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Posted on Apr 7, 2008 in Books and Movies

Airborne Forces at War — Book Review

By Jim H. Moreno

Armchair General Magazine

Airborne Forces at War: From Parachute Test Platoon to the 21st Century. Robert K. Wright, Jr., Ph.D., and John T. Greenwood, Ph.D., authors. Naval Institute Press, 2007. 224 pages. Hardcover. $39.95.

Simply put, this book should be standard issue to every graduate of the U.S. Army Airborne School.

Manuals are an immense and vital training tool for American military forces. Back in 1987, the year before I left for my 14-year Army tour of duty, I was given my first manual, the Soldier’s Manual of Army Readiness Tasks, or, the S.M.A.R.T Book, as we called it then. After graduating Basic Training, I moved straight into Advanced Individual Training (AIT), where I was given yet more manuals. During that course, still more manuals, both field and training, were introduced to us soldiers, until we slyly began to wonder when we would be issued U.S. Army TM 1-01 The Book of Life!

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So it was a bit of a shock when I reported to the U.S. Army Airborne School and discovered we wouldn’t be issued yet another manual. To be sure, there is one, currently known as FM 90-26 Airborne Operations. However, like almost every manual I can remember during my career, it is sadly missing an integral chapter which every airborne soldier should at least be aware of: the history of the airborne.

Airborne Forces at War: From Parachute Test Platoon to the 21st Century is my choice for filling that gap in providing a concise, professional, excellently written and illustrated airborne history. Simply put, this book should be standard issue to every graduate of the U.S. Army Airborne School.

I know of a couple other books that are written with much greater detail concerning America’s airborne warriors, but they tell the history of only a single unit or division, or else they are a massive 800+ pages. Airborne Forces at War is by far the best abridged historical account I am aware of that covers the wide range of airborne history, from Andre-Jacques Garnerin—recorded as making the first parachute descent in October 1797—through to today’s valiant paratroopers bravely engaging in the War on Terrorism around the world.

Eleven chapters span the breadth and depth of airborne history, mainly focusing on America’s struggles and victories with the airborne way of combat. However, the book doesn’t neglect what Germany and the Soviet Union experienced during their own early days of airborne experimenting and training.

The majority of the history covered stems from the conceptual days of creating and training an airborne fighting force during the early days of World War Two. The authors relate in brief detail the victories and defeats of the airborne all through the war, from establishing full airborne divisions to operations in the Mediterranean and the Pacific, and of course OPERATION MARKET-GARDEN. Historical narrative then flows from World War Two into the Korean War, through the Vietnam War and into well-documented accounts of America’s use of airborne as a contingency force in places like the Dominican Republic (POWER PACK), Grenada (URGENT FURY), and Panama (JUST CAUSE).

Enhancing the book’s text is a liberal amount of excellent photography, black-and-white and color, from small snapshots to full-page photos. Avid military historians may recognize more than a few of these images, but there were also many I had not seen before. The majority appear courtesy of the National Archives and the Center of Military History. Precise maps, short unit and personnel bios, equipment descriptions, and even airborne art are used throughout the book.

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