United States Airborne personnel took part in a large-scale, night-time jump over central Estonia. President Kersti Kaljulaid also paid a visit to the exercise, based out of Nurmsi airfield, in Järva County. Two of the most iconic airborne units in the world made the jump: The United States' 82 Airborne Division, and the British Army's Parachute Regiment.
The drop, which had been delayed by 24 hours from its original planned date of Thursday night, came as part of Exercise Swift Response, which rehearses potential scenarios in the defense of Estonia, and has involved Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) and British personnel, as well as the Americans.
Altogether around 2,500 members of all three nations' armed forces took part in the exercise, with dozens of aircraft, including Boeing Globemaster C-17s, and helicopters, taking part, while the NATO air base at Ämari, Harju County, was also pressed into action. Equipment was also reportedly dropped from the planes, while the U.S. troops had come direct from their base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for the occasion.
Exercise Swift Response is itself a subset of DEFENDER-Europe, an annual event but with this year's being reportedly the largest in the past quarter-century, and held concurrently across 16 European states.
The jump, which was postponed 24 hours to Friday night due to adverse weather conditions, involved around 600 personnel from the U.S. Army 82 Airborne Division, and the British Army's Parachute Regiment.
Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) that his soldiers were highly experienced in jumps.
"Our most senior non-commissioned officers are the ones that ultimately are standing in that door. And they are the ones that are looking down and identifying the drop zone. We've done this many, many times," Maj. Gen. Donohue said.
Maj. Sheppard of the 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (2PARA) said that: "It was particularly dark, so we couldn't see a great deal, but all the practice that went into it and all the assistance we got from 1508 Fury Battalion and our American colleagues as well as the training we do with RAF partners back in the U.K. made sure we were really ready for this, so we were in a good place to come and do this jump successfully."
Commander of the United States Army Europe and Africa (USAREUR-AF) Gen. Christopher G. Cavoli, told AK that: "In training, we are quite conservative. We have limits that are designed for the safety of our soldiers as they conduct the operation. In a real combat situation, we have significantly looser parameters, and we certainly would have gone last night in a true combat situation."
The next round of jumps take place over Bulgaria and Romania, both NATO allies, Sunday through Tuesday. Gen. Cavoli said the postponement of the Estonian landing will not affect the overall DEFENDER-21 schedule.
"No it did not affect those, because some of those will use different aircraft, some of those will use different aircraft, but some of these aircraft (used over Nurmsi) will be presented to the next set of jumps after that; so the jumps on the ninth are not affected by this, and the jumps on the 10th are not affected by it, even though they're using the same aircraft. But typically in a complex operation, you are correct that the role has a domino effect; in this case it did not," Gen. Cavoli went on.
The AK slot in Estonian and English and including some more visible footage of Friday night's jump, is below.
This article was updated to include comments given to AK from U.S. and British commanders involved.
Editor: Andrew Whyte