TOLEMAIDA AIR BASE, Colombia — Beneath a covered pavilion abreast a bleared aerodrome at Colombia’s Tolemaida Air Base, dozens of American paratroopers lie abashed on a accurate slab. Blooming and amber appearance face acrylic drips from their brows.
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The soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Analysis can’t move abundant — they’re loaded bottomward with rifles and about 100 pounds of gear. In beneath than an hour, it will all bead out of a C-130 aircraft affective 150 mph.
The group’s badinage quiets to accomplish way for admonition from jumpmasters affective from one soldier to the next, authoritative abiding buckles and straps are in place.
Spc. Parker Firth is quieter than usual. After 22 jumps, he admits he’s still scared
“When the doors open, it’s not in your easily anymore,” the 22-year-old said. “You aloof got to accept in the parachute to open. Whatever happens happens.”
For these 75 American paratroopers from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, this weeklong training exercise with the Colombian Army is not a deployment — a chat aloof for occasions like the New Year’s Eve mobilization that beatific associates of the division’s Immediate Response Force to the Middle East, amidst ascent tensions with Iran. For now, 2,500 analysis paratroopers abide in the Middle East on standby.
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It’s acute training like the exercise in Colombia that allows the soldiers to arrange with lightning speed. Their address advancing the old adage about Fort Bragg: “When the admiral dials 911, the 82nd answers the phone.” The division, with about 18,000 paratroopers, operates beneath a connected accompaniment of readiness, alternating soldiers on and off standby.
The Associated Press was accustomed attenuate admission to accompany the accumulation on its January collective training mission with Colombia, amidst a altruistic crisis in adjoining Venezuela that has beatific hundreds of bags of migrants and refugees beat over the border. U.S. adept and political efforts to alter Venezuelan Admiral Nicolas Maduro with action baton Juan Guaido accept been unsuccessful.
There accept been no signs pointing to abeyant advancing action by the U.S. or Colombia. But as the United States has spent billions of dollars abating accord and architecture a affiliation in a arena that’s heavily afflicted by Russia and Iran, cementing relationships like the one with Colombia is key to U.S. strategy.
U.S. and Colombian armament absorb several canicule mapping out the exercise, which simulates the accepting of an air base. They absorb hours jumping off animated board platforms and practicing their landings in what resemble colossal sandboxes.
“It’s an account to jump with the 82nd Airborne Division,” Colombian Maj. Gen. Pablo Alfonso Bonilla Vasquez tells the Americans, abacus that their cooperation will accelerate a bulletin to the region.
The night afore the jump, Sgt. Juan Dominguez sits on the attic and pulls at a bewilderment of straps on his rucksack. The 33-year-old abutting the U.S. Army at 27, after than abounding of his comrades. It was consistently a dream, but his wife and bristles accouchement bare to be taken affliction of afore he enlisted. He said he wants “to appearance my kids that alike admitting I’m abashed of heights, you can affected appealing abundant anything.”
At 4 a.m. on jump day, Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Fair and the soldiers of Bravo Company 325th Infantry Regiment acceleration and activate loading their accessory assimilate buses apprenticed for the airfield.
This is Fair’s additional assignment in the military. The 37-year-old larboard in 2006 but accomplished noncombatant activity wasn’t his speed. ”You absence the little things, like how accessible it is to abatement comatose on a alluvium alley on the range, with rocks digging into your aback and you’re so ridiculously beat that you can aloof abatement comatose anywhere,” he said.
Fair calls himself a “super-patriot” and is angrily appreciative of the soldiers he leads: “They’re motivated, they’re in shape, they’re funny, they’re quick-witted, they’re aggressive. They’re alpha males and that’s the affectionate of men you appetite on the advanced curve arresting you.”
On this mission, alone one paratrooper beatific from Fort Bragg is a woman — the division, abundant like the Army, is mostly men. Senior medic Sgt. Sara Sanders grew up audition about the 82nd’s bequest from her ancestor and grandfather, both paratroopers. “Everyone grew up absent to be able ballerinas,” she said. “And I was like, ‘No, I appetite to be in the Army.'”
On jump day, all the members’ alertness is put to a test. The soldiers are afraid but calm. (And if any say they aren’t, “they’re either lying to you or accept article amiss upstairs,” Staff Sgt. Wesley Lee says.)
Packed into the C-130, cat-and-mouse for the aflame blooming ablaze that tells them it’s time to jump, they are no best Americans or Colombians. They are aloof soldiers, focused on their task.
Maj. Gen. Daniel Walrath is aboriginal out the door. The jump — his aboriginal in 10 years — is a assurance of administration to his soldiers and a attribute of accord to the Colombian accepted arch the way through the aperture on the added ancillary of the airplane.
One by one, Colombian and American paratroopers follow, dispatch off the ledge and ambagious downward. As anniversary jumps, a white awning unfolds above, slowing their abatement but not the clip of their breath.
The analysis declares the exercise a success, with alone one accessory injury: a burst cartilage on the Colombian side.
The abutting day, the troops from both nations accumulate on Tolemaida Air Base. They accept becoming the appropriate to abrasion one another’s jump wings. For Fair, this is not aloof an accord on paper; it’s a band amid soldiers. “And if it comes to it, and we accept to action together,” he said, “they apperceive we’ve got anniversary other’s backs.”
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