Paratrooper: My Life with the 101st Airborne Division

Sample chapter from Paratrooper: My Life with the 101st Airborne Division.

Operation Delawar


Michael B. Kitz-Miller

April, 1964. I’m a squad leader with A Company, 2nd Battalion, 327th Airborne Infantry and we've been packing for the last week, as well as getting numerous inoculations for whatever strange bugs and diseases we may run into in the deserts of Iran. Just part of the division is going to make the trip; namely, the First Brigade with additional support groups.

Operation Delawar is part of a United States STRIKE Command operation. It will also include a small expeditionary Marine force, troop and tactical naval vessels and planes from the Air Force, including fighter jets from Arizona to numerous transport air craft, like the C-130’s which will be the horses we'll ride for the two planned parachute drops. The first jump will be massive and the second just two companies. We’re proud that out of the whole brigade our company was chosen to be one of the two. Iranian paratroopers the other company. We can brag a bit, since we think we may have recently set an all-Army record by having three Division Soldiers–of-the-Month in a row from the same company. A pretty nifty hat trick. I was first in December 1963 and recently promoted to Sergeant. Hell, we were all feeling pretty special and would have a lot more to brag about in the days to come.

While we were under the assumption this was a bit of a secret operation, word does reach the streets of D.C. From my scrap book I discovered a brief article from a newspaper found by my parents and kept for me. It was titled Delawar Maneuvers, 3/64 with a by-line that simply stated “Washington” with no reporter listed. It contained the following::

"The Soviet Union, which has been currying favor with her neighbor to the south, Iran, of late, is considerably put out by an Iranian-U.S. military exercise scheduled for next week, according to Editorial Research reports. Russia shares a 1,500-mile border with Iran.

“The exercise, bearing the code name Delawar, meaning courageous, involves the ferrying of a brigade of the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, KY to the Dezful area of western Iran. Then early next week, paratroop reinforcements will be dropped and an Iranian-U.S. staff will direct a training exercise….

"The Defense Department has been preparing the Delawar operation for a year as another in the continuing series of CENTO (Central Treaty Organization) exercises to uphold the former Bagdad Pact.

"An article in Pravda recently warned Iran that Delawar would set back Soviet-Iranian relations. It denounced the operation as provocative….

"The bridge state of Iran is CENTO's weakest member. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev once characterized it as a poor country which was of no use to the Soviet Union. There has been a thaw recently in Russian sentiment."

Well, there’s not supposed to be any secrets in Washington. We're given to understand the Shah of Iran will be in the area for our first jump, so hopefully it will go off without a hitch. As for our first jump it will include everything - small tanks, all our other vehicles, large and small mortars, everything we would need in a combat situation. This is, I believe to show the Russians, if they have specific designs on Iran, and have been wanting a warm water port (Caspian Sea as example), they should reconsider their plans. For the record, just one brigade of the 101st is a powerful, fast moving force to reckon with. And, when we travel we’ve always been told they have ammunition and ordinance available in case we need it, so we have no concern. If anything were to escalate we will be fully equipped and supported.

We have one major rehearsal before leaving - Exercise "Trooper Turnout". It moved underway when the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Brigade and supporting elements began a series of airborne assaults on Yamato Drop Zone, the largest at Ft. Campbell. Their mission, as explained Colonel Herbert Wolff, the brigade commander was to relieve friendly forces of the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) follows closely the actions that will occur in the forthcoming southwestern Asia exercise. In the local problem, which involves more than 3,000 troops, the Iranian troops are simulated by the 1st Brigades 2nd Battalion of the 502nd and 327th Airborne Infantry, with aggressors played by elements from the division's 3rd Brigade.

