By 1st Lt. Stefan GazdaSeptember 21, 2015
CALVI, France (Sept. 21, 2015) -- Paratroopers, assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, conducted bilateral training with the French 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment, French Foreign Legion, during Exercise Kepi Blanc here, Sept. 1-16.
Kepi Blanc, named for the distinctive headgear worn by the Foreign Legion, is a partnered training exercise between the United States and France to strengthen NATO capabilities through allied training and to establish a lasting partnership with between U.S. and French airborne units.
"It was a great training opportunity to expand our interoperability between our NATO allies," said Sgt. 1st Class Ronald Cole, scout platoon sergeant, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. "It was the first time our unit has worked with the French Foreign Legion and hopefully we have opened the doors for future training with them."
The two groups of paratroopers began the training exercise by conducting combined marksmanship training and exchanged close-quarters marksmanship training techniques. During that time, the legionnaires, who qualified with the U.S. standards, were awarded U.S. marksmanship badges.
The next part of training included mountaineering, amphibious warfare and close-combat attack training utilizing French SA 341/SA 342 Gazelle scout helicopters.
"This was an outstanding training event," said Sgt. Christopher T. Sylvester, sniper section leader for 1st Battalion. "We were able to hit all four corners of our mission-essential task list. There is nothing the area and the legion can't provide for a scout platoon; the island is a unique experience providing a multitude of varying terrain."
The focus shifted the second week of the exercise when the U.S. paratroopers were integrated into legion's yearly platoon validation course - a field training exercise executed over the entirety of northwestern Corsica with long foot movements over dense mountainous terrain.
The allied paratroopers conducted multiple platoon-level training lanes, with challenges such as water crossings and intensive mountain movements. The field training event concluded with a test of the U.S. scout platoon's capabilities.
The platoon executed a 24-hour reconnaissance and surveillance mission near Lumio, Corsica, beginning with a nighttime 9K march through the countryside and a clandestine movement through the city. The platoon then climbed a 2,500-foot mountain and established surveillance sites, providing continuous intelligence collection and reporting to the legionnaires. The French paratroopers then utilized information gathered by the Americans to conduct a raid on the objective.
"I have enjoyed our time training with the 173rd Airborne Brigade," said French Maj. Jean Baptiste, an operations officer with the 2nd Regiment. "It was a unique experience training with the scout platoon - we do not have a unit like this in the French Foreign Legion."
For some of the U.S. paratroopers, it was perhaps an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"This has been the best training rotation I have been on over the last two and a half years in this unit," said Sgt. Daniel T. Fedele, a scout team leader. "It is an experience I will never forget."
After the French exercise, the scout platoon is scheduled to conduct another combined training - reconnaissance operations with the 8th Engineer Regiment of the Italian army's Folgore Airborne Brigade.