WACO, Texas, - The 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment, the country's first and only National Guard airborne unit, conducted its re-activation ceremony here at the Texas State Technical College Airport on Sept. 11.
"Today is a great day to be a National Guard paratrooper," said Army Lt. Col. Douglas O'Connell, the battalion commander. "I am proud to be here in this location, in this moment."
The battalion, comprised of paratroopers from units in Alaska, Rhode Island and Texas, will deploy globally in support of U.S. peacekeeping missions in the years ahead.
"America could not accomplish our military missions without the dedicated service and sacrifice of the National Guard," said Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas.
Soldiers' family members, 143rd Airborne Infantry Regiment Association members, Waco residents, local veterans of past military campaigns, members of the Veteran Resources Canine Corp and senior military leadership gathered at the event to honor this historic battalion.
"[The battalion] re-activation and re-location will provide a centralized training arena and improved opportunities for our men and women," said Army Staff Sgt. Richard Avitia, a Soldier with the 1st Battalion.
The 143rd Regiment's history goes back more than a century and a half. Officially recognized in 1873 in Waco, the 143rd Regiment developed from the Texas militias, which had previously fought for Texas Independence and for Confederate sovereignty during the Civil War.
Following its consolidation with the 5th Texas Infantry Regiment in 1917, the 143rd Infantry joined the ranks of the celebrated 36th Infantry Division, serving in World War II against the Germans and garnering five Medals of Honor and five Presidential Unit Citations.
After the 36th Infantry Division's retirement in 1968, the battalion reactivated with assignment to the 71st Infantry Brigade (Airborne), officially standing as an Airborne outfit. It remained there until 1973 when the 71st Infantry Brigade (Airborne) restructured as the 36th Infantry Brigade (Airborne).
The 143rd Infantry Regiment last saw Airborne service as G Company, 143rd Infantry (Long Range Surveillance) in 2001, and now the proud lineage of this regiment will relive as the only Airborne Infantry Battalion in the Army National Guard.
This sentiment parallels the goals voiced by military leaders and unit personnel alike.
"The formation of the United States' first Airborne battalion will allow us to better prepare for our future deployments and return safely to our families," said Army Sgt. Adrian Pinon, a parachutist with the 1st Battalion,
With every Soldier in the newly re-activated battalion trained as a parachutist, and many others also certified Rangers and Pathfinders, the unit encompasses many of the most skilled and tactically proficient soldiers in the National Guard.
"This battalion continues to work to recruit more men and women," said O'Connell. "Ready to add their strengths to the never ending fight for freedom."