TOLEMAIDA AIR BASE, Colombia – U.S. and Colombian army paratroopers concluded a bilateral airborne training exercise July 30 with a demonstration of the tactical capabilities of the Colombian Army’s elite special forces unit, the Lanceros, at Tolemaida Air Base in Colombia.
The six-day U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and U.S. Army South (ARSOUTH) bilateral Dynamic Force Employment (DFE) exercise, known as Hidra II, allowed for the rapid deployment of U.S. troops within the SOUTHCOM area of responsibility to respond to crises and support partner nations in the Western Hemisphere.
Over the course of a week, the two armies collectively trained on day and night airborne operations, a tactical field training exercise, medical evacuation procedures, a combat water survival course, and engaged an obstacle course at the Lancero School.
The Lancero School was established by U.S. Army Ranger, and recent Medal of Honor recipient, then-Captain Ralph Puckett, who earned gallantry for his combat during the Korean War.
Brigadier General William L. Thigpen, ARSOUTH commanding general, and General Eduardo Enrique Zapateiro, Colombian Army commander, observed the paratroopers take part in the combined airborne jump on the first day of the exercise.
“Gen. Thigpen and I are in the field today, working hard to develop this training and be completely interoperable,” Gen. Zapatiero said. “We are going to put in practice all the distinct skills and capabilities that make a great soldier.”
The trip to Colombia marked Brig. Gen. Thigpen’s first to an ARSOUTH’s partner nation since he assumed command on June 30, 2021. The trip provided him with an opportunity to see firsthand the operational and tactical capabilities of the Colombian Army.
“We want to thank both Gen. Zapateiro and the Colombian Army for hosting us,” Brig. Gen. Thigpen said. “This Dynamic Force Employment is critical in demonstrating readiness with the U.S. and Colombian Army.”
As SOUTHCOM’s Joint Forces Land Component Command, ARSOUTH conducts security cooperation operations and activities with partner nation armies in the SOUTHCOM area of responsibility in order to strengthen regional security and counter threats in support of a networked defense of the homeland. Through previous agreements at the conclusion of staff talks between the two armies, ARSOUTH staff planned, coordinated, synchronized, and executed the DFE, with the 82nd Airborne Division serving as the operational unit of the exercise.
U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Joseph Capen, jumpmaster and platoon sergeant for Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (2-501st Battalion), 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, reflected on the efficiency of the Colombian paratroopers with whom he trained and jumped.
“One of my favorite things to see was how similar their military and our military operate,” Sgt. 1st Class Capen said. “Another thing was, from a technological standpoint, is they don’t utilize the newest and most advanced equipment, but they are still very proficient in how they operate tactically. It was neat to see.”
The positive impression of the Colombian military echoed throughout the ranks of U.S. paratroopers who took part in the exercise, as they were impacted by the various training events and cultural exchanges during the week.
At the closing ceremony, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel David Webb, 2-501st Battalion commander, expressed his gratitude and respect for the military participants from the Colombian Army who took part in the Dynamic Force Employment exercise.
“The Colombian military is the best partner force that I’ve worked with in 18 years,” Lt. Col. Webb said. “I pray for peace, but I’m always ready for war. If I do have to fight a war, I would be proud to serve with each and every one of you.”