Army may offer airborne training in Europe
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — The U.S. Army is looking to give airborne training to U.S. soldiers at a European ally’s airborne school, Southern European Task Force chief of staff Col. Skip Davis said Tuesday.
In recent weeks, 350 173rd Airborne Brigade soldiers went through airborne refresher courses at Vicenza and Pisa, Italy, and Altenstadt, Germany. The courses are for graduates of the U.S. Army’s airborne school at Fort Benning, Ga., who are strapping on parachutes after years on the ground, he said.
“It is the first time we have ever used a foreign jump school,” Davis said, of the training at 34-foot jump towers operated by the Italian army at Pisa and the German army at Altenstadt.
The 173rd also sent hundreds of former 1st Infantry Division soldiers to the Fort Benning jump school during a transformation that saw the unit double in size this year.
But the Army is considering doing initial jump training in Germany, in addition to refresher courses.
“An airborne school in Europe would allow us to get a large number of soldiers qualified locally without spending TDY (temporary duty) money to send them back to the States,” Davis said, adding that any move to give soldiers full airborne training in Europe is likely years away.
Maj. Andreas Bernhardt of the German airborne school said he supported the idea of training more U.S. forces at Altenstadt.
“I like cooperation with other nations. In our missions we have a lot of that, especially with the U.S., so if we can train them during peacetime I think it would be great,” he said.
The German jump school includes sections that teach technical aspects of airborne operations, static line jumps, free fall parachuting, ranger survival courses, pilot survival courses and airlift operations, Bernhardt said.
Language would not be a barrier to training Americans, he said.
“A lot of German guys understand English and are a little anxious to speak it, but after a couple of weeks it is no problem for them,” he said.
Many Americans are familiar with the daring World War II exploits of units such as the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions during Operation Market Garden in Holland or the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment (now part of the 173rd) at Corregidor in the Philippines.
But it was Germany that conducted the first airborne invasion in history when the 7th Flieger Division and 5th Mountain Division parachuted onto the island of Crete in May 1941. The paratroops took the island and 12,000 Allied prisoners but suffered an estimated 16,800 casualties.
Bernhardt said no units in the German army trace their lineage back to those airborne units because the army was reconstituted with new units after World War II.
Forty-nine German paratroops, from the Altenstadt school and the 26th Airborne Brigade, jumped alongside 173rd soldiers at Grafenwöhr on Tuesday.
“Every chance we have to work with our European partners, especially airborne or Special Forces, is always a great opportunity for us. These are potential partners for us when we deploy,” said Bernhardt, who jumped alongside the other soldiers from the German jump school.