SAN GREGORIO, Spain - Paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade completed their participation in Exercise Trident Juncture, the largest NATO exercise in the last ten years with more 35 countries and 36,000 troops participating, here Nov. 6, 2015.

The brigade's 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion and 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, served as the opposition force during the exercise, working together to increase their combined lethality.

An example of the two working together came about when the U.S. scouts were scheduled to conduct an air assault mission against the Estonian army' scout battalion.

"Having an additional mortar capability during the air assault mission would greatly increase our chances for victory against the Estonians," said Capt. Matthew Carpenter, commander, Troop B, 1st Sqdn. "Our only issue was getting the mortar launcher to the fight, so when I reached out to the brigade's engineers and discovered that their forward support company could sling load it - I couldn't say no!"

Company E, 54th Bde. Eng. Bn., based in Chinchilla during the exercise, sent a sling load team 500 km across Spain in order to prepare and execute the sling load operation.

"That particular mortar launcher isn't covered in the manual - so it required a certain level of expertise from our team," said Sgt. 1st Class Leo Andrews III, a pathfinder and platoon sergeant with Company E. "The 120 mm mortar was mounted to the Humvee trailer, so we rigged it as a tandem load - but we had to be careful because of the extra weight."

Following that mission, the paratroopers from Co. E, as well as aviators from U.S. Army Europe's 12th Combat Aviation Brigade and the Spanish soldiers from the 10th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, conducted additional sling load training with engineering equipment to improve efficiency and allied interoperability.

"Trident Juncture was an amazing opportunity to train with our allies from several nationalities," said Spc. Merlin Grassiree, a sling load team member with Co. E. "It's pretty thrilling when a massive helicopter is four feet above your head and wind is blowing 100 miles per hour in your face. You create a bond with the people with who you train - this I why I joined the army!"

The paratroopers from Co. E are next scheduled to participate in Exercise Dagger Resolve, a combined rapid runway repair exercise with the 82nd Airborne Division and the 15th Engineer Battalion in Hohenfels, Germany, beginning Dec. 1, 2015.

The 173rd Abn. Bde., based in Vicenza, Italy, is the U.S. Army Contingency Response Force in Europe and is capable of deploying ready forces to conduct the full range of military operations across the U.S. European, Africa and Central Commands' areas of operations within 18 hours.