The morning is cold in the dense foliage deep in the back woods of Fort Bragg, Oct. 21. Beams of yellow light pierce the trees, illuminating the lonely and shady trails next to Kiest Lake.
A roaring cadence shatters the serene scene as hundreds of motivated paratroopers crest over the final hilltop before reaching the lake. Teams run and chant, hoisting zodiac boats above their heads. The paratroopers, assigned to 307th Engineer Battalion, have come to honor their unit’s history during the annual commemoration of the crossing of the Waal River.
“It’s very important to commemorate the sacrifices that our grandfathers and great-grandfathers made during World War II,” said Capt. Jason Bahmer, commander of Company A, 307th Eng. Bn., 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. “It’s an honor to be a part of this and to have a tradition (that) remembers those who sacrificed so much.”
The day’s events included a two-mile run with boating equipment and a seven-team paddle race in the zodiacs. Each team crossed the lake five times to the finish, representing the five trips across the Waal River that their predecessors made under German fire during Operation Market Garden on Sept. 20, 1944.
“It’s significant to see and experience a small taste of what our predecessors went through,” said 2nd Lt. Luke Groomer, a paratrooper assigned to Co. A. “It’s vital to remember our history, combined with competition and camaraderie.”
As the boat race began, the entire battalion cheered their respective companies from the lakeshore and chants of “Beastmasters” and “Rock Steady” echoed through the forest surrounding the lake.
The race lasted almost an hour. Companies A and B both led the race for the duration, with Co. A prevailing in victory by only 10 seconds.
Groomer said the companies prepared for the boat race by conducting physical training that included boat drills in and out of the water, capsize drills, boat carries, and rowing techniques.
“The distance of the lake is only 10 meters short of the actual Waal River, so the distance is accurate in regards to commemorate the reenactment and competition,” said Bahmer. “I couldn’t be prouder of my sappers.”