Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne sent to Poland as tensions rise in Ukraine
More U.S. troops from the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg boarded flights to Poland on Monday. They're being deployed under the looming threat of Russia invading Ukraine.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced it was sending about 1,700 paratroopers from the 82nd to Europe. Another 300 soldiers from Fort Bragg’s 18th Airborne Corps went to Germany.
Then last week, as tensions continued, they said they were sending more 82nd troops to Poland.
A lot more — 3,000 troops.
Hundreds of members of that second group of troops were loading onto chartered commercial jets on Monday.
Other than reassuring the U.S.’s allies, what the paratroopers will be doing in Poland is unclear. One senior enlisted soldier told WUNC that he had been deployed in 2010 to Haiti for a humanitarian mission after an earthquake, and then to Iraq the next year with the 82nd. In both cases, he said, the job was pretty well defined. This time, it's not what he called a “set mission.”
But the White House and Pentagon have been adamant this is not a combat mission, and the troops will not be going into Ukraine.
Among the troops being deployed are several younger soldiers in their late teens and early 20s who had never been deployed before. They were more upbeat than usual, maybe because this isn't a combat deployment.
“We're excited, you know? Something new,” said 19-year-old Francisco Montoya, who’s been in the army for about a year. “You know, we've never done this before.”
Thomas Ventura, 25, has also never been deployed. He was happy just being sent out on a mission. Ventura said he had trouble sleeping for days and days. He’d wake up at night, wondering when he'd finally get the order to go.
“Expect the unexpected. I just expect the worst but hope for the best,” Ventura said. “I mean, having a really good group around you also comforts your mind, when you know the people that are around you and that you guys (that) know each other's families and stuff like that. So, just ready to go.”
Many of the troops were standing around in groups joking. Again, these troops aren’t expected to see combat. And their mission hasn't fully taken shape yet. Though, if Russia does move into Ukraine, part of it may be helping process Americans fleeing by land into Poland.
The 82nd Airborne is a flexible unit and is accustomed to ambivalent missions. It trains for short-notice deployments and acts as the nation's contingency force. About a third of the division is always ready to go, sometimes on as little as 18 hours.
That’s why the 82nd gets the call whenever the U.S. needs a large number of troops in a hurry – whether it’s for combat, humanitarian missions, or just a show of force.