Sky Soldiers jump in Cameroon during Central Accord 14
March 27, 2014
DOUALA, Cameroon--Approximately 150 Paratroopers from the Vicenza, Italy based 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) participated in multinational Exercise Central Accord here March 11-21, 2014.
Central Accord 14 is a U.S. Army Africa-led multinational exercise hosted by Cameroon. The exercise brings together approximately 1,000 troops from eight nations including the United States, Nigeria, Gabon, Burundi, Republic of Congo, Chad and the Netherlands. U.S. participants include contingents from the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, and the Air and Army National Guards.
The exercise marked the first time the 173rd conducted operations in Africa in more than a decade, when they conducted a training exercise and airborne operation in Tunisia in 2002.
"We have the luxury of coming down to Africa and validating our mission statement, which is to be the force of choice for up to three different areas of responsibility," said Lt. Col. Michael M. Larsen, the brigade's deputy commander.
The 173rd is Europe's Army Contingency Response Force, a rapid-response unit capable of providing paratroopers to conduct operations across the full range of military operations across the U.S. European, Africa and Central Command areas of responsibility.
Members of the brigade staff formed the core of Joint Task Force-Central, the U.S. contingent of the exercise consisting of over 300 personnel from various Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy units.
Approximately 110 paratroopers from the brigade's 2nd Bn., 503rd Inf. Regt. were located in Koutaba, four hours north of the main element in Douala. Their primary mission involved planning and executing the airborne operations as well as training with partner nations in small-unit infantry tactics.
"The 173rd's role here is two-fold," said Larsen. "First it is to be a constructive member of the task force and effectively man, equip and run a combined, joint staff and the second is to come here and get some internal training value out of the event as well."
During the first week of the exercise, the partner nations received classes on combined planning and tracking operations. As the academics concluded, the eight nations formed a combined joint task force and worked together to provide updated information and analysis to the exercise director for decisions.
"This exercise was an effort in building a team of teams," said Larsen. "We went from not knowing each other to working as a fully functioning combined, joint staff headed by a Cameroonian general officer in a period of about two weeks -- that is success."
The Americans were there not just to teach, but also to learn.
"We are all here for the same things: to learn, teach, inspire, and build closer relationships with countries with whom we wish to continue to work with," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Paul D. Tandberg, the brigade's air mobility liaison officer. "We do not live in a vacuum and therefore we must train, exercise and participate with partners that are willing to do the same."
The exercise itself lasted two weeks and each of those days, American paratroopers were teamed with African partners performing a myriad of tasks including aerial delivery, medical capabilities, logistics, civil affairs and combat skills.
But for many of those paratroopers, the highlight of the exercise was training with the Cameroonian army's Airborne Troop Battalion, based in Koutaba, where a combined, joint parachute operation was held.
"There is no better way to build rapport or espirit between two military servicemembers than an airborne operation," said Larsen. "For those who aren't airborne, perhaps it's hard for them to understand, but any unit that faces a type of risk like that together comes out closer in the end. What better way to build a partnership than to jump together? You can't replicate that in any other way -- not through [physical training] or at a social gathering. The airborne operation is more powerful than you imagine as a bonding method and I'm so thankful we did it here in Cameroon."
Spread out over two days on March 15 and 17, over 250 paratroopers from the U.S. and Cameroon conducted airborne operations from U.S. and Cameroonian aircraft in Koutaba. The jump was the first ever conducted by any U.S. military unit in Cameroon, according to the U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé.
"It was awesome," said Capt. Logan E. Newsome, the battalion fire support officer for 2nd Battalion, 503rd Inf. Regt. "It was exactly how I pictured Africa being, coming out of the plane and seeing the open plains and villages of northern Cameroon. It was so cool to see the kids running around on the drop zone, chasing us as we came down -- it was unlike any other airborne jump I've ever done."
First the drop zone had to be surveyed by a team of American specialists like U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Michael S. Sheldon, the air mobility liaison officer for U.S. Army Africa, who formerly held that position at the 173rd a decade prior, deploying with the brigade twice.
"We got with the Cameroonians and looked for a feasible place," said Sheldon. "Luckily there was a drop zone located at their airborne school. So a joint team went out and surveyed the area, checked it against the current survey and then walked the area to see if it was good for all concerned and that it was safe and good to go."
Although aerial delivery of supplies has been a staple of the Central African exercise in previous years, this is the first time that paratroopers have also jumped.
"Moving people, establishing a drop zone and dropping people out is a lot more challenging than the previous exercises," said Sheldon. "We?'ve certainly been stepping up our training and capabilities with our African partners."
Army regulations require paratroopers to receive refresher training within 24 hours of every jump, and during the exercise that training was hosted at the Cameroonian army?'s parachute training school in Koutaba, featuring both American and local jumpmasters.
"It was a different feel to conduct pre-jump training at the Cameroonian parachute training school in Koutaba," said Capt. Galen Cipperly, the 173rd's chief for current operations. "I've only had experience with the American way of doing thing, though most things were similar: the commands, the movements -- there were only slight differences in how they bunch together their commands."
The jump was different than most of the training jumps that the brigade does, as it included American airmen, a Marine, reservists from the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve, as well as paratroopers and jumpmasters from the Koutaba-based Cameroonian army's Airborne Troop Battalion.
"My Soldiers watched in awe as the Cameroonian jumpmasters conducted their [Jumpmaster Personnel Inspection] sequence, inspected the door of the C-130 [aircraft], and most of all, watched the Cameroonian paratroopers conduct a standing landing with their parachutes," said Capt. Dwayne A. Steppe, commander of Chosen Company, 2nd Bn., 503rd Inf. Regt. "The same thing happened with Cameroonians watching our young paratroopers. They loved watching the jumpmasters inspect jumpers, as our sequence tends to be much more choreographed then theirs."
While the jump was a fun respite for the most the jumpers, it was also serious training.
"The jump showed that two unique cultures can come together and accomplish the rather complex task of building and executing an airborne operation," said Tandberg, one of the jumpmasters for the operation.
Co-located with U.S. Army Africa in Vicenza, Italy the 173rd offered a forward positioned and unique capability to the event.
"We provide a capability that [U.S. Army Africa's] typical force pool can't provide -- parachutists," said Larsen. "We provide a unit that has a tremendous lineage, incredible reputation and is combat proven. You can't replicate the fact that we are forward positioned and in the same time zone on a day-to-day basis as most of our African partners, as well as our European ones. It's much easier to acclimate and adapt to the environment because the time zone usually throws your body off for 72 hours. You just can't beat it."