News: Spartan Brigade proves it’s a unit like no other
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – “Anywhere, anytime.” It’s a slogan that the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division has made its own and lived by for the last year. It started when the Spartan Brigade flew 15 hours non-stop across the Pacific Ocean in July 2013 and parachuted into northern Australia for Exercise Talisman Sabre. Rinse and repeat in mid-February 2014 as the Spartans demonstrated their quick reaction capabilities by flying 16 hours non-stop out of Alaska and parachuting into central Thailand for Exercise Cobra Gold.
A follow-on combat equipment jump into Deadhorse, Alaska, in late-February 2014, where temperatures on the ground flirted with -30 degrees Fahrenheit, served as a confirmation and manifestation of the brigade’s “Arctic Tough” mentality.
And, now, the Spartans have validated their ability to deploy rapidly and conduct missions across the globe by completing a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La.
“Airborne units are inherently light and agile forces,” explained Col. Matthew W. McFarlane, the Spartan Brigade’s commanding officer. “We can be on our way to virtually anywhere in the world in 18 hours or less to conduct any one of a host of missions and our specific mission set at JRTC additionally required rapid integration of, and synchronization with, multiple enablers – which we’d never worked with before – in order to be successful.”
To be sure, the Spartan Brigade initially worked hand-in-hand with elements of the 5th Special Forces Group, headquartered at Fort Campbell, Ky., to set conditions for mission success at JRTC. Additionally, the Spartan Brigade was augmented by numerous enabler units, which enhanced the brigade’s battlefield effectiveness. Among them was an aviation battalion task force from the 3rd Infantry Division at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga., a company of Strykers from the 1st Stryker Brigade, 25th Infantry Division at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, and an Army Reserve civil affairs company and psychological operations detachment from Arden Hills, Minn. and Austin, Texas, respectively.
“Every unit in the brigade task force, organic and attached, brought something unique to the fight and we were able to integrate all of our assets quickly in order to ensure that our efforts were synchronized effectively across multiple lines of operations,” said McFarlane.
The types of missions that the Spartan Brigade has seen itself conducting over the last year have been anything but the typical counter-insurgency fare that the Army has grown accustomed to in Southwest Asia the previous 13 years.
During Talisman Sabre, the brigade executed an airfield seizure in order to allow follow-on Australian forces to conduct operations against a simulated near-peer threat. In Thailand during Cobra Gold, airfield seizure was again the focus, but emphasis was placed on providing follow-on humanitarian aid and less so on combating a threat.
In stark contrast, the jump into Deadhorse, also known as Operation Spartan Pegasus, was centered on support to civil authorities by rescuing the crew of a downed helicopter aircrew in a remote and harsh environment.
At JRTC, the Spartan Brigade experienced elements of Talisman Sabre, Cobra Gold and Spartan Pegasus all rolled into one.
“JRTC really tested our ability to conduct different types of missions simultaneously in conjunction with host nation security forces and civilian organizations,” said Maj. Mark J. Wade, the Spartan Brigade’s operations officer. The rotation at JRTC focused not only on airfield seizure as evacuation of non-combatants and logistical coordination with non-governmental organizations for humanitarian aid distribution played a key factor in the Spartan Brigade’s training. “To top it off, all the while we were conducting defensive and offensive combat operations alongside host nation security forces against a near-peer military seeking to overthrow the host nation government,” Wade added.
The Spartan Brigade’s ability to deploy rapidly and execute various missions, however, is just one part of a much larger story that concerns itself with the vastness that is the Asia-Pacific Theater.
In a region of the world like the Asia-Pacific Theater, using the word “vast” to describe it might be considered an understatement. According to United States Pacific Command, the Asia-Pacific Theater covers roughly half of the Earth’s total surface area wherein lies roughly half of the world’s total population. It stretches from the American west coast to India’s western border and from Antarctica to the North Pole. All told, the Asia-Pacific Theater encompasses 3,000 different languages, two of the world’s three largest economies and the most populous nation in the world.
The Spartan Brigade isn’t alone in its mission to cover down on such an enormous area as it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with various other combat units from across all of the separate services positioned in the Pacific. However, it’s the brigade’s uniqueness that sets it apart.
“We’re the only airborne brigade in the Pacific,” said McFarlane. “When time is of the essence and you need someone on the ground in hours, not days, the brigade can be the force of choice.”
As the Spartan Brigade heads into the mild Alaskan summer season, the pace of operations that it has experienced over the past year will not diminish. A slew of planned operations are already on the table, to include bilateral engagements and training exercises with partner nations in the Asia-Pacific Theater such as Japan, Bangladesh and Mongolia.
These exercises and others, coupled with what the Spartans have already participated in, will ensure that any future contingency mission in the Pacific realm can and will be met with swiftness by the Army’s only Pacific airborne unit.