Here's what it looks like when paratroopers seize an airfield

Every once in a while, America finds they desperately need an airfield in someone else’s territory. When there are no forces nearby to seize said airfield, U.S. paratroopers climb into cargo aircraft by the hundreds and get ready to beat down some defending forces. Here’s how that happens:

1. The units grab their gear and rush to waiting planes.

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Photo: US Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Smith

Units on different missions will have different minimum timelines, but airborne response forces pride themselves on attacking anywhere in the world in 24 hours or less.

2. Most missions are “heavy drops” where vehicles, artillery, and other large equipment are dropped with the soldiers.

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Photo: US Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Smith

3. The heavy equipment will generally be deployed first.

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Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Annette B. Andrews

4. Once the equipment is out, the paratroopers will begin raining from the sky.

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Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Mike Pryor

5. The soldiers maneuver their chutes to avoid hazards on the drop zone and then execute “parachute landing falls” when they reach the ground.

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Photo: US Army

6. Once they reach the drop zone, troops mass as quickly as possible so they can begin maneuvering on the enemy. Chem lights, reflective panels, and other markers are used by leaders to show troops where to congregate.

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Photo: US Army Spc. Cody A. Thompson

7. These points have to be defended from the enemy forces near the drop zone.

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Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Mike Pryor

8. Artillery units will try to mass on their howitzers so crews can prepare them to fire.

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Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Annette B. Andrews

9. Soldiers with radios must immediately get them up and running so leaders can coordinate the assault before an enemy counterattack materializes.

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Photo: US Army Spc. Cody A. Thompson

10. Units check in with the ground commander on the radio or by signaling. The commanders will map out where their forces are in relation to the objectives, sometimes changing the attack plan if forces landed in the wrong spots.

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Photo: US Army Spc. Cody A. Thompson

11. As the infantry begins their attack, artillery soldiers hurriedly prepare their ammunition to fire.

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Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Love

12. The artillery will fire in support of the infantry, striking enemies on the airfield and any enemy reinforcements approaching the objective. Typically, they will try to avoid striking the airstrip itself to prevent damage to it.

Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Annette B. Andrews

Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Annette B. Andrews

13. If the howitzers find they landed too close to an enemy position or an enemy counterattack is drawing close, they’ll begin firing “high-angle” shots. These will land nearby, killing enemies in close proximity to the guns.

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Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Love

14. When helicopters are in range to support, they and other aircraft will destroy troop concentrations and heavy vehicles that are a threat to the infantry.

15. Of course, the infantry units also rain steel on the enemy. Mortarmen are part of the maneuver force, moving up to the enemy forces and striking them with high explosives.

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Photo: US Army

16. Some of the infantrymen on the ground will also have grenade launchers. M230 and M320 grenade launchers can be attached to the infantryman’s rifle. The M320 can also be carried as a separate weapon.

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Photo: US Army

17. The infantry will clear the buildings and the area surrounding the airfield to ensure no defenders are left.

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Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Mike Pryor

18. Once the airstrip is secure, the ground forces will call for reinforcements to begin landing. This could consist of anything from additional airborne infantry to heavy armored units with M1 Abrams.

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Photo: flickr/Josh Beasley

19. If the main airstrip is damaged or cannot accommodate all the aircraft needed for the mission, engineers will cut out dirt “forward landing strips” for the C-130s so reinforcements can continue pouring in.

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Photo: US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brian E. Christiansen

NOW: Here’s what an Army medic does in the critical minutes after a soldier is wounded >

OR: These 7 photos show how Marines take a beach >

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