When I was there, I wanted to leave. When I left and found myself in another unit, I’d have given anything to go back. Some of us are lucky to make it back to the Rakk during our careers, many of us enlist to go return to 3rd Brigade when we don’t discover the camaraderie that the Rakkasans have in our next unit. Or maybe it’s the craziness, either way we’re forever changed by our time serving in 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Regiment, the Rakkasans.
I feel now like Andy Bernard in the office saying, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good ole days before you’ve actually left them.” My next unit wasn’t anything like the Rakkasans, there wasn’t the history, the pride, or the intensity. I found myself in Rakkasan Purgatory, a mental place where I wanted to go back to the place I simultaneously hated and loved when I was there. The place with the mysterious Torii’s everywhere that turned me into a proud Rakkasan, but they never turned me back. It took talking to a lot of Rakkasans I deployed with and my own experiences, but now I can confirm there’s not another unit like us. Being a Rakkasan divides our lives into a clear before and after, like a BC/AD experience. Nothing is ever the same again after you serve, train, and deploy under the Rakkasan
The Rakkasan identity is carved into us, of course I even have a Torri tattoo to symbolize my time there. As Sean Naylor wrote in Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda, “we knew where we came from, who we were, and we knew what we stood for.” I felt like I got out of the military twice, leaving the Rak was just as much of a difficult transition as when I got out years later. Our time in the Rakkasans is but one chapter in our lives and eventually it comes time to move on. But we can never forget what we learned, what we endured, and the crazy stories we all got in the wildest, fiercest, and to some the most annoying unit in the United States Army.
I recently went to Japan and got to walk forest bathing nature trails, train kendo, and check out the history. Walking underneath the Toriis there felt emotional, it reminded me of the power of our legacy. That our symbol has a meaningful energy and strength behind it. It isn’t just something we draw on porta pottys on every installation. It’s a symbol linking all of us to the first group of us parachuting into Japan, the men who became Rakkasans before they knew it. The men that forged the foundation of our great unit and it's our responsibility to keep building on their actions, even after we leave Fort Campbell.
If you’re currently serving under the Torri, previous Rakkasans ask this of you. Cherish the hardships, embrace the pain, and don’t let the unit go soft. The rest of the Army and the military will do what it will, but when shit hits the fan again, the world will need the violence of action we provide. If all the old OEF and OIF guys have to come back there to kick your asses into gear, we just might if we can fit into our uniforms. You’re responsible for carrying an unbroken, and honorable legacy that’s endured for 80 years. The Rakkasan Association carries on, spreads our legacy, and one way to honor your service is to join. Because once a Rakkasan, always a Rakkasan…..at least until we all meet again in Valhalla.
As always, let valor not fail.
John H Davis
John H. Davis is a Rakkasan, Author and contributor to the Shimbun. For more information about him and his work with veterans, click HERE