TAPA, Estonia - Concealed deep within the woodline, Paratroopers gathered small bits of greenery and dispersed strips of engineer tape amongst themselves. With nearly a foot of snow blanketing the ground, they made their final preparations for the demanding mission ahead. As scraps of green and white were deliberately secured in place, the easily identifiable outline of helmets began to disappear. Camouflaged and ready to go, the Paratroopers steadied themselves on the ridgeline.
The mission laid out before the Paratroopers, a platoon attack, sought to affirm each team leader's capacity to tackle the complexities of a company-level Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise.
Paratroopers assigned to Able Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, conducted team leader training with additional assets provided by Bastion Company, 54th Engineering Battalion (Airborne), 173rd Airborne Brigade, and 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, at Tapa Training Area, Estonia, Nov. 15-17, 2016.
The Paratroopers were provided a set scenario in which they had to identify and engage enemy positions while simultaneously managing calls for direct and indirect fire.
"We're integrating mortars, artillery, and engineers," said Lt. Col. Michael Kloepper, commander of 2nd Bn., 503rd Inf. Regt. "In terms of building readiness, that's a big deal for an infantry company to be able to bring in those assets."
While maneuvering toward the final objective, Paratroopers conducted an explosive breach and cleared bunkers along the route.
"This has been a good way to see the big picture," said Pfc. Johnathan Doss, Paratrooper, Able Co., 2nd Bn., 503rd Inf. Regt. "We are used to doing smaller live fires, usually squad-sized for the most part. Seeing all of the components together, moving cohesively, is a little confusing at first but it all makes sense. It's nice seeing how our whole platoon works as a team rather than just a squad."
The success of a team relies not only on the leader, but on the discipline of each individual Paratrooper explained Spc. Benjamin Grasso, Paratrooper, Able Co., 2nd Bn., 503rd Inf. Regt.
"Listen to your team leader," Grasso said. "It's about making your team leader's job easier as they are running around taking care of everything else, controlling the movements and controlling the fire. If you know what your job is, it makes their job easier."
Faced with the challenges that accompany arctic temperatures, the Paratroopers were undeterred as they hammered down on enemy positions with an array of weapons including the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, M203 grenade launcher, M136 AT4 anti-tank weapon, and Javelin anti-tank missile.
"We are adapting the way we use our equipment, we are adapting the way we construct the training and we're adapting to the environment," Kloepper said. "The task doesn't change and the standards don't change, only the conditions under which we train change."
By drawing together assets from throughout the region, the Paratroopers of 173rd Airborne Brigade demonstrated their speed to deploy while reassuring the alliance.
"This training is possible, along with the opportunities we're enjoying because of our partnership with the Estonian Defense Forces," Kloepper said.
The Paratroopers of 173rd Airborne Brigade on a training rotation in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, a U.S. led effort in Eastern Europe that demonstrates U.S. commitment to the collective security of NATO and dedication to enduring peace and stability in the region. The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, is the Army Contingency Response Force in Europe, and is capable of projecting forces to conduct a full range of military operations across the United States European, Central and Africa Command areas of responsibility within 18 hours.
U.S. Army Europe is uniquely positioned in its 51 country area of responsibility to advance American strategic interests in Europe and Eurasia. The relationships we build during more than 1,000 theater security cooperation events in more than 40 countries each year lead directly to support for multinational contingency operations around the world, strengthen regional partnerships and enhance global security.