U.S., partner nations jump into Saber Junction 16

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- U.S. armed forces and 17 other NATO and European partner nations joined for Exercise Saber Junction 16, March 31 - April 24, 2016, at Hohenfels Training Area, Germany.

The exercise provided more than 5,000 participants the opportunity to conduct land operations in a joint, combined environment and to promote interoperability with participating allied and partner nations.

"Saber Junction 16 is a huge endeavor and a chance for all participating nations to be involved in one of the largest jump exchange exercises ever," said U.S. Army Maj. Andrew Garcia, 173rd Brigade Support Battalion support operations officer. "This is a very impressive group of nations we've formed."

The U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade hosted the exercise which focused on large, multi-national airborne jumps and heavy equipment drops on multiple landing zones. Each coordinated effort allows the partners to connect -- personally, professionally, technically and tactically -- to build stronger, more capable forces.

"Saber Junction 16 allows us to work on our international coordination and communication so we can have a greater presence in the air and on the ground," said Garcia.

NATO and European partners decided to stage their strategic presence in the largest concentration of U.S. allies and partners in the world.

"Once everyone arrived here we jumped into the heart of the exercise," said U.S. Army 173rd BSB Command Sgt. Maj. Todd Burke. "We got to work closely with our allies and identify one another's capabilities in order to find any holes in our plans."

No nation can confront today's challenges alone; Saber Junction 16 demonstrates the United States' resolve to stand side-by-side its NATO and European partner nations. Like any real-world contingency, U.S. Army paratroopers depend on a solid partnership with the U.S. Air Force to provide precise movement in the air.

"Mobility Air Forces are fully capable of conducting joint, combined operations across the full spectrum of conventional, unconventional and hybrid warfare," said Col. Stephen Hodge, 317th Airlift Group commander. "Exercises such as Saber Junction are great opportunities for our mobility team -- from planners to aerial porters to aircrews -- to demonstrate this capability."

The 724th Air Mobility Squadron led the staging effort at Aviano Air Base, Italy, by loading and offloading cargo for more than 36 aircraft per day to set up and execute all flights to Hohenfels, all the while meeting the changing departure schedules.

Additionally, logisticians in the Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants, Traffic Management Office, and Supply sections of the 31st Logistics Readiness Squadron ensured aircraft were fueled, passengers were manifested, and parts were on hand to keep the mobility fleet fully mission ready.

A large part of the flying force came from U.S. Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units. The flightline was lined with C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III, filled with paratroopers and cargo.

"This is what we train for, to see everything come into place on a scale this big," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Steven Marinos, 908th Airlift Wing aircraft commander. "Saber Junction 16 is an affirmation of what we do as pilots. To coordinate with other units and international partners makes every action more important and critical."

Marinos added that each jump and drop has its own unique set of challenges and requires every participant to do their part to the best of their ability.

"The key to this whole exercise has been to stay flexible," said Marinos. "We have an idea of what we intend to accomplish and how to carry that intent through. At the end of the day, sometimes you just have to be able to roll with the changes, adapt and figure out the best solution."

Saber Junction 16 allows all participating nations to meet each challenge and exceed expectations. As each scenario is completed, U.S. and partner nations continue to enhance their ability to work closely together to promote international stability and security, while strengthening mission capabilities and fostering trust.