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Birthday Bash: Russian Airborne style

By Cpl. Jean-Philippe Lavigne
First published in
SFOR Informer#119, August 8, 2001

On the second of August in 1930, during military exercises in the Moscow military district near Voronezsh, a parachute element consisting of 12 soldiers was dropped for the first time. This experiment revealed the advantage of parachute troops and their ability to land a quick flanking movement anywhere by air. Since then, the Russian Airborne troops, a reserve unit of the Supreme Commander of the armed forces and among the elite troops of the Russia military, demonstrate their incredible strength, resilience, and team spirit every year in an astonishing celebration.

Ugljevik - With the Russian National Hymn still resounding in people’s heads, the 1st Peacekeeping Russian Separate Airborne Brigade (PRSAB) swarms into the place through a thick black cloud of smoke, waving and shooting their AK 47s in the air, and provoking a staggering row. Under the watchful eyes of SFOR Commander (COMSFOR), Lt. Gen. Michael L. Dodson, and Col. Pinskoy, chief of operations of the PRSAB, the warriors, bandannas over their heads, demonstrate their self-discipline skills, training, and battle readiness during an amazing ballet.

With the clicking of rifles, the ceremony begins. Bodies clash together, bottles of beer and mountains of bricks smash into pieces - destroyed by the troopers' heads and fists. Knives and machine-guns twirl through the air and the flames. Bleeding and sweating, the warriors wolf down live frogs as a main course (plat de resistance), before withdrawing and leaving behind only empty cartridges, brick fragments and splinters scattered all over the place.

That's the way Russian Airborne Troops show what they're made of. Their special training and their operational and strategic mobility enable them to go on long-range missions. Their parachute assault capability means that they can be deployed anywhere within airlift range in a matter of hours.

Airborne Forces maintain multi-faceted combat capabilities and maneuverability. Patriotism and deep traditions, as well as their strength, resilience, and team spirit characterize these hard-working soldiers. Special attention is paid to psychological and physical training of soldiers. Considered elite, they are individually selected from volunteers based on physical fitness and intelligence.

Every morning paratroopers do exercises; the physical training is regular. Soldiers are in good shape; they are able to resist illness and fatigue, even after two or three months of working. Hand-to-hand combat is an indispensable part of training. Battles take place in pairs and against outnumbering enemies. Cross-training and road marching build up their endurance. A Russian motto states: "Paratroopers run to their physical limit, and then run some more."

Since 1988, the paratroopers have been carrying out their peacekeeping missions in various hot spots of the former USSR as well as here in Bosnia and Herzegovina as members of SFOR. Col. Demidov, commander of the 1st PRSAB, participated in combat operations in Afghanistan from 1986-1988, and in two campaigns in the Russian Republic of Chechnya from 1995-1996 and in 1999. According to Maj. Alexander Starunskiy, Russian liaison officer, 80 percent of the officers, warrant officers, sergeants and soldiers of the Airborne Troops have combat experience and have taken part in various armed conflicts. In fact, from the end of the 1980s through the 1990s, 11,500 paratroopers were awarded decorations and medals. Forty-two of those received the highest state decoration, "The Gold Star Hero."

The number of Russian soldiers in the peacekeeping mission here will be reduced within a planned reduction of the Russian military presence in BiH in accordance with NATO authorities.
A representative of the Russian Ministry of Defence has stated that the number of Russian paratroopers in Ugljevik will be reduced from the current 900 to 250 soldiers. Around 180 Russian soldiers have already left Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and military sources have reported that the rotation will take place soon.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: Russia