History of National Airborne Day

In terms of young or old warfare tactics, using American airborne forces to surprise an enemy by landing behind battle lines has only been a “thing” since the 1940s. It was just after World War I when, perhaps looking back in hindsight with better vision, Brigadier General Billy Mitchell first came up with a viable version of the idea of “dropping” troops into combat. The idea was developed and tested at Fort Benning, Georgia, and first “went live” in the North African campaign of the Second World War, meeting with decisive success.

Perhaps best illustrated by the film “Saving Private Ryan,” paratroopers in WWII suffered some disadvantages when they parachuted into German territories, such as disorientation or losing their sense of compass directions during a nighttime paratrooper assault. The second was a lack of ready supplies. Airborne troops sometimes had to scrounge, be cunning, and exploit every resource to procure food, weapons, and ammunition. And that’s to say nothing about being surrounded by the enemy on all sides!

With paratroopers now jumping out of an aircraft at the rate of about 118.5 feet per second, National Airborne Day is also a time to recognize the vigorous training of airborne units in the Army. The safety of this training is also important to note. A jumpmasters attention to detail is critical, with equipment checked regularly. 

Airborne tactics have steadily advanced alongside other military strategies, up until 2002, when President Bush’s proclamation made the anniversary of the first airborne assault a holiday. The U.S. Senate backed that up in Senate Resolution 235 in 2009. Since then, August 16 is a patriotic day with a special cachet because airborne troops are said to be the elite of the elite, earning top honors across the Armed Services.

National Airborne Day timeline

Ahead of his time

A few weeks following the first successful manned balloon flight, November 21, 1783, Benjamin Franklin writes on the possible dangers of air attack:  “It’s too bad so many rulers fail to take balloons seriously, because it’d be impossible to defend against an attack of steerable balloons“. He suggests that an invading force of 5000 balloons, two men in each, would cost about as much as one ship of the line, and would pose a far greater threat.

November 8, 1942
A first time for everything

The 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion is deployed in French North Africa as part of Operation Torch.

August 15, 2005
“Let’s get this ball rolling!”

Former President George W. Bush signs his proclamation:

By the President of the United States of AmericaA Proclamation




Americans live in freedom because of the extraordinary bravery, sacrifice, and dedication to duty of the members of our Armed Forces. From the first official Army parachute jump 65 years ago, our country’s Airborne troops have played a crucial role in the defense of our Nation and our liberty. On National Airborne Day, we pay special tribute to these courageous soldiers who served with honor and integrity.

On August 16, 1940, the successful first jump of the Army Parachute Test Platoon laid the foundation for a new and innovative method of combat that helped contribute to an Allied victory in World War II. These bold pioneers answered the call of duty and set an example for future generations to follow. Since the designation of the Army’s first Airborne division, the 82nd Airborne, on August 15, 1942, our Airborne troops have performed with valor. The brave men and women of our Airborne forces have worked to defeat tyranny, advance the cause of liberty, and build a safer world.

Today a new generation of Airborne forces is fighting a war against an enemy that threatens the peace and stability of the world. At this critical time, Airborne forces of the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force are continuing the noble tradition of the first sky soldiers. Americans are grateful for the service of our Airborne forces and all our troops, and we are inspired by the strength and sacrifice of our military members and their families.

Now, Therefore, I, George W. Bush, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim August 16, 2005, as National Airborne Day. I encourage all Americans to honor those who have served in the Airborne forces, and I also call upon all citizens to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of August, in the year of our Lord two thousand five, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirtieth.

Signature of George W. Bush


August 3, 2009
Now it’s official

Senate Resolution 235 officially recognizes and ratifies National Airborne Day:


RESOLUTION: Designating August 16, 2009, as “National Airborne Day”.

