Russia's 'Paratrooper Day' Is the Wildest Veterans Party in the World

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(Russian Embassy in the USA/Twitter)

Every year on Aug. 2, cities across the former Soviet Union celebrate the birth of Russia's paratrooper corps for a holiday that's like St. Patrick's Day meets Veterans Day.

For active and reserve airborne troops, it's a day to don their distinctive blue berets and striped shirts to meet their comrades in public gatherings. But Paratrooper Day revelry can be potentially dangerous. For everyone.

Even the U.S. Embassy in Moscow warns American travelers to avoid "any large crowds and public gatherings that lack enhanced security measures."

In some cities, current and former paratroopers flood the streets in a drunken revelry that forces cafes and shops to close, civilians to take cover and fountains to be drained.

The last is to protect the paratroopers: Russian airborne veterans will don their old uniforms and drink copious amounts of vodka in remembrance of fallen comrades before taking a swim. They tend to drown in the fountains.

(Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

The day celebrates the founding of the Soviet Union's first parachute mission in 1930. Near the Russian city of Voronezh, 320 miles south of Moscow, a 12-man Red Army team completed its first combat assault training mission via parachute.

That first early mission was almost two years in the making and involved Soviet generals training for parachute jumps in the United States in 1928. Soviet pilots then began integrating parachutes into the Soviet Air Forces. At the Voronezh Air Field, Red Army troops and pilots began training to make that first parachute jump.

Although the Soviet Union wasn't at war at the time, it led Red Army planners to adopt a doctrine of combined tank and airborne forces to penetrate enemy lines -- something that would soon be upended by Stalin's purges.

Since those early days, paratroopers of the Soviet Union, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States have participated in combat operations in World War II, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabakh and Georgia and are believed to have taken part in the Russian annexation of Crimea and the ongoing civil unrest in Ukraine.

While many of today's Paratrooper Day celebrations tend to turn drunk and unruly, there are instances of good, old-fashioned family fun. Families and troopers meet in squares, parks and around certain memorials to the fallen of specific wars, such as the disastrous Soviet-Afghan War.

There are parades and cadet marches, solemn memorials and speeches from public officials. Then, the vodka starts to flow. Once the drinking starts, there's no telling what the paratroopers may do. They are known to be capable of small, funny slights like stealing watermelons, and larger offenses, such as altercations with the police

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin had to address the revelers.

"I hope that Paratrooper Day will pass without excesses, and that your colleagues will behave themselves adequately, at least without gross violations of public order," he said before the start of 2017's celebrations.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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