The story of American paratroopers is deeply woven into the fabric of the nation's military history and identity. The sight alone of these airborne armed forces inspires awe, and the honorable service of these men and women over 70 years of parachuting has created a tradition of excellence that has become synonymous with the paratrooper divisions within the Army, as well as the greater military.

That's why every Aug. 16 is celebrated as National Airborne Day. This moment of reflection gives us a way to remember and recognize the valor and effort displayed paratrooper forces. They have demonstrated courage and commitment since the first experimental jump in 1940 through the many armed conflicts the U.S. has engaged in since. After all, it takes a lot of self-determination to fling yourself out of a moving plane a thousand feet up in the air. 

Here's more information about the history of paratroopers, National Airborne day, and how the observance is celebrated.

The first jump in August 1940

As the story goes, the idea to parachute troops into combat operations was first conceived by Brigadier General William Mitchell after World War I concluded. Regarded as the father of the U.S. Air Force, he focused on the advantage of dropping elite ground forces behind enemy lines. By 1940, World War II had broken out, and though the U.S. was not yet involved, it put into motion the paratrooper initiative by authorizing the Army Parachute Test Platoon that summer. On Aug. 16, 1940, 48 soldiers from the 29th Infantry Regiment jumped from a Douglas B-18 over Lawson Army Airfield at Fort Benning in Georgia. 

"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."
"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."

Service in WWII and beyond

American paratroopers have become among the most definitive images associated with WWII. Along with Allied forces that stormed the beaches on D-Day, U.S. parachuting forces were critical to the success of the operation, and would go on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. However, the first combat jumps took place over North Africa in November 1942, when members of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, leapt from a C-47.

Paratrooper forces would then go on to serve in various conflicts and military operations including Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. They have also participated in peace-keeping missions in Lebanon, the Dominican Republic, and Kosovo.

The 'Screaming Eagles'

Today, paratroopers comprise some of the most recognizable divisions in the Army, most notably the 101st Airborne, otherwise known as the Screaming Eagles. But the 101st is far from alone in representing Army paratroopers, which also include the 11th, 13th, 17th, 80th, 82nd (known as "America's Guard of Honor") and 108th Airborne Divisions. Paratroopers also make up the Army's XVIII Airborne Corps and the 75th Infantry (Ranger) Regiment. Airborne-trained troops are also found in the Navy SEALs and other Special Forces units, as well as the Marines and Air Force.

Airborne Day created by G.W. Bush

Aug. 16 was first proclaimed National Airborne Day by President George W. Bush in 2002, though it would take until 2009 for a Senate resolution to recognize the observance.

"Airborne combat continues to be driven by the bravery and daring spirit of sky soldiers. Often called into action with little notice, these forces have earned an enduring reputation for dedication, excellence, and honor. As we face the challenges of a new era, I encourage all people to recognize the contributions of these courageous soldiers to our nation and the world," Bush wrote in the official proclamation.

Now, many events are held at military bases and other locales around the country that display that technique and skill of these "sky soldiers." The Army's Golden Knights are well-known, while the Special Operations Command Parachute Team, the Black Daggers, also dazzle on-lookers from the ground.

As we celebrate National Airborne Day this Aug. 16, take time to reflect on the service and sacrifice of these brave parachuting forces.