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Jump Underscores Allies' Resolve for Paratroopers to Work Together

Col. Colin P. Tuley, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, recovers his parachute as he watches soldiers descend onto Hohenfels Drop Zone in Germany during Exercise Swift Response, June 15, 2016. (U.S. Army photo/Michael Giles)
Col. Colin P. Tuley, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, recovers his parachute as he watches soldiers descend onto Hohenfels Drop Zone in Germany during Exercise Swift Response, June 15, 2016. (U.S. Army photo/Michael Giles)

HOHENFELS, Germany -- The 82nd Airborne Division started small when it looked to the future of paratrooper operations.

As the division shifted its primary focus from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan back to its historical mission as the nation's Global Response Force, leaders began to seek training opportunities with allied countries' airborne units.

The 82nd's leaders at the time said they sought to capitalize on years of working relationships established in the Middle East to build a multinational paratrooper force capable of deploying anywhere in the world.

Last month, in Poland and Germany, the world got a preview of such a force.

First, the 82nd, along with British and Polish paratroopers, deployed on short notice to jump onto a drop zone near Torun, Poland, in early June.

Then, about a week later, the 82nd Airborne Division oversaw an even larger multinational airborne operation.

The division's 1st Brigade Combat Team jumped into Hohenfels, Germany, alongside Polish, German and the Airborne Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, a British-French unit with a similar mission to the U.S. military's Global Response Force.

Maj. Gen. Richard D. Clarke, commander of the 82nd, said the international jumps show "our resolve as allies."

In the future, Clarke said, paratroopers will likely need to work together on a real world mission.

"It's how our Army wants to operate," he said.

By training together with increased frequency, the soldiers are ensuring they'll mesh when a real need arises.

"If we don't come together to actually put it into practice, we wouldn't be able to do it," Clarke said.

The Germany jump was a milestone.

When 82nd leaders began pushing their international partnerships in earnest in 2013, the stated goal was to eventually have international brigades aligned under the division for command and control.

Last month's international jumps were examples of that goal being put into action after years of efforts on and off Fort Bragg.

In 2013, the 82nd added its first deputy commanding general for interoperability, a British general tasked with leading the division's international efforts.

The position was originally filled by then-Brigadier Giles Hill of the British Army and the job currently belongs to Brigadier James Learmont.

That same year, an international conference was held in Rome among leaders from six countries' rapid reaction forces, with the 82nd taking a leading role.

At Fort Bragg, small exchanges of platoons and companies of foreign paratroopers became more common, building up to a March 2015 exercise with a full British battalion from the 16 Air Assault Brigade, which at the time was the largest multinational exercise at Fort Bragg in more than two decades.

But 82nd leaders have said they realize they can't rely on their allies to always come to them.

Clarke said the division's exercises in Europe -- paratroopers have made numerous training trips to the continent over the last few years -- show the commitment to partnership extends beyond the borders of the United States.

"It shows our allies it's not just about us," Clarke said following a jump into Hohenfels Training Area in Germany. "It is a shared interest."

The airborne conferences, he said, have become annual events, with the number of participating countries growing each year.

And the exercises have grown more complex.

On June 15, the German jump involved more than just paratroopers from different nations, but different air forces, too.

Each force had its own type of parachute and their own requirements for airborne operations, with planes coming in at different altitudes and paratroopers spaced differently.

Watching the airborne operation from the sidelines, Brig. Gen. Christopher G. Cavoli couldn't hide a tinge of jealousy.

"Of course I miss it," said Cavoli, who currently serves as commander of the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command in Germany, but previously served as deputy commanding general for operations with the 82nd.

Cavoli served on Fort Bragg for the start of the 82nd international push and said he was impressed by just how far the partnerships have developed.

"It's extremely gratifying, how fast they've worked and how they've run ahead," he said.

Cavoli said progressing from company exercises to the logistical complexities of a massive intermediate staging base with multiple international brigades all answering to one American division was a huge hurdle.

"It's gratifying to see it come into being," he said.

But at the same time, Cavoli said it was only natural that paratrooper allies work together.

He said they have common skill sets and a similar mindset when it comes to readiness, things that make cooperation easier, even across language barriers.

"It's a rare capability in this world to be able to reach out across continents so fast," he said.

At Fort Bragg, Cavoli said, allies are limited by costs and time away.

But by bringing the 82nd to Europe, and capitalizing on U.S. Army Europe resources like the Hohenfels Training Area, allies can get more "bang for their buck."

"It gives us the opportunity to work with more allies," Cavoli said.

Clarke said the training would ultimately make the paratroopers better prepared to move quickly and jump into potentially hostile territory, if needed.

"We will go where we need to and we'll jump where we have to," Clarke said.

"There will be times when there is not an airfield you can land in . and you're going to have to jump and contest it," he said. "This is not just a show, this is something we could do real world if called upon."

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