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Archive for the ‘Parachuting’ Category

The Baldwin Files – Airborne Tactical Assault Panel

Sunday, November 1st, 2020

I have long planned to do a deeper dive into the history of Load Carriage in the U.S. Military with articles called “On the Road to ALICE” and “Beyond ALICE” sometime afterward. I did not prioritize it because…well, it was history and was not going to change. Of course, precursor parts of the series on the MOLLE era would focus on the Fighting Load Carrier (FLC) or “Flic” and the Tactical Assault Panel (TAP). However, I am pushing this contemporaneous chapter on the Airborne TAP (ABN-TAP) to the front because it is relevant to gear that is on the verge of entering the inventory and being worn by at least some Soldiers today and perhaps more in the future. In other words, I am doing it Star Wars or Pulp Fiction style – out of sequence. I know right now most people have more important things to be concerned about than tactical gear, but I hope this will – at least – be a welcome distraction for some.

I am going to assume that long time readers of SSD have a passing familiarity with the FLC and the TAP already. If not, a quick search on this site or the net can bring someone up to speed. When I started doing gear articles on SSD, someone asked my thoughts on the FLC. I had no opinion at the time. I had seen it in Iraq and Afghanistan but had never been issued any of the MOLLE I or II web gear or rucks. Since then I have acquired a number of samples and have experimented with them here on the Homestead. Therefore, I acknowledge that my observations and impressions are based on limited practical experience with the kit. Those of you with more “time in the harness” with these items should feel free to correct me or elaborate based on your own experiences.

There are several serious challenges with developing load carriage “systems” in the military. The big one is that load carriage is a low dollar line item in the DoD budget and is not ever going to be sexy or a high priority. Consequently, the Service involved generally makes little effort to articulate more than a vague concept of what they want because at the macro level load carriage is rarely considered mission essential. Notwithstanding the slideshows steeped in useless generalities and buzzwords, such as “it will support agile full spectrum operations” pseudo-guidance. While I was not in the room, I suspect that for the ABN-TAP the conversation was something like this, “Hey, the TAP is hard for paratroopers to rig to jump. OK, the ALICE web gear was easier to rig…so let’s splice the DNA and see if we get a racehorse or a camel.” I call the result a camel – it will get you there but is not the best ride. It certainly does seem that the focus was largely on adding one gimmick to the new system to make it more jumper friendly. Is that really all the ABN-TAP needs to do for troopers? Sure, old fashioned systems did interface a whole lot easier with a parachute harness. Still, should we not concentrate more on the functionality of the ABN-TAP during the vast majority of time a paratrooper is not wearing a parachute?

And, inevitably, we always seem to prefer fast and cheap over good. At some point, a senior leader gets frustrated because one or more components of “the system” are stuck in the process and it is all taking too long. He decides to go with it “as is.” Reasoning that other changes will be incorporated in the A1 and A2 versions. I think we are at that point with the ABN-TAP. That is not necessarily a bad decision. Much like soldiers have to eventually leave the schoolhouse and go to real units to complete their education, advancements in gear get to a point of diminishing returns if not sent out to the force for larger-scale evaluations and critiques. Unfortunately, that is also a glaring point of failure in the development process. When the item(s) is fielded, the team responsible has been habitually disbanded – leaving no dedicated point of contact or continuity of responsibility tasked to shepherd additional product improvements. It was true of ALICE and it is still true today.

Moreover, units will simply not spend time writing and sending in those hypothetical gear evaluations if not formally tasked to do so. Likewise, soldiers are not encouraged to provide input nor are they afforded any routine way to plug their individual feedback into the system. MOLLE I was only marginally improved by the Army into MOLLE II because soldier complaints went public after the initial operations in Afghanistan in 2001-02. As we know, those negative reports contributed to the USMC abandoning the MOLLE rucksack altogether. The result is that many soldiers – with good justification – simply accept the fact that some of their issue gear sucks and the chain of command does not care. Obviously, it would be better if that were not the case. Soldiers need confidence in their gear – from individual rifles to parachutes and tanks. They need even more confidence in their leaders.

