FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — Like many soldiers, Lt. Col. Patrick Harkins has a veteran father who knows firsthand the stress of wartime deployments. One big difference is that Harkins’s dad led the very same unit of paratroopers known as the Iron Rakkasans into combat decades earlier.
While the military has long had family legacies, the Harkinses’ achievements stand out. Capt. Charles Emmons, a spokesman for the brigade, said it appears to be the first time a father and son have commanded the same unit decades apart.
Patrick Harkins, 41, has led the 3rd Battalion of the 187th Infantry Regiment into combat in Iraq and Afghanistan four times since 2001. His father, retired Col. Bob Harkins, led the same regiment four decades ago in Vietnam.
The family legacy reaches back to World War II. Patrick Harkins’s grandfather, Sgt. Clyde Patrick Harkins, served with the 279th Combat Engineers and was attached to the 101st Airborne Division, which includes the Rakkasans.
Bob Harkins, 71, is proud that his sons followed in his footsteps, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t worry. “I told them if they ever got hurt, I’d kick their butts,” Bob Harkins said.
The unit earned its nickname from a Japanese translator after World War II who called the airborne unit “rakkasan,” or “falling down umbrella men.”
After the initial overseas tour, Patrick Harkins returned stateside to help run several training regimens for soldiers and worked his way up to leading the Iron Rakkasans at Fort Campbell, the sprawling military post on the Kentucky-Tennessee state line.
“This is a proud, proud unit,” Patrick Harkins says as his father nods in agreement. “One should be proud, but one should never be satisfied. I expect more tomorrow.”