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Col. Greg Anderson, commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, speaks during a rehearsal briefing for an event that is part of the Saber Junction exercise at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Saturday, April 9, 2016.

Col. Greg Anderson, commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, speaks during a rehearsal briefing for an event that is part of the Saber Junction exercise at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Saturday, April 9, 2016. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Col. Greg Anderson, commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, speaks during a rehearsal briefing for an event that is part of the Saber Junction exercise at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Saturday, April 9, 2016.

Col. Greg Anderson, commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, speaks during a rehearsal briefing for an event that is part of the Saber Junction exercise at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Saturday, April 9, 2016. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Soldiers and airmen listen to a rehearsal briefing conducted on Saturday, April 9, 2016, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Dozens of participants detailed their parts in the  Saber Junction exercise with the help of scale models  of the jump zone.

Soldiers and airmen listen to a rehearsal briefing conducted on Saturday, April 9, 2016, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Dozens of participants detailed their parts in the Saber Junction exercise with the help of scale models of the jump zone. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Markers representing units or various points of interest dot a map of an area of Germany that the 173rd Airborne Brigade was set to jump into as part of the Saber Junction exercise starting Monday, April 11, 2016.

Markers representing units or various points of interest dot a map of an area of Germany that the 173rd Airborne Brigade was set to jump into as part of the Saber Junction exercise starting Monday, April 11, 2016. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

A pair of officers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade discuss a particular area of the map during a rehearsal briefing for exercise Saber Junction on Saturday, April 9, 2016, at Aviano Air Base, Italy.

A pair of officers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade discuss a particular area of the map during a rehearsal briefing for exercise Saber Junction on Saturday, April 9, 2016, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

These models represented some of the planes that will carry the 173rd Airborne Brigade and their equipment from Italy to Germany during the Saber Junction exercise starting Monday, April 11, 2016. They're parked on a map representing Aviano Air Base.

These models represented some of the planes that will carry the 173rd Airborne Brigade and their equipment from Italy to Germany during the Saber Junction exercise starting Monday, April 11, 2016. They're parked on a map representing Aviano Air Base. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

This 40,000 pound bulldozer sitting in the heavy rigging facility at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Saturday, 9 April, 2016, has been rigged for an air drop onto an area near Hohenfels, Germany, that will host the Saber Junction exercise for the 173rd Airborne Brigade. It's the heaviest piece of equipment that will be dropped.

This 40,000 pound bulldozer sitting in the heavy rigging facility at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Saturday, 9 April, 2016, has been rigged for an air drop onto an area near Hohenfels, Germany, that will host the Saber Junction exercise for the 173rd Airborne Brigade. It's the heaviest piece of equipment that will be dropped. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Soldiers at the heavy rigging facility at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Saturday, April 9, 2016, prepare this howitzer to be dropped from a transport plane as part of exercise Saber Junction.

Soldiers at the heavy rigging facility at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Saturday, April 9, 2016, prepare this howitzer to be dropped from a transport plane as part of exercise Saber Junction. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Dozens of Humvees, many packed with weapons or equipment, waiting on Saturday, April 9, 2016, to be loaded onto aircraft at Aviano Air Base, Italy, and transported to Germany to take part in the Saber Junction exercise involving the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Dozens of Humvees, many packed with weapons or equipment, waiting on Saturday, April 9, 2016, to be loaded onto aircraft at Aviano Air Base, Italy, and transported to Germany to take part in the Saber Junction exercise involving the 173rd Airborne Brigade. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade get set to board a C-17 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Monday, April 11, 2016. The C-17 is from the Heavy Airlift Wing based at Papa Air Base in Hungary, along with other C-17s and C-130s from various other units,  dropped hundreds of troops and tons of equipment onto a drop zone near Hohenfels, Germany, as part of exercise Saber Junction.

Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade get set to board a C-17 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Monday, April 11, 2016. The C-17 is from the Heavy Airlift Wing based at Papa Air Base in Hungary, along with other C-17s and C-130s from various other units, dropped hundreds of troops and tons of equipment onto a drop zone near Hohenfels, Germany, as part of exercise Saber Junction. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade had their games faces on before a jump into Hohenfels, Germany, on Monday, April 11, 2016, as part of  exercise Saber Junction.

Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade had their games faces on before a jump into Hohenfels, Germany, on Monday, April 11, 2016, as part of exercise Saber Junction. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

The runway at Aviano Air Base saw a lot of action on Monday, April 11, 2016, with soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade and their equipment boarding more than a dozen cargo planes en route to a jump into Hohenfels, as part of  exercise Saber Junction.

The runway at Aviano Air Base saw a lot of action on Monday, April 11, 2016, with soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade and their equipment boarding more than a dozen cargo planes en route to a jump into Hohenfels, as part of exercise Saber Junction. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, loaded down with gear, board a C-17 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Monday, April 11, 2016, as part of  exercise Saber Junction.

Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, loaded down with gear, board a C-17 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Monday, April 11, 2016, as part of exercise Saber Junction. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

The lights were dimmed while the C-17 was en route from Aviano Air Base, Italy to Hohenfels, Germany on Monday, April 11, 2016, as part of  exercise Saber Junction. Four pallets and 51 airborne troops made it out the aircraft. Six troops had to return to Aviano after winds were judged to be too strong on the aircraft's third pass over the zone.

The lights were dimmed while the C-17 was en route from Aviano Air Base, Italy to Hohenfels, Germany on Monday, April 11, 2016, as part of exercise Saber Junction. Four pallets and 51 airborne troops made it out the aircraft. Six troops had to return to Aviano after winds were judged to be too strong on the aircraft's third pass over the zone. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

A parachute begins to deploy as a pallet loaded with equipment leaves the cargo hold of a C-17 flying over Hohenfels, Germany, on Monday, April 11, 2016, as part of  exercise Saber Junction.

A parachute begins to deploy as a pallet loaded with equipment leaves the cargo hold of a C-17 flying over Hohenfels, Germany, on Monday, April 11, 2016, as part of exercise Saber Junction. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade and Italian troops get set to jump out of a C-17 above Hohenfels, Germany, on Monday, April 11, 2016, as part of  exercise Saber Junction. Fifty-one made it out of the plane, but six had to return to Aviano Air Base after winds were judged to be too strong during the aircraft's third pass over the zone.

Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade and Italian troops get set to jump out of a C-17 above Hohenfels, Germany, on Monday, April 11, 2016, as part of exercise Saber Junction. Fifty-one made it out of the plane, but six had to return to Aviano Air Base after winds were judged to be too strong during the aircraft's third pass over the zone. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade participating in exercise Saber Junction wait their turns to jump from a C-17 over the skies of Hohenfels, Germany, on Monday, April 11, 2016.

Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade participating in exercise Saber Junction wait their turns to jump from a C-17 over the skies of Hohenfels, Germany, on Monday, April 11, 2016. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

A dozen C-130 transport planes - 11 from U.S. bases and one from the United Kingdom - are parked along the south ramp at Avaino Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, April 12, 2016, waiting to get loaded with airborne troops for a drop over Germany as part of exercise Saber Junction .

A dozen C-130 transport planes - 11 from U.S. bases and one from the United Kingdom - are parked along the south ramp at Avaino Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, April 12, 2016, waiting to get loaded with airborne troops for a drop over Germany as part of exercise Saber Junction . (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

British soldiers with Company A, 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, wait behind a C-130 on Tuesday, April 12, 2016, before jumping into Hohenfels, Germany, as part of exercise Saber Junction involving more than 4,000 personnel from the United States and several NATO allies.

British soldiers with Company A, 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, wait behind a C-130 on Tuesday, April 12, 2016, before jumping into Hohenfels, Germany, as part of exercise Saber Junction involving more than 4,000 personnel from the United States and several NATO allies. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

A jumpmaster from the 173rd Airborne Brigade sporting a T-shirt invoking one of the unit's famous nicknames "The Herd," stretches out while waiting for troops to load onto a C-130 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, as part of exercise Saber Junction.

