The coveted mustard stain.

The little bronze star on top of a soldier’s jump wings that signifies his participation on a combat airborne jump over enemy territory. I say it is coveted because it is a rare occurrence in today’s modern warfare. It was as a young private going through the Ranger Indoctrination Program many years ago that I saw my first combat star on a man’s jump wings.

It was accompanied by two more nearby. Three stars on this man’s airborne wings. Not only did I have trouble fathoming it, I had trouble figuring out how it was possible. It turns out, this specific Ranger, who happened to be the 1st sergeant of the Ranger training detachment at the time, had previously jumped into Panama in 1989, Afghanistan in 2001, and I believe Iraq in 2003.

Following my RIP graduation and transfer to 3rd Ranger Battalion, I would see combat jump stars pretty often. Once in a while you’d see a young Ranger with two. My first team leader was one of them.

Since Vietnam, there have been numerous combat jumps, most of which have been undertaken by the 75th Ranger Regiment:

  • Grenada, 1983: A combat jump by the 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions and a second static-line jump by 11 SEALs off the coast of Grenada.
  • Panama, 1989: The 75th Ranger Regiment and the 82nd Airborne conducted two combat jumps in the early morning hours of December 20th, 1989.
  • Afghanistan, 2001: 3rd Ranger Battalion combat jump into Objective Rhino.
  • Afghanistan, 2001: 3rd Ranger Battalion combat jump Alimarden Kan-E-Bagat, Afghanistan.
  • Afghanistan, 2003: 2nd Ranger Battalion with elements of the 82nd Airborne conducts a combat jump into Chahar Borjak, Afghanistan.
  • Iraq, 2003: 173rd Airborne Brigade conducts a combat jump into northern Iraq.
  • Iraq, 2003: 3rd Ranger Battalion conducts a combat jump into western Iraq.

Much has happened in the shadows in recent years to cause the Rangers to don their parachute rigs and yet again embark under the cover of night, leaping out the back of a perfectly good airplane to rid the world of tyrants, dictators, and terrorists. The following were combat jumps that were not only planned, but had Rangers on the tarmac, in the air en-route, or the order was handed down to the team level (the last order of information for a mission).

1986: Proposed invasion of Suriname – 1st Ranger Battalion and other elements.

American corporation and aluminum producer ALCOA lobbied President Reagan and members of the U.S. government to oust Surinamese President Ramdat Misier, who had implemented a major tax on foreign corporations.

1994: U.S. invasion of Haiti – 75th Ranger Regiment

In 1991, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, ally to the United States, was ousted in a major coup. After years of attempted diplomatic resolutions, the United Nations authorized a massive invasion of the tiny country. Part of the invasion plan would be a forcible entry operation in the form of a combat jump by the 75th Ranger Regiment, 82nd Airborne, and many other special-operations elements. While the Rangers were mid-flight to the drop zone, former President Jimmy Carter persuaded the leaders of Haiti to step down and allow elected officials to return to power. The combat jump was cancelled and the would-be jumpers landed at the main airport, initiating the seven-month-long Operation Uphold Democracy.

2003: Baghdad International Airport – 3rd Ranger Battalion

The 3rd Ranger Battalion, after jumping into western Iraq in late March of 2003, was called upon to conduct a second combat jump into Baghdad International Airport in the heart of Iraq. The Rangers were to secure and hold the massive airport until they were relieved by the 3rd Infantry Division already making its way to the capital. The order was disseminated to all the Rangers on the ground and the men began to prepare their equipment for what could have been a long-term mission in the heart of Iraq. In the end, the mission was called off due to the high percentage of casualties from both anti-air and drop-zone injuries.

The following are diary entries that 3rd Ranger Battalion’s Captain Russell Rippetoe kept during the invasion of Iraq. He was killed in April of 2003.

March 9 – It’s like everyone is trying to get into the fight. Everyone is trying to make plans to get into the fight. No one really knows who is going where. Frustrating. Rangers are the only ones willing . . . (and) who’ve been asked to try to jump into Baghdad’s Saddam International Airport. I wasn’t nervous at all before, but the . . . more I learn how (Saddam’s) going to try to stop us . . .

March 16 – It’s been one week, but it feels like it’s been very quick . . . It’s pretty weird (to jump into Baghdad). Who does that? Hope the family is not too stressed out. Watched a show today about POWs in 1990, (the) first Iraq War. That sucks. But they didn’t die. They now all have families so I guess they are good . . . Every day we get intelligence briefings on what we are going to do. Today (Saddam) was putting dirt piles on the runway to obstruct the runway so we couldn’t land. He is making large holes and putting explosives in them, booby-trapping them for jumpers to land on. Nice.

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March 21 – We just got the call from the CO that in three days we’re going to jump into Baghdad International Airport . . . It looks like it’s getting close to showtime. Hope all the air-defense artillery is gone.

March 23 – (The airport plan is abandoned.) I wanted to jump to see if I would hold up to the stress and do my job to the standard of all the Rangers.

2011: Syria – 3rd Ranger Battalion

Rangers, already forward-deployed to Iraq, were given mission orders for a combat jump into Syria. The parachutes were packed and the equipment was readied. It was a time-sensitive target as they needed the closest Ranger elements available. Any long-planned combat jump would have seen the deployment of the 1st or 2nd Ranger Battalions, as they were stateside at this time. Details of the mission are unknown, but we can likely assume the main mission target was Syria’s nuclear reactor program.