82nd Airborne troops to deploy in Afghanistan

Tuesday, June 4, 2002

Associated Press WriterFORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) -- Some 2,500 to 3,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division will head to Afghanistan this summer, their commander said Tuesday.

Col. James Huggins would not give an exact timetable other than to say the deployment would begin later this month and continue through mid-summer. The troops will be based at Kandahar, he said.

Six hundred to 800 soldiers from the 3rd Battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment will be the first to leave, said Huggins, commander of the 505th.

The battalion's commander, Lt. Col. Martin Schweitzer, said the group is excited to go, but "it's a tempered excitement. This is serious stuff and they are taking it seriously."

The operation will be known as Task Force Panther, after the winged panther featured on the regiment's crest.

The 505th displayed its combat skills recently at the end of All-American Week on May 24. As military families, veterans and civilian visitors watched, about 500 paratroopers jumped into a sandy drop zone, set off smoke grenades and fired small arms and artillery, simulating a combat jump.

Huggins would not say Tuesday whether the soldiers would perform similar feats once in Afghanistan. He said they would make combat patrols, as members of the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., have done.

"The 101st has done an exceptional job in a very austere country," Huggins said.

"What we've been given is a very serious mission," he said. "We have to eliminate this threat of terrorism."

He said his troops are "exceptionally motivated, trained and ready. ... These are great young kids, truly America's treasure."

The 82nd is part of the 18th Airborne Corps, whose commander already has been sent to Afghanistan to oversee U.S. forces. Other 18th Airborne Corps units now in the country are from the 10th Mountain Division and the 101st Airborne. The troops from the 82nd will relieve some of those soldiers, who have been in Afghanistan about six months.

To prepare for this deployment, soldiers have trained in the California desert and have modified the fields used at Fort Bragg, covering trenches to create mock caves and tunnels like those used by al-Qaida in the Afghan mountains. They have also worn their protective body armor, which weighs 20 to 30 pounds, during the daily hour of physical training to increase their strength.

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