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NEWS | July 9, 2015

Paratroopers Bring Unique Capability to Australia Exercise

By David Vergun DMA, Army

About 400 Soldiers, including a handful of Airmen and Marines, parachuted onto Kapyong Drop Zone, Williamson Airfield, in the northeast state of Queensland, the morning of July 8, as part of exercise Talisman Sabre 15.

The Soldiers, almost all of whom were from 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, jumped from seven C-17 Globemasters, two of which belonged to the Royal Australian Air Force, or RAAF.

"Doing a strategic jump from [Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson] Alaska, to Australia, after 19 hours of flight, demonstrates pretty significant capability," said the battalion's commander, Lt. Col. Matt Hardman, who also made the jump from static lines at 1,000 feet.

The goal of the jump was to seize an expeditionary airfield and secure it for initial entry operations, he said. That goal was accomplished.

He then spoke to the importance his battalion played in the exercise.

It's all about "honing our craft" and showing we're committed to the bilateral relationship with the Australians, who've trained and fought with us numerous times over the last century, he said.

The other important aspect of the exercise is testing the interoperability of the Army in a joint, bilateral setting, he said. He said he also expects the exercise will reassure America's allies and act as a deterrent to its adversaries.

"The work that went into this exercise is similar to that I've seen on all my deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Hardman, who has been in four combat deployments.

The battalion started training for this exercise six months out.

"In May we did company live fires for the first time in 15 or 20 years. It helped prepare us for this," he said.

Hardman said he gave his subordinate commanders "the freedom to execute the plan without me having to control things. They know what's expected and they're executing, so the bulk of my work was [strategic planning] prior to coming down here."

The exercise is the equivalent of a National Training Center rotation for Australia, he said, adding that the size of Shoalwater is much bigger than NTC at Fort Irwin, California, the Army's premier training site.

While Soldiers were conducting the exercise at Shoalwater, U.S. Marines, Airmen and Sailors, as well as Australians and some New Zealanders, were operating in locations throughout Australia, particularly along the northern coastal areas. The entire exercise runs July 4-19.

Besides Soldiers from 4-25, others from Hawaii and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, are participating in various supporting roles. Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, I Corps commander, is the exercise's combined forces land component commander, said a spokesman from U.S. Army Alaska.

The paratroopers from 4-25 are slated to depart Australia aboard C-17s and a parachute drop back onto JBER is planned for July 12, the spokesman said.

MANY MOVING PARTS

"The choreography of this exercise is amazing," Hardman said, meaning units from all over had to do many tasks on time and correctly to make it all work.

The RAAF provided close-air support to the Soldiers on the ground, who were allied with the Australian army's 7th Brigade. The opposition force was the Australian army's 3rd Brigade.

To ensure the RAAF dropped ordnance at the right place and the right time, several Airmen from the Joint Tactical Air Control, JBER and some Marines from 5th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Companies, aka ANGLICO, out of Okinawa, Japan, talked to RAAF pilots and controllers from the ground, he said.

Besides four RAAF Hawk-127 fighters doing close-air support, the RAAF was also flying an unmanned aerial system which was supporting 4-25.

Some enablers also came in from MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, and provided long-distance, joint expeditionary communications support, he continued.

"It was pretty amazing sitting in the joint mission brief," he said. In the brief were the C-17 crews from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina; JBLM; JBER and RAAF. Also included were tanker crews from Travis AFB, California, and Hickam, AFB, Hawaii.

It was incredible "to see all those pieces tie together. You learn something each time you do that. I know I did," he said.

AIRBORNE'S VALUE

The last massive U.S. paratroop combat drop was during World War II.

However, that capability is still used and remains a valuable tool for the combatant commander or allies, Hardman said, citing the French, who parachuted into Mali during operations in 2013. The U.S. Army conducted airborne missions in Grenada, Panama, and more recently, during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 and some small airborne operations in Afghanistan.

When the large earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, "we came close to jumping in because of the difficulty of opening the airfield there to get in relief supplies," he added.

"The ability of our brigade to put 3,000 paratroopers somewhere to help if there's a disaster or conflict is a unique capability," Hardman said. "We think full-spectrum all the time. We're always prepared to go under canopy by parachute, but the real fight is when we get on the ground and what we bring to the fight."

Hardman said during each of his deployments, he's had some level of interaction with the Australian military.

"They're a very professional organization," he said. "They punch well above their weight."

In the late evening, July 8, an RAAF MHR-90 helicopter rumbled to life on Shoalwater. Paratroopers were asleep nearby. A reporter who had embedded from Alaska asked Hardin what the helicopter was doing so late at night, and expressed concern for Soldiers losing sleep.

Hardin said the helicopter was departing with staff officers from 4-25 and an Australian task force, who came to plan the next operation.

The Soldiers get used to the noise, he said, adding that "freedom is never quiet and never stops."
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