SHYMKENT, Kazakhstan, Sept. 14 -- Gen. John J. Sheehan, commander of U.S. Atlantic Forces, will be the first to jump out of the planes Monday over Kazakhstan at the start of Exercise CENTRAZBAT '97, the longest-distance airborne operation in U.S. military history. Beginning today, the United States and Turkey will take part in CENTRAZBAT '97, a six-day joint military training exercise with Russia and five of its former republics.
The event, which will involve some 1,400 troops, will be the first joint exercise between the United States and the nations of the former Soviet Union since the Cold War ended six years ago. The 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., is sending 500 paratroopers to the exercise. Also present will be the newly formed, 500-member Central Asian Battalion, comprised of troops from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Sheehan, considered for the position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff but who is scheduled to retire next week, and the U.S. paratroopers are scheduled to leave Fort Bragg early this morning aboard six C-17 transport planes, together with 40 airborne troops from the Central Asian Battalion. They are to jump on Monday over the exercise site near Shymkent -- located 400 miles (640 km) west of the Kazakh capital of Almaty -- at the end of a 20-hour, 7,700-mile flight that includes two mid-air refuelings. It will be the longest-distance airborne operation ever attempted, according to the Pentagon. After reaching the ground, the troops -- along with paratroopers from the other nations -- are to act as peacekeepers in a fictitious conflict between two imaginary countries where the United Nations has arranged a cease-fire but needs help in keeping renegade elements on both sides apart. ---
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