1 RAR BATTLE GROUP
March 26, 1963 — On the island of Okinawa, the only separate Airborne Brigade to exist in the history of the US Army was activated. This was the 173d Airborne Brigade (Separate).
Formed to be what would be called in today’s jargon a quick-reaction force for the protection of American interests in Asia, the Brigade underwent extensive jungle training on Okinawa and Irimote. This was followed by parachute jumps in the Philippines; Thailand and Taiwan.
During the Taiwan exercises, the locals gave the paratroops of the 173d the nickname “Tien Bing” (Chinese for Sky Soldier). “The Sky Soldiers” became the official nickname of the Brigade and was commonly used in Brigade newsletters and press releases. A more popular nickname is one that originated from some anonymous pundit in the ranks – “The Herd.”
On May 5, 1965, the Brigade deployed to South Viet Nam as the first US Army ground combat unit in that war.
Upon arrival, the 1st Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) and a battery from New Zealand (161Royal NZ Artillery) were attached to the Brigade — making the 173d Airborne the only multi-national combat unit in the war.
Initially headquartered in Bien Hoa, the Brigade operated in the four provinces around Saigon. (Xuan Loc, Long Khanh, Phuoc Long & Phuoc Tuy), but (in its roll as a “Fire Brigade”) also went to the Central Highlands (Pleiku / Kontum) to fight Viet Cong. The 173d also conducted constant operations against the southern stronghold of the VC Main Force in the legendary Iron Triangle in War Zone D.
The brigade was organized as a balanced airborne combat force consisting of two infantry battalions, an artillery battalion, a support battalion, an engineer company, a cavalry troop, an armour company, and a headquarters company.
The ‘RAR Birthday Message: READ BY MAJ J. J. TATTAM
THE OFFICERS AND MEN OF 1 RAR SEND THEIR VERY BEST WISHES. THE MEMORIES OF THE FINE TEAM WE BELONGED TO IN SOUTH VIETNAM IN 1965/66 HAVE NOT DIMMED. INDEED, THEY HAVE BEEN KEPT FRESH IN OUR MINDS BY THE CONSTANT REMINDER TO THE OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE BATTALION THAT PERHAPS THE MOST UNIQUE SEGMENT OF THE BATTALION HISTORY WAS THE SERVING WITH THE 173D AIRBORNE BRIGADE IN SOUTH VIETNAM. WE LOOK FORWARD TO MAINTAINING CLOSE CONTACT IN THE YEARS TO COME – ALL THE WAY.
The 173rd Memorial at night
Trudell Guerue, Major General John Caligari, DSC, AM,
and Bob Cockerill