ARNHEM, Netherlands - Paratroopers from 11 different nations came together to conduct a two-week airborne exercise titled Falcon Leap, culminating with a static line jump onto the Ginkelse Heide drop zone commemorating the 79th anniversary of Market Garden here from Sept. 2-17.
This exercise, led by the Dutch 11th Air Assault Brigade, Air Mobility Command, brought nearly 1,000 paratroopers together to conduct tactical airborne operations in three phases: Aerial Cargo Drops, Airborne Tactical Interoperability and Static Line Airborne Jumps, and High Altitude Low Opening freefall jumps. Soldiers and Airmen from the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, 82nd Airborne Division, 173rd Airborne Brigade, 86th Operations and Support Squadron and United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command were just a few of the U.S. Allies that partnered with the Dutch to plan and execute this exercise.
Lt. Col. Trent Talley, foreign exchange officer, Netherlands 11th Air Assault Brigade, Air Mobility Command, led the planning of this annual exercise and sought to increase interoperability among the 11 countries present.
“Falcon Leap is a two-week exercise that brings together the joint training objectives between the Dutch Air Force, 336 Squadron, and the Dutch Army’s 11th Air Assault Brigade,” said Talley. “It focuses on the interoperability between joint and multinational forces. The air and ground components coming together are often limited or constrained by national caveats. Falcon Leap is designed to identify those caveats and also identify the level of risk authorization required to achieve results for the warfighter on the ground and bring to bear multinational joint operations.”
The first week of the exercise focused on the logistical aspect of airborne operations as 5th Quartermaster Company, 16th Special Troops Battalion’s sustainment personnel worked with their Dutch Allies to rig parachutes, prepare cargo loads and ensure each heavy equipment drop met safety standards. Warrant Officer 2 Dustin Colwell, senior airdrop systems technician, 16th Sustainment Brigade served as the airborne commander for his unit, including 5th QM Co., 16th STB. Colwell led the planning efforts for over six months leading into this exercise, led the training and conducted static line jump operations with his team. Yet, his first order of business during the operation was ensuring the planning and logistics were synced with NATO Allies and the cargo drops were a success.
“It’s always refreshing to work with other countries,” stated Colwell. “You can see how they operate, their intricacies and you build a partnership that will work on the battlefield. We’re rigging bundles to test out our TTPs [Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures] and build upon our rigging procedures together. We’re using Dutch, Romanian and Italian aircraft to conduct these airdrops and that is when it truly moves into that joint multinational planning. It’s been great so far and we’ve all definitely learned a lot.”
The Dutch and U.S. Allies successfully dropped over 40 bundles of cargo onto Marnewaard Drop Zone accomplishing their goals for the first phase of the exercise. On that drop zone, and every drop zone within the exercise awaiting both cargo and the safe landing of every paratrooper, are the Dutch Soldiers that make each airborne operation successful. The Dutch Pathfinders.
The Dutch Pathfinders, 11th Air Assault Brigade are organized into three teams that are spread across every drop zone in the Netherlands ensuring it is safe for Soldiers, aircraft and cargo to land and the drop zone is secured.
Dutch Sgt. 1st Class Gerben Korevaar, team leader, Dutch Pathfinders has been a part of the unit for five years of the 18 years total he has served in the Royal Netherlands Army. During each Falcon Leap exercise the Dutch Pathfinders pride themselves on taking care of the landing zones.
“Every Falcon Leap we do all the drops,” said Korevaar. “Every year it’s our party. From HLZ’s [Helicopter Landing Zones] to JTACers [Joint Terminal Attack Controllers] we ensure everyone can conduct their missions and actually land out here.”
Korevaar joined the Royal Netherlands Army at the age of 21 and immediately served in Afghanistan. Each team member has multiple deployments and experience working with other nations during combat operations, with one Sgt. Maj. having eight deployments. Korevaar and the Pathfinders know firsthand the importance of training exercises that give the opportunity to work at a multinational level.
“The most important part of this exercise is coming together,” said Korevaar. “It’s international with Germans, Italians and U.S. and it’s very interesting to see the different countries coming together. If you are looking now at everything that’s happening in Ukraine you see that everything is getting more professional and more serious than ever before, and that’s why this year we’ve taken a more tactical approach. Our eyes are open and all the countries participating in this exercise are welcome. We are learning from each other and that’s most important.”
As Korevaar and his pathfinders ensured drop zones were safe for the next week paratroopers from each nation conducted jumps on five different drop zones across the Netherlands, with one in Belgium. Paratroopers conducted static line jumps from Romanian, Italian and many other nations’ aircraft with jumpmasters from each nation. After each successful jump, each paratrooper earned that nation’s parachutist badge during a wing exchange ceremony.
The culminating event, on Ginkelse Heide drop zone, was the airborne exercise commemorating the 79th anniversary of Operation Market Garden. Market Garden was the largest airborne operation in American history and during this ending to this exercise, every paratrooper was allowed to honor that history right here in Armhem successfully jumping from an aircraft, earning them their last foreign parachutist badge from their partnered nation.
Spc. Joshua Stevenson, parachute rigger, 5th QM Co., 16th STB, jumped with Italian troops on his final jump during the commemoration to Market Garden.
“This was great,” said Stevenson. “I met a lot of new friends from a lot of different countries. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I now have Romanian, French and Italian jump wings. I can’t describe this feeling.”
As the different chalks of paratroopers from many different nations landed and walked back to their lead jump instructors for the exercise, to attend their specific wing exchange ceremonies Falcon Leap concluded with each country honoring and remembering the sacrifices of every nation during WWII and why this exercise is important during the last wing exchange ceremony during the commemoration of Operation Market Garden.
Capt. Travis Waters, brigade air operations officer, 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division discusses those sentiments before he awards his paratroopers the American parachutist badge to Spanish paratroopers.
“This experience is very humbling,” said Waters. “As we come here to commemorate the 79th Anniversary of Operation Market Garden all the way from Fort Liberty it has been an honor to serve with you. We all come from many different nations and we all speak many different languages, but we all speak paratrooper. We work and fight together just as they did 79 years ago and today we honor them with our own service. It’s truly been an honor serving with you and to get to put these jumpwings on your chest today.”