Local News

All-American Week Continues At Fort Bragg

Posted Updated

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — The 82nd Airborne Division is nearing the end of All-American Week activities.

Thursday, the division held a parade featuring 10,000 soldiers following a change-of-command ceremony. There also was a memorial service for members of the 82nd who have been killed in combat.

On Friday, the 82nd wraps up the week with a live-fire exercise and a mass parachute jump on the post. The jump will mark the first time all of the division's paratroopers have been back on post since the war in Iraq.

The Army's largest parachute force has a new leader. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell took over Thursday morning. Thousands turned out for the ceremony.

Caldwell replaced Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack Jr., who is expected to stay at Bragg and work with the 18th Airborne Corps.

Before welcoming all of its paratroopers to the same field Thursday, the division bid farewell to the ones who could not stand here, holding a memorial service for the 39 paratroopers it lost in the war on terror.

Among those 39 casualties were 28-year-old Ernie Blanco-Pendergraff and A.J. Baddick, who was only 26.

"I just miss him," said Baddick's mother, Joan. "I miss him every day."

Hundreds paid their respects Thursday, including soldiers, loved ones and lawmakers.

"I'm just so darn proud of our young men and women in the military," said U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C.

Each soldier killed had interests and goals. Each left behind a family, friends and -- most of all -- a legacy.

"He had more energy than a whole lot of people put together," said Blanco-Pendergraff's sister, Carmen. "He just had the energy to go in there and do what had to be done in any situation. He was passionate."

Copyright 2024 by WRAL.com and the Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.