FORT BRAGG, N.C. – The 618th Engineer Support Company, “the Nasty,” enters the final phase of the reconstruction project for a flight landing strip on the St. Mere Eglise drop zone.
The FLS is being resurfaced due to natural erosion, and repeated aircraft landings. The natural wear-and-tear to the FLS caused a collection of large rocks and dust which are bad for aircraft tires, preventing them from being able to safely land.
“To bring the flight landing strip back up to code to land aircraft and to take off from there enables force projection on Fort Bragg,” said 618th ESC Company Commander, Capt. Nathan Hall. “More frequent maintenance on a FLS will prevent an overhaul such as this reconstruction project on St. Mere Eglise drop zone.”
According to Hall, proper maintenance on a FLS consists of revisiting drainage ditches, compacting soft-dirt spots with new dirt, measuring the frequency of aircraft landings, and measuring the weather patterns over the drop zones.
“They (21st STS) ensure we have met the measurements and compaction before stating it is ready for aircraft,” said Hall. “Our goal is to not only accept CASA (a small, fixed wing aircraft) to land, which this airstrip was capable of previously, but C-130s too.”
The 21st Special Tactics Squadron is one of the special tactic units of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command that has the authority on Fort Bragg to certify an airfield for landing of aircraft.
Special Tactics Squadrons are organized, trained, and equipped specifically for various special operations missions facilitating air operations on the battlefield. They conduct combat search and rescue missions, collect intelligence, as well as call in close air support or airstrikes against enemy combatants. They are often partnered with other U.S. Special Operations Forces overseas.
St. Mere Eglise is still an active drop zone. Coordination with USASOC and range control is essential and helps with the logistics of the reconstruction of the FLS while maintaining airborne operations.
“Our job ultimately is to support the joint forces who deploy directly to the operation areas or to staging areas to prepare for subsequent operation.” said Hall. “We are one of two companies in the Army that can do airborne airfield damage repair.”
The St. Mere Eglise drop zone and FLS are one of many range control facilities. There are more than 82 live-fire ranges and six major drop zones.
“St. Mere Eglise is by far one of the most heavily used facilities on all of Fort Bragg,” said the Installation Range Officer, Mark “Moose” Murray. “To have that FLS up and operational is key to supporting our large customer base (Soldiers).”
The St. Mere Eglise drop zone and FLS is in a great location where friends and Family members can visit the site and watch paratroopers jump. There are bleachers and picnic areas for any occasion.
“We also built an improved parking area for Families to conveniently park in a safer location,” said Murray. “Family readiness groups and chaplains at times will bring precooked food and beverages for visitors.”
Murray has been the installation range officer since 2016 and has seen many deployments, critical missions, and other operations take priority over maintaining the flight landing strips.
“But in this case, it’s been just a great job by this group of Engineers in making the St. Mere Eglise FLS a priority,” said Murray. “It has been a great working relationship with this unit of young professionals.”