By Capt. Richard Packer (USARAK)February 22, 2016
FORT POLK, Louisiana (Feb.22, 2016) -- The security situation in the Republic of Atropia devolved into extremist violence as attacks by the Arianian Special Purpose Forces and South Atropian People's Army escalated against the U.S.-backed Republic of Atropia government.
Col. Scott Green, commander of U.S. Army Alaska's 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division and the 4-25th Airborne Task Force, emerged through the woods with select members of his staff and security detail to the back entrance of the ROA U.S. Consulate in Dara Lam, Kirsham Province. Distant machine gun fire can be heard as Green's paratroopers fought off a patrol of enemy extremists.
After meeting with the consul general and provincial governor, Green stood with civic leaders to tell the media he was honored to stand in solidarity with the governor and the people of Atropia in protecting them from extremist violence. "My Soldiers and I are very honored to be here in Kirsham Province in partnership with the provincial government and the provincial security forces to assist in providing increased safety here and to support the security of the people," Green said.
You won't find Atropia on any map, at least not an accurate one. This scenario was developed by the Joint Readiness Training Center Operations Group to test units on their ability to execute real-world missions. For Green and his paratroopers, this exercise validated the 4-25 ATF as the only U.S. airborne unit in the Pacific region capable of performing forcible entry operations.
Last year, the Army ordered the 4-25 BCT(ABN) at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, to downsize to an Airborne Task Force of 1,046 as part of an Army structure initiative to develop a smaller, more agile force. After contrasting the mission set, composition and capabilities of a 1,046 ATF, U.S. Army Alaska asked the Army to consider including additional enablers and combat multipliers for a total end-strength of 1,597 paratroopers.
U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has yet to make a final decision on the future of 4-25 ATF. For the purposes of this validation exercise, USARAK and 4-25 Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) used the 1,597 composition to show the value and effectiveness of additional enablers.
The bulk of 4-25 ATF is composed of 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment and 6th Brigade Engineer Battalion. They are led by a small headquarters element commanded by Green.
More than 730 paratroopers jumped from eight U.S. Air Force C-130s and four C-17s into dark skies to initiate the execution portion of the exercise, making this the largest American airborne operation in recent memory.
Immediately after hitting the ground, 3-509 Infantry Battalion seized five initial objectives and secured Dara Lam. These six sites were dispersed across more than five square kilometers of fields, forests and towns surrounding the airstrip.
With the infantry battalion providing perimeter security, 6 Brigade Engineer Battalion focused on building survivability berms, protective defilades, improvements to the airstrip, including the repair of an 18 ft-wide crater so planes could land safely, and managing the constant inflow of aircraft delivering more supplies, equipment and personnel.
"We got in a firefight the first night on our way to the assembly area. It lasted about 30 minutes and our squad leader was [notionally] killed. It really brought it home that we need to be ready for combat at all times out here, just like when we're deployed," said Spc. Zachary Johnson, from Gillett, Wisconsin, a horizontal engineer with Alpha Company, 6 Brigade Engineer Battalion.
Engineer Soldiers also provided security and support to the U.S. State Department at the Dara Lam Hotel as American citizens were vetted and evacuated home to America.
"They're doing a great job," said Canadian Army Col. Martin Frank, USARAK Deputy Commander - Operations. "I admire that the 4-25 ATF paratroopers have seized the opportunity to leverage this rotation to establish their capabilities and prove their combat effectiveness."
The validation was conducted over three days as a portion of the brigade's combat training center rotation 16-04 at the Joint Readiness Training Center here.
"The Fort Polk garrison has facilitated every requirement [4-25 Brigade Combat Team] has requested. It's been an incredible experience to work with them," said Maj. John Karcher, executive officer of 4-25 Brigade Combat Team (Airborne).
Karcher also said the Joint Readiness Training Center Operations Group Observer/Controllers (the scores of mentors who advise and assist units during Combat Training Center rotations) have been invaluable.
"Their insight at every echelon and with every combat function has been vital in helping us develop from an unknown entity at the beginning of this exercise into a proven combat power generation capability for the U.S. Army by the end of the validation," said Karcher.
Now that 4-25 ATF has been validated, there is a proven record of the unit's ability to apply combat power in forcible entry operations and to conduct follow-on missions. This is a valuable capability option available to combatant commanders throughout the world.