A jump zone ‘half a world away’: Paratroopers take nonstop flights to Eastern Europe for Swift Response exercise
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer (Tribune News Service) | Published: June 11, 2018
The All Americans have descended upon the former Iron Curtain.
An 82nd Airborne Division-led exercise saw paratroopers drop in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia in recent days. Known as Swift Response, the annual multinational airborne exercise involved thousands of U.S. troops and several international partners.
At the same time, a massive U.S. Army Europe-led exercise, known as Saber Strike, is underway across Europe. Saber Strike includes operations in four countries — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland — and involves more than 18,000 troops from 19 partner nations.
The massive shows of force are meant to assure European allies while deterring potential enemies in the region. In Swift Response, the American military demonstrated its ability to move troops long distances on short notice, highlighting the Global Response Force mission.
More than 600 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division and the British army's 16 Air Assault Brigade made nonstop flights from Fort Bragg to Eastern Europe, traveling more than 4,300 miles before leaping onto drop zones near Riga, Latvia and Rukla, Lithuania, on Saturday.
"This is about global readiness for us," said Maj. Gen. Erik Kurilla, the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division. "This is a package that can go anywhere in the world very quickly. Speed matters. This is just a small portion of the [Global Response Force]. The [Global Response Force remains scalable in size and tailorable in scope to a wide array of crises contingencies."
A day earlier, paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based in Italy, jumped onto a drop zone near Miroslawiec Airfield in Poland.
Following the airborne assaults, paratroopers conducted several follow-on missions, some of which remain underway. The soldiers are expected to return to Fort Bragg later this week. And leaders said they'll bring back important lessons learned.
"We conducted a full outload, alert sequence and deployment back on Fort Bragg. We flew non-stop over the Atlantic and inserted paratroopers into two different countries nearly simultaneously," Kurilla said. "After the Joint Forcible Entry, we will fight our way onto multiple follow-on objectives. This kind of complex, realistic training will pay dividends in readiness across all echelons."
In past years, paratroopers have jumped into Poland and Germany as part of the Swift Response exercises. They are the largest multinational airborne exercises held in Europe since the end of the Cold War. They have been conducted with a clear eye towards an aggressive Russian regime looming over NATO allies and other partners in the east of Europe.
By parachuting into Baltic states, U.S. troops demonstrated that the Global Response Force — tasked with deploying anywhere in the world on short notice — provides the capability to quickly reinforce European allies close to Russia's borders.
Last week on Fort Bragg, American and British paratroopers trained side-by-side ahead of the operation.
Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment and 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team readied Thursday alongside paratroopers from the U.K. 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, part of the 16 Air Assault Brigade.
At Green Ramp, hundreds of paratroopers conducted pre-jump training.
British army Maj. Andrew Fox, the commander of the British paratroopers, said his soldiers had been welcomed to Fort Bragg several weeks ago.
They jumped into the 82nd Airborne Division's annual Airborne Review as part of All American Week last month. In the weeks since, they conducted several training jumps and a live-fire exercise on Fort Bragg's ranges.
Fox, who leads 3 Para's C Company, said about 100 British paratroopers were preparing for Swift Response. During the exercise, the soldiers would operate as a subordinate unit to the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, also known a 1 Fury.
The training is not unusual for British paratroopers at Fort Bragg.
Paratroopers from the 16 Air Assault Brigade travel to train alongside 82nd Airborne Division soldiers several times a year, Fox said.
Each rotation builds on the last, he said, and ultimately strengthens the partnership between the airborne units.
"We get better each time," Fox said. "They've laid out some incredible training for us."
While British and American paratroopers were preparing at Green Ramp, other partner forces from within the U.S. military were enabling the exercise on Pope Field.
More than 90 airmen from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, partnered with airmen from the 43rd Air Mobility Operations Group to prepare nine C-17 Globemasters for the exercise.
Air Force Col. Anthony P. "Tony" Angello, commander of the 446th Operations Group from JBLM, said the airmen share a mentality with their 82nd Airborne Division counterparts.
"The whole idea is to respond rapidly throughout the globe," he said. "We are ready to go at a moment's notice."
The 82nd Airborne Division's long-range capabilities set it apart from other conventional forces. But those capabilities depend on Air Force crews and planes being ready to propel them around the world.
Angello said Swift Response, as the nation's premiere crisis response training event, helps strengthen the partnerships that enable to Global Response Force, within the U.S. military and alongside international partners.
"It's a great opportunity," he said. "It's crucial to building confidence."
In addition to airmen from Washington, South Carolina and Pope Field, crews of KC-10 and KC-135 aerial refueling tankers supported the Swift Response mission, ensuring that C-17s laden with paratroopers would not need to land during their long trek across the Atlantic Ocean and deep into Europe, Angello said.
Air Force planning teams arrived at Fort Bragg to prepare for the exercise a week before planes launched from Pope Field.
Angello said the training helps each force understand the limitations and capabilities of the other and helps improve future missions.
The jumps into Eastern Europe came several days after the 74th anniversary of parachute landings in Normandy, France, in the early hours of D-Day.
Fox said the latest airborne operations were a continuation of the shared history between his nation's airborne forces and those of the 82nd Airborne Division.
"If you look back at it, it's the same history," he said. "From Normandy to Market Garden to Iraq and Afghanistan."
"Our two histories — they're inextricably linked," Fox added.
Despite the uniforms and accents, the paratroopers have a lot in common.
They are highly trained and operate on the same basic principles shared by many airborne forces: empowering lower commanders, operating in small groups and employing "airborne initiative" to get the job done.
"If we go to war, we can rely on each other," Fox said. "Together, we are a pretty fearsome team... . And we'll be shoulder to shoulder on the battlefield."
Kurilla, the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, said those multinational partnerships are important to nation's quick reaction forces. That makes training events like Swift Response all the more important.
In addition to American and British paratroopers, Swift Response also featured airborne forces from Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal and Spain.
"The 82nd Airborne Division is committed to supporting European security," he said. "We maintain a broad interoperability agenda with a fully developed partnership with multinational airborne forces. This kind of complex operation is the result of that partnership. In fact, we incorporate multinational officers at all echelons of the division, to include our British deputy commanding general. Our allied partners do not operate as liaisons; they serve as leaders and planners alongside the rest of us."
From Green Ramp, Col. Gregory Beaudoin, the commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, said the training with British paratroopers was an enriching experience.
"Both U.S. and British paratroopers learned how different tactics, techniques and procedures can be used to accomplish a mission," he said. "In Swift Response, this training period will pay off as 1 Fury and 3 PARA paratroopers will jump and conduct tactical field exercises together."
He said Swift Response was the type of mission for which paratroopers train, and soldiers were eager to jump into a drop zone half a world away.
"Panther paratroopers, especially those in 1 Fury, will come away from this with a deeper understanding of what they and the brigade can accomplish," Beaudoin said. "It's tough for a young paratrooper to envision that, with short notice, he or she is capable of jumping into any drop zone in the world and will possibly be engaged by the enemy even before they hit the ground."
"Swift Response will be great training for the brigade while instilling confidence in paratroopers they can perform the hallmark mission of the 82nd Airborne Division, a mission that sets us apart from every conventional unit in the world," he said.
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