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Inside the Gates: JBER’s Malemute Drop Zone hosts Fort Wainwright’s Sugar Bears

Hundreds of local paratroopers from Spartan Brigade participate in training exercise
Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 9:35 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The first of two large-scale airborne operations happening on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson this week took place throughout the day Tuesday, with hundreds of paratroopers training for combat at the base’s Malemute Drop Zone.

Multiple CH-47 Chinook helicopters carried about 400 paratroopers – in waves of a couple dozen or so – from the edge of the drop zone and up so that each could practice coming off the aircraft and safely landing on the ground.

The practice, known as “proficiency jumps,” was specifically to maintain their currency as U.S. Army paratroopers, according to Maj. Jason Welch, JBER’s 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division public affairs officer.

“Spartan paratroopers are required to conduct regular jumps,” Welch explained after the training event, “to maintain their ability to conduct airborne operations in various situations, such as while carrying a full combat load of equipment (and) during daylight or nighttime hours.”

Jumps are practiced in different kinds of weather conditions as well.

As for Tuesday, a mild day weather-wise, some participants – all of whom are part of the 4-25 – were jumping for the first time and carrying only their parachutes and related safety gear. Others carried hundreds of pounds each between their chutes, packs, weapons and other items.

“Everyone has gone over this numerous times,” said 1st Sgt. Alex Tanner, a command chief participating in the jump, “because we don’t let people out of the aircraft unless we’ve gone over everything, and everyone is proficient and confident in what they’re doing.”

According to U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Christian Meza, some staff showed up as early as 5 a.m. to help establish drop zone operations, while many began at 7:30 a.m. to start their several rounds of jumps.

“Planning process (first), now we’re in the execution phase,” he said, adding that he was excited to be back at a drop zone and set to head up for a jump, even though he does it every few months at minimum.

“I love what I do,” he added. “I love all the soldiers out here. And I’d much rather be out here than in the office.”

The helicopter crews, also called the “Sugar Bears,” hail from Fort Wainwright, Alaska, and are part of the 1-52 General Support Aviation Battalion. With the unique setup Tuesday, these teams would pick up and drop the Spartan Brigade paratroopers off at the same spot, allowing onlookers to see the whole process from start to finish at the same location, right in the middle of Alaska wilderness.

“Nothing beats it,” Meza said, “in the world. Especially being in Alaska? That’s, like, the cherry on top. Being in the Army is cool, but this only makes it cooler.”

Another separate but also large airborne operation – featuring a couple hundred paratroopers making drops from C-17 and C-130 aircraft – has been scheduled for Thursday as part of a rehearsal for the U.S. Air Force’s exercise Red Flag.

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