US and Serbian paratroopers build partnership in training jumps
LISICJI JARAK AIRPORT, Serbia — About 120 U.S. Army and Serbian paratroopers dropped side by side from the gray sky here outside Belgrade on Friday, wrapping up four days of drills aimed at building military capabilities and a partnership between two countries with a troubled past.
Exercise Double Eagle brought the 173rd Airborne Brigade from Vicenza, Italy, and the 63rd Serbian Paratrooper Battalion together for the first time for a series of training jumps.
Two C-130J aircraft from the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, transported the paratroopers, who jumped together Thursday and Friday. Friday’s jump was a demonstration in front of U.S. and Serbian officials, including Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, and journalists.
The ceremony next to a muddy field where the paratroopers landed concluded with a symbolic exchange of wings.
U.S. officials on Friday touted the importance of working with Serbia, an important partner in the Balkans but a country that has pledged military neutrality.
Relations between the United States and Serbia have greatly improved since the Kosovo war, when NATO carried out an air campaign in 1999 against Serb forces to stop ethnic cleansing of the Albanian majority. The Serbian military now frequently conducts exercises with NATO nations.
Maj Gen. John Gronski, U.S. Army Europe deputy commanding general for Army National Guard, said the purpose of the airborne insertion exercise was “to build capacity and really strengthen the relationship between the United States military and Serbia.”
“The exercise has gone great,” he said.
Friday’s jump went off without a hitch. Serbian and U.S. paratroopers leapt from the side door of the aircraft, one after the other, from only about 300 meters above the ground. The soldiers were dropped from a pair of C-130s that made two passes over the drop zone.
“It was an easy jump,” said Spec. Uros Dzelebdzic, 30, a native Serbian and combat medic and paratrooper with the 173rd. “We were kind of afraid that we would not get a chance to jump because of the winds and rain, but it ended up being perfect weather conditions and the landing was very soft, which is the most important thing.”