A jumpmaster from the 173rd Airborne Brigade sporting a T-shirt invoking one of the unit's famous nicknames "The Herd," stretches out while waiting for troops to load onto a C-130 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, as part of exercise Saber Junction. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade participating in exercise Saber Junction are geared up and ready to go onto an awaiting C-17 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, April 12, 2016..

Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade participating in exercise Saber Junction are geared up and ready to go onto an awaiting C-17 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, April 12, 2016.. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Groups of soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade and allies  participating in exercise Saber Junction are camped out behind C-130 transport planes parked on the south ramp at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, April 12, 2016.

Groups of soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade and allies participating in exercise Saber Junction are camped out behind C-130 transport planes parked on the south ramp at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, April 12, 2016. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade enter a C-17 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, April 12, 2016, before getting set to jump into Hohenfels, Germany, a few hours later as part of exercise Saber Junction.

Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade enter a C-17 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday, April 12, 2016, before getting set to jump into Hohenfels, Germany, a few hours later as part of exercise Saber Junction. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

U.S. military air assault exercises like the one held on Tuesday, April 12, 2016, would normally take place on an American military installation. This particular one, the main event of the U.S. Army Europe-led training exercise Saber Junction 16, took place in the German town of Hoechensee.

U.S. military air assault exercises like the one held on Tuesday, April 12, 2016, would normally take place on an American military installation. This particular one, the main event of the U.S. Army Europe-led training exercise Saber Junction 16, took place in the German town of Hoechensee. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

During a U.S. military air assault exercise as part of the U.S. Army Europe-led Saber Junction 16,  paratroopers jumped into fields around the German village of Hoechensee  on Tuesday, April 12, 2016. Normally, such an exercise would take place on an American military installation.

During a U.S. military air assault exercise as part of the U.S. Army Europe-led Saber Junction 16, paratroopers jumped into fields around the German village of Hoechensee on Tuesday, April 12, 2016. Normally, such an exercise would take place on an American military installation. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

U.S. Army Col. Greg Anderson, the 173rd brigade commander, speaks to a gathered crowd as some of his men continue to drop in behind him as part of the U.S. Army Europe-led Saber Junction 16 exercise. Anderson was one of the first soldiers out of the airplane as they soared over the Hoechensee, Germany, countryside as part of an air assault, Tuesday, April 12, 2016.

U.S. Army Col. Greg Anderson, the 173rd brigade commander, speaks to a gathered crowd as some of his men continue to drop in behind him as part of the U.S. Army Europe-led Saber Junction 16 exercise. Anderson was one of the first soldiers out of the airplane as they soared over the Hoechensee, Germany, countryside as part of an air assault, Tuesday, April 12, 2016. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

Soldiers belonging to the U.S. Army?s 173rd Airborne Brigade, the Italian Folgore Airborne and the British 16 Air Assault teams dropped into the town of Hoechensee, Germany, on Tuesday, April 12, 2016. They were taking part in the opening round of a war game serving as the main event of the U.S. Army Europe-led multinational training exercise, Saber Junction 16.

Soldiers belonging to the U.S. Army?s 173rd Airborne Brigade, the Italian Folgore Airborne and the British 16 Air Assault teams dropped into the town of Hoechensee, Germany, on Tuesday, April 12, 2016. They were taking part in the opening round of a war game serving as the main event of the U.S. Army Europe-led multinational training exercise, Saber Junction 16. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

Residents turned out in droves to watch a combined American, British, Italian and Polish force parachute into the town of Hoechensee, Germany, as part of the U.S. Army Europe-led exercise Saber Junction 16, Tuesday, April 12, 2016.

