FORT BRAGG, N.C. – The 1st Brigade Combat Team “Devils” of the 82nd Airborne Division just completed their 10-day Mission Readiness Exercise. The exercise, Devil Storm, took place on Sicily and Holland Drop Zones, as well as across the entire training area at Fort Bragg, N.C. Devil Storm lasted from December 1 through 11, 2020.
Devil Storm began December 1, when the brigade received their mission from the 82nd Airborne Operations Center. This order initiated the 96-hour sequence, a regimented system of preparation that allowed the brigade to coordinate and ready their personnel and equipment for a combat airborne operation. In an unusual twist, one of the many changes forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire week occurred virtually between the brigade and division, rather than holding large, in-person briefs throughout the process.
The 96-hour prep included brigade and battalion staffs conducting the Military Decision Making Process to determine the best courses of action for the missions, sustainment nodes inspecting and preparing vehicles and equipment for transport and administrative offices updating records and preparing manifests for airborne and ground movements.
The concept of this year’s operation was certainly more complex than ever before, and the brigade had to prepare on multiple fronts.
“For this Devil Storm, the BCT had to seize two geographically-separated drop zones,” said Col. Andrew Saslav, 1st Brigade Combat Team Commander. “This challenged the brigade, certainly, but also increased the number of dilemmas the enemy had to face and doubled the follow-on force flow of the brigade and division.”
Another significant change for this Storm exercise was the variety of delivery methods to put Paratroopers onto the battlefield. Aircraft were restricted to 50-percent capacity, which meant most of the personnel taking part in the mission were transported from the brigade HQ, Pike Field and surrounding areas by ground into the drop zones. They were still organized into the standard “chalks” of Paratroopers, and delivered in similar timed sequences as “notional” jumpers, in order to still properly exercise the administrative procedures of accounting for thousands of Paratroopers descending upon the field in the first, or Alpha, echelon of the operation.
“The 189th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB) was integral in getting our personnel into and out of the operation,” said Maj. John Aitken, the 1st BCT Support Operations Officer, or SPO. “They coordinated for and operated a fleet of military vehicles and buses throughout long nights to ensure our mission was a success, and we’re grateful for the teamwork.”
On the evening of December 8, hundreds of Paratroopers donned chutes and equipment, and conducted heavy equipment drops and a mass-tactical static-line airborne operation onto Sicily and Holland Drop Zones, officially beginning the operation. Simultaneously, more than 2,000 more were delivered by ground to mass combat power and prepare for the days ahead.
A significant focus during this Devil Storm was a series of Fire Support Coordination Exercises (FSCX), which tested each Company and Troop on their ability to coordinate movement with indirect fires to ensure successful maneuver. Units conducted movement to an objective, systematically calling in varying levels of artillery and mortar fire, designed to neutralize or destroy enemies near or on a planned objective prior to contact. Each unit employed their Fire Support Teams (FISTs) to identify targets, call for fires and observe effects on targets.
“The Fire Support Coordination Exercise (FSCX) allows Company and Platoon-level leaders to synchronize joint fires, often including close air support (CAS), rotary wing attack aviation, artillery, and mortars,” said Ltc. Benjamin Shepherd, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment. “The FSCX reinforces that maneuver leaders should lead with Fires to shape the battlefield and that fires planning is an integral part of the MDMP.”
These operations couldn’t be executed without proper planning, and the brigade and battalion staffs were constantly busy in some portion of the Military Decision Making Process, analyzing information and issuing orders to subordinate units with plans to engage with and destroy the enemy.
“I think that our staffs were challenged in each phase of the operation and grew as a result,” said Col. Saslav. “New members were forced to learn how to integrate into a large-scale airborne operation and senior staff members had to change their preconceived notions to look for new, more effective means to complete the mission across such a great distance.”
For 72 hours, the Devil Brigade fought against skilled opposing forces (OPFOR) across miles of terrain, honing their individual and unit-level skills as they progress toward their Joint Readiness Training Center exercise in early 2021.
Saslav, who will be leaving his command in January, is proud of the performance and progress of the Devil Brigade as they move forward, and is reflective of his two years leading these Paratroopers.
“This was very emotional for me as the BCT Commander,” he said. “As my last exercise, in many ways it was the culmination of a two-year journey that many of us have taken together. I’ve been overwhelmed with both pride and humility – pride in all that they have accomplished and are still capable of achieving, and humility because when you get out and talk to these paratroopers, listen to them and hear their stories, it is humbling to have been offered the opportunity to walk in their ranks.”