So we're off for Iran, boarding Air Force transport jet aircraft from Ft. Campbell, KY. They are large, but it's still a tight fit for us because of all our gear, clothing, weapons, etc. First stop the Azores, off the coast of Portugal. We scramble to stretch our legs at an American airbase. After refueling we take off for another airbase outside of Barcelona, Spain and this time some breakfast. I think the Air Force personnel are not sure who all these Screaming Eagle paratroopers are doing here having breakfast. Not too much time in Spain, but we can at least say we've been to Barcelona, Spain. We're refueled and off to what will be our operational base camp - Turkey. God almighty this is not a pretty place. I’m not positive but I believe the name of the airbase was Incirlik in south central Turkey, south of Ankara in the Toros Daglares Mountain range. It is also home to a force of Turkish soldiers, and all they want to do is trade something for menthol cigarettes, and we've got plenty of Salem menthols. We start setting up camp with most of us living in your standard two-man pup tent. We'll be here for a number of days getting over jet lag and acclimating ourselves to the desert geography. It's actually not too hot. The days will be spent going over plans for the different exercises.

As we learn this will be quite a combined operation involving the 101st as the main STRIKE Force that will leave Turkey in C-130s and jump into an area near Dezful, Iran. It is in the western part of Iran near the Zagros Mountain Range. Iran is basically a sizeable, fairly desolate country between Iraq on the west and Afghanistan on the east. To the north is Russia and the Caspian Sea. This is obviously where the Russians would love to have a warm water port. Our destination would be southeast of the Iranian capital, Tehran. The Persian Gulf would be a few hundred miles south of us. When we jump in we will be met by fighter jet support that took off from Arizona, refueling a number of times on the long trip from the Arizona. At the same time a contingent of U.S. Marines will land off the Persian Gulf at Kharg Island (sp?). Other tactical naval vessels would be in support. As an aside you can go on line and Google "The Big Picture, Operation Delawar, Dezful, Iran, 1964" and find an excellent video presentation of the entire exercise captured on film fifty years ago.

A few days go by, and we're all getting antsy to get the show on the road. Out of the blue my platoon sergeant stops by my pup tent door and as usual doesn't look pleasant. With that look and given our relationship, it might be some good news for me. True to form that is the case. Because of my record, like Division Soldier-of-the-Month four months earlier, they have a special assignment for me. I am to fly ahead of the major drop to Dezful Air Base and join up with a Special Forces Captain who is highly involved with the exercise. He is actually assigned to Iran as an advisor. Working with him I am to give a demonstration of all the jump sequences and present all the basic gear a paratrooper will be carrying in this operation. Pretty exciting stuff and better than sitting around here on my duff. I am given a ride to the air base in Turkey and catch a ride with three or four other troopers. We first leave for Teheran in a C-130, where we refuel. Then late at night we head for an air base in Dezful. My companions are actually Pathfinders and are making a high level jump to meet up with Iranian counterparts to setup a drop zone. (I remember being told they were jumping at over 30,000 and they were definitely on oxygen, but I don’t think the Hercules at that time could fly quite that high; more likely in the 15,000 feet altitude.) Finally, the tailgate of the C-130 opens, lowers and my friends stand up, and walk off into the darkness. I would later have a couple static line tailgate jumps and certainly not at that height, but it is a thrilling experience. So, the tailgate closes and we're on our way to Dezful. It's late when we land and I head for some chow and a place to bed down for the night.

The next morning I meet with Captain Paul Lyman (I'm not positive of the last name or spelling.). He is a Special Forces officer attached to the Shah's paratrooper regiment. We go over the plan. While the 101st paratroopers are approaching the drop zone we have set up, the captain will brief the visitors what is about to take place. As part of the presentation I will be in front of the Shah, General Paul Adams, Commander of the U.S. STRIKE Command, other military, dignitaries and press who are in the small bleachers to our front. I will be wearing all my gear, weapon, parachute and reserve and demonstrate the jump commands to give the visitors an idea what will be taking place inside the planes before the military jump. Pretty simple stuff, but now I need to find a clean pair of starched fatigues and spit shine my jump boots, so they see what a sharp looking airborne sergeant looks like.

