Almost a full century ago in 1918, a few U.S. Army soldiers put together a small artillery training ground. Ninety-three years later, it would be known Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the largest and most well-known military base in the nation. Fort Bragg became the home to almost 75,000 people and the basis for the Airborne and Special Forces branches of the Army. Throughout those ninety-three years, disasters occurred on and off the base that directly affected its residents. Post disaster problems were directly in the hands of the soldiers and residents. This article outlines how Fort Bragg developed and how strong it stands before and after disaster.
In Fort Bragg’s early years, it was known as “Camp Bragg.” It was named after Braxton Bragg, a general who led the confederate army in the Civil War. After World War I, the coordinators of Camp Bragg were low on money and could barely keep the training ground running. It was almost completely put to rest due to its lack of profit and popularity. The commander of Camp Bragg, Albert Bowley, refused to give in to the orders, for he knew Camp Bragg had great potential. He campaigned for weeks, enough to get a visit from the Secretary of War, who he would eventually convince to keep the camp running. Soon after, it was renamed Fort Bragg, indicating a permanent Army post, and it continued to grow(“Fort Bragg”).
For the next few years, Fort Bragg would have its own four barracks, which still stand tall today, fully functioning. Streets, sidewalks, plant life, working quarters, a hospital, fields, and more were erected all over the base. All the ingredients of a strong military base were blended into one. When asked how he thought the military base had grown, Staff Sergeant Hume Hawkins replied “It’s interesting, and refreshing in a way, to sit at the large 4-way intersections which were once dirt roads every day and watch young soldiers run down the same paths I ran down” (Hawkins).
After Fort Bragg, North Carolina finally took shape, it was time to declare its purpose and live up to its phrase “Home of the Airborne.” The five major airborne divisions for World War II, all trained on Fort Bragg. The 82d Airborne Division found its home at Fort Bragg, which was a big step for the military base. This division is also known as the “all American” division because of its membership from 48 separate states. This nickname led to the very popular logo of two “A’s” for the 82d Airborne Division, which can be found posted almost anywhere on Fort Bragg’s base.
The 82d Airborne Division was formed in 1917, not long before Camp Bragg itself emerged into the Army community. 82d Airborne paratroopers had strong roles in both World Wars. It was demobilized after World War I, but quickly arose again when World War II broke out. 82d Airborne soldiers were among the first soldiers to fight the World War II battle in Normandy, France. The soldiers fought in thirty-three days of battle, where they lost over 5,000 soldiers (“Fort Bragg”). This was the first of many hits the 82d Airborne would take on their division. The division’s ability to stand tall after so much tragedy is one of its many honorable and respectable aspects.
Another very important division on Fort Bragg is the XVIII Airborne Corps, first known and activated as the Armored Corps in 1936. It was permanently declared as the XVIII Airborne Corps in August of 1944. The corps is head of rapid deployment and it is the Army’s largest war fighting organization. It played a dominant role in the battles of World War II. The crossing of the Rhine River, coined “Operation Varsity” by the Corps was their defining moment in World War II, which did not go quite as well as planned. A pilot flew past the correct drop zone, which would have put the troops on German territory. Instead he dropped them on British territory, which did not serve them any purpose. The Corps eventually returned to Fort Bragg, where along with the 82d Airborne Division, made its permanent home.
Between World War II and the 1990s, the 82d Airborne Division laid low and took some time to build on the division and train for upcoming endeavors. But before they could do that, the Vietnam war took a toll on the soldiers of Fort Bragg. The 3rd Brigade of 82d Airborne faced many losses during Vietnam War. The late sixties and early seventies were a time of immense dissatisfaction with America, and protest. There were over 58,000 American soldier deaths in Vietnam War (“Vietnam War Statistics”), but the young developing generation of America had little sympathy. Vietnam veterans were treated with disrespect and looked down upon after their loss in Vietnam, but never reciprocated the disrespect. The soldiers knew in when they swore into the U.S. Army that they had to respect every civilian, and that is exactly what they did. But after Fort Bragg developed and civilians and soldiers alike began to take pride in their new home and really get to know their neighbors, disaster struck. It was a typical spring weekday on the military base, buzzing planes, soldiers’ boots tapping on every sidewalk, the light whisper of breezes, but on this day, the sounds were a little different. They were loud, destructive, and frightening.
