Within hours of an early morning call, thousands of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division swarmed Fort Bragg on Friday to draw a rifle, don a parachute and prepare for a simulated combat jump into Europe as part of a deployment readiness exercise.
The exercise, conducted quarterly, tests the paratroopers' ability to deploy rapidly from Fort Bragg to anywhere in the world on short notice for combat or humanitarian operations. Once a notice is given, paratroopers are required to be ready in as little as 18 hours as part of the Global Response Force.
Brig. Gen. Christopher Sharpsten, deputy commanding general of support for the 18th Airborne Corps, said the exercise helps commanders understand gaps in deployment procedures, as well as to keep soldiers' skills sharp. Several corps units, including the 82nd Airborne Division, participated in the exercise.
The sheer power of multiple units to organize and deploy on short notice should be reassuring to allies and deter potential adversaries, Sharpsten said.
"This sends a strong signal to our allies, and deters those that would potentially try to do something to us," he said. "We'll drop into our allies' land in the drop of a hat."
In the past, deployment readiness exercises have taken paratroopers away from the familiar drop zones at Fort Bragg and into new territory, including Fort Polk, Louisiana, Fort Hood, Texas and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
In this exercise, paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team were notified they would be deploying to a southern European area to respond to heavy armor and potential chemical threats, Sharpsten said. Beyond the typical equipment support units provide to division paratroopers, the scenario challenged them to also supply anti-tank munition, chemical suits and thick boots and other cold weather gear.
Once paratroopers received their gear and equipment, Sharpsten said they would be weighed to ensure the aircraft would be safe. The paratroopers would be issued parachutes and conduct an airborne operation and live-fire mission on Sunday, he said.
Two additional groups of paratroopers would follow and be part of missions in which the aircraft landed, as opposed to jumping.
Simultaneously, thousands of civilians and soldiers provided support behind the scenes to ensure the paratroopers could accomplish their mission.
Among the supporting elements, civilians were tasked to distribute MREs and other meal rations set aside specifically for rapidly deploying troops. Some civilians were tasked with a 40-point vehicle inspection on Humvees that may be part of convoys.
Preparing vehicles and other heavy equipment to be dropped from aircraft was also a key support element being tested.
Soldiers of the 82nd Sustainment Brigade's 151st Quartermaster Unit packed, wrapped and prepared Humvees, artillery and cargo boxes of supplies to be dropped from aircraft. The soldiers can prepare a Humvee for an airdrop in about three hours.
Once the vehicles and equipment are prepared to be dropped from aircraft, they are moved to the same checkpoint as the deploying paratroopers to be weighed and loaded onto the aircraft.
The soldiers don't always know the number and types of equipment they'll be packing, but can adapt to push out equipment quickly, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Tommy Young II.
"Everybody takes it very seriously," Young said. "We can get you what you need in a matter of hours."
Cargo boxes carry supplies, including food, water, ammunition and blood. Sometimes commanders choose to have supplies dropped by aircraft because it's not as risky as asking a convoy to move through a country ridden with IEDs.
Young said the soldiers take pride in knowing that paratroopers can count on them to provide the vital supplies.
"If we can't get them what they need, they'll have to ration," Young said. "We will not stop trying to get it to the war fighter."
(c)2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)