JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON — In mere minutes, Army paratroopers recently turned a quiet, empty field into a battleground.
The more than 500 paratroopers who filled the skies were members of the Army’s 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, which dropped onto the Malamute Drop Zone on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson as part of a massive three-day training mission designed to simulate the quick takeover of hostile enemy territory.
“It’s the first time we’ve done a large operation like this in four years,” said brigade commander Col. Matt McFarlane after monitoring the June 5 jump from the landing zone.
“Operation Spartan Reach” included more than 1,400 paratroopers, who were dropped out of Air Force C-17 Globemasters and a C-130 Hercules along with 105mm howitzer cannons. The exercise took place June 3-5 on both JBER and Fort Greely near Fairbanks. The mission was part of ongoing efforts by the brigade to transition into a contingency-ready force in the Pacific region after several deployments overseas in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s a great opportunity at every level to practice the tasks we’re required to execute if we’re asked by (Pacific) command,” he said.
The brigade is planning to further test its readiness later this summer when it will conduct a large training mission to Australia.
Planning such a large training mission takes a lot of cooperation up and down the chain of command, he said.
“Properly loading an aircraft, properly rigging our paratroopers to safely exit and then conducting the mission — the flight route and then the airborne assault — takes a lot of planning and coordination to ensure we get the results we desire,” he said.
Coordination is key when it comes to dropping hundreds of soldiers out of airplanes at once. That’s why McFarlane said it’s nice to be located at a base that has a large training area and Air Force planes on standby right next door.
“All three days (are) a great example why Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson is a great location to train from the Army and Air Force perspective,” he said. “...It’s also a strategic location because we’re co-located with assets we’re going to use if we’re going to execute our required missions.”
The mission didn’t go off without any hitches. Nine paratroopers suffered injuries in the exercise, including one serious incident that required hospitalization. Brigade public affairs officer Capt. Chase Spears said PFC Dallas Wohlever, 19, of Simpsonville, S.C. had to be airlifted from the drop zone after his parachute improperly deployed during a jump June 4. Spears said Wohlever is in stable condition at the base hospital. The Army is investigating the incident. Seven other paratroopers sustained jump-related injuries, Spears said, and another was hurt while setting up a howitzer. All eight were treated by medics and returned to duty.
Between now and the Australia trip, McFarlane said the brigade will focus on how to better conduct the dangerous, complicated work of performing airborne assaults.
“That’s what we’re good at is identifying areas where we can improve and lessons learned.”