SKOPJE, North Macedonia—The 1st Air Cavalry Brigade from Fort Hood, Texas joined the Italian Brigata Parachutisti “FOLGORE,” or “FOLGORE” Paratroopers Brigade in completing the largest air assault training mission in the parachute brigade’s history.
“This is the first time the ‘FOLGORE’ has conducted such a huge exercise abroad,” explained Italian Army Capt. Matteo Gentile of Brigata Parachutisti ‘FOLGORE.’ “The air assault is the most important part of our exercise so we can coordinate and interoperate with our allies and a very important part of the exercise to validate our capabilities in this operation.”
An air assault is a military technique utilized with vertical lift assets to maximize the surprise shock value to destroy or neutralize the enemy. It is typically employed in areas that are difficult to enter because of terrain or other limiting factors and maximizes the ability to seize and hold those key areas.
“This training event is an excellent opportunity to continue to increase interoperability, to understand each other’s systems and procedures, and to prepare us to fight side by side,” explained U.S. Army Maj. Dan Huff, foreign exchange officer assigned to Brigata Parachutisti ‘FOLGORE.’ “Task Force ‘FOLGORE’ is extremely excited to have the opportunity to practice deliberate air assault operations with a partner force on such unique terrain.”
Two U.S. Army CH-47 Chinooks and four UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters assigned to “Air Cav” transported approximately 400 Italian paratroopers from an isolated location near Krivolak Training Area, North Macedonia to a landing zone in proximity of notional opposing forces (OPFOR) near Skopje.
Detailed joint mission planning for the event started approximately 96 hours prior to execution requiring pilots, crews, and operations planners to quickly build trust and flexibility between units.
The units conducted a deliberate and detailed rehearsal of concept (ROC) drill led by Task Force Lobos of 2-227 General Support Aviation Battalion (GSAB), 1st Air Cavalry Brigade. This gave all participants a chance to visualize the training event and work through any friction points discovered prior to execution.
As paratroopers rucked to the pickup zone (PZ) high up in the hills of North Macedonia, they liaised with pathfinders of the U.K. 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team and 1st Aviation Brigade Combat Team to efficiently stage for pickup by the U.S. Army helicopters.
Once the aircraft landed, pathfinders and helicopter crew chiefs used hand and arm signals to notify the Italian paratroopers to begin loading each aircraft. Speed is a key to a successful air assault mission, but safety of everyone involved is always the priority.
Once the doors were shut, the 20-minute journey to the landing zone (LZ) began.
Troops on ground in each location used tactical field communications equipment to reach and coordinate with the pilots throughout the training event. Italian troops on the ground secured the helicopter landing site and set the conditions for the air assault.
"Timing, coordination, and swift actions on the objective are hallmarks of a successful air assault and moreover a well trained team," explained U.S. Army Maj. Victor Rodriguez of Task Force Lobos. "To witness and participate in the rapid development of this multinational team was an honor and pleasure. I believe all members of this exercise can say we have achieved a satisfactory level of shared understanding."
After aircraft touched down the LZ, paratroopers rapidly exfiltrated and established perimeter security around the battlefield. Regardless of how hot it was outside or how tired they were, the Italian Soldiers exhibited utmost military bearing as they executed tactical movement around the LZ.
Both units described the training event as an overwhelming success.
"Working with the Italian task force was a wonderful experience. Conducting an air assault is always complicated, but to do it at this scale in demanding terrain certainty brings out the best in planning for both the ground force and the aviation task force." said Lt. Col. Brad Deloach, commander of Task Force Lobos, 2-227 GSAB. "This is an air assault we will never forget."
Exercise Swift Response 2022 is an annual multinational training exercise, which takes place in Eastern Europe, the Arctic High North, Baltics, and Balkans from May 2-20, 2022. It aims to present combat credible Army forces in Europe and Africa and enhance readiness by building airborne interoperability with Allies and Partners and the integration of joint service partnerships.