FORT BRAGG, N.C. – The world can be a tumultuous and dangerous place. Forces of nature and ruthless people have threatened disaster for American and allied lives in the past and likely will again in the future.
Fortunately, the U.S. military is poised to respond to threats anywhere in the world. Nicknamed America’s Guard of Honor, the 82nd Airborne Division has long served as the nation’s primary contingency force. As more than a decade of war winds down, the division has reinvigorated its focus into enhancing capabilities as part of the global response force.
Thirty years ago, a vicious coup within the small nation of Grenada threatened stability in the Caribbean and endangered more than 600 Americans on the island.
Witnessing the establishment of an aggressive anti-U.S. Marxist government, President Ronald Reagan authorized military intervention in Grenada on Oct. 23, 1983.
The 82nd Airborne Division was alerted the following day. Fourteen hours after notification, the first paratroopers from the division landed at an airfield in Point Salines, joining the 75th Rangers, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 and the U.S. Marines in Operation Urgent Fury.
While it was a success overall, the invasion force faced many challenges due to a constrained notification and response time.
Trained to be on the ground 18 hours after notification, the task force faced a considerably shorter sequence for the operation in Grenada.
As the division marked the 30th anniversary of Urgent Fury, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team hosted a leader professional development seminar as an opportunity to learn from those historical challenges.
The seminar kicked off with remarks from Maj. Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, as he welcomed the four guest speakers, which included notable commanders from the operation.
“Each of these anniversaries give us an opportunity to stop and reflect on the role of the 82nd Airborne Division in U.S. history,“ said Nicholson. “This passage of experience and wisdom from those who fought in previous fights to the current generation ... is extremely important.”
The guest speakers included retired Gen. James J. Lindsay, retired Maj. Gen. Stephen Silvasy, Jr., retired Col. Jack L. Hamilton, and retired Col. Bob Seigle.
At the time of the operation, Silvasy commanded the division’s 2nd Brigade, Hamilton commanded the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment’s 2nd Battalion and Seigle commanded the 82nd Combat Aviation Battalion.
Lindsay, who commanded the division just prior to Operation Urgent Fury and later, XVIII Airborne Corps, is the founder of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum Foundation.
Nicholson’s attendance was also distinctive, as he served as a platoon leader under Hamilton with the invasion’s lead battalion task force.
The seminar featured a detailed historical account of the events leading up to the invasion that began early in the morning on Oct. 25, 1983, and covered combat operations during the days that followed. After the history review, the panel answered questions and shared experiences with the present-day leaders of the division. The discussion was punctuated by humorous anecdotes, solemn memories and sage advice.
“If you want a new idea, read an old book,” offered Silvasy, as the group reflected upon the myriad challenges faced by the invasion’s task force.
“Read that book now and not when you’re at Green Ramp or on the drop zone,” added Seigle. “The things that we went through are inherent challenges of no-notice operations.”
Seigle said that Urgent Fury taught the U.S. military to move more effectively and operate joint forces at the national level.
Incompatibilities, small and large, between the services caused a multitude of hardships. The differences between communication systems, maps, and even how a service called for fire created challenges that the military had to overcome at an inopportune time. He recalled even encountering naval fuel pumps that weren’t compatible with Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
Since then, the services have achieved a higher level of interoperability that has been reinforced by recent wars and regular joint-training. This joint-synchronization allows for services to identify obstacles now which will result in a more streamlined workflow during future deployments.
If alerted for a similar operation in the future, Seigle has faith that the U.S. military will prevail.
Though the lessons learned, particularly at a joint level, during Urgent Fury were extensive, so was the success. The paratroopers sent into Grenada were well-trained and disciplined. They had conducted multiple Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercises down at the company and battalion level, which allowed them to work their way through various scenarios before their boots ever hit the ground.
“The ingenuity of the American soldier overcomes anything,” he said. “We hope you guys never have to go through this again, but if you do, maybe we’ve provided some insight into some of the glitches you might have.”
As the seminar drew to a close, the audience fell silent and observed a reading of the names of the 19 service members killed during the operation.
The attendees then assembled in the museum for a social call to close the evening’s event.
“Getting to hear their insights is incredibly valuable,” said Lt. Col. Eric Baus, commander of the 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, and one of the event’s moderators. “When you look across recent history, there are not all that many examples of paratroopers that have actually gotten the chance to do what they did.”
He added that hearing the advice of the veterans reinforces the validity of the division’s tactics and procedures used today. He said one piece of advice still resonates as much now as it did then.
“In order to win tomorrow, you’d better prepare today.”