On March 23rd, 1994, two planes collided in mid-air on Pope Air Force Base’s “Green Ramp.” The Green Ramp is the parking ramp located on the east-west runway of the air field (Condon-Rall). An F-16 collided with a C130 aircraft. The pilots of the F-16 were immediately ejected from the aircraft to their death, causing the aircraft to uncontrollably hit the runway, covering it with harmful debris. The C130 aircraft and its pilots survived the in air collision and went on to make a difficult landing on the fire covered runway. As if the in air collision was not enough, after the F-16 landed near an almost ready to be boarded plane, its momentum busted the fuel tanks of this plane and caused a giant explosion of fire. Twenty-three paratroopers and soldiers died from this explosion immediately, another with severe burns died days later (Condon-Rall).
Before the disaster at Green Ramp there were various losses in battle, but none that left the military base completely at fault. Soldiers are always recovering from a loss, then getting back on their feet just in time for another catastrophe to creep upon them. But what stands out about Fort Bragg, is the group effort, pride, and optimism that is brought out during times of need. The military base limited publicity of the event in efforts to not stress out civilians and citizens of surrounding cities. News reporters were eager to find out the details of the event but most authorities provided reporters with clear cut optimism and hopeful attitudes. An example of this is rightly displayed in a quote by Lieutenant General Henry H. Shelton stating: “Everyone got involved and pitched in. No one shied away”(Condon-Rall).
Pope Air Force Base fire fighters arrived within two minutes of the collision and tamed the fire within seconds. Surrounding cities of Fayetteville and Spring Lake sent their fire trucks with as much help as possible. Everyone came together with one shared goal: help the hurt. The Womack Army Medical Center increased its staff and worked with 110% for twenty-four hours of the day and seven days of the week. When the medical center requested food for their extra staff, the outcome was unbelievable. Pizza Hut immediately delivered over 100 boxes of pizza to the hospital, followed by donations from McDonalds, Taco Bell, Papa John’s, and more. Housewives baked brownies and cookies, and other citizens brought countless cases of water and juice (Condon-Rall). The publicity of the sharing and outpouring of assistance only brought on more help. The news only had good things to say about the community of Fort Bragg and surrounding cities, even though disaster was everywhere (Condon-Rall).
Most soldiers that were injured permanently picked new occupations from their inspirations from the Green Ramp Disaster. After going through physical therapy, mental therapy, and constant medical attention, the majority of soldiers became therapists and got their medical degrees. Soldiers were told they would never walk again, but successfully went on to gain belts in Tae Kwan Do and play extremely active sports daily. The Army taught them to be strong and fearless and the disaster taught them that life is precious, no matter how many disasters you experience. The optimism and pride of a Fort Bragg soldier epitomizes what it means to be a soldier anywhere in the world. In a personal interview with Staff Sergeant William Hawkins, he stated “Even though 82d Airborne is such a large division, there’s still so much honor in being a part of it. Civilians immediately go out of their way to respect you.”
Fort Bragg is a constantly growing military base. Each year more jobs are created, more housing is built and occupied, and more people grow to love its proud and collectively productive nature. Even after such great misfortunes and the death toll of soldiers rising constantly in wars and war training, Fort Bragg is still widely known for its pride, positivity, and group efforts. The strength it takes for a soldier to lose a comrade, a brother, or even a family member, is unbearable for most to imagine. Not only do the soldiers of Fort Bragg push through the pain, but they do it with poise and optimism. They put the entire population of America before themselves. A Fort Bragg soldier is the definition of a selfless being. The ability to grow from four barracks and a few dirt roads to a population of 75,000, a renowned medical center, and one of the most significant air fields in the country is an achievement respected by military bases all over the world and the entire military itself. Citizens all over the America should take a moment in their life to appreciate the United States Army, and to acknowledge and emulate the confidence and productivity of the military base.
Condon-Rall, Mary Ellen. Disaster on Green Ramp. Washington D.C.: U.S. Army, 1996.
“Fort Bragg: A Brief History” www.bragg.army.mil. U.S. Army. 2011.
Hawkins, Hume. Personal Interview. February 2011.
“Vietnam War Statistics” www.yorkovich.net. April 2011.
About the Author
Mallory Hawkins is a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was born and raised in North Carolina. She is a prospective journalist and loves to play and listen to music.