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Fort Bragg ceremony marks return of 68th Armor Regiment

The 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division celebrated the activation of Alpha Company, 4th Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment in the Hall of Heroes on Fort Bragg, N.C., on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.

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By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: October 27, 2018

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — The 82nd Airborne Division has revived a bit of its history to help it better prepare for future fights.

Company A, 4th Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment was activated within the 1st Brigade Combat Team on Friday. The unit is equipped with the LAV-25A2, a light-armored vehicle originally used by the Marine Corps that was introduced to the 82nd Airborne Division in 2016.

A ceremony on Fort Bragg marked the return of unit, which was previously active within the 82nd Airborne Division between March 1968 and February 1984. Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Gainey, who was the first senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, served as guest speaker.

Known as Airborne Thunder, the 4th Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment was billed as the "free world's only airborne tank battalion."

Between 1968 and 1984, the unit used the M551 Sheridan tank and was on stand-by as part of the 82nd Airborne Division's Ready Force, tasked to deploy on short notice anywhere in the world.

In 1984, the unit was inactivated and its personnel and equipment became the 3rd Battalion, 73rd Armor Regiment. In 1997, the Army phased the M551 Sheridan out of its arsenal and inactivated the unit.

The paratroopers of A Company, 4th Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment will wear the familiar yellow and green flash of the original battalion on its berets, officials said. The company is led by Capt. Aram Hatfield and 1st Sgt. James J. Grimes.

The unit will be a separate company within another unit that traces its history to "Airborne Thunder" -- the 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment is the historical successor to the 3rd Battalion, 73rd Armor Regiment.

The 82nd Airborne Division adopted the LAV-25A2, armed with a 25 mm cannon, in recent years as a means to add firepower to the drop zone in case of a fight against a near-peer competitor.

The armored vehicles are considered a major upgrade in firepower for the light infantry of the Global Response Force, which includes paratroopers who train to jump behind enemy lines, if necessary, to seize airfields and other important targets ahead of a larger invasion force.

Soldiers with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division were the first to adopt the vehicles and began efforts to integrate them into the larger force.

Earlier this year, paratroopers with the 3rd Brigade and the Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate conducted tests of the LAV-25A2 that included repeated air drops, recoveries and live fire exercises to ensure the system was fully operational.

Officials continue to test the capabilities of the vehicle. A spokesman for the 1st Brigade Combat Team said the activation of the new unit was the next step in those tests.

The unit's LAV-25A2 are still marked with the "USMC" of the Marine Corps. Officials chose the vehicles over the heavier Stryker used by many Army brigades because of their lighter weight and the ability to load more of the vehicles onto an Air Force C-17.

The eight-wheeled LAV is manned by a three-person crew and can carry six other troops. It is manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems.

While still relatively new to the 82nd Airborne Division, officials actually suggested using the LAV-25A2 as early as 2014.

A report published by the Rand Corp. titled "Enhanced Army Airborne Forces: A New Joint Operational Capability" included a chapter on a proposed airborne light armored infantry force that would use the LAV-25A2 or similar vehicles to close a capability gap between American paratroopers and the forces they could face by providing added protection and firepower.

The Rand Corp. report notes that the LAV-25 was tested for parachute drop and low altitude parachute extraction in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The 82nd Airborne Division also experimented with 14 LAV-25s provided by the Marine Corps during Operation Desert Storm, deploying the vehicles to Saudi Arabia and later using them in combat in Iraq.

The return of part of the 4th Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment has been praised by veterans of the unit.

Alumni of Airborne Thunder remain active, gathering on or around Fort Bragg each year as part of the 82nd Airborne Division's All American Week.

In May 2016, veterans of 4th Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment and 3rd Battalion, 73rd Armor Regiment dedicated a monument outside the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in downtown Fayetteville to the legacy of the nation's only airborne armor battalion.

During the ceremony, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald D. Regan prophetically said the monument did not close the book on airborne armor.

"It's not the final chapter," he said. "It's just another chapter."

A history of the unit notes that several senior Army officers were veterans of the 4th Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment. They include a former NASA astronaut, retired Col. William S. McArthur Jr.; the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq in 2003, retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez; and the Army chief of staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley.

Milley began his career with A Company, 4th Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, serving as an assistant battalion maintenance officer and a platoon leader.

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