Interestingly, I'm told that the Russians had air dropped leaflets that said paratroopers with the "Screaming Eagle" patch were pretty bad guys. They raped and killed women, bayoneted children and the like. I had not seen such a pamphlet, but presume it had been disbursed. When and exactly where I’m not sure. So, to get a better feel for the terrain, I grab a jeep and get directions out to what would be our Drop Zone. The land is arid, the ground nothing but sand and rock, and I've never seen so many flies. The jump would be hard on the body of my buddies. The jeep produces nothing but dust, and I feel like I'm in an old western movie. After a few miles there is a small village ahead of me. As I get closer I see a few small houses, really hovels. There are a few palm trees and what appears to be a well. I could also see a few women, some children and dogs near the well. Funny, dogs in poverty areas all look the same. As soon as the locals saw me approaching, the women grabbed all the children and disappeared in their hovels. By the time I arrived there was not a soul in sight. Maybe the Russians did drop leaflets after all.

Some miles later I arrived at the drop zone area. It was certainly not flat, but rocky with small ravines running through the area. Thinking that we were dropping tanks, jeeps, mechanical mules and everything else imaginable we were bound to have damage to some of the large equipment. The bleachers were less than fifty yards from the road with huge Persian rugs on the ground from the road to the bleachers, with rugs hung from the top of the bleachers where all the dignitaries would likely sit, with a few mounted field glasses in the center. There were a number of Iranian soldiers, by there looks all of lower rank, cleaning, putting in some plants to make the area spiffy for the Shah. Behind the bleachers I found a spot where I could stow my gear the next day when we came out prior to the jump, check the microphones, etc. With all that accomplished I head back to the airbase.

The PX there had everything. After the exercise we would depart from this base and many of our people if they have the cash would buy local paraphernalia, rugs, brass pieces, etc. to take home. After checking in with the captain I head for the chow line and a couple beers with the Air Force personnel before hitting the sack. The next day would be a long one, hoping things go well with everyone and our equipment. I'm up early, checking and re-cleaning all my gear and stowing everything in my confiscated jeep. The captain was going on his own. I arrive at the DZ and there are already a lot of people arriving for the show. I go behind the bleachers and drop off my gear. There are soldiers all around, including a group that I'm told are part of the Shahs personal guard. They all look like they're six and a half feet tall, and many of them are carrying AK-47s and they are loaded! Caught my attention immediately. Soon I go behind the bleachers and one of them follows me with his weapon down and pointed at my back. I also find a couple of the Iranian privates poking around with my gear again, including my parachute and reserve chute. Fortunately, my rifle is in my gun bag used for jumping. I don't need them finding an M-14 rifle hidden behind the bleachers with the Shah soon to arrive. I would probably end up in an Iranian jail with the key thrown away. I hold my hands up to indicate I'm safe and not a problem and motion for the privates to keep away from my gear. Not much longer to show time.

The captain arrives and is checking out everything. We chat a bit, check our watches. The Shah, General Adams and entourage are arriving and I head back to put on my gear, parachutes, gun bag, field gear, helmet and I'm ready. If our timing is right the 101st is a matter of minutes from us. Ahead of them would be the fighter jets. The dignitaries are in place and ready for what should be an incredible parachute drop the likes of which these folks have never seen. The show is on and the captain is discussing what they are about to experience. The last part is when I'm up front and going through the jump sequence, showing all my gear, etc. Right on schedule the fighters are screaming over head with the formations of C-130's three in a group with approximately sixty troops in each plane. In about sixty or seventy seconds each group of planes would drop 180 paratroopers, one group after another at about 900’. The sight is incredible. The sky is filled with thousands of parachutes of the paratroopers just after they had dropped tanks and jeeps that have three extra-large parachutes per vehicle needed to bring them down softly enough they wouldn't be torn apart.. It is quite a site seeing a 15 M551 tank being pulled out by a reefer parachute from the rear of a C-130, and floating earthward.