Putting the Airborne transformer requirement aside, what should a good fighting load carriage system be able to do? First, it has to enhance – not interfere with – the soldier’s ability to shoot, move, and communicate effectively as part of a team. Specifically, it should be able to integrate reasonably well with issue IOTVs or plate carriers. It has to securely carry the items of the fighting load like magazines, grenades, IFAKs, etc. in such a way as to make those items readily accessible to a trooper under the stress of battle. With that in mind, the system also has to allow for the distribution and balance of that weight so that it is reasonably comfortable when worn – with or without armor as the mission may dictate – for days at a time. Finally, it helps if the system is as intuitive and uncomplicated as possible thereby allowing soldiers to individually configure, reconfigure, and field repair, the system quickly and as often as necessary. Does the ABN-TAP meet those criteria? No, it falls short in a number of areas.

Let us look at the three samples I have of the ABN-TAP (shown above). The first one (bottom left) I believe is an original prototype. It is unmarked and I expect this was made in house at Natick. SSD has posted earlier news releases on the ABN-TAP. It has been noted that the mechanism for dropping the two front panels is the same as the First Spear JOKER chest harness. It is indeed the same – exactly the same. However, First Spear confirmed to me that although they provide some of their technology like Tubes to Natick, they had no involvement in fabricating these ABN-TAP prototypes. The second version (top center) is labeled as being made by SEKRI. Based on the pictures released by the Army, this is the version I believe that was provided for testing at Fort Bragg. The third (bottom right), all multicam version, is also unmarked. I suspect this is close to the “finished” version that will be more widely issued to Airborne units of the Army.

The ABN-TAP, as shown, has some good points. Obviously, the wider, unpadded M1956-like H-harness yoke will be more comfortable – and no doubt more stable under load – to wear for longer periods than the narrow ALICE-like Y-harness yoke that comes with the TAP. As a side note, I am not a believer in the premise that entirely unpadded yokes are ideal for long term wear. With a full combat load, a little padding goes a long way to providing some needed comfort for the shoulders. The ABN-TAP yoke has webbing bars on the back to allow for the direct mounting of a hydration carrier or MAP. A useful feature that is missing from the FLC and TAP. It is also true that the JOKER drop mechanism works as designed and that will streamline the parachute rigging process. Likewise, the use of a First Spear Tube facilitates quick donning and doffing. That is about it for the positives.

One of the most glaring oddities of this system is that it is clearly not designed to directly replace the TAP. Even calling it a TAP as if it is in the same category as its predecessor is a misnomer. The ABN-TAP is a chest harness and is not designed to work like the TAP. At best, since it has to be worn on top of armor, it is more of a replacement for the FLC. However, while both are “slick” without built-in magazine or other hard gear pockets, the ABN-TAP has considerably less PALs surface area than the FLC. Likewise, the ABN-TAP provides less than half the potential load carriage “real estate” compared to the current TAP which does have built-in internal storage space. That is a poor trade-off. Moreover, the ABN-TAP is absolutely not set up to readily “plug and play” with issue body armor or plate carriers as is the TAP. Indeed, the JOKER mechanism is semi-permanent and is not user friendly or expedient to assemble, adjust, or disassemble. In short, it is a PITA to manipulate and does not allow for the yoke to be dropped and reattached as expediently as the older TAP.

There are some other issues with the ABN-TAP that make me scratch my head. For one thing, it is not a good idea to put those female QASM buckles on the back panel. It probably does not matter if wearing body armor; but, when worn without armor under a heavy rucksack they will likely cause hot spots or even welts on soldiers’ backs. I am sure that was done to conserve the already limited space on the front panels. However, in terms of comfort, it would be better if those buckles were shifted to the front panels instead. There is also a lot – I would say an excessive amount – of webbing supplied to adjust the harness horizontally. When fully extended, the ABN-TAP is 64 inches across! Do we have Soldiers or Marines who are 64 inches in diameter? I looked up Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s stats. At 6 feet 5 inches, and 260 pounds, he has a 50-inch chest. I suppose that with body armor and a puffy Level 7 parka HE might need all 64 inches of room…maybe. Most of the rest of us could do without all of that extra webbing.

