Alaska’s Army division to stage major training exercise near Fort Greely

Paratroopers with the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) touch down onto the Donnelly Drop Zone during a March 2022 iteration of the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center rotation. (Jason Welch/11th Airborne Public Affairs)

More than 10,000 soldiers will converge on the Donnelly Training Area near Fort Greely next week in preparation for the largest military training exercise of its kind. And the 11th Airborne Division will begin moving equipment into the area later this week in convoys on the Parks and Richardson highways.

Soldiers from B Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, conduct reconnaissance in Donnelly Training Area during March 2022’s JPMRC. Later that year, the 11th Airborne was activated and succeeded U.S. Army Alaska, or USARAK, which was deactivated. (Christopher Dennis/USARAK Public Affairs)

Nearly all of the 11th Airborne’s soldiers will take part in this year’s Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center exercise from Feb. 8 through Feb. 22, along with U.S. Marines and troops and equipment from the Alaska Army National Guard and Canadian military. It’ll be the biggest such exercise since the division was reactivated two years ago to rebuild the nation’s Arctic fighting force.

“This will be the first major air-assault movement for our 1st Brigade Combat Team since the inception of the 11th Airborne,” said John Pennell, a division spokesperson.

The 1st is one of the Fort Wainwright-based units that will take part in the exercise, along with elements of the 52nd Aviation Regiment and 25th Aviation Battalion. Other units are out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where the division is headquartered. Pennell said the two units will arrive at the training area in typical air-assault fashion.

Soldiers assigned to 1st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 11th Airborne Division, engage with opposing force soldiers with 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) during last year’s JPMRC at Yukon Training Area, near Fort Wainwright. (Patrick Sullivan/11th Airborne)

“The 2nd Brigade Combat Team will be jumping into the Donnelly drop zone from Air Force aircraft,” he said in an interview Friday.

Pennell said most of the personnel participating in this year’s exercise who don’t jump out of airplanes will be transported to the training area in helicopters.

“You’ll see an increase in helicopter traffic, Blackhawks and Chinooks, flying along the Richardson corridor from Wainwright down into the Donnelly Training Area,” Pennell said.

Pennell said those troops also will jump, from a lower altitude, to take and hold territory.

“The helicopters hover just above the snow and all the soldiers and their equipment pile out,” he said. “The helicopters takes off, and then the soldiers move out to establish security around the perimeter. And more helicopters flow in behind them.”

a helicopter
Canadian Sgt. Robin Marlow, a CH-47 Chinook loadmaster with 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, surveys the Yukon Training Area from the ramp of the Chinook on a reconnaissance flight during the March 2022 JPMRC exercise. Several Canadian units are participating in this year’s JPMRC. (Angela Gore/Canadian Armed Forces)

Transporting troops by aircraft will reduce the number of vehicles in convoys coming up the Parks Highway to Fort Wainwright and then on to Donnelly. Pennell said the division will try to minimize impact to drivers who already must share those icy two-lane highways with commercial trucks, school buses and often snowplows.

“Everything that we can to keep those hassles to a minimum, including spacing between the convoys,” he said. “And we have pullover spots where the convoys will move over and let the traffic pass.”

Pennell said the division also will try to schedule convoys so they aren’t on the road during commuting hours throughout the exercise, as well as afterward when they head back to Fort Wainwright and JBER.

“Again, we’ll be moving things back in convoys, and again, we’ll try to time those convoys so that we’re not on the road during the morning or evening drive time,” he said.

A state Department of Transportation spokesperson said Friday that staff will try to provide as much information as possible about problems that could cause delays on the department’s website.

Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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