Aside from combat, I am most often asked about my experiences as a paratrooper. To become Airborne qualified (jump wings) you must first attend, and pass Airborne school at Fort Benning, GA. I attended this course directly after Basic/AIT training. However, there were many people in my class that had been in the military for a number of years and received this training as a re-enlistment bonus, or because they needed it as a prerequisite to attend other training.
Airborne is a three-week course that is broken into three sections: ground week, tower week, and jump week. Ground week consisted of PT, a PT test, learning the PLF (parachute land fall), understanding operations inside a mock aircraft, and the 30ft tower (practicing how to exit the aircraft). Tower week continues the things learned in ground week, with the addition of: mass exit, harness training (you are suspended in a harness to simulate what it will feel like while airborne), and finally the 250ft tower. Due to the conditions during my course, the 250ft tower was canceled (unfortunate because I think that would have better prepared me for what landing was like).
Finally jump week. During this week we had to complete 5 jumps: 3 hollywood (just parachute and reserve), and 2 combat equipment jumps (gear included weapons case with dummy weapon, ruck which had to weight 35lbs, parachute, and reserve). The gear they had us jump with at school only weighed a fraction of the weight I was required to jump with at 2nd Ranger Battalion. It should be noted that one of the combat equipment jumps needed to be conducted at night.
Depending on your job at my unit (2/75 75th RGR RGT) your loadout would be different. I was in weapons squad so I had the pleasure of jumping all the heavy, irregularly shaped gear. Why does this matter? Well if you aren’t symmetrical than you have a tendency to excessively spin once you exit the aircraft. Regardless of your job you would always jump with: parachute, reserve, rucksack (sometimes the ruck itself hooked onto the jump harness, and other times we used a jump sack that wrapped around the ruck), weapons case (this varies depending on your weapon. Obviously an M4 is significantly different from jumping a Carl Gustav). There were times I had to be helped onto the aircraft because I was unable to walk on my own.
This is a great video that shows a variety of different things you can encounter while static-line jumping. In this video the unit practices an in-flight rigging. Sometime you may have to travel extremely long distances before jumping and it isn’t practical to sit in a harness for long periods (they are uncomfortable). They are using the T-11 parachute (this replaced the T-10D I used during my time). It is apparent how much gear these guys are jumping with because of the awkwardness of their movements. If you finish the video then you will see a bundle pushed out also. These can carry weapon systems, small vehicles (we used to push mini-bikes out to help us reach points faster once we landed), and anything else you could squeeze out the aircraft door.
(Video Courtesy of Daily Military Defense & Archive YouTube Channel)
After exiting the aircraft you want to make sure there isn’t a malfunction (your chute opened completely and there aren’t any twists, etc). After this, you try to orientate yourself to where you are, and your direction of drift. I typically pulled my ear plugs out and let them go to sort my drift if I couldn’t see the ground (night jumps). A few seconds before landing you want to lower your gear (ruck, weapon, etc), then you prepare to land PLF. Static-line jumps aren’t the sexy jumps that you see in the movies. Typically you are falling at 18-22 ft per second and you are going to hit hard. The idea is for you to fall fast enough so you can get into the fight, but not so fast you are seriously injured.
If you have any questions about Airborne school, the kit I used on my jumps, or about my jumps please leave a comment below.
(Featured image courtesy of archive.defense.gov)