Paratroopers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division executed what will be their last Joint Forced Entry Exercise for more than a year. The exercise took place April 24 through April 26 at Gela Drop Zone.

The JFEX is an annual division training event conducted with elements from Pope Air Force Base. The 1st BCT Paratroopers won't be doing it again for more than a year because they are preparing to deploy to Iraq and will be deployed for at least a year. But what made this year's JFEX more distinctive is the fact that 1st BCT executed what is normally a division-wide event entirely on its own because all the other units in the division are deployed. This was no small task as 660 personnel jumped from 10 C-130s and 14 heavy platforms consisting of vehicles and ammunition bundles were dropped from three C-17s.

"This exercise is important because it's the paratroopers' last opportunity to get training in a skill they may need during the deployment," said Lt. Col. Mark L. Stock, battalion commander for 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment and one of the airborne commanders for the JFEX.

"This training gives paratroopers a flavor of the task before they deploy so they don't lose the flavor if they have to do it later on," added Sgt. 1st Class V.K. Graf, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade Combat Team.

"It could help us in situations (in Iraq) where there are certain areas that can't otherwise be reached," said Pvt. Armando Sanchez, Delta Troop, 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment. Sanchez cited a recent bridge the enemy blew up in Southwest Asia making an area difficult to access. "The more training we get, the better off we are when the time comes so we can rest assured that everything will come out all right," he said.

This year's JFEX was a "Hollywood" jump. This meant the paratroopers didn't execute it wearing combat equipment and no additional tactical maneuvers, such as seizing the airfield, were conducted. However, the exercise still had all the dimensions of a "purely airborne" event, said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark D. Sturdevant, 2nd Bn., 504th PIR.
"Everything from the alert to the assembly on the DZ (drop zone) is just the same," he said.

"They even will do the ground maneuvers they would normally do on a tactical jump in their head," added Stock.

The event marked the start of a new life cycle for 1st BCT, Sturdevant noted. There is a large turnover of personnel in the brigade and about 200 of the new paratroopers had never participated in the JFEX. The exercise not only gave the new paratroopers valuable training, but it was also an introduction to the thrill and tradition of the airborne experience, Sturdevant said.

"It's quite a sight to see hundreds of paratroopers dropping from the sky," he said. "It's what we do. It's like riding a roller coaster only they're paying you to do it!"

The JFEX turned out to be a great training event, Stock said, in as much as all training objectives were met well within the time standard across the brigade with mostly minimal injuries.

"This was the last time for these paratroopers to do this training event for a long time and they got the most out of it," Stock said.