Operation Market Garden

by Aaron Schoenfeld
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Joint, international partnerships showcased during anniversary event

Airmen from the 86th Airlift Wing celebrated Holland’s independence Sept. 14 to 20 in the Netherlands alongside joint and international partners during the 65th anniversary of the largest airborne assault of World War II.

Operation Market Garden liberated several Dutch cities, though it did not capture strategic positions held by enemy forces. To mark the occasion and celebrate the September 1944 effort of Allied nations, annual festivities are held throughout the region.

“The end goal of the original mission was to secure the Rhine and liberate the city of Arnhem, which is where we are jumping today,” said Capt. Bart Anten, a member of the Dutch Marine Corps who participated in the memorial jump onto the same battlefield where Allied troops landed in 1944. “On one hand it was a great success because of the liberation, but on the other, it was a failure because of all the Allied lives that were lost.”

This year, about 1,000 paratroopers from six countries descended from the sky in a ceremonial jump timed to coincide with the historic invasion 65 years ago. Six hundred of those jumpers were transported on C-130Js from the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein. In addition to participation in the airdrop, the 37th AS also provided a flyover during the festivities.

“This event usually has only about 80 to 100 jumpers, so it’s about 10 times larger than normal,” said Maj. Travis Shoemaker, assistant director of operations for the 37th AS and this year’s Air Force mission commander. “I’ve never seen this many people participate; it’s good to see.”

U.S. Marine Capt. Ben Michaels serves as an exchange officer with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Dutch Marines and highlighted the joint and international cooperation

present for the mission.

“We’ve got Germans here, Dutch, Canadians, British, Polish and, of course, we have U.S. Army, two Marines and the Air Force flying the birds,” said Captain Michaels, a native of Dallas, Texas.

Many of the jumpers were participating in an international wing exchange that qualified them to wear jump wings from another country.

“For all of the countries we have here today, one of the fun things we’re doing is a wing exchange,” Captain Michaels said. “I’m jumping with British gear, a British parachute and out of a British plane, so I’ll get British jump wings when I land.”

Jumpers from other nations also qualified for American jump wings when they departed Ramstein’s C-130Js.

“Some of the British will also be on our aircraft with American jumpmasters, so the Dutch and British will get American wings,” Major Shoemaker said.

Each jumper was given a detailed briefing about the parachute they were using and the proper procedures for each aircraft.

After they landed in the drop zone where veterans from the original operation were observing the maneuver, they were awarded their new wings.

And though the event itself was certainly unique, aboard the aircraft, the presence of international passengers was nothing new for Master Sgt. Gregory Everett, operations superintendent and loadmaster with the 37th AS.

“There’s not much difference between international and American jumpers, only a language barrier that can be easily overcome because the hand signals are the same,” Sergeant Everett said. Loadmaster responsibilities don’t change much because everything about the aircraft remains the same, he said.

What’s different for the crews, however, is the type of aircraft they’re flying.

This year marks the first time crews from the 37th AS have had the opportunity to jump from the C-130J.

The first C-130J in U.S. Air Forces in Europe was delivered to the 86th AW in April and they have since replaced several of the wing’s older C-130E models. The J-model provides more size and capability than the E-model. The event provided an opportunity for crews to hone their skills with the more capable aircraft. 

“While we’re up here, we are getting our four-ship training reaccomplished,” the major said. “We hadn’t done these kinds of maneuvers with the J-models before this exercise.”

The flying procedures with the J-model are not much different than the E-model, said Major Shoemaker, rather, the equipment is what makes the difference and takes some getting used to.

“We just haven’t done it with this equipment yet. If you were going to shoot with a new rifle, you want to take it out and become familiar with it before you went into action,” he said. “It’s a new airplane. You can’t think of it as just a C-130 because it’s so much different. Even though the procedures as far as the users are concerned are no different, the procedures for the aircrew are not the same, so we need to practice them.”

By users, Major Shoemaker refers to the jumpers or other personnel that may be airlifted by the squadron.

“Absolutely it’s a better aircraft for users,” Major Shoemaker said. “It’s bigger so it can deliver more people. The Army’s mass on the drop zone is larger, but as far as the formation procedures, what we’re training on this week, the user doesn’t care. They just want to be delivered. We need to practice to make sure we do our part right.”

While the event offered a unique opportunity to learn new techniques and strengthen international partnerships, the main focus was on recognizing a historic event for the host nation and the Allied countries involved.

“Really, this is an opportunity for the Dutch armed forces to commemorate this day to celebrate the Allied counterparts who gave their best and their lives to liberate our country,” Captain Anten said. 

Commemorations for Operation Market Garden are an annual operation for the 37th AS and the squadron has strong ties to the event. The squadron, then designated the 37th Troop Carrier Squadron, was part of the 1944 operation and flew C-47 Skytrains to support the Allied cause.