173rd Airborne Brigade's primary deployable unit is the Vicenza-based 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry, which is organized and equipped as an airborne battalion combat team. Backed by supporting artillery, signal, medical, aviation and transportation units, the compact yet formidable 1-508th ABCT gives SETAF a significant "forced-entry" capability. That ability to put troops and equipment on the ground quickly -- whether to fight, rescue imperiled civilians or support peacekeeping operations -- makes SETAF a vital part of GEN Eric K. Shinseki's vision for the 21st-century Army.
On 01 October 1999 approximately 130 soldiers from Company A, 1st Battalion, 508th Airborne Battalion Combat Team, jumped from several C-130 Hercules aircraft about one mile outside of Vitina. The joint effort between the Army and Air Force proved the unparalleled capabilities of U.S. forces. Company A, 1-508th soldiers accomplished their mission by deploying within approximately 24 hours notice during Operation Rapid Guardian, an Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise. The EDRE also showed that U.S. forces are able to rapidly deploy into the war-torn province at a minute's notice. Preceeding the C-130s were Air Force F/A-18 Hornets, which performed a combat air patrol and F-16 Falcon fighter planes that escorted the Hercules to the drop zone. After parachutist departed the aircraft, they had Army AH-64 Apache helicopters pulling security for them, ensuring the drop zone was safe. Army Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and M1A1 Abrams tanks pulled ground security around the drop zone perimeter. The jump made history by being the first of its kind since World War II, which was the last time U.S. forces parachuted into a European country during a major conflict or peacekeeping operation.
Exercise Veneto Rescue 2000 brought together 1-508th ABCT soldiers, Italian troops and helicopters, and Air Force transport and fighter aircraft. Conducted at sites in northern Italy and Slovenia, the exercise included a mass parachute drop of more than 425 U.S. and Italian soldiers, the securing of an imperiled "U.S. embassy" and the evacuation of several dozen "noncombatants." Reflecting actual, recent events in Africa, the exercise scenario was built around increasingly widespread factional fighting among three groups in the fictitious country of "Anglia." Mounting violence had isolated and endangered American and third-country citizens. U.S. European Command had determined that a NEO was likely and directed SETAF to begin preparations to remove the noncombatants safely and, if possible, without the use of force. Tapped for the job were more than 300 American paratroopers from Headquarters and HQs. Company and companies A and B of the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment, which is organized and equipped as an airborne battalion combat team and referred to as 1-508th ABCT, based at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza. A platoon from SETAF's 13th Military Police Co. also took part, as did members from the 22nd Area Support Group.
The 1-508th is ideally suited to this kind of operation. The soldiers are tough, capable, well-trained and motivated. The battalion has often undertaken vital, real-world missions on short notice, and these soldiers really put tremendous effort into tough and realistic training like this.
1-508th Official Home Page