Anchorage's main U.S. Army unit is an elite force which stands ready to fall from a dark sky and perform one of the military's hardest tasks.

The 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson – colloquially known as the 4/25 – is made up of paratroopers who routinely train to seize and hold territory in what the Army calls a "joint forcible entry operation."

"Here in Alaska we combine a couple things," said Lt. Col. Matthew Myer, with the unit's 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry. "The toughest mission in the Army, which is airborne operations. The second thing is the environment here in Alaska, with the cold conditions of the winter."

In many of the 4/25's training missions, including a recent nighttime drop exercise at JBER's Malemute Drop Zone during a three-day exercise, the operation is "scenario-based" depending on the military assets on hand. 

"A lot of what we are doing is replicated," said the 4/25's commander, Col. Jason Jones. "We're going to drop in artillery and conduct what is called team fire."

With only two aircraft available for the drop, the exercise is organized accordingly.

"The planes will have to make a couple passes," Jones said. "On the first pass they'll drop what we call the heavies: that's a platform with all the equipment. Then that will land and pick up paratroopers."

During the exercise a total of 535 paratroopers with five battalion task forces, including infantry, engineer, scout and cavalry elements, work together in Alaska's cold weather.

"In (the) real world if we were doing this, you'd have anywhere from 15 to 20 aircraft all in one line coming in out of the sky, which is pretty significant," Jones said. "It's pretty hard to get that for a training exercise."

Once the paratroopers hit the ground, they are up against an opposing force in a live, field-training environment, facing a dynamic enemy of similar strength.

"Tonight is all about training to be ready," Myer said. "So if we do get a call, we'll have no problem completing any mission we are given."

Part of being ready is keeping soldiers fresh on skills beyond those they used in Afghanistan, during the 4/25's latest real-world deployment. The unit returned to Alaska in May.

"Afghanistan is more going on small patrols, driving around with our headlights on; now we're changing that mindset," Jones said. "Now we may find ourselves behind enemy lines and have to be more tactical."

The Army tries to perform the large training exercises at least twice a year.

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