What we hadn't counted on was a change in the wind and/or the planes had drifted a touch in our direction. We had paratroopers almost landing on top of us, including some large equipment landing within a hundred yards of the bleachers. You'd wonder what was going through the mind of General Adams. What he didn't count on was how the Shah was reacting. He went ballistic! I'm looking all around, with my comrades dropping all over the drop zone with a bunch off the reservation, then I peer up to the top of the bleachers looking for the Shah and Adams. The Shah had jumped up showing great excitement and came bounding down the steps. I didn't realize he had a jeep by the bleachers which he jumped into and headed straight out into the drop zone to personally watch the troops landing all around him. It was like he wanted to be part of the exercise. And I could just imagine a tank landing on top of his jeep. I jumped into mine and went after him, but couldn't catch up. There were so many holes and ruts I was bouncing all over the place. The drop was over and the Shah had finally been reined in from his folly and everyone headed for their vehicles and back to the airbase where he presumably had flown into earlier. All in all a very exciting day.

I finally caught up with my company after collecting the rest of my gear at Dezful Air Base. The operation continued with joint exercises with the Iranians. I met another Iranian sergeant and we hit it off even though we didn’t speak one another's language. The Captain is still in the area and helps with the translation a bit. The activity continues with night maneuvers and a major rappel and building wood hoists to take equipment down massive cliffs with men and material. I was on the cadre for mountaineering and had trained a lot of these guys, and everything went off without a hitch.

One major maneuver remaining that will be a jump from six C-130s with a full company each of American and Iranian troopers jumping separately. My company has been chosen for the contingent of American paratroopers. If you watch the Big Picture of the exercise the Special Forces captain that I worked with earlier, is on the screen talking about the exercise with the two companies. He explains he had just jumped into a DZ to set up communications equipment with a few pathfinders and indicates you were about to see the six C-130s approaching and then the film shows the jump. What he does not mention is that I have been invited to jump with the Iranian company. What a treat and honor for me. One thing I had insisted on though, I would not use the parachute and reserve I had used in the demonstration I had given days earlier. I had no idea what those Iranian privates had poked into when I was out of sight. So, I grabbed another parachute, a reserve chute and headed to the planes carrying the Iranian company. If memory serves me I jumped first in the door in my plane which was my favorite jumping spot from the plane. After the jump the Iranian commander presented me with the Iranian Imperial Parachutist Badge. It is quite beautiful with a small gold crown at the top.

As a newspaper article, The Division’s Courier mentioned later: "The sergeant was also presented the Iranian Parachute Badge, a rare honor, as the wings were held in high esteem and not usually available to persons outside the elite Iranian paratrooper corps." But, one more honor was forthcoming and unexpected. In another division article titled "Sgt. Kitz-Miller Cited in Iran," the reporter stated "Sergeant Michael B. Kitz-Miller of the 1st Brigade was presented the United States STRIKE Command Certificate of Commendation while on maneuvers in Iran. Simultaneously with the initial paradrop, a STRICOM demonstration provided the Shah of Iran with a graphic explanation of an airborne assault and the play of the problem. Sergeant Kitz-Miller, representing the 101st's 1st Brigade, pantomimed the final actions of an airborne soldier before jumping. He was presented, in a separate ceremony at the airbase the commendation for an exemplary performance of duty by Air Force Major General Clyde Box, commander of the U.S. Joint Task Force DELAWAR. It was signed by General Paul D. Adams, U.S. STRCOM commander." I was later told I was the first enlisted man (Non-Commissioned Officer) to ever receive their Certificate of Commendation.

Thus ended Operation Delawar and my special adventures in Iran. I did take something home with me that I didn't want. On the trip west I got violently ill. I had violated a strict commandment - "Don't drink the water!" I think that probably included beer, and I came down with a serious case of dysentery. It was violent and lasted the whole way. I was having terrible, violent, painful spasms. Back at Ft. Campbell they ended up giving me straight tincture of opium. I don't know why. I was a bit goofy for a couple days, but it worked. Even with the dysentery, the trip was well worth it. I had a marvelous time, and I believe whatever the true nature of the operation, the Screaming Eagles completed their mission. I think the Russians got the message, too.

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