News: 2/82nd Airborne Complete First Decisive Action JRTC Rotation
Story by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull
Exultant paratroopers sat in the winding line of dust covered trucks and trailers. Lights came on and diesel engines rumbled their throaty growls. The sky steadily darkened as the vehicles sluggishly dragged their loads of troops and equipment onto the dirt road. White light flooded the roads as the trucks picked up speed and carried the troops away from their training exercise while the sun sank below the horizon in their rear view mirrors.
The able paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team drove away from the now empty field as the sun set, literally and figuratively, on Joint Readiness Training Center Rotation 13-01. Although many of these Falcon Brigade soldiers had been to Fort Polk, La., for JRTC at some point in their Army career, The Decisive Action Training Environment had not been tailored to be the counter insurgency training with which they were familiar.
This rotation consisted of a higher volume of work in a more condensed period of time than most units are used to as far as traditional counter insurgency goes, said Capt. David J. Lenzi, a battle captain for the 2nd BCT.
“We were used to a little bit more of a relaxed cycle,” he said.
Throughout the last decade, most deploying units had trained to combat insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. As the Army becomes a smaller force, changes to traditional operational concepts require a new approach to training. The Falcon Brigade participated in the first JRTC DATE rotation to better prepare to engage an adaptable enemy in a multifaceted environment within the 21st century. The 2nd BCT emerged ready to assume the Global Response Force mission.
In order to meet GRF needs, a contingent of paratroopers from America’s Guard of Honor stand ready to deploy on short notice to any place in the world and for any mission. For one year, the Falcons will have no precise schedule for deployment and no explicit location of operation until the need arises. If they do deploy, no other unit will be waiting to give them the benefit of experience. They will carry or engineer what they need. They can be positioned anywhere in the world to fight for and defend America’s interests. They will need to be capable of achieving victory in any situation. Such a task requires challenging and realistic training.
The brigade conducted a field training exercise in August to help guide the unit through the newer training focus. The FTX readied the paratroopers for the modernized JRTC rotation and, ultimately for next year’s mission.
“The FTX and JRTC were good training events, said Lenzi. “You would’ve had to intentionally try to not take something away from those training events.”
Equipped to achieve success, the Falcon Brigade left Fort Bragg, N.C., in early October to prove their mettle in Louisiana.
The forcible entry airborne operation to secure Geronimo Drop Zone on Fort Polk, Oct. 10, marked the first of many differences for this new rotation. Paratroopers leapt from planes into the darkness. Shrouded by the night, they removed their weapons from their cases, slung their rucksacks to their backs, and rallied with their units. Augmented by other air and land delivered troops, the force secured the area, established their footprint, established a field landing strip, and prepared to meet their enemy.
DATE training is designed to reinforce the unit’s ability to operate within a Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental and Multinational environment. Thousands of troops from units across the Army and Air Force participated in the rotation. The 82nd Sustainment Brigade, also from Fort Bragg, N.C., deployed numerous soldiers to assist the 2nd BCT. The 7th Special Forces Group from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Ga.; and the 101st Aviation Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, from Fort Campbell, Ky., also provided personnel to assist and train at rotation 13-01.
With no established Forward Operating Bases or defenses, the austere conditions of the exercise marked another change. Concertina wire needed to be strung around the bases. Fighting positions needed to be dug. For most of these soldiers, there would be no buildings to live or work in, no running water and only combat rations to eat. With the diligence of ants, they began working to organize the battle space.
Despite the various changes from current COIN exercises, many paratroopers readily accepted the trial.
“It was a change of mission but nothing was outside the realm of any operation we could conduct,” said Capt. Paul A. Charbonneau, commander of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment.
Past deployments, a GRF mission and JRTC rotations had made his paratroopers adaptable for the new mission set, but they are now even better equipped for next year, he said.
“This was definitely a very good and needed rotation.”
Some of the Falcon Brigade’s younger leaders echoed the infantry company commander’s impressions.
“It was definitely a more stressful environment, but the guys were eager to get out there and do this training that they’ve never done before,” said Sgt. Jonathan E. Knapp, a squad leader for Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment. “Yes, it was stressful but I think all of us would happily do it again.”
