U.S. paratroopers with the Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade live-fired the FIM-92 Stinger man-portable air-defense system for the first time on April 9.

The missiles were shot as part of Exercise Shell 22 in Croatia.

Soldiers from 1st and 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, based in Vicenza, Italy, fired a dozen of the surface-to-air missiles in two-man squads.

Each missile costs about $38,000. The 173rd Airborne Brigade has only previously fired replica Stinger rounds, Stars and Stripes reported.

Each squad was comprised of a team chief and a gunner. The soldiers fired the missiles toward a small target with a flare, brigade spokesperson Capt. Rob Haake told Stripes. The missiles landed in the Adriatic Sea, he said.

According to Haake, “every single [soldier] walked away with a big smile” after firing their missiles. “Everyone felt very fulfilled. They said it was an amazing experience.”

Exercise Shell 22, which was held alongside Croatian forces, also marked the first time the Croatian Air Defense Regiment had conducted a live-fire exercise with U.S. troops.

Also included in the exercise were training events involving airspace control, deconfliction and surveillance.

“We get to cross-train with them, and they get the same with us. My favorite part wasn’t even the live fire; it was seeing our soldiers interact with the Croatians,” Chief Warrant Officer Mark Giauque, the lead coordinator of the exercise told Stripes. “You see them working together and exchanging patches, and you just see the overall camaraderie build over the training.”

Stingers have been in the spotlight lately.

The U.S. and its allies have been sending Stingers and other shoulder-fired anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to Ukrainians fighting off the Russian invasion.

Haake told Stripes that around 300 troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade are currently deployed in Latvia in response to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the U.S. Army’s contingency response force in Europe, meaning it provides rapidly deployable paratroopers to combatant commanders in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran, Penn State alumna and Master's candidate at New York University for Business and Economic Reporting.

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