FORT POLK, La. — More than 198 Soldiers from the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment boarded four C-130s at Alexandria International Airport to jump into the Geronimo drop zone during a training exercise Dec. 9. It was the first time in more than five years that the battalion performed an exercise of this magnitude.
The training was a return to essential tasks for the 509th. “We are responsible for maintaining our readiness and our proficiency in airfield seizure and all the collective tasks that build up to that,” said Lt. Col. Scott Himes, 1st Bn (Abn), 509th Inf Reg commander.
The Soldiers rode busses to Alexandria International Airport where they rigged up and performed safety checks before departing to the drop zone in the Joint Readiness Training Center.
“It’s what we call a mass tactical jump, where the aircraft will be flying in trail and all four planes will drop at the same time. When the Soldiers hit the ground, they will assemble by company and perform their initial assault objectives,” said Maj. Daniel Godbey, 1st Bn (Abn), 509th Inf Reg executive officer.
After packing up their parachutes, the Soldiers turned in their chutes and moved to assembly points to perform their objectives. One company sealed off the lead edge of the drop zone, another sealed off the trail edge and the final team cleared the runway and command and control facilities.
While only 198 Soldiers jumped, those who didn’t were spread throughout the airfield, ready to connect with their companies. Alpha Company, the unit responsible for clearing the runway and command and control facilities, made contact with an opposing forces tank and successfully eliminated the threat to continue with their security.
“That’s what the first wave of an airborne assault does. They secure the runway so that air-land forces can come in where the aircraft lands and put off tanks, vehicles and more ammunition. We’re the initial force — the alpha echelon — that jumps in to secure the airfield,” Godbey said.
When the battalion conducts the JRTC rotation, they don’t fight as a battalion; instead, some Soldiers act as the OPFOR and others act as the Afghan National Army, Godbey said.
This was one of the few times the unit could execute a mission as a battalion.
“This was really the first opportunity for us to do a real, full-up airborne assault on an airfield. It’s a great opportunity for us because it not only give us the chance to train as an organic U.S. Army infantry unit, we also use this to better ourselves as an (opposing force). In an airfield seizure, little groups of paratroopers hit the ground and their key leadership is not with them and they’re spread out. It gives us the chance to train our guys for the decentralized execution of a plan,” Himes said.
It was also a new opportunity for some of the younger Soldiers. “This (exercise) is so the Soldiers see that this is what several hundred paratroopers in the air looks like, this is how hard it is to assemble, you have to move quickly to get there — things like that,” Godbey said.
The battalion hopes to have a larger scale exercise in the summer.
“A lot of people think we’re a (Training and Doctrine Command) unit, but we’re actually a go-to-war Forces Command unit. How do we stay credible as a world-class OPFOR while, at the same time, maintaining our proficiency as a FORSCOM unit? This helps us stay proficient in our collective tasks,” Himes said. “We just have to figure out the best way to keep ourselves trained and that’s the biggest challenge.”