By the time the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team hands off its global response force duties, it will have had the mission for almost twice as long as originally planned.
"We've been on this mission since October 2014, and we will continue on that mission until mid-December 2015, so 14 months," said Col. Joseph Ryan, commander of 2nd BCT.
As part of the GRF, paratroopers from the brigade must be able to respond to contingencies around the world on short notice. One battalion-sized element is expected to be able to deploy within 18 hours.
In an effort to maintain its readiness over such an extended period of time, 2nd BCT has taken on several training exercises – including a large event earlier this year with more than 900 British paratroopers, ongoing exchanges with National Guard soldiers and an upcoming exercise with special operations forces at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California.
"We knew we had to do this through December as of last December, so it allowed us to put the pieces in place," said Ryan, who along with other leaders in the brigade spoke to reporters June 10 during a roundtable at the Pentagon.
Under the original plan, the 82nd Airborne's 3rd BCT was supposed to take over GRF responsibilities this summer as the division worked toward an eight-month rotation. But much of that brigade was deployed to Iraq in January as part of the United States' mission to defeat the Islamic State terror group.
The division's 1st BCT, just now reset after deploying soldiers to Afghanistan, will take on the GRF mission in mid-December.
The Army's new brigade combat team structure – which includes adding a third maneuver battalion to each infantry and armored brigade – has enabled 2nd BCT to maintain its GRF edge, Ryan said.
"Having that third organization to rotate through as the lead gives us an incredible amount of flexibility," he said. "Where do we suffer a little bit? On the enabling side."
As part of its constant training and preparation, paratroopers from 2nd BCT in April hosted more than 900 British paratroopers on Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for a Combined Joint Operational Access Exercise.
The event was the largest U.S.-U.K bilateral airborne training operation to take place on Fort Bragg in the last 20 years. More than 2,100 American and British paratroopers jumped into Fort Bragg before moving to seize an airfield, evacuate non-combatants and execute offensive and defensive operations.
The exercise, featuring paratroopers from the United Kingdom's 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, 16 Air Assault Brigade, marked a major milestone in the 82nd Airborne's interoperability program with the Brits.
The long-term goal of this partnership is to have the ability to integrate the 16 Air Assault Brigade into the 82nd Airborne Division, allowing the two units to operate quickly and seamlessly if they're ever called upon to respond together in an emergency.
The two partners worked on everything from streamlining communications equipment to training British paratroopers to jump American parachutes out of U.S. Air Force aircraft and vice versa.
"We've got to exercise it," Ryan said. "If we don't exercise it, we'll never figure it out."
The brigade is now looking to a major exercise in August at the National Training Center, where it will work side-by-side with special operations forces, including the 75th Ranger Regiment and Special Forces units.
The August exercise will further cement the brigade's ongoing relationship with its special operations brethren.
"Some of this is borne out of the combat experiences we have from the battlefield," Ryan said. "Some of this is borne out of the new reality we're in now. We don't know where we're going to fight, or who we're going to fight."
This uncertainty also prompted the division to test new equipment and vehicles.
During the exercise with the Brits, the paratroopers tested an ultra-lightweight combat vehicle that allowed them to move across the battlefield more quickly after parachuting out of the sky.
The paratroopers tested the Polaris MRZR-4 to see if they provided more flexibility and mobility, allowing troops to "maneuver over land to very rapidly seize the objective without exposing ourselves to the biggest threats while we're in the air, where we're most vulnerable," Ryan said.
The paratroopers used the vehicles for reconnaissance, medical evacuation and resupply, Ryan said, adding that the ultra-light vehicles are "not fighting platforms."
The brigade plans to bring the MRZR-4s to the National Training Center, Ryan said. Plans also call for the unit to test the Ground Mobility Vehicle 1.1, which is another version of the ultra-light vehicle, he said.
The MRZR-4 is a four-seater, while the GMV can seat seven to nine troops, Ryan said.
"There are advantages and disadvantages to both," he said. "What we're interested in applying in training is to put both vehicles side by side."
Exercising with different units and different equipment allows the brigade to better prepare for whatever contingency may arise, said Command Sgt. Maj. Reese Teakell, the senior enlisted soldier for 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, a subordinate unit in 2nd BCT.
"What the nation gets out of the 82nd Airborne Division is the capability to address a whole host of crisis issues," he said. "We're tailored as a quick-reaction force to get anywhere in the world in a very short amount of time for not just direct action but also humanitarian assistance and other issues."