The Washington Post

One unit with a unique family legacy


Retired Col. Bob Harkins poses for a photo on May 19, 2014, at Fort Campbell, Ky. Harkins has seen his son follow in his footsteps. Harkins led the “Rakkasans,” the 187th Infantry Division, 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell into combat at the Battle of Hamburger Hill in May 1969 in Vietnam. Four decades later, his son, Lt. Col. Patrick Harkins led the unit into combat in Afghanistan. (Brett Barrouquere/Associated Press)

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.”

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
The Republicans debated Saturday night. The New Hampshire primary is Feb. 9. Get caught up on the race.
Highlights from Saturday's GOP debate
Except for an eminent domain attack from Bush, Trump largely avoided strikes from other candidates.

Christie went after Rubio for never having been a chief executive and for relying on talking points.

Carson tried to answer a question on Obamacare by lamenting that he hadn't been asked an earlier question about North Korea.
The GOP debate in 3 minutes
Listen
Play Video
Quoted
We have all donors in the audience. And the reason they're booing me? I don't want their money!
Donald Trump, after the debate crowd at St. Anselm's College booed him for telling Jeb Bush to be "quiet."
Listen
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She's planning to head Sunday to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
55% 38%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.