Paratroopers jump into Estonia during ‘complex but awesome’ nighttime drill
By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 8, 2021
Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division dropped into Estonia early Saturday during an exercise meant to test and strengthen their ability to communicate and cooperate with each other and their allies.
The nighttime parachute jump was the first of three mock airborne invasions under the division’s command and control. It’s part of the two-week Swift Response 21 exercise, one of the Defender-Europe-21 series of drills running through June.
A forward division headquarters at Romania’s Mihail Kogalniceanu Airbase is overseeing the operations.
The exercise will give division leadership a chance to see how well units coordinate at the lowest tactical level and how well higher headquarters can prepare, execute and support operations with various elements, including foreign counterparts.
“This is just a great training opportunity for us to truly work and build interoperability … and then also just continue to make sure that we are more ready for any sort of defensive operation the alliance would need us to do,” Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue said in a videoconference on Tuesday.
Jumping into an unfamiliar location is an important part of developing a paratrooper’s skills, he said, as are the relationships they build with other NATO troops, such as the Estonian opposition force.
Poor weather Thursday night delayed the jump, but winds on Friday were in the division’s favor as aircraft carrying hundreds of 3rd Brigade soldiers and a company of British soldiers flew from Fort Bragg, N.C. The group linked up in the air with a similar battalion-sized task force of 3rd Brigade soldiers who took off from Lithuania.
The combination of the 82nd Airborne's “direct delivery” from Fort Bragg and from advance staging somewhere closer to their drop zone makes Swift Response fairly unique, officials said.
It’s a “pretty complex but awesome event,” said Maj. Ben Barnard, a plans officer who spent the past year helping organize the exercise.
Another airborne operation is planned for overnight Sunday. In this one, the 173rd Airborne Brigade based out of Italy will drop into Bulgaria.
During the day Monday, hundreds of Polish, Dutch, German and Romanian paratroopers, along with a few dozen 82nd Airborne troops, are expected to jump into Romania. The Romanian jump will involve 14 different aircraft from the five participating countries.
In all, some 7,000 paratroopers from 10 NATO countries are taking part in Swift Response, the division said.
The exercise represents the 82nd Airborne Division getting back to its core mission after moving “up and through” the coronavirus pandemic, said Lt. Col. Mike Burns, a spokesman. “We have to be able to do this anywhere in the world.”
The division is America’s quick reaction force and had been sent on short-notice orders to the Middle East in early 2020 during unrest there ahead of the pandemic’s outbreak.
“We always have an element that’s on alert,” Donahue said. “This is just another opportunity for us to go through that process of alerting, assembling and delivering a force to somewhere in the world, wherever our nation would need us to go.”