Fort Bragg soldiers jump into Louisiana as part of no-notice exercise
By THE FAYETTEVILLE OBSERVER, N.C. (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE) Published: July 20, 2016
FORT POLK, Louisiana -- Paratroopers shuffled to the doors bathed in a red light and one-by-one they stepped out into the dark.
Soldiers with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, are undertaking a Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana this week.
Most of them, more than 700, jumped into the training area as part of an airborne operation early Sunday morning.
Those soldiers, mostly with the 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, learned of the deployment exercise last week.
According to officials, the 82nd Airborne Division was notified of the U.S. Army Forces Command-led exercise on Tuesday, giving them just under 100 hours to prepare for a complex mission pitting them against role-players in a realistic scenario that mimics a potential real world mission for the nation's Global Response Force.
Col. Colin Tuley, the commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, said planners worked quickly to analyze the mission and determine what sort of combat power would be necessary.
They also had to meet with Air Force and other partners to plan the exercise.
"It's building a team," Tuley said. "You get an initial mission brief, but like anything else, things change. You adjust."
The Global Response Force trains to deploy within 18 hours, but this exercise gave the force a roughly 96-hour window to response.
In the training scenario, Tuley said the fictional country of Atropia was under attack and the government had lost control of its capital. Its president asked the United States for help.
The Global Response Force, led by the 82nd Airborne Division, was then tasked with jumping into the fictional capital of Dara Lam to seize and secure the airport, the secure the capital.
The paratroopers would then link up with special operations forces already in Atropia, meet with local officials and leaders from the U.S. State Department and, if necessary, facilitate the evacuation of those who may be in harm's way.
After several days, the All Americans will turn their mission over to another unit, the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the New York National Guard.
Tuley said he expects stiff opposition from role players at Fort Polk.
"We'll go and reestablish security -- regain authority," he said.
The mission is difficult, not only for the short notice, but for the quick turnaround from other large exercises, officials said.
Tuley noted his brigade was in Europe for more than five weeks, training in Poland and Germany as part of Swift Response 2016.
Some soldiers and equipment are still in Germany, he said.
But soldiers had to switch gears quickly to rev back up for the EDRE.
"It's a quick turnaround," Tuley said. "We were just redeploying a week ago."
"It really showcases the readiness of our troopers," he added. "Physical and mental."
Maj. Gen. Richard D. Clarke, the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, said there was no force better prepared to make the needed adjustments.
"If we're going to practice, this is the right brigade to do it," Clarke said.
In the near future, Clarke will hand over the reins of the division to Maj. Gen. Erik Kurilla.
With that change of command set for Aug. 2, the EDRE likely the last for Clarke although he wouldn't say that for sure.
"A lot of things could happen between now and August," he said. "if it keeps me here one minute longer, I'd be happy... I'm going to miss the mission. And I'm going to miss the paratroopers."
The mission commander, Clarke rode in a C-17 with nearly 90 other paratroopers from Fort Bragg to Fort Polk.
Along the way, he received updates on the target from unmanned aerial vehicles and spoke directly with leaders on other planes and back at Fort Bragg.
He was also the first jumper off the plane, but the two-star general said there was much more to the training than the jump.
"The airborne operation will get us there," Clarke said. "We still have to execute the mission when we hit the ground."
"The Devils are going to fight against a world-class opposing force," he added, referring to a nickname of the 1st Brigade, Devils in Baggy Pants.
Louisiana is just the latest locale where the 82nd Airborne has operated in recent weeks.
In added to airborne operations in France, Poland and Germany last month, and regular exercises at Fort Bragg, Clarke said 82nd Airborne paratroopers also recently trained in Mexico and regularly visit other military installations.
"It's a different environment," the general said. And that helps paratroopers be prepared for similar environments.
But, Clarke said, the jumps never get old.
"I'm just really proud of our paratroopers," he said. "You can see. They are fully invested and they are ready."
The goal of an EDRE, officials said, is to test the Global Response Force's ability to deploy with no-notice.
But in most circumstances, soldiers catch wind of the exercise ahead of time, or may know weeks in advance.
The Air Force component of the Global Response Force in particularly usually knows well in advance.
But Clarke said this exercise was masked by a battalion mass tactical week that was already underway at Fort Bragg, involving thousands of parachute drops.
"This EDRE was able to be well hidden," he said.
Even the Air Force, which typically knows weeks or months in advance, was surprised.
"This was an Air Force EDRE, too," Clarke said before the mission. "The crews that are flying us tonight were alerted Tuesday."
Air Force Capt. Peter Schufeldt, one of the pilots involved in the exercise, said the mission came as a surprised, but he said the crew was ready.
Assigned to the 437th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, Schufeldt was part of a crew that included both Charleston airmen and airmen from the 62nd Airlift Wing from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
"We're usually notified ahead of time," he said. "But our mission is pretty large. We can fly missions anywhere in the U.S., anywhere in the world."
The EDRE involved nearly two dozen planes, including C-17s and C-130Js.
In preparation for the airborne operation, the planes dove from 28,000 feet to 1,500 feet in a few short minutes by shifting engines into reverse as part of a "tactical descent."
Crews then dropped heavy equipment, with howitzers, Humvees and more parachuting in ahead of the paratroopers.
Once the 1st Brigade seized the airfield, 11 more planes were set to land, with additional equipment and troops.
Those planes came from Fort Bragg and Fort Hood, Texas, with the later carrying soldiers and Bradley Fighting Vehicles from the 1st Cavalry Division.
At Fort Bragg, before the C-17s lumbered down the runway at Pope Field, leaders said the EDRE gave them an opportunity to exercise not just the 1st Brigade's role in a no-notice deployment, but the entire post's.
Tuley said it took the entire brigade to prepare the 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment for the mission.
Soldiers help usher the deployers through the process, providing ammo, transportation and other support. In addition to those efforts, parachute riggers ensure equipment is safely prepared for the airborne operations and airmen and civilians and Fort Bragg do their part to ensure the battalion can deploy without a hitch.
"A huge piece of an EDRE and outload is the installation team and Air Force team at Pope," Tuley said. "We come together to support each other."
"It really takes a true enterprise to come together and execute this," he added. "The great teamwork between all of us here on Fort Bragg helps us to be able to accomplish such a feat."
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