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    Panther Brigade Wraps Up Rotation at Joint Readiness Training Center

    Panther Brigade Reacts to Contact at JRTC

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bennett | Paratroopers assigned to 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team,...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bennett 

    49th Public Affairs Detachment   

    Fort Polk, La., - The Paratroopers of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division recently overcame a wide array of challenges to ensure they remained trained and ready to maintain their status as America’s Guard of Honor.

    More than 4,000 Paratroopers from the panther brigade traveled to the Joint Readiness Training Center on Fort Polk, La., in late January for rotation 21-04. However, this wasn’t your typical rotation.

    The elephant in the room during the build up and throughout the execution of this rotation was the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Questions began to arise early in the process about exactly how panther brigade leadership intended to protect their Paratroopers from the virus.

    Long before 3rd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. stepped foot on Fort Polk, the brigade’s prevention measures were already paying dividends.

    Lt. Col. Michael Burns, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs Office, stated, “We tested 100 percent of participating Paratroopers prior to departing for this training exercise. All Paratroopers who tested positive were placed in isolation. All who came in contact with a positive individual were placed in quarantine, and then cleared by a medical professional prior to returning to training.”

    The rotation itself had a different feel from the beginning as it kicked off on Jan. 27 with a deployment readiness exercise (DRE) at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. The DRE saw a significant portion of the brigade's personnel and vehicles pass through Joint Base Charleston en route to their final destination, the Joint Readiness Training Center.

    The 82nd Airborne Division prides itself on its ability to be anywhere in the world within 18 hours, and the DRE provided a crucial opportunity to demonstrate readiness should this capability prove necessary.

    “We’re a unique force inside the United States Military. We’re ready to rapidly deploy anywhere in the world, and this exercise is an example. This is a unique capability that only resides in the 82nd Airborne Division. When these Paratroopers jump into a drop zone, they know they’re going to be surrounded, and they know they’re going to have a gun fight in any direction they go. That’s a challenge they look forward to,” said 3rd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. commander, Lt. Col. Eugene “Buddy” Ferris.

    On the night of Feb. 1, long after the sun had gone down, a large portion of the panther brigade entered the training area or “box” at JRTC in the most fitting way, an airborne assault with the 82nd Airborne Division commanding general, Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, being the first Paratrooper out the door. The assault allowed more than 500 Paratroopers to join the rest of the panther brigade already on the ground.

    “Going through the process of rigging in flight and traveling to a different location to jump was a new experience for me and my Paratroopers. At the end of the day it was just another day in the office. We jumped and assembled to complete the mission,” said 1st Lt. John Ruiz, Delta Company, 2nd battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

    After all jumpers had exited the aircraft and were safely on the ground, the Paratroopers began immediately securing the drop zone, and quickly began executing a plan to begin movement throughout the training area.

    By training day two, the panther brigade was playing defense, and evidence of real progress could be seen in at least one of the cities within the training scenario. Lt. Col. Kwame Boateng, 307th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division commander, had established rapport with local leaders, and the day found him participating in a key leader engagement.

    The tone of the meeting was somber yet hopeful as Boateng worked to console local leaders after notional deaths in their village. The value of this kind of training wasn’t lost on the battalion commander.

    “You can’t replicate the Joint Readiness Training Center. That’s why we spend the money and that’s why we fought so hard to get here. The role players, the facilities, the feedback, world-class OPFOR who is a thinking enemy, and trained observers who are some of the best in their field. So JRTC, our combat training centers, they pull in the best people to help make the rest of us like the best of us.”

    While 3rd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. worked to serve the best interests of the locals within their training scenario, the opposing forces were working to undermine those efforts with persistent nightly attacks. The minor harassments gave way to a significant effort by the OPFOR to retake multiple cities during the first phase of training.

    Violence engulfed cities across the box on training days two and three. It was clear to the All Americans they were up against a determined enemy, but 3rd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. never flinched. By training day four they had taken significant casualties, but successfully held their ground, and peace had temporarily returned.

    “I think that this first phase of fighting went well. Enabling the assets behind us by clearing routes and conducting reconnaissance allowed us to expand our presence further to the north, and ultimately make it to the next phase of training,’ said 1st Lt. Abigail Strassfield, a platoon leader assigned to 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

    The panther brigade performed at a high level throughout the defensive phase of the scenario, but it’s important to note they weren’t alone in this fight. A crucial assist came by way of their Brazilian allies, who sent a company of their own Paratroopers to participate in the rotation.

    The opportunity to work together during this rotation gave both the Americans and Brazilians a chance to enhance partner capacity and improve interoperability between the two nations.

    “The Brazilian Army is one of our most valuable and strategic partners, not just in the Western Hemisphere, but globally,” said Maj. Gen. Daniel R. Walrath, commanding general, U.S. Army South. “Their participation in this Combat Training Center rotation will make our Army stronger, and we look forward to continuing to build our ability to operate together with future training exchanges.”

    On training day five the panther brigade was on the offensive as they began conducting movement to contact in an effort to seek out their notional near-peer adversaries, the Torrikan forces. Multiple cities were held by the opposition forces at this point, but this didn’t deter the panther brigade even for a moment.

    3rd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. Soldiers made contact with the Torrikans late in the afternoon on Feb. 7. Near constant fighting played out until the early hours of the morning, with the panther brigade ultimately prevailing.

    Sgt. 1st Class Steven McCoy, a platoon sergeant with 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. noted the victory wouldn’t have been possible without the heroics of young Paratroopers like his driver, Spc. Patrick Coffey.

    “His driving skills were critical. He was able to evade the enemy while I returned fire. When I finally got wiped out late in the battle, he was able to dismount, pick up all the ammunition, pick up the AT4, destroy an enemy vehicle, and then continue fighting with our sister company, charlie company for another three hours.”

    Spc. Coffey appreciated the praise from his platoon sergeant, but he was quick to share the wealth with his fellow Paratroopers in Delta Company.

    “Our performance last night was top notch. Despite the challenges, communication remained open between our leaders and joes and we were able to quickly formulate a plan to overrun the enemy and push them out of the town.

    Before leaving JRTC, 3rd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. commander, Col. Eugene “Buddy” Ferris, took the time to reflect on the performance and readiness of his Paratroopers, and discuss what separates them from their peers.

    “These are some tough young Paratroopers that know they can fight and win in any condition. When you jump out of that airplane you know it’s not a normal thing and there’s a little bit of fear, but you know you can do your job in the face of a challenge and in the face of fear. These Paratroopers will face any challenge.”



    Date Taken: 02.24.2021
    Date Posted: 02.24.2021 21:03
    Story ID: 389736
    Location: FORT POLK, LA, US 

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    Downloads: 1