1,000 FEET ABOVE FORT POLK, Louisiana -- Paratroopers shuffled to the doors bathed in a red light, and one-by-one they stepped out into the dark.
Soldiers with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division are undertaking an Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, this week.
Most of them, more than 700, jumped into the training area as part of an airborne operation early Sunday morning.
Those soldiers, mostly with the 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, learned about the deployment exercise last week.
According to officials, the 82nd Airborne Division was notified of the U.S. Army Forces Command-led exercise on July 12, giving them just under 100 hours to prepare for a complex mission pitting them against role-players in a realistic scenario that mimics a potential mission for the nation's Global Response Force.
Col. Colin Tuley, the commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, said planners worked quickly to analyze the mission and determine what sort of combat power would be necessary.
They also had to meet with Air Force and other partners to plan the exercise.
"It's building a team," Tuley said. "You get an initial mission brief, but like anything else, things change. You adjust."
The Global Response Force trains to deploy within 18 hours, but this exercise gave the force a roughly 96-hour window to respond.
In the training scenario, Tuley said the fictional country of Atropia was under attack, and the government had lost control of its capital. Its president asked the United States for help.
The Global Response Force, led by the 82nd Airborne Division, was tasked with jumping into the fictional capital of Dara Lam to seize and secure the airport, then secure the capital.
The paratroopers would link up with special operations forces already in Atropia, meet with local officials and leaders from the U.S. State Department and, if necessary, facilitate the evacuation of those who may be in harm's way.
After several days, the 82nd Airborne Division will turn its mission over to another unit, the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the New York National Guard.
The mission is difficult, not only because of the short notice, but because of the quick turnaround from other large exercises, officials said.
Tuley said his brigade was in Europe for more than five weeks, training in Poland and Germany as part of Swift Response 2016. Some soldiers and equipment are still in Germany, he said.
Soldiers had to switch gears quickly to rev back up for the EDRE.
"It really showcases the readiness of our troopers," Tuley said. "Physical and mental."
Maj. Gen. Richard D. Clarke, the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, said there was no force better prepared to make the needed adjustments.
"If we're going to practice, this is the right brigade to do it," Clarke said.
Along the way, he received updates on the target from unmanned aerial vehicles and spoke with leaders on other planes and back at Fort Bragg.
He also was the first jumper off the plane, but the two-star general said there was more to the training than the jump.
"The airborne operation will get us there," Clarke said. "We still have to execute the mission when we hit the ground."
Louisiana is the latest locale where the 82nd Airborne has operated in recent weeks.
In addition to airborne operations in France, Poland and Germany last month, and regular exercises at Fort Bragg, Clarke said 82nd Airborne paratroopers recently trained in Mexico and regularly visit other military installations.
"I'm just really proud of our paratroopers," Clarke said. "You can see. They are fully invested and they are ready."
The goal of an EDRE is to test the Global Response Force's ability to deploy with no notice. But in most circumstances, soldiers catch wind of the exercise ahead of time, or they may know weeks in advance.
The Air Force component of the Global Response Force, in particular, usually knows well in advance.
Clarke said this exercise was masked by a battalion mass tactical week that was already underway at Fort Bragg, involving thousands of parachute drops.
"This EDRE was able to be well hidden," he said.
Even the Air Force was surprised.
"This was an Air Force EDRE, too," Clarke said before the mission. "The crews that are flying us tonight were alerted Tuesday."
Air Force Capt. Peter Schufeldt, one of the pilots, said the mission came as a surprised but the crew was ready.
Assigned to the 437th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, Schufeldt was part of a crew that included Charleston airmen and airmen from the 62nd Airlift Wing from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
In preparation for the airborne operation, the planes dove from 28,000 feet to 1,500 feet in a few short minutes by shifting engines into reverse as part of a "tactical descent."
Crews then dropped heavy equipment, with howitzers, Humvees and more parachuting in ahead of the paratroopers.
Once the 1st Brigade seized the airfield, 11 more planes were set to land with additional equipment and troops.
Those planes came from Fort Bragg and Fort Hood, Texas, with the latter carrying soldiers and Bradley Fighting Vehicles from the 1st Cavalry Division.
At Fort Bragg, before the C-17s lumbered down the runway at Pope Field, leaders said the EDRE gave them an opportunity to exercise not just the 1st Brigade's role in a no-notice deployment, but the entire post's.
Tuley said it took the entire brigade to prepare the 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment for the mission. Soldiers help usher those deploying through the process, providing ammo, transportation and other support.
In addition to those efforts, parachute riggers ensure equipment is safely prepared for the airborne operations, and airmen and civilians and Fort Bragg do their part to ensure the battalion can deploy without a hitch.
"A huge piece of an EDRE and outload is the installation team and Air Force team at Pope," Tuley said. "We come together to support each other."
"It really takes a true enterprise to come together and execute this," he added. "The great teamwork between all of us here on Fort Bragg helps us to be able to accomplish such a feat."