More than 40 paratroopers of the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, deployed to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, July 14, to participate in Exercise Shared Accord 2013.

Shared Accord is a bi-lateral military training exercise conducted by the U.S. and the South African National Defense Force and is designed to enhance multi-national and coalition partner relations.

“The Red Falcons have gained an appreciation of the differences in both support and execution that the SANDF operate within,” said Capt. Craig D. Arnold, commander of Company C, 1st Bn., 325th AIR.  “The lessons learned from integrating within a foreign unit that we have not previously operated with not only increased our capability and interoperability, but highlighted a few aspects of peace-keeping operations within a permissive environment.”

During this second U.S. Army Africa training exercise, more than 700 Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine servicemembers and more than 3,000 SANDF members conducted training on infantry tactics, airborne operations, humanitarian assistance and peace-keeping missions.

“U.S. and SANDF paratrooper’s quickly found common ground and established a common method of operation to execute two combined airborne operations, a tactical air-landing operation, and 48 hours of combat operations,” said Arnold. “The professionalism and hospitality shown to us by the SANDF made the experience enjoyable and truly something that we will take with us.”

One of the first events was an airborne assault operation near Bloemfontein on July 23. More than 270 parachutists from both nations took part in the event, affording an opportunity for the paratroopers from both countries to earn foreign parachutist’s badges from their allies. A parachute wings exchange was conducted the next day to formalize the pinning of the earned badges.

“This was the first time I’d ever jumped with foreign nationals, let alone in a foreign country,” said Pfc. Stephen K. Rathje, an infantryman assigned to the Red Falcons.

“I’m proud that I have earned a decoration proving I can incorporate myself into at least one fighting force that is not our own, should the need arise.”

On the night of July 26, the Red Falcons and SANDF executed a TALO to seize an airfield to establish a staging point for a follow-on airborne assault operation. An additional stressor added to the exercise was the appearance of angry airfield personnel who had to be convinced to cooperate with coalition forces.

During breaks in training, the Falcons and their SANDF counterparts participated in sporting events in order to foster greater bonds within the ranks.

“We shared some friendly competition while playing games of soccer and volleyball,” said Spc. Corbin K. Richards, an infantryman assigned to the Red Falcons.

He said he personally gained an understanding of how similar allies can be, even if they are a world apart.

“The SANDF soldiers share many of the same goals, values and beliefs that we do,” he said.

An airborne assault was conducted onto Bisho Airfield, near East London, incorporating the paratroopers of the Red Falcons and the South African 44th Parachute Regiment, July 28.

The task force found itself on patrol the following day where they visited local schools and met community leaders. Red Falcon medics also conducted a medical, civic action program with joint civil affairs personnel in Bulembu. One of the final events was a live-fire exercise near Grahmstown.

“The SANDF’s way of operating is significantly different from ours,” said Sgt. William C. Steinepreis, an infantry noncommissioned officer assigned to the Red Falcons. “This caused many situations in which our speed and adaptability as paratroopers was tested.”

“Overall, I believe we have learned a few things from the South African National Defense Force and hopefully they have learned something from us,” he said.

The Red Falcons are scheduled to return to Fort Bragg this month.