Paras Drop into Spain to Train for Future Operations

As the UK prepares to draw down its forces in Afghanistan, Colchester-based paratroopers were on a joint military exercise in Spain training for the threat of future conflicts around the world.

The training exercise with their Spanish counterparts, Ex Iberian Eagle, marks a significant transition for the soldiers of B Coy, 3 PARA, as they resume their role as part of the Army’s high-readiness Airborne Task Force (ABTF), having served their last operational tour in Afghanistan.

The exercise, the first of its kind in Spain with the 1st Parachute Infantry Bandera ‘Roger de Flor’, is aimed at preparing the paratroopers to be deployed anywhere in the world as the first soldiers on the ground. As such, they will need to be able to operate without the logistical and world-class medical facilities that have been developed in Afghanistan.

Sgt Gaz McMahon said: “I think of it as us being like a fire brigade, where something kicks off and we go there to sort it out in the short-term before handing it over to other units – that’s our bread and butter and is the way it always used to be. Sgt McMahon, who has served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and three tours of Afghanistan, said: “People have got used to all the infrastructure a long-term operation brings, but that is not really what the Parachute Regiment is all about. We are the first ones there. What this exercise is doing is reminding us that we need to be able to live out of our Bergen and sleep in whatever shelter we can find.”

As part of the exercise the soldiers were dropped onto the arid slopes around Zaragoza in Spain for five days with no respite from the bitter winds that howl across the plains and take the temperature down to below freezing. Carrying weights of around 60kg, they then needed to patrol up to 25km a day to complete a series of clearance and training drills at purpose-built compounds before making camp each night using derelict buildings and sleeping under their ponchos. The final stage was a joint attack with 465 soldiers from the Spanish Parachute Regiment on an enemy compound, before travelling to Madrid for a joint parachute jump.

Maj Hargreaves, OC B Coy 3 PARA, said: “Ex Iberian Eagle has been a fantastic and rare opportunity for B Coy to train overseas, conducting unilateral and bilateral training as part of La Bandera Battle Group. It has replicated the challenges, freedoms and opportunities that contingency and the post-HERRICK world offer whilst also highlighting skills and capabilities that must endure beyond Afghanistan whilst reinforcing and developing our core ABTF skills. The semi-arid environment replicates potential flash points and the challenging weather conditions of Zaragoza have tested our endurance. The short notice nature of the exercise has also tested our readiness, contingency planning, interoperability and ABTF capabilities as well as improved and rekindled defence relations at a tactical level with a key European and NATO partner and ISAF ally. The Spanish have been excellent hosts with some first class facilities, but the highlight must be the integrated parachute descent and the shared bond of the airborne brotherhood. The hardships, unique challenges and adversity of a paratrooper do not change whatever your nationality.”

Jumping alongside the PARAs, the Spanish paratroopers were given ‘British Wings’ for completing their jump using British parachutes, something the Spanish troops were very keen to achieve.

Capt Santiago Jimenez, OC 1st Coy 1st Bandera, said: “We are very excited about the jump, we are paratroopers so we love jumping anyway, but we are especially proud to wear British Wings on our chest as everybody wants to jump with the British. But we have also learnt a lot from the joint exercise too, and I am sure that combining some of their procedures with our own will mean I will be able to improve the training of my soldiers.”

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