FORT BRAGG, N.C. (WTVD) -- After nearly two years, Fort Bragg paratroopers will be making a full return to one of the largest international military exercises in the world amid a global pandemic.
Swift Response 2021 is an annual, large-scale U.S. Army-led exercise designed to build strategic and operational readiness between the U.S., NATO, and other European allies.
It's a part of the larger operation, Defender Europe 21, a multi-national event that will take place until June.
Capt. Colin Kanzari, the Air Officer for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, tells ABC11 that the reason none of these troops need to wear a mask is because they've tested negative for COVID-19 and are fully vaccinated.
"All of the paratroopers that you're going to see out here today are vaccinated plus 14 days to ensure we're protecting first and foremost ourselves, our community, and once again, our NATO allies," Kanzari said.
Last year, many of the exercises and events were canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; however, this year, Fort Bragg officials say they're ready to go.
More than 7,000 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division will execute three multinational airborne operations between May 1 and May 15. They will be joined by the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the Polish 6th Airborne Brigade, and nine other nations.
Lt. Col. Mike Burns, a spokesperson for the 82nd Airborne Division, says troops will conduct a series of near-simultaneous Joint Forcible Entry (JFE) operations into Estonia, Lithuania, and Romania. Following those operations, Burns says each brigade will "conduct follow-on assault missions, helicopter air assault missions, and live-fire training at their respective locations."
As of Thursday, Fort Bragg soldiers were completing last-minute rehearsals and trainings on post.
Burns says a few hundred Fort Bragg paratroopers are already in Europe with another thousand expected to fly out from the military installation Friday morning.
Hundreds of Fort Bragg paratroopers prepare to deploy to Europe for international military exercise