Look out below! Airlift wing supports airborne school

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jay Ponder
  • 908th Airlift Wing
The following is the second in a two-part series on the 908th's support of the U.S. Army Airborne School.

More than 300 airborne students have been in the holding area, known as the "Harness Shed" since 5 a.m., donning gear, going over multiple checklists and having instructors and riggers check each person's gear over and over again, ensuring everything is right.

One mistake, one bad piece of gear, one missed item, and the results could be fatal.

The anticipation has been building. To keep the troops' minds focused, instructors, periodically using the public address system, identify which row of students they're addressing and instruct those students to stand. After a few minutes, the students are instructed to turn facing in the opposite direction. This is not only affording the students the chance to stand and stretch, but to have their gear checked yet again.

Large-screen TVs situated throughout the room continously display the do's and don'ts using the 53-pound, T-11 parachute. Instructors move up and down the ranks of students, looking for potential issues with gear. If the noise so much as reaches a loud whisper, an instructor raises his voice, and the room becomes silent.

Riggers stand by to assist with any problems the instructors might find. Outside, the C-130 engines can be heard growing louder. Suddenly, instructors call the next group to stand and prepare to move.

A C-130 taxis to the shed, and the first group of students marches out, up the ramp and into the plane. They sit, adjusting the gear which is so bulky the seatbelts can't be fastened. Once in the air, instructors check gear one last time and the loadmasters open the jump doors.

"The crew stays flexible with us and keep open lines of communication as well as do everything in a safe manner," said Lt. Col. Korey E. Brown, battalion commander of the 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment who presides over the school. "When they tell me that something's not safe, I definitely listen to them and take their recommendations as to how we go forward."

Upon approaching the jump point, the command to stand is given. Two lines of troops face the rear, some faces looking stoic, others sporting nervous smiles.
The instructor shouts out commmands, and every set of eyes in his row are on him. The jump point is close, so instructors at each exit door glance outside, scanning for anything that could cause a hazard to their students. 

The two instructors turn, giving the thumbs-up to each other and start shouting, "Go!" One after another, students step to the door. Some step out like walking down stairs, others leap out and a few show visible hesitation before receiving instructor encouragement.

In any case, all exit without a problem.

"I saw the look on the faces of the students as they came up to the door," recalled Capt. Donald Huber, the 357th Airlift Squadron's mission commander. "Some freeze in front of the door, then the instructors behind them literally just shove them out the door, whether they're ready or not, because that's what they're there for, to jump out of the plane."

Air Force Master Sgt. Richard Holder, one of the airborne instructors, is relatively new, with a mere 13 jumps under his belt. He described how a typical airborne student jumping for the first time feels.

"The first thing going through their minds is probably fear," he said. "They're pretty nervous about getting outside of the aircraft for the most part."

After all the students have exited the plane, chute lines are pulled in through the doors by the instructors, hatches are closed, and the plane heads back for another group.

Landing safely in the high grassy field of the drop zone, students gather up their chutes and the rest of their gear and load up on the bus where they return to the Harness Shed and prepare to do it again.

"We wouldn't be able to have the mission without the Air Force flying the aircraft to support the jumpers," said Holder as he eyed the students gathering their gear in the nearby field, "They have to have an aircraft to jump from before graduating Airborne School."

"It's a complete joint effort," said Lt. Col. Craig Drescher, deputy commander of the 908th Operations Group. "People at Fort Benning like us because they know there's a reasonably good chance if Maxwell signs up for a week, they're going to get everything done that needs to get done because the 908th guys have a 'can-do' attitude."