More than 350 soldiers flew aboard several C-17 Globemasters from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, to the U.S. island territory of Guam, donning parachute rigs en route, and jumped in to secure an airfield on Tuesday morning.
Army Alaska spokesman Maj. Charlie Dietz told Army Times the jump was “the largest airborne operation in Guam that we are aware of in recent times.”
The point of the exercise was to showcase a rapid ability to seize territory across the Pacific, even amid a global pandemic.
“There have been beliefs that [our] military power has been significantly downgraded because of COVID, so doing this mission disproves that by showing that even from as far away as Alaska, we are ready to get where we need to be in a time of need,” said Dietz.
Each paratrooper and all support personnel were tested before the mission for COVID-19 and received negative results, according to the Army.
The troops will also be quarantined on Andersen Air Force Base when in Guam, “and will stay in a safety bubble from everyone else to ensure there is no opportunity for the virus to spread,” Dietz added.
The COVID-19 pandemic curtailed some of the Army’s largest training exercises planned for the year, including Defender Europe 2020, which was supposed to take place this spring.
The Army’s Pacific Pathways exercises were also diminished briefly but are beginning to restart.
The last U.S. soldiers from 25th Infantry Division to participate in Pacific Pathways departed Thailand in April, several weeks earlier than planned, to get ahead of the growing pandemic in the region, unit officials said at the time.
The second iteration start date was intended to coincide with Exercise Balikatan 2020 in the Philippines on May 4. However, that was canceled in late March by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
“Things will normalize,” said Army Pacific commander Gen. Paul LaCamera during an Indo-Pacific land power conference in May. “We will either return to a normal or adapt to a new normal, but either way we will figure it out as a team of allies and partners.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.