FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska — In a historic first for Ladd Army Airfield, in the early hours of March 26, approximately 400 paratroopers from the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 11th Airborne Division, and several allied nations parachuted onto Fort Wainwright. The purpose of the airborne operation was to seize objectives on the post and the Combined Arms Combat Training Facility, which was defended by opposition forces from the 1st Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
Paratroopers from the United States, Canada, Italy, and Australia participated in the parachute jump, which kicked off the Division’s annual regional combat training center exercise, Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center-Alaska 23-02. Representatives from the militaries of Chile, Nepal, Mongolia, Norway, Germany, Canada, Finland, Italy, and Japan were also present to observe the jump and follow-on activity. The exercise will test the participants’ ability to conduct large-scale combat operations in a cold weather environment.
Because such an aviation event had never happened at Ladd previously, extensive planning, preparation, and coordination were undertaken in the proceeding weeks to ensure the safety of an operational airfield as a drop zone.
To mitigate risk to paratroopers, particularly since they were descending in the dark, electrical power on the north and south sides of the airfield was turned off before the arrival in zone of the cargo planes carrying the troops. Once the Directorate of Public Works received the all-clear, staff worked with Doyon Utilities to restore power to the affected areas. A full-scale test of the power shutdown and restoration was conducted on Feb. 17 to ensure the success of all procedures.
The Directorate of Emergency Services, which includes the Police and Fire Departments, as well as the 28th Military Police Detachment and 549th Military Working Dog Detachment, played a major role in ensuring the physical safety of participants and post residents.
Four traffic control points were set up around the airfield to stop vehicles beginning 15 minutes prior to and continuing throughout the jump. Traffic flow was able to resume in those areas once all jumpers had landed.
With the airfield bordered on multiple sides by the winding Chena River, the fire department’s river rescue team moved into position on both sides of the river in advance of the event.
“We had four personnel staged at the east end of the airfield, with two on each side of the river. One firefighter on each side was wearing an immersion suit in case anyone were to land on the river and break through the ice,” said Fort Wainwright fire chief Charles Gibbs. At this time of year, numerous soft spots and open water are present along the river.
According to Gibbs, the department’s ladder truck and its crew were staged at the north end of the airfield during the evolution in case any jumpers landed on rooftops or in power lines. Ambulances were also staged on both the north and sound ends of the airfield in the event of injuries.
“Our mutual aid partners in the community were ready to assist if need be,” Gibbs said. All fire departments throughout the greater Fairbanks routinely provide support to each other in emergency situations due to a longstanding mutual aid agreement.
The potential for injuries was high, but both on- and off-post healthcare providers were prepared, according to Maj. William Keller, chief of operations for U.S. Army Medical Activity-Alaska.
“MEDDAC-AK is working in synchronization with the 11th Airborne Division Surgeon Cell to maximize healthcare delivery assets at Bassett Army Community Hospital during the highest risk portions of the airborne operation to ensure Soldiers are treated rapidly and are able to return to their unit as quickly as possible,” Keller said in advance of the exercise. “The staff based at Fort Wainwright worked with Fairbanks Memorial Hospital personnel to ensure that both facilities were staffed appropriately to treat all soldiers that may have required medical care.”
No significant injuries from the jump were reported, and all jumpers landed on the airfield, so river and rooftop rescue services were not required. The exercise will continue through early April, with events happening in the training areas around Fort Wainwright and Fort Greely.