U.S. 'Sky Soldiers' innovate through air assault training in Europe

With only a few days into the Joint Warfighter Assessment, “Sky Soldier”s have already conducted an 18-hour Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise, planned a night air assault mission, and incorporated multiple new systems into brigade operations.

US Sky Soldiers innovate through air assault training in Europe

« Sky Soldiers » of the 1st Bn, 503rd Inf Rgt, 173rd Airborne Bde participate in training at the Joint Warfighter Assessment on Sunday 22 April in Hohenfels, Germany (Photo: US Army/ Spc Henry Villarama). 


As reported by Capt. Joseph Legros, thus far, “Sky Soldiers” are demonstrating their combat readiness in numerous domains, and preparing to conduct realistic training alongside a larger computer simulation to test battalion and brigade communication and planning systems.

Brig. Gen. Joel K. Tyler, Joint Modernization Command's Commander, visited the Sky Soldiers, April 21, to share his vision for why this training is so important. "We're here to evaluate our training readiness, enable interoperability, and inform Future Force Development," Tyler reinforced to senior leaders of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. "Most people think of interoperability as 'multinational,' but it also means 'intra-army.'"

Joining “Sky Soldiers” in support of intra-army operability is the 1st Infantry Division and their 2nd Brigade Combat Team, U.S. Army Europe's regionally allocated force. However, there are also commands from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Special Forces, making this a truly joint event as well. Airborne Soldiers from Italy's Folgore Brigade help round out the critical allied piece of the exercise.

Tyler encouraged leaders to innovate everything while here. "This is a blank canvas," he said. "Obviously there are some observations and evaluations we want to do, but please take advantage." Under Tyler's leadership, JMC focuses on Future Force Development as well as joint and multinational interoperability and training. JWA presents a unique chance to evaluate future Army initiatives.

One piece of innovation includes the ability for all allies and partners to share a continually updated operating picture. Units are able to accomplish this by integrating communication platforms such as online chatting, inter- and intranet email, orders distribution, and file sharing systems.

"We have had coalition communication systems in the past on previous deployments," said Staff Sgt. Simon Barefoot, 173rd Airborne Brigade Cyber Security noncommissioned officer. But these systems must continually improve in their ability to deal with modern challenges in cybersecurity while still allowing a seamless flow of information between commands."

Barefoot added that the Mission Partner Environment was designed as a tactical system allowing for shared information such as visual graphics, data, fires, command and control, email, chat and a common operating picture.

"We will never go at this alone, so interoperability of our mission command systems is paramount," said 173rd Airborne Brigade S6 Maj. Timothy Jones. "The MPE is what the European theater has been lacking, a persistent enclave that enhances information sharing with allies. This will increase the lethality and survivability of our NATO alliance. The core infrastructure has been doing very well so far at the brigade level, and we've been it pushing down to the battalion level as well."

Part of the JWA scenario will involve complications due to communication system breakdowns. Sky Soldiers must adapt to these issues to win the fight. Success will also hinge upon prior knowledge of terrain, key areas of interest, the battle timeline, and remembering where other units are positioned throughout the battle.

The sheer number of troops and countries involved in JWA make it one of the largest exercises of the year, featuring nearly 7,000 troops from 11 countries, representing more than 160 military units.

“Sky Soldiers” from the 173rd Airborne Brigade jump into JWA at the same time as 7th Army Training Command's Combined Resolve X exercise and the Air Force's Blue Flag command post exercise. Essentially, Hohenfels plays host to three different exercises at once.

Together with NATO allies from Canada, Denmark, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, as well as Australia, Macedonia and New Zealand, JWA represents a great opportunity to work together on many levels.

Sky Soldiers will get the chance to fight opposition forces during JWA. In addition to other combined arms training, Paratroopers will conduct an air assault to open up a landing area for other forces to bring in combat power.

Under cover of darkness, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment and 1st Battalion, 91st Infantry Regiment will rapidly dismount from CH-47 Chinooks, securing the surrounding area with hasty perimeter security. From there, they will seize key terrain, expanding their control of the territory to prevent recapture by opposition forces.

While preparing for the air assault, Paratroopers found time to conduct safety training on mounting and dismounting of land-based vehicles and aircraft, something they will likely do more than 500 times over the next week.

Safety is a huge consideration anytime Sky Soldiers jump, especially when follow-on exercises are included. "Troop movement needs to be safe and it needs to be fast," said 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment's Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Christopher Mullinax.

All the while, JWA personnel and Sky Soldiers will assess new equipment, communication technologies and best practices meant to enhance future joint capabilities.

"JWA provides our Airborne Brigade the opportunity to synchronize all of our warfighting functions in a live and constructive environment," said Col. James Bartholomees, 173rd Airborne Brigade Commander. "Through JMC and the Joint Multinational Simulation Center scenarios, we get to test and integrate all of these functions to deliver combat power against the enemy."

Sky Soldiers benefit from the realistic training scenarios of JWA in multiple ways, but especially in the ability to utilize future force items like new signal intercept vehicles and the communication infrastructure.

Based on feedback from JMC personnel and those participating in JWA, these innovations will be continually enhanced. At the same time, JWA reinforces Sky Soldier lethality and combat agility to make the training as beneficial as possible.

Bartholomees added, "Our focus is to enable mission command and leader initiative at the lowest level. The design of the scenarios and support from JMC absolutely facilitate this focus."

The 173rd Airborne Brigade is U.S. Army Europe's Contingency Response Force, capable of projecting forces to conduct the full range of military operations across the United States European, Central and African Command areas of responsibility.