I didn’t know what I was getting into my first day reporting at Fort Campbell to 3rd Brigade Combat Team. It was my first unit, and I was happy to be out of training and doing real things. When the replacement NCO got to me, he said, “oh shit, you’re going to be a Rakkasan.” That was a word I didn’t know, had never heard, and meant nothing to me. Now, it means everything.
I entered a strange land when they drove us to be dropped off, there were giant red statues coming out of the ground everywhere, like entering a mythical land from Lord of the Rings. I was with a specialist in the car who was coming from Alaska and he said, “prepare yourself bro, they are about to fuck us up.” Fuck me up? I hadn’t even done anything! We rolled up to the gate and things didn’t get less strange, they got crazier.
We first met the Sergeant Major, who seemed to be some lunatic Vietnam holdover. The first thing he bragged about was that our brigade led the Army in suicides and AWOL’s because “if people don’t have what it takes, they run away or kill themselves.” In today’s Army, leading in those categories wouldn’t be something to brag about but the Rakkasans have a distinct culture, outside the mainstream Army. I had to sit and wait for someone to come get me from my company and while waiting there was a specialist who was sitting there with a plant on his lap. I asked him what the plant was for, and he said to me with a straight face, “My team leader makes me carry it to make up for the oxygen I’m stealing.”
I had to use the bathroom and walking in I saw a PFC standing in front of the bathroom mirror at parade rest, there was a Staff Sergeant standing to the side watching him. The private was repeating over and over, “I’m not stupid, you are” as he looked at himself. I didn’t know what to make of what was happening around me, how did I end up in this bizarro world?
I grew to love it over five years spent there and two deployments. We weren’t normal deployed either, more like gangsters. We even got in trouble for spray painting torri’s on villages and mountains, we were marking our territory. The villagers claimed we looked like demons with our torri helmet patches looking like horns coming out of our heads. We were well known for looking for fights and when we came into contact, there wasn’t much ammo conservation. A lot of Rakkasans I know are still out there, looking for fights in one way or another, the unit and the energy there changes you. Of all the units in the Army, there is a unique pride at being a Rakkasan that we hold onto forever. We deserve to hold our heads high and to carry that respect with us wherever we go.
Because we fought in the Pacific in WW2, the first airborne regiment to conduct an amphibious landing on enemy shores. We liberated the capital of Manila in the Philippines, the first capital freed in the Pacific campaigns. When the war ended, it was the Rakkasans sent first into Japan, the first foreign soldiers to set foot on Japanese soil in 2,000 years. It was the Japanese who gave us our nickname, Rakkasan which loosely translated means falling down umbrella. We battled in Korea, changing airborne warfare forever, and defeating thousands of Korean soldiers at Sukchon-Sunchon and defeated the Chinese at the Battle of Wonju. When we reported for duty in Vietnam, we kicked ass there too. It was us who stormed Hamburger Hill, it was us who fought in the jungles and became known as the “nomad unit.” We emerged from Vietnam the most decorated Airborne unit. When we were needed in the Middle East, we conducted the longest ever air-assault mission, striking 155 miles behind enemy lines into the Euphrates River Valley. We were the first Army Brigade to deploy in Afghanistan for the War on Terror, the most trusted and ready combat unit in the Army. We led the 101st into Iraq, liberating Saddam’s airport and major sections of Baghdad. Wherever the fight was, that’s where we were, we belong on the front lines.
The best Rakkasan history is unwritten, we fought each other and other units as much as our enemies. We had legendary barracks parties and lived life to the fullest. We fight hard, party crazy, and die young. Sometimes too young, we live hard and it’s important to remember each Rakkasan fallen. We boast notable warriors like Gen William Westmoreland, Gen Petraeus, Colonel Michael Steele, and Captain Paul Bucha and the many heroes in our ranks. But if you’re a Rakkasan, your fight isn’t over yet, it’s just beginning. I’m looking forward to drinking with every Rakkasan in Valhalla. All of us together, from WW2, Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East raising a glass to battles fought and our fallen comrades. Now that, that would be a party.
“Let Valor Not Fail”
If you have any great Rakkasan stories or photos I’d love to see them or hear them through email or social media. Stay connected with the Rakkasan nation by joining the Rakkasan association.
Grab yourself a T-shirt over at the Rakkasan store.
This article is dedicated to Christopher Metcalf, who is in the featured image. My friend and a true Rakkasan if there ever was one, Chris recently lost his life and left behind his son and fiancé. Reach out and talk to a fellow Rakkasan today and raise a glass to Chris, and the other warriors we’ve lost along the way. Chris’s fiancé has a small gofundme to help out with expenses during this difficult time. If you have a few bucks to throw, or want to do a good deed for a fallen brother, it would be appreciated. Thank you and thank you for standing beside me in formation, in battle, and under the shadow of the torri.
John H Davis
B-Co 3-187 IN