“Rock, You Draw a Hell Of a Crowd”

Paratroopers, veterans and members of the Fort Bragg and Fayetteville community gathered April 20th to honor a living airborne legend.

Retired Command Sergeant Major Kenneth “Rock” Merritt, a distinguished alumni of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division was honored with a paver stone at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in downtown Fayetteville, North Carolina.

A paver stone dedicated to Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth “Rock” Merritt is unveiled at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Merritt, a World War II 82nd Airborne Veteran of Operations Overlord and Market Garden, served over thirty years in the Army and even twice as the XVIII Airborne Corps Command Sergeant Major.

“Rock, you draw a hell of a crowd,” said Mr. Tommy Bolton, the Civilian Aid to the Secretary of the Army for North Carolina during his opening remarks. “This is indeed special. Not just for Command Sergeant Major Merritt and his family, but for all he represents.’

‘That means that place in history, when the world was at war, and the only thing that stood between freedom and the Nazis were guys like Rock who stepped forward, took the oath, withstood the training and dedicated themselves to a higher cause and the meaning of America,” continued Bolton.”

Merritt was a member of the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment when he participated in the combat jumps into Normandy during Operation Overlord and into the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden. He was personally awarded the Silver Star by General Matthew Ridgway for knocking out a Nazi machine gun nest during Operation Overlord.

“Command Sergeant Major Merritt is an exceptional example of the Greatest Generation and is still serving our Army today,” said Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Steve England. “Rock is a role model and mentor to the officers, noncommissioned officers and young paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division and the 18th Airborne Corps and, of course, his beloved 508th.”

Then-Corporal Kenneth “Rock” Merritt poses for a photo.

In October of 1942, Merritt saw a colorful poster while waiting to talk to a Marine recruiting sergeant. The poster depicted a paratrooper descending to the ground with the challenge “Are You Man Enough to Fill These Boots?” emblazoned upon it. That was the beginning of his 35-year long career in the Army, 31 years of which were spent on jump status. Merritt would serve twice as the Command Sergeant Major of the XVIII ABC Corps and is an inaugural member of the 82nd Airborne Division’s Hall of Fame.

“Let me say, without any reservations, this is the greatest honor that I have ever received. In the confusion in the world going on today, we have so much to be proud and thankful for. Number one, our armed forces today are led by the best trained, best equipped, best educated officers, noncommissioned officers and soldiers that the Army has ever had,” said Merritt. “Number two, we live in the best country in the world, the United States of America. Last, but certainly not least, we’ve been able to have two hundred and forty some odd years with our freedom all due to soldiers like you standing here today.”

Merrit occasionally visits the 1-508th PIR and 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division headquarters on Fort Bragg to speak with paratroopers and give them perspective on the foundations of the Army Airborne community.

“Command Sergeant Major Merritt is a national treasure and a living legend. When he visits the Panther Brigade on Fort Bragg, paratroopers have the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts of the 82nd’s baptism by fire in the skies and on the ground during World War II,” said. Col. Gregory Beaudoin, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. “The honor he received today at the ASOM ensures generations of paratroopers to come will know about the valor and heritage of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment,” continued Beaudoin.

HHC Panthers Ruck March

Paratroopers assigned to Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division wade through a river while conducting a ruck march.

The ruck march was part of the company’s assault command post physical training and helped the paratroopers train for future operations while building teamwork.




Ready, Agile and Lethal in Urban Terrain; Paratroopers Train for Combat In Megacities and Subterranean Environments

Paratroopers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division spent most of March training to fight and win in megacity and subterranean environments.

The paratroopers, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, trained at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, to learn concepts of megacity and subterranean warfare that Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley is confident will be applied in the near future.

A Paratrooper assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment clears a subway train at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., March 21, 2018. The platoons operating in dense urban terrain learned many lessons with respect to operating in megacity environments. U.S. Army photo by Spc. John Lytle, 3rd BCT Public Affairs

“We wanted to expose our paratroopers to the realities of fighting in megacities and subterranean environments while dealing with chemical threats,” said Lt. Col. Robert McChrystal, the 1-508th PIR’s battalion commander. “Our goal was to build confidence in their equipment and themselves while teaching them the basics of how to operate in environments we don’t often get to train in.”

Training for combat in chemically-contaminated urban environments presented paratroopers with significant challenges. Often, those challenges required them to alter standing operating procedures and equipment postures to continue their mission.

“Paratroopers trained to don their chemical protective mask at the first sign of a chemical attack or when conducting missions specifically targeting chemical munition facilities,” said Maj. Adam Scher, the Battalion executive officer. “They quickly discovered the sight picture through night vision is altered when wearing the masks. Paratroopers adapted to this challenge by adjusting their helmet mounts to operate effectively in limited-light CBRNE environments.”

A Paratrooper assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment breaches a door during a nighttime air assault of a notional enemy compound at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., March 16, 2018. The platoons operating in dense urban terrain learned many lessons with respect to operating in megacity environments.

Another challenge presented to the 1-508th paratroopers was combat in underground facilities and tunnels. The challenge is twofold in subterranean environments; both light and space are often in short supply. McChrystal stated that platoons operating in dense urban terrain learned many lessons with respect to operating in megacity environments.

“On-the-ground leaders learned the best practice of mounting night vision goggles even during daytime operations,” said McChrystal. “This prepared them for a rapid or unexpected transition to conduct operations in underground facilities like subway systems or tunnels with limited lighting.’

‘Paratroopers also identified the need to reconfigure the wear of some combat equipment to better navigate confined spaces like those found in underground facilities and utility tunnels,” continued McChrystal.

The megacity and subterranean environments challenged paratroopers to adapt and apply ingenuity to accomplish their mission. Often, on-the-ground leaders generated the solutions and spread them as best practices to other elements within the battalion.

Through the training, Scher said a culture of winning and adaptability formed and it helped convince their team they are agile, ready and lethal in urban terrain.

“We now have a group of junior leaders exposed to cutting-edge training, new tactics and procedures,” said Scher. “They came away with newfound confidence in their ability to design their own training plans to ensure the 1-508th will always be ready to jump, fight and win tonight.”