About 1,200 soldiers from 13 countries looked up toward the thin white clouds stretching across the sky. Having just participated in a brief NATO battle demo, they awaited the November event’s finale.

First Lt. Tim Pena would later say it was “a beautiful day to jump.” But he hadn’t quite arrived just yet.

Right on time, three C-17s cleared the hills to the north, about 1,000 feet above the ground. They flew over the fictional village of “Casas Altas” — an assembly of concrete buildings where the brief staged battle had occurred. A few seconds later, soldiers who nine hours earlier had taken off from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, began to pour from each of the two rearward doors, in standard one-second intervals. Over 500 U.S. paratroopers from 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division floated to the rocky ground below — it was a beautiful sight.

The jump capped an event, designed largely for the international press, to wrap up NATO’s broader, 36,000-troop, 30-plus-country exercise known as Trident Juncture. NATO described the demonstration as a message to Russia, though Russia declined an invite.