For the training scenario, the 2nd BCT deployed to provide security for the people of the fictional country of Atropia. The besieged host nation had requested U.S. assistance to deter a neighboring country threatening to invade for control of natural resources. Concurrently, insurgent forces were emerging within the country’s borders. The Falcons faced both hostile foes simultaneously to test their agility as a contingency force.
Days after gaining hold of the area and launching operations from scratch, the capable paratroopers and their allies moved into the defensive phase of training. They bolstered their defenses against a force of tanks and troops from the fictitious country, Arianna. With the enemy advancing in a two-pronged assault toward Dara Lam, a provincial capital in Atropia, the 2nd Brigade clashed with opposition forces early in the morning, Oct. 18.
Across the training area, rifles and machine guns erupted, firing at enemies dressed in olive-green uniforms. Despite facing an enemy with capabilities similar to their own, the paratroopers displayed a staunch resistance and deflected the enemy’s advance. In some fights, the Falcon soldiers became overwhelmed and lost ground. Reinforcements rushed to aid those in the most desperate fights and swiftly recovered areas and equipment captured by hostiles.
The objective of the training was to push the organization to its breaking point, but ultimately the 2nd Brigade and its allies repelled the assault.
“I know we did well,” said Sgt. Stevie A. Harman, an infantryman and S-3 noncommissioned officer for the 2nd BCT. “Not once did they overwhelm the headquarters.”
“They couldn’t because we destroyed more than 80 percent of their total assets.”
Skills gained combating terrorism allowed the brigade to apply real world experiences and generate success against a conventional enemy force equipped with armor and air capabilities.
“If there’s one thing that the Global War on Terror has enabled 2nd Brigade to do, it is control enabling assets very effectively,” said Lenzi. “Our integration of close air support, and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles like the Predator and Shadow in conjunction with rotary wing, is something we’re very practiced at.”
The following day began the offensive phase. The Falcon Brigade launched a series of operations intended to combat the decimated Ariannian forces as a new threat emerged. No longer an army with enough tanks, air assets and modern equipment to coordinate a large-scale attack, the enemy troops resorted to guerrilla tactics.
Troops of the 2nd Brigade and their allies took to trucks, M-3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, Strykers and helicopters and fought the guerilla forces within the mock towns in rural areas. Air strikes coordinated with the Air Force destroyed the enemy forces’ defensive positions. The Falcons continued to disrupt the enemy efforts with veteran fighting skills.
Despite the successes incurred during the rotation, the training provided an invaluable assessment of where to enhance the unit’s abilities.
“The general feedback from the observers and participators is that the brigade did very well and better than expected in some respects,” said Lenzi. “This was the general consensus overall but we were able to identify some deficiencies.”
Falcon Brigade paratroopers capitalized on the chance to learn from those opportunities and complement their experiences from the last decade to augment their proficiency as warriors.
Counterinsurgency operations over the years have kept many soldiers from experiencing some aspects of their military occupational specialties. Training to fight the Global War on Terror required many different combat arms specialties to share an identical mission. By contrast, Decisive Action gave many soldiers a chance to experience their MOS roles against a uniformed enemy.
It gave me the tools to find out what we’ve been missing as scouts, said Sgt. 1st Class Neil Stanfield, a platoon sergeant for Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment.
“Some of it was an awakening for some of these young guys,” he said. “That was probably the best part of it.”
The Troop’s senior noncommissioned officer confirmed Stanfield’s assessment.
“It showed the abilities we have as a reconnaissance asset,“ said 1st Sgt. Jeff Luckie, the first sergeant for Bravo Troop.
There has been little need for recon assets over the last 10 years and this showed the new scouts what the job is, he said.
“Overall I think these guys did really well and hopefully they learned something from it.”
Training at JRTC ceased on Oct. 21. The day was dry and warm. Soldiers removed their helmets and equipment vests and sat together in groups while Observer Controller Trainers reviewed the events of the past 11 days. They discussed lessons learned from mistakes and reviewed the successes the unit planned to sustain as standard operating procedures. Many paratroopers rested in the late afternoon as their long toil drew to a close.
Just as quickly as they went up, tents and concertina wire fences were disassembled and packed away. Troops packed and cleaned their equipment and loaded the boxes onto their trucks. Within hours they cleared the fields around the drop zone, leaving only patches of trampled grass where the command posts and tents had stood. Once full, the trucks lined up to the road, ready to crawl away as the sun set behind them. The prevailing 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division struck out for the next objective.