Nangarhar Province and continues to represent its unit’s expertise and honorable linage.

Commander of the 1st BN, 2/502nd IR

LTC Arie Richards
LTC Arie Richards

The current Commander for the 1st BN, 2nd BCT/502nd IR is LTC Arie Richards, who led the unit through the complex nine-month OEF XV deployment and commissioned a unique challenge coin to recognize soldiers whom had performed above the call of duty. LTC Richards hails from Amherst County, Virginia, and is a graduate of the prestigious Virginia Military Institute. His initial assignment was to 1st BN, 325th Airborne IR, and 82d Airborne Division. There he served as a Rifle Platoon Leader, Scout Platoon Leader, and Headquarters Company Executive Officer with a deployment to Sinai Peninsula, Egypt.

In 1999, LTC Richards was assigned as a Ranger Instructor at the 5th Ranger Training Battalion. In the fall of 2001, he became the S-1, for 2nd BN, 503rd Airborne Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade, Vicenza, Italy. In late 2002 he activated C Company and commanded it through all of OIF I. From the fall of 2004 through 2006, LTC Richards was assigned to a special mission unit and deployed to OIF II.

By January of 2007, LTC Richards was selected to attend the Naval War College (NWC), earning his Master’s of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies as well as receiving the 2007 John N. Brown Counter-terrorism Prize for writing. Following graduation from the junior course, he served as a liaison officer to the NWC International Command and Staff Course.

In the summer of 2008 LTC Richards was selected for the Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG) as an Assistant Group Operations Officer and then Troop Commander, deploying three times to Afghanistan. From July of 2011 through June of 2013 he served with the Joint Special Operations Command.

When interviewed, LTC Richards related his personal views on the tradition of military challenge coins saying,

To me, coins symbolize the culture of a unit and the experiences I had (as the Commander) with that unit.

When asked what it meant as the 1st BN Commander to present a soldier with a OEF XV Deployment Challenge Coin, LTC Richards replied,

If a Soldier received the Combined Team (CT) Nangarhar Coin from OEF XV, his Chain of Command recommended him to the Battalion Command Sergeant Major and Battalion Commander to recognize his superior performance during the most recent deployment. So it means to me that the Soldier embodied the values and culture of our unit so much so that their unit Commander saw it fit that they received a distinctive honor.

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Obverse

Challenge Coin

The 2014 OEF XV Deployment Challenge coin of the 1st Battalion, 2/502nd IR is unique in that it is an irregular-shaped coin approximately 2.25” in width, and stylized to represent the 1st 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 and that supported the 1st Battalion during their mission.

Obverse

The Obverse is set against a field in high-gloss black, on which is a centered and raised “1” in red to denote the numerical identification of the battalion within the 2nd BCT/502nd IR. Curved along the edge of the eagle claw notch, is written in raised lettering the 1st BN’s motto of “First Strike” alluding to the unit’s continual effort of leaning forward to be the first unit into action. In addition, the outer rim of the Obverse is raised in a burnished sand color. 

Reverse

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Reverse

On the coin’s Reverse, a solid field of burnished and antique gold appears and represents the sand color of the lands for which the 1st BN often found itself deployed in during 2014. Offset to the left in the honorable position, and raised in a 3D feature, is the rank representation for the Battalion Commander LTC Richards in polished nickel, adjacent to which is the golden rank and chevron for the unit’s senior enlisted member CSM Meisner. Along the outer left edge is written “Awarded for Excellence” in black engraved lettering to symbolize the purpose such a coin is presented to a soldier.

Offset on the far right of the Reverse appears “OEF XV” in engraved gold lettering to denote the operational mission this coin was presented for, under which the unit designation of “1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry” appears in black engraved lettering. Offset to the lower right appears the 502nd IR Distinctive Unit Insignia in a 3D relief. Per the Institute of Military Heraldry the 502nd IR Distinctive Unit Insignia represents,

The blue is for Infantry. The grasping eagle’s claw is a representation of the airborne functions of the organization. The scrolled motto is expressive of the power of the organization. (The Institute of Heraldry)

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2/502 DUI

Below this feature appears the Afghan province of Nangarhar, where the 1st BN conducted a majority of its deployment operations. To represent the join mission efforts of mentoring Afghan forces the province appears with split national colors between the Afghan flag and the US. Lastly, just above the eagle claw notch appears “CT Nangarhar” to represent the unit’s Command group that presented this deployment challenge coin.

When discussing his unit’s deployment challenge coin LTC Richards commented on the features,

While the black heart with a red one in the middle [of the Obverse] is our battalion. The sand color of the back [Reverse] of the coin represents the desert arid conditions so often found in Afghanistan. The rank symbolizes that this coin came from the BN CDR and CSM. The Regimental Crest links us to the Strike Brigade. The joint US-Afghan Flag our work with our partnered Afghan Security Force. The cut out, in the shape of a Talon, represents our Task Force Name (Talon).

Previous Versions

The 2007 – 2009 OIF 2nd BCT Commander’s Deployment Challenge Coin was commissioned in a similar “heart-shaped” variant, however is slightly larger at 2.75” in width, but is a thinner material than the 2014 OEF XV Deployment Challenge Coin. Again many of the same features are represented here to illustrate the participating elements of the 1st Battalion and other support units within the 2nd BCT that participated in the 2007-2009 OIF deployments.

The earlier 2003 -2004 OIF 1st BN, 2nd BCT/502nd IR shows the same historic lineage as its predecessors also appearing in a similar “heart” pattern to represent the unit’s IFF symbol. This deployment challenge coin represented the unit’s first foray into Iraq and shows many of the unique features that have come to represent the unit and its challenge coins.

Works Cited

Fort Campbell Public Affairs. 502nd History. 28 July 2014. 12 November 2014 <http://www.campbell.army.mil/units/101st/2BCT/Pages/StrikeHistory.aspx&gt;.

Global Security. 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment “First Strike”. 25 October 2014 <http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/agency/army/1-502in.htm&gt;.

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&gt;.

Contributions Provided by MAJ Ireka R. Sanders, Public Affairs Officer, 2nd BCT, 502nd IR, 101st Airborne Division

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