Whereas the airborne forces of the Armed Forces have a long and honorable history as units of adventuresome, hardy, and fierce warriors who, for the national security of the United States and the defense of freedom and peace, project the effective ground combat power of the United States by Air Force air transport to the far reaches of the battle area and, indeed, to the far corners of the world;

Whereas August 16 marks the anniversary of the first official Army parachute jump on August 16, 1940, an event that validated the innovative concept of inserting United States ground combat forces behind a battle line by means of a parachute;

Whereas the United States experiment with airborne infantry attack began on June 25, 1940, when the Army Parachute Test Platoon was first authorized by the Department of War, and was launched when 48 volunteers began training in July 1940;

Whereas the success of the Army Parachute Test Platoon in the days immediately before the entry of the United States into World War II led to the formation of a formidable force of airborne units that have served with distinction and have had repeated success in armed hostilities;

Whereas among those airborne units are the former 11th, 13th, and 17th Airborne Divisions, the venerable 82nd Airborne Division, the versatile 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), and the airborne regiments and battalions (some as components of those divisions, some as separate units) that achieved distinction as the elite 75th Ranger Regiment, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the 187th Infantry (Airborne) Regiment, the 503rd, 507th, 508th, 517th, 541st, and 542nd Parachute Infantry Regiments, the 88th Glider Infantry Regiment, the 509th, 551st, and 555th Parachute Infantry Battalions, the 325th and 327th Glider Infantry, and the 550th Airborne Infantry Battalion;

Whereas the achievements of the airborne forces during World War II prompted the evolution of those forces into a diversified force of parachute and air-assault units that, over the years, have fought in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf region, and Somalia, and have engaged in peacekeeping operations in Lebanon, the Sinai Peninsula, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo;

Whereas the modern-day airborne force that has evolved from those World War II beginnings is an agile, powerful force that, in large part, is composed of the 82nd Airborne Division, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), and the 75th Ranger Regiment;

Whereas the modern-day airborne force also includes other elite forces composed entirely of airborne trained and qualified special operations warriors, including Army Special Forces, Marine Corps Reconnaissance units, Navy SEALs, and Air Force combat control teams, each of which is part of the United States Special Operations Command;

Whereas in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the 75th Ranger Regiment, special forces units, and units of the 82nd Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), together with other units of the Armed Forces, have been prosecuting the war against terrorism by carrying out combat operations in Afghanistan, training operations in the Philippines, and other operations elsewhere;

Whereas in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, airborne units played a pivotal role in the war in Afghanistan, including the unflinching pursuit of the enemies of the United States during the battles of Mazar-i Sharif, Kabul, Qala-i-Jangi, Tora Bora, and Operation Anaconda;

Whereas United States paratroopers, which include the 82d Airborne Division, 75th Ranger Regiment, Special Operations Forces, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat team, and elements of the 4th Brigade 25th Infantry Division, have demonstrated bravery and honor in an effort to pursue the enemies of the United States, to stabilize Afghanistan, and to strive for calm in a troubled region;

Whereas in the aftermath of the announcement of Operation Iraqi Freedom by President George W. Bush in March 2003, the 75th Ranger Regiment, special forces units, and units of the 82nd Airborne Division, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), the 173rd Airborne Brigade, and the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) of the 25th Infantry Division, together with other units of the Armed Forces, have been prosecuting the war against terrorism, carrying out combat operations, conducting civil affairs missions, and assisting in establishing democracy in Iraq;

Whereas the airborne forces are, and will continue to be, at the ready and the forefront until the Global War on Terrorism is concluded;

Whereas of the members and former members of the United States airborne forces, all have achieved distinction by earning the right to wear the Silver Wings of Courage of the United States airborne forces, thousands have achieved the distinction of making combat jumps, 69 have earned the Medal of Honor, and hundreds have earned the Distinguished-Service Cross, Silver Star, or other decorations and awards for displays of such traits as heroism, gallantry, intrepidity, and valor;

Whereas the members and former members of the United States airborne forces are all members of a proud and honorable fraternity of the profession of arms that is made exclusive by those distinctions which, together with their special skills and achievements, distinguish them as intrepid combat parachutists, special operation forces, and, in former days, glider troops;

Whereas the history and achievements of the members and former members of the airborne forces of the United States Armed Forces warrant special expressions of the gratitude of the people of the United States; and

Whereas, since the airborne community celebrates August 16 as the anniversary of the first official jump by the Army Parachute Test Platoon, August 16 would be an appropriate day to recognize as National Airborne Day: Now, therefore, be it

That the Senate—


designates August 16, 2009, as National Airborne Day; and


calls on the people of the United States to observe National Airborne Day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.