UNITY DROP ZONE, Latvia --
U.S. paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C., and British Paratroopers from the 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, Colchester, England, arrived in Latvia with the assistance of various mobility aircraft in support of Exercise Swift Response 2018 (SR18) June 9, 2018.
In the eighth iteration of the exercise, nine C-17 Globemaster IIIs, refueled in air by two KC-135 Stratotankers and one KC-10 Extender, transported about 700 paratroopers nonstop from Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, to Latvia. Exercises like SR18 rely on joint and intraservice capabilities to ensure that Mobility Air Forces respond rapidly, enhance coalition partnerships and ensure global reach.
“The primary mission of SR18 is to demonstrate the ability to move a global response force anywhere in the world, and in this case, it could be in a contested environment,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Anthony Angello, SR18’s airlift mission commander. “This is an opportunity that allows us to work with our coalition partners and allies in Europe and creates a space where we can work together, learn from each other, and build the trust and confidence we need to succeed on the battlefield.”
SR18 is co-led by the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force and includes seven partner nations in an exercise designed to train the U.S. global response force’s ability to operate with allies across Europe. When combining ground forces with airpower, units can move thousands of miles in a matter of hours.
SR18 is part of Saber Strike, a two-week exercise in Europe involving 19 partner nations and more than 12,000 troops.
“Mobility airlift is what enables the Joint Forcible Entry (JFE) capability. Without mobility airlift, paratroopers cannot get to where they need to go,” said Senior Airman Ryan Stefanowicz, C-17 loadmaster, 7th Airlift Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. “We provide the ride and we give them the unlimited global reach to get anywhere in the world.”
U.S. and U.K. Army paratroopers boarded mobility aircraft June 8 beginning the Swift Response portion of Saber Strike 18. Over the 10-hour flight from the U.S. to Europe, each C-17 received aerial refueling by tankers hailing from MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, Pease Air National Guard Base, New Hampshire, and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.
Each of the Globemasters mid-air refueled once each in the non-stop flight from the east coast to Europe. The tankers offloaded more than 190,000 pounds of fuel in the process. Refueling on the fly allows Air Force aircraft to reach any place on earth in 18 hours or less to support joint and coalition partners.
“Being a flexible force enables global operations by the nature of the business we are in,” said Angello. “As an air mobility force, we maintain strategic assets like the C-17 and the KC-135 and KC-10s that provide the air refueling, creating a flexible space that a combatant commander needs to succeed on the battlefield.”
The exercise provided a first for Britain’s paratroopers.
“We haven’t jumped from a C-17 yet, so it’s our first time, and it’s also the first time for a lot of the new guys,” said British Army Lance Cpl. Rushane Shaw, before the flight. The paratrooper from the 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment, C Company, Colchester, England, also added, “It’s also the first time in history our regiment has flown so far to jump into another country. I look forward to getting on the ground and working with our allies, using our tactics and using their tactics.”
Of the nine C-17s that headed to Latvia, two of them carried essential equipment for the Army. With Humvees and other tactical vehicles packed into the jets, the Army prepared to begin their ground mission upon landing in theater. The vehicles parachuted into Latvia with the troops.
“Also exiting one of the jets are door bundles, which are padded equipment that troopers can jump with,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Dominick Skompski, infantry squad leader, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. “My job is to ensure the bundles exit the jet properly – we are dropping an 81 mm mortar system, two javelin missile systems, .50 caliber sniper system and three crates of medical supplies for the ground portion of the exercise.”
Integrating the Army and Air Force with British forces allows all sides to practice how they defend allies in Europe. It also provides an opportunity to show how effective they are together and that each component is vital to responding worldwide, Angello said.
“Exercise SR18 is a great opportunity for us to demonstrate the total force effort that goes into these types of exercises. We certainly can’t do it without the active duty, reserve, and air national guard,” said Angello, who is also a U.S. Air Force reservist. “As a total force team we have the ability to project this type of power anywhere in the world and we just simply can’t do it without relying on each other’s skills, talents and capabilities across the different components of the Air Force.”