TARBES, France -- Paratroopers assigned to the French 11th Parachutist Brigade and the 173rd Airborne Brigade strengthened bonds and capabilities between units with an airborne operation over the French countryside on May 18, 2016.
French jumpmasters from the 35th Parachute Artillery Regiment (RAP) taught the U.S. paratroopers from the 54th Engineer Battalion and the 4-319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment (AFAR) how to operate French parachutes, maneuver around French aircraft, and how to recover equipment on the drop zone.
"The jumpmasters were able to bridge the language barrier very well during our orientation to their equipment. We understood what was going on and what we had to do to rig up properly," said SGT Cameron Miller, Squad Leader, 54th Engineer Battalion.
The French Jumpmasters shared with the 173rd Paratroopers the history and lineage of French Paratroopers that came before them. The paratroopers arrived in Pau, France at the site of the Paratrooper Museum to walk the halls of history and witness airborne operations of the past.
"It was a great experience to see the proud paratrooper lineage of the French unit," said 1st Lt Richard Hinman, Platoon Leader, 54th Engineer Battalion. "It was inspiring and humbling to train with a unit whose lineage goes back to WWII like our own."
They made their way through the museum past older aircraft, vintage parachutes, and details of past airborne operations culminating in the hall of the fallen. This wing of the museum incited pride and reverence for those who died during airborne operations and instilled a deeper since of duty of privilege in the paratroopers before their jump.
The French and U.S. paratroopers made their way to the airfield to don French parachutes and execute the airborne operation. The 35th RAP jumpmasters checked over the paratroopers before boarding the aircraft, and soon thereafter the paratroopers floated over the drop zone with the Pyrenees Mountains in view.
"The French were very welcoming and receptive to the soldiers. They taught us lessons that we can apply to our own operations," said SPC Jaclyn Walker, Information Systems Specialist, 54th Engineer Battalion. "We loved the opportunity to build relationships throughout the week, boosting our confidence for the airborne operation as well as the hope that we will return to train with the 35 RAP in the future."
"Witnessing their passion and aggression in airborne operations was inspiring. We learned a great deal about the flexibility of a paratrooper and jumpmaster team," said Hinman. "It boosts my confidence to jump from any aircraft and parachute within the alliance."
The following day, the allied Paratroopers help a concluding ceremony whereby the U.S. paratroopers earned their French Airborne Wings and had their name written in the Paratrooper leger as a sign of solidarity and partnership between nations.
"It was truly a pleasure experiencing the airborne capability our French brothers in arms bring to any fight. This not only demonstrates capabilities between nations, but creates a stronger bonds between paratroopers." SFC Cesar Ruiz, Platoon Sergeant, 54th Engineer Battalion.
Airborne operations like these reinforce the Alliance and support the NATO mission to build partner capacity and strengthen the relationships between nations.
"Combined airborne operations are critical to increasing French and American interoperability in NATO operations," said French Lt. Col. Fabrice Chapuy, Duty Commander, 35th RAP. "It is an honor to have the 173rd here jumping with us. We look forward to increasing our relationship across multiple battalions of the [173RD] Airborne Brigade."
The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, is the U.S. Army contingency force in Europe, providing ready forces anywhere in the U.S., European, Africa and Central Commands areas of responsibility within 18 hours