HOHENFELS, Germany — The 173rd Airborne Brigade kicked off Exercise Saber Junction 20 with a joint force air assault infiltration from Grafenwoehr Training Area into Hohenfels Training Area, Germany, Aug. 10, 2020.
Saber Junction 20 is an exercise designed to assess the readiness of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, to execute unified land operations in a joint, combined environment, and to promote interoperability with participating ally and partner nations. The exercise involves more than 4,000 participants from the U.S., Albania, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, North Macedonia, Romania, and Ukraine.
“We conducted an air assault of over 300 paratroopers and 14 vehicles across three different lifts,” said Capt. Donald Michael, the aviation planner for the brigade aviation element.
The air assault is the first of a three phase movement for the brigade as they infiltrate into Hohenfels Training Area.
“They’re going to conduct area reconnaissance and secure their tactical assembly areas. That will enable follow on air landings into the short take off and landing strip that will build combat power for the brigade as well as enable the subsequent ground assault convoy which will move in after it gets secured,” said Michael.
Spc. Jordan Smith, a weapons squad leader assigned to 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, infiltrated into Hohenfels alongside his squad in a CH-47 Chinook flown by pilots assigned to the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade.
“We were the very first company to get in,” said Smith. After landing, “[We] ran out about 50 meters, got down in the prone position in a horseshoe element, waited for the aircraft to take back off, and then took off for our assembly areas to stage for the attack by fire.”
Three types of aircraft were used during the air assault: five CH-47 Chinooks, six UH-60 Black Hawks, and three MV-22 Ospreys.
“It’s an alternative means of getting guys on the ground,” said 1st Lt. Juan Pilarte, a platoon leader assigned to 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. “I’m a big fan of jumping, but if we need to get behind enemy lines at a specific time and don’t have the proper landing zone, I would definitely use the Ospreys to drop us off and conduct an infiltration from there.”
The MV-22 Ospreys were piloted by U.S. Marines assigned to the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263.
Pilarte, who had never flown in an Osprey until this exercise, felt that working alongside the Marine Corps was efficient and beneficial.
“They were able to show me the gridded reference graphics on the helicopter landing zone which allowed me to get my men ready to infiltrate into the area and push into the wood-line that would best put us on our route,” said Pilarte.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the first brigade to return to the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels Training Area after the gradual easing of COVID-19 related restrictions in Europe.
As the health of the force remains a top priority, the brigade is maximizing the use of mitigation techniques such as masks, social distancing, and rotational shift work. Despite the restrictions, the training objectives involved with the air assault were not curtailed.
“This is a very complicated air assault,” said Michael. “It definitely shows the flexibility and deliberate planning this brigade can do.”