US paratroopers unite with NATO allies for drop in Poland
By MICHAEL S. DARNELL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 7, 2016
TORUN, Poland — There were no in-flight movies, no alcoholic beverages and precious little leg room for the paratroopers undertaking a transatlantic flight from Fort Bragg, N.C., to the training grounds here on Tuesday.
There was also no gentle landing for these soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division. They had to reach terra firma by leaping from their C-17 Globemasters to the drop zone a thousand feet below in Kijewo, Poland.
The non-stop flight leading to the assault was the opening salvo of the U.S. Army Europe-led, crisis-response training event Swift Response 16. More than 5,000 troops from 10 nations are taking part in Swift Response, both in Poland and, later this month, in Germany.
At least one jumper, the commander of the 82nd and first one out of the plane, said he didn’t mind the trip. In fact, he enjoyed it.
“Anytime I can be around paratroopers and know that I get to lead them out, it’s an honor,” Maj. Gen. Richard Clark said minutes after touching the ground. “I would do it again in a heartbeat. It’s in our DNA.”
The 82nd is the Defense Department’s global response force and this exercise was intended to showcase their ability to respond to a crisis situation anywhere in the world on short notice. As part of the Swift Response war games scenario, they were alerted to a “crisis” in Poland just 25 hours prior to their departure.
Those are skills sorely needed by the modern U.S. Army, said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who was on the ground in Kijewo to observe the drop. Joint operations like Swift Response will remain the main focus of the Army’s strategic planning for the foreseeable future, he said.
“We’ve been involved in a counterinsurgency, counterterrorist fight now for about 15 years, so some of the skills at higher end combat operations, airborne operations of this scale ... we haven’t practiced that as much in the last 15 years,” Milley said. “And that’s our biggest challenge right now, to get our readiness levels up to a level of proficiency where we think is appropriate for the current world.”
In Kijewo, the 82nd was joined by troops from the British 16th Air Assault Brigade and the Polish 6th Airborne Brigade. Once on the ground, the combined American, British and Polish task force began to prepare for the next day’s events.
On Wednesday, the 82nd will secure a crossing near Torun so the U.S. Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment can continue its 1,500-mile-long convoy operation, Dragoon Ride II, without interruption.
U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley speaks to a crowd of largely Polish media during a joint air assault that saw hundreds of paratroopers from the U.S., the United Kingdom and Poland descend on Kijewo, Poland, on Tuesday, June 7, 2016. Polish Lt. Gen. Marek Tomaszycki, left, and U.S. Army Europe commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, right, watch for incoming C-17s carrying more troops.
MICHAEL S. DARNELL/STARS AND STRIPES