Advertisement

You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

Father, son command same battalion 4 decades apart

Jun. 16, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Bob Harkins
Lt. Col. Patrick Harkins' father, retired Col. Bob Harkins, led the 'Rakkasans,' the 3d Battalion, 187th Infantry, 3d Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) 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 / AP)
  • Filed Under

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’ 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 — and featured them prominently in Father’s Day celebrations — the Harkins’ 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 Sept. 11, 2001. His father, retired Col. Bob Harkins, led the same regiment four decades ago in Vietnam during Operation Apache Snow, more commonly known as the Battle of Hamburger Hill.

“It’s a really unique situation,” Emmons said.

The family legacy reaches back to World War II. Patrick Harkins’ grandfather, Sgt. Clyde Patrick Harkins, served with the 279th Combat Engineers and was attached to the 101st Airborne Division, which also contains the Rakkasans. He was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge and later died of his injuries. Patrick Harkins’ brother, Army Lt. Col. Gregory Harkins, 43, is stationed in Italy.

Bob Harkins, 71, is proud that his sons followed in his footsteps, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t worry about the pair, who requested that they not serve together.

“I told them if they ever got hurt, I’d kick their butts,” Bob Harkins said. “Do I worry about them? Absolutely.”

Bob Harkins was commissioned as an Army lieutenant upon graduating from Ohio State University in 1965. He lobbied to be deployed to Vietnam because he didn’t want to wait.

“I figured I might as well get serving,” Bob Harkins said.

For Patrick Harkins, the military seemed like a natural fit after seeing his father spend decades as a soldier and “the fun side” of the Army that “looked cool as a kid,” such as seeing his dad in uniform and shooting large weapons during training exercises.

The family moved eight times from military post to military post by Patrick Harkins’ 18th birthday, which he saw as an adventure.

“It would be two years and I’d be like, ‘Isn’t it time for a yard sale?’” Patrick Harkins said.

Patrick Harkins, who said he wouldn’t require his own children to join the military, said his father told him and his brother that they needed to engage in some kind of public service, but it didn’t have to be the Army.

“I think it was just a natural progression,” said Patrick Harkins, while sitting in his office, which is decorated with blue-and-white flags and commendations from the Rakkasans.

The unit earned its nickname from a Japanese translator after World War II who couldn’t immediately come up with the word for airborne unit so used called them “rakkasan,” or “falling down umbrella men.” Paratroopers drop into areas not easily accessible by land or to avoid enemy fortifications, sometimes in advance of land forces also fighting in the battle.

The Rakkasans have received multiple unit citations for their service in every war since World War II.

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.

When Bob Harkins first found out Patrick Harkins would lead the Rakkasans into a combat zone, he was both proud and worried.

“I was very proud of him when he took them into combat,” said Bob Harkins, who observed his sons’ careers from the sidelines in retirement. “You never want to see your son go into combat, but he was ready.”

The younger Harkins’ posts around the globe have included a stint at a military adviser in northeastern Iraq near the borders with Syria and Turkey and work with the 25th Infantry working on rebuilding the Golden Mosque, which had been destroyed by insurgents in Samarra, Iraq.

Since then, father and son have worked together to organize reunions of the soldiers who fought at Hamburger Hill and use the Vietnam veterans to assist current soldiers in dealing with the stresses of military life and time in combat.

It’s their way of extending the military family idea to soldiers who may need someone who can relate to their experiences.

It’s a task he juggles while preparing for another deployment later this year.

“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.”

Answers by RallyPoint

Join trending discussions in the military's #1 professional community. See what members like yourself have to say from across the DoD.

More In News

Start your day with a roundup of top defense news.

VA Home Loan
Rates

Search By:

Product Options:
Zip Code:

News for your in-box

Sign up now for free Military Times E-Reports. Choose from Money and Education. Subscribers: log in for premium e-newsletters.


This Week's Army Times

This Week's Army Times

Looking for reservists
Manning crisis means huge perks for active-duty soldiers

Subscribe for Print or Digital delivery today!

Classifieds
MilitaryTimes Green Trusted Classifieds Looking to buy, sell and connect on Military Times?
Browse expanded listings across hundreds of military installations.
Faces of valorHonoring those who fought and died in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
hall of valorThe Hall of Valor is a searchable database of valor award citations collected by Doug Sterner, a Vietnam veteran and Military Times contributing editor, and by Military Times staff.
Woman who cried rape
(3 replies)
   Last Post: TJMAC77SP
        May 3, 2014 1:32 PM
   Last Post: garhkal
        May 1, 2014 5:03 PM
Cliven Bundy
(45 replies)
   Last Post: Chief_KO
        Apr 26, 2014 9:49 AM
Handbooks

All you need to know about your military benefits.

Benefits handbook

Guard & Reserve All you need to know about the Guard & Reserve.

guard and reserve handbook