While stationed in Alaska in 1946, now retired Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Stevens went to his first sergeants’ office wanting to relocate to warmer weather. While inside he noticed a flag with a parachute on it and asked the first sergeant about it. The first sergeant told him that the unit was recruiting so Stevens jumped at the opportunity to sign up.
After leaving Alaska, Stevens went on to join the 555th Parachute Infantry Company.
The “Triple Nickle,” as the unit is affectionately called, began with 17 African American Soldiers sent through airborne school as a test platoon to prove that African Americans could be paratroopers. “They were the ones that opened the door for African Americans to become paratroopers,” said Stevens.
Their success as paratroopers provided African American Soldiers the opportunity to go airborne and progressed Equal Opportunity in the Army.
“Once they graduated they were brought here to North Carolina, and their first duty station was Camp Mackall,” said Bardrick McGuire, Vice President of the Samuel Council Chapter of the 555th PIA. These paratroopers formed the cadre for the 555th PIC that Stevens joined.
The 555th PIC was deactivated in December of 1947 and the Paratroopers were integrated into existing parachute infantry regiments in the 82nd Airborne Division.
Even though the unit was deactivated, and its members dispersed, the legend of the Triple Nickle lives on through the 555th Parachute Infantry Association also known as the Triple Nickle.
“Our mission now is to keep the legacy alive and give back to the community,” said McGuire.
Community involvement is paramount to the association. They participate in various outreach projects that include mentoring youth, providing food for those in need and supporting other organizations that provide services and opportunities for the community.
“I joined the Triple Nickle’s because I wanted to join an organization that was doing something positive for the community,” said McGuire, “Our favorite project that we do every year is the scholarships.”
The Association hosted its 19th Annual Triple Nickle Scholarship Banquet Sept. 28, to recognize the members and sponsors for their involvement in making the scholarships possible.
The Triple Nickle scholarship program is unlike many others.
“We focus on the average student; the student must have 2.5 to 3.0 weighted t,” said Cravist Taybron Jr., scholarship chairman for the Samuel Council Chapter of the 555th PIA. “Those are normally the students who do not get a lot of scholarship support.”
The need for financial support is another aspect the scholarship criteria addresses.
“The students must come from a single parent home or single income home,” said Taybron.
The Triple Nickle wants to provide students the opportunity to attend college and overcome their limited finances.
Stevens also values the scholarship program and encourages youth he mentors to seek higher education. He said that the current economy makes attending college difficult but finds that education is essential.
“If you are going to advance in life, you are going to need an education,” said Stevens. “A good education is how you keep moving up the ladder.”
This program is particularly important to Stevens because of his own experiences.
Stevens’ mother wanted him to attend college but was financially unable to pay the tuition. Stevens joined the Army at 17, convincing his mother to consent by insisting that the Army would provide him the opportunity to attend college.
While serving in the Army, Stevens earned a bachelor’s degree in education and school administration. His experience makes him passionate about the scholarship program. He wants to give students who are struggling financially the ability to attend college.
His ambition is accomplished through his membership in the 555th PIA. The association’s scholarship program assists many local students.
“We give 48 scholarships per year to 11 schools in Cumberland County and Overhills High School in Harnett County for a total of 12 schools,” said Taybron.
The 555th PIA promotes equality and offers their scholarship to all students who meet criteria.
“All students, regardless of race, creed, nationality or gender are eligible for our scholarships,” said Taybron.
The Triple Nickle works year-round to support the scholarship program because of the education it provides students.
“Our money comes from individual donations, soliciting local businesses, and our raffle,” said Taybron. While the association serves the community, they also depend on assistance from the community to conduct their outreach.
“We accept any and all support to our scholarship program,” said Taybron.
To find out more about the Triple Nickle or donate to the association, visit their website www.ftbragg555thpia.com.