JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
Next week, the U.S. Army’s 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry (Airborne), 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division is scheduled to jump with Australian jumpmasters as part of the joint forcible entry operation dubbed Operation Talisman Saber which serves two primary functions.
"The purpose of the exercise is first and foremost to reinforce our bilateral relationship with Australia," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Matthew Hardman, 3-509th commander. "For us, it's all about deterring potential adversaries and reassuring neighbors, and we do that together. Peace comes from that."
Talisman Saber is routinely performed every other year, but the scope of the operation is anything but ordinary, Hardman said.
They will jump into the Kapyong Drop Zone -- named after an historic battle in the Korean War -- in Shoalwater Bay Training Area, Queensland, Australia.
The troops will leave JBER, fly more than a dozen hours and exit an aircraft on a continent many of them have never been to before while under operational leadership from another country. Afterward, they will perform ground operations for the rest of the day before turning around and flying back to Alaska to do it all over again the next day at the Malemute Drop Zone, Hardman said.
"It's as close to as real as possible," he added. "I think the [troops] are looking forward to that."
Successfully completing the operation requires the strategic assistance of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force Air Force, Hardman said.
"There's a joint strategic reach capability that's critical here -- our ability to reinforce and support allies, as well as to respond to crisis around the world," he stated. “Demonstrating that capability is critical to show we are able to do what we say we can do."
Part of that strategic reach is careful and efficient planning coupled with effective communication among sister branches and Australian forces.
To that end, over the past two and a half weeks, a few Australian jumpmasters and instructors have been at JBER to help prepare 3-509th paratroopers for the operation ahead of them.
"We've been working battle preparation with the 509th and going through jump rehearsals," said Australian Army Warrant Officer Class 2 Roderick Orchard, jumpmaster and instructor. "The troops here are very professional."
Jumping into a foreign continent can be scary, but Australia, like Alaska, is well known for its unique wildlife.
"That's probably the number one thing we've been asked," Orchard said. "What's going to bite me and kill me?"
While wildlife safety is something which is taken seriously, sometimes a bit of good-natured humor can help assuage concerns.
"We have nine of the most venomous snakes in the world," Orchard said. "We've got lots of vaccines for our snakes, but I have yet to see a bear vaccine."
To prepare 3-509th paratroopers for the operation, Orchard and his compatriots jumped with them here in their own drop zone over the past few weeks.
The drop zone was named after the Battle of Kapyong, Korea, which took place April 23 and 24, 1951, in which the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment forces, with the support of coalition partners, held their position against overwhelming odds as enemy forces attempted to recapture the city of Seoul.
The same interoperability that provided success in that battle is still being honed today through Operation Talisman Saber.
"The 509th's been a great host since we've been here," Orchard said. "It's been great to work with [them] and see the procedures and see how they work. [They’ve] been doing a great job -- and I'll be looking forward to working with [them] again."