By Army Sgt. Frank Strumila, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment
QUEENSLAND, Australia, July 24, 2017 — Australia is not for the faint of heart. Scorpions, snakes, and spiders lurk in the Outback; treacherous terrain crisscrosses the northeastern countryside; extreme temperature shifts can leave you sweltering during the day and chilled to the bone at night.
These challenges did not deter the soldiers of the U.S. Army's 25th Infantry Division as they trained alongside their Australian counterparts during Talisman Saber 17.
Talisman Saber is a multinational, multiechelon exercise held in Australia every other year. This year, 33,000 troops from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan trained alongside Americans from all military branches.
As part of Talisman Saber, the Australian Defense Force's 3rd Brigade conducted a certification field training exercise called Operation Hamel. The soldiers associated with the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, from Alaska, Hawaii, and around the Pacific, supported 3rd Brigade's certification as a subordinate maneuver force.
For the soldiers from Alaska, Talisman Saber 17 was the first of three exercises supported by Pacific Pathways, a U.S. Army Pacific initiative of exercises that take place annually around the Asian Pacific region. After completing Talisman Saber 17, the Task Force will travel next to the Hanuman Guardian exercise in Thailand and then to Orient Shield in Japan to build both readiness and interoperability with multinational partners.
Soldiers with the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team's 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment formed the nucleus of the U.S. Army's operations in the field training exercise portion of Talisman Saber 17. Fighting alongside the 3rd Battalion soldiers during the field training exercise were the 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, and the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
For the Tropic Lightning soldiers, Talisman Saber 17 kicked off with a 19-hour direct flight for a task force of paratroopers from 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, and a company from the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry on July 13th. The paratroopers conducted a forced entry parachute assault from six Royal Australian Air Force and U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo planes into the rugged terrain near Williamson Airfield in central Queensland to secure the airfield and establish a strategic blocking position on the battlefield. Once in place, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division soldiers then executed a prearranged hand-over to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment task force and Australian 3rd Brigade troops.
"We started in Fort Richardson, Alaska, as a joint force that consisted of U.S. troops as well as our Canadian counterparts from Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. As we look at the operation and really the bigger picture for the operation here within the Pacific area of responsibility is assuring our allies and assuring our partners here and then deterring our adversaries," said Col. Jeffery Crapo, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. "That's really why we conduct an airborne operation clear from Alaska all the way into Australia."
After the parachute assault, the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, and its supporting units conducted decisive action operations in support of the Australian 3rd Brigade. Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, conducted a tactical foot march while Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, boarded helicopters for an air assault. Both companies had similar objectives: to establish battle positions to block main avenues of approach enemy forces could use to attack the Australian 3rd Brigade.
After several days of the infantry task force gaining and maintaining contact with the elusive "enemy," the American task force participated in the final assault on the enemy's last-ditch positions on Sam Hill and Raspberry Creek on July 20th.
The soldiers who participated in Talisman Saber 17 received incredible small unit training, new field craft skills, and an enhanced ability to work with allied militaries in an unfamiliar environment.
Interoperability was one of the key training objectives of the exercise. Soldiers from 3rd Battalion conducted tactical operations in Australian Protected Mobility Vehicles and trucks from New Zealand. During an air assault mission, a task force of helicopters from the United States, Australia, and New Zealand delivered the Tropic Lighting soldiers to the landing zone. The air assault was the epitome of integration with allied partner battle networks, strengthening allied partner capabilities with international forces for true warfighting interoperable challenges that may arise in operational environments.
Talisman Saber 17 provided the Alaskan and Hawaiian soldiers an invaluable opportunity to conduct combined, joint, and interagency operations in a new and tough environment. As the first leg of 1st Stryker Brigade Combat team's Pacific Pathways, Talisman Saber 17 laid the groundwork for the rest of the deployment. The exercise gave the soldiers confidence that they could travel anywhere in the Pacific region, integrate with their foreign counterparts, and conduct effective operations in an unfamiliar location -- proving they are ready to fight and win at any time on any battlefield.
"Talisman Saber is an excellent builder of readiness, both multinational readiness and unilateral readiness within the United States Army. Being able to train with our allies and partners brings about a level of readiness that is not achievable anywhere else," according to Army Lt. Col. Josh Davis, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment.
"We get the opportunity in the States to train in the deserts of California, the woodlands of Louisiana, and the mountainous and freezing Arctic conditions of Alaska; but being able to train somewhere you're not accustomed to brings a level of readiness and confidence that the soldiers would just not get anywhere else," he said.