DECEMBER 23, 2016, CAMP MACKALL, N.C.(AFNS) – Instead of snow above North Carolina’s frigid skies, the horizon was filled with paratroopers as they ‘flurried’ to the ground, during the 19th annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop Dec. 5-16.
Every year, the Fort Bragg community in North Carolina begins celebrating the holidays early by inviting their coalition partners to participate in the world’s largest annual multinational airborne exercise and give toys to children in need.
“Operation Toy Drop supports the local community by giving underprivileged kids toys while also allowing international teams to enhance their parachuting capabilities,” said Staff Sgt. Joey Hauser, Jr., the OTD Netherlands host nation jumpmaster instructor. “The training is designed for domestic and foreign nations to build relationships, to share knowledge and find better ways to conduct operations.”
According to Hauser, the goal is to ensure nations take back lessons learned as they train to sharpen abilities as paratroopers.
“This is accomplished as each nation implements their practices and partners with other nations,” Hauser said. “By training together, they familiarize themselves on a multitude of aircraft and standardizations, which can also lessen cultural barriers.
“Finding common ground is important, but it’s a big challenge to work in an environment with so much variety and strict timelines,” Hauser, Jr., added.
Canadian, Dutch, Botswanan, Czech, German, Italian, Polish, and Singaporean armed forces worked alongside U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force units around the clock, getting accustomed to different languages and methods.
For Staff Sgt. Leanne McCombs, an 824th Base Defense Squadron fire team leader assigned to Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, it was pivotal to build rapport with partner nations during the 820th Base Defense Group’s first OTD.
“The ability to get an understanding while building trust and cohesion among [the U.S. armed forces] and other nations was important because it will allow us to perform better back home,” McCombs said. “Trust is the biggest factor for us and if we have familiarity with a nation that we can depend on, it makes us more confident to perform in real world scenarios with exercises like these.”
For security forces personnel from the 820th BDG, their role was to provide force protection on the ground but they are also airborne qualified. At home station, the chance to jump is rare, which made OTD exhilarating for McCombs.
“There’s a lot of excitement with an exercise like this because we don’t get to jump as often back home,” McCombs said. “This was also fun because there’s the serious focus to train, but also the chance to enjoy the experience. Usually, when we perform jumps, there’s a follow-on mission or we have to parachute with heavy combat equipment with more at stake, but this was more enjoyable and relaxing. This whole experience has been awesome with all the different aircraft and people.”
Approximately 120 jumpmasters helped 4,000 paratroopers descend the skies under parachute canopies. For Sgt. Daniel Jenkins, a Canadian Army Advanced Warfare Center parachute instructor, the chance to share tactics and stories with others continues to forge the universal brotherhood experienced in the paratrooper world.
“The airborne community as a whole is like a family, no matter if you’re American, Canadian, Czech or Polish,” Jenkins said. “When we go overseas to conduct our business whether it’s for combat or peacekeeping, we fight the mission and the chance to come back here and share those experiences and build relations is very special. It’s been a great time for a great cause.”
By Airman 1st Class Greg Nash, 23rd Wing Public Affairs