Residents turned out in droves to watch a combined American, British, Italian and Polish force parachute into the town of Hoechensee, Germany, as part of the U.S. Army Europe-led exercise Saber Junction 16, Tuesday, April 12, 2016. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

U.S. Army Europe Chief of Staff German Brig. Gen. Markus Laubenthal addresses a crowd at a press conference during an air assault into the German town of Hoechensee as part of Saber Junction 16 on Tuesday, April 12, 2016.

U.S. Army Europe Chief of Staff German Brig. Gen. Markus Laubenthal addresses a crowd at a press conference during an air assault into the German town of Hoechensee as part of Saber Junction 16 on Tuesday, April 12, 2016. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

U.S. Army Col. Thomas Mackey, right, the Joint Multinational Readiness Center operations group commander, watches as paratroopers drop into Hoechensee, Germany, on Tuesday, April 12, 2016.

U.S. Army Col. Thomas Mackey, right, the Joint Multinational Readiness Center operations group commander, watches as paratroopers drop into Hoechensee, Germany, on Tuesday, April 12, 2016. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

HOECHENSEE, Germany — Dozens of German residents of this rural town gathered to watch as nearly 900 paratroopers leapt from their military aircraft Tuesday to the open farmlands below.

This air assault — part of the U.S. Army Europe-led training exercise Saber Junction 16 — was the culmination of a year of planning and a journey that began hundreds of miles to the south in Vicenza, Italy, where the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade is based.

From there they traveled the short distance to Aviano Air Base, where hundreds of 173rd troopers, the Italian Folgore Airborne and the British 16 Air Assault squads prepared for the long trip to Germany aboard C-17s and C-130s.

Once there, the soldiers dropped onto fields around the town, opened up to the military by the German Defense Ministry, rather than the nearby Hohenfels training area. As the soldiers floated down, a cadre of military and German civilian dignitaries fielded questions from reporters as curious townsfolk looked on.

Such maneuvers outside U.S. Army training areas are unusual, said German Brig. Gen. Markus Laubenthal, the first non-U.S. USAREUR chief of staff.

“But it is important to ... get this kind of reality implemented and incorporated into our exercise,” he said. “But we rely heavily on the support of the local population.”

Col. Greg Anderson, the 173rd brigade commander, was among those who boarded a C-17 from Charleston Air Force Base at Aviano on Tuesday morning. His men had spent the morning — and several mornings before Tuesday’s jump — prepping an array of vehicles to be dropped alongside the paratroopers. The heaviest was a 40,000-pound bulldozer.

Before departing Aviano, Anderson called the air assault “a very exciting mission to execute, with a force of this size, all the equipment and all the other elements involved.”

At Aviano, more than a dozen C-130s were loaded with personnel, with names on the tails from places such as Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Dyess and Dobbins or designations such as “Flying Vikings.” They were piloted by Air Reserve or Air National Guard crews.

They then made the hourlong trip to Hoechensee, Germany, where Anderson was one of the first out the door.

On the ground, he packed up his parachute, dusted off his battle dress uniform and answered a few questions before heading off to begin the next phase of his mission.

“The airborne forces give us an advantage, to pick a place and time where we can come where the enemy is not prepared,” he said. “But we have a very short window to assemble rapidly … before the enemy can determine where we’re at and then prepare and counter us.”

That’s why exercises like Saber Junction are needed, he said. “A safe infiltration, a rapid assembly and quickly moving out is very, very important for any airborne force.”

Once on the ground, the combined force began a long march to the nearby Hohenfels training area. There they would begin an assault on a fictional town, defended partly by the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment’s opposing force.

F-15s based at RAF Lakenheath were set to provide close-air support over Hohenfels. American helicopters based in Germany and the 173rd Brigade’s own drones were to provide mobility, surveillance and more firepower. Forces from other countries were set to join the paratroopers on the ground over the next few days.

“We have to train as realistic as possible and do everything just as [if] it was for real,” Anderson said before leaving Aviano. “Hohenfels is a really tough enemy. We want to win, and they are going to give it to us hard.”

Kent Harris reported from Aviano, Italy.

darnell.michael@stripes.com

harris.kent@stripes.com

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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