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Paratroopers get mountain training at Ranger School site

October 6, 2011

By Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod

DAHLONEGA, Ga., Oct. 6, 2011 -- Paratroopers with Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Division concluded two weeks of mountain training Sept. 30 at Camp Frank D. Merrill, the site of the U.S. Army Ranger School's notorious mountain phase.

The steep, heavily-timbered terrain might have been familiar to the 34 paratroopers who wear the Ranger tab among the 800-strong 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, a storied unit that participated in most of the large-scale Allied airborne operations during World War II.

Not so for the rest of the Soldiers.

"They learned that, in the mountains, one wrong turn in land navigation can seriously affect the entire unit," said Capt. Joseph Driskell, assistant operations officer for the battalion of paratroopers.

"Sometimes, the terrain is different than what the map says. A wrong turn might mean an extra 800-foot climb up a steep hillside," he said.

The training at Camp Merrill was part of a mountain warfare train-up planned by the battalion commander, Lt. Col. James R. Salome, to ready his paratroopers in the event they are deployed to Afghanistan. The unit has also been sending a number of Soldiers to mountain warfare schools in Alaska and Vermont to bring home lessons learned to fellow Soldiers, said Salome, a former Ranger School company commander and instructor.

Many paratroopers told Driskell the training at Camp Merrill was the best they'd ever had in the Army, he said.

Driskell's immediate boss and head of operations, Maj. Jason Glemser, said the training was a time to relearn much of the field craft lost over a decade focused on counterinsurgency operations in urban environments.

That included lessons in ropes and mountaineering, taught by Ranger School instructors. In fact, when one paratrooper succumbed to a heat-related injury, his company was able to employ a fixed-rope casualty evacuation and move him up a 400-foot slope in less than 15 minutes, according to Driskell.

The battalion's three dismounted rifle companies rotated into the training area in four-day cycles, supported by headquarters and forward sustainment companies.

The training was strenuous with some platoons covering up to 34 miles in the mountainous terrain in just two-and-a-half days. It was the ideal type of training for Soldiers to bond with their team and squad leaders, many of whom were young noncommissioned officers new to the position, said Driskell.

The 1-504th PIR is part of the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team. The brigade was last deployed to Iraq's Al Anbar province in 2009-10.

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