I was always taught that if you identify a problem you should also present some possible solutions. Hence, I have some suggestions. Upfront, I appreciate First Spear’s innovative technologies and Natick’s dedicated and quality work on this project. I have no doubt the ABN-TAP delivers exactly what they were asked to deliver. It just is not a fully effective replacement for either the FLC or the TAP. Do we really need three load carriers in the system when one could do? I recommend eliminating the problematic drop-down mechanism first. It is a permanently sewn-in superfluous solution to a temporary problem. Even for paratroopers, the rig is only going to be worn under a parachute harness for very brief periods of time. The exact same effect can be more simply achieved with two ~18-inch straps (as shown below) The straps can be used during rigging procedures to drop the front panels clear of the parachute harness. After the jump, they can be easily removed and stowed or used as cargo lashing straps on the harness or rucksack.

I have said before that there is no such thing as perfect gear and that everything needs at least some customization to better serve each individual trooper and specific mission needs. Likewise, there is no “universal” gear that can be all things to all people at all times. However, we can approach the broadest utility possible by maximizing the options for unit and individual customization. I suggest that can best be achieved by modifying the ABN-TAP yoke to make it a stand-alone item that can be instantly attached and detached as missions dictate. Additionally, simplify and standardize the design with a single identical panel template that can be used alone as a placard or minimalist chest rig or “daisy-chained” with one, two, or even three other panels into a TAP, a full (high ride) chest rig, or an old-style (low ride) H-harness; whichever is preferred. A truly modular and more flexible system like that should be able to effectively replace all the legacy FLCs and TAPs across the Airborne, the Army, and ultimately throughout DoD.

I have attached a picture or two of some pieces I cobbled together to show what I am talking about – a mock-up of the ABN-TAP A1 if you will. There is nothing expensive, radical, or even very innovative here. These are mostly commercial off the shelf (COTS) design features that have been available for decades. Many pre-date MOLLE and have been used by the military and commercial gear companies in other applications. First, the use of web loops on 3 sides of the panels – rather than sewn on straps –facilitates modularity, interchangeability, and field repair, with no left, right, or rear, specific panels. Tactical vests from various manufacturers had those loops in the 80s. Paired with a modern split bar, a.k.a. repair style “Fastex” buckle, these loops allow a soldier to use a variety of methods to link elements of the system securely together horizontally and vertically. That includes the option of lacing up with shock or 550 cord, male to female buckles including QASM versions, or the appropriate length of 1-inch webbing and split loops and/or buckles as displayed in this last picture.

I used three similar but not identical panels to illustrate the concept since I did not have three of a kind on hand. As I alluded to earlier, I believe one of the best features of the TAP is that it provides internal space for weapons magazines and some other items. I used two Beez Combat Systems (BCS) placards on the ends. The panel in the middle is no longer available but came from Hybrid Defense Strategies. It can be worn flat, but the built-in envelope allows for magazine inserts to be used (not shown). Unlike the current TAP designed only for the M4, I think it would be advisable to have slots on the ABN-TAP panels sized slightly larger to accommodate magazines beyond 5.56mm; including 7.62mm and 6.8mm, as well as some common individual radios, GPSs, and similar sized items.

Carrying these “common to all” items internally is not just a stylistic preference. If there is no internal space made available, ammo pouches or shingles have to be mounted on the outside and then other items like IFAKs, radio pouches, grenade pouches, and utility pouches for NODs, have to be stacked on top of the ammo pouches. Multi-layered pouches tend to be overly bulky, sag under combat weight, and interfere with access to each other. In the ABN-TAP’s case, since it does not convert readily into TAP mode as is, a soldier would need to have two full sets of pouches – or be prepared to move the pouches from body armor to harness and back for every jump or mission change. No one is going to want to do that routinely – nor should troopers have to. It would also be preferable for a soldier to set up his or her pouches just one time on the harness and train with that identical set up whether attached or detached from their armor carrier.

I used short straps from Velocity Systems to connect the panels for my example but have also displayed some others of varying lengths I had made for different projects. Laid out this way the 3 panel A1 harness is 54 inches across. Still too big for me but just right for The Rock. I should also point out that if my ideas were ever incorporated onto the ABN-TAP, the First Spear Tubes would be incompatible without some sort of adapter. I suppose for some, that might be a deal-breaker. I think it is a reasonable trade-off. Moreover, First Spear makes a split bar repair version of their Tubes and could perhaps make a version that works on three slots rather than two and solve that problem if the Army asked for it. Finally, although it did not receive much notice earlier, the ABN-TAP was tested with a new version of the Triple Magazine Pocket (shown above) that closes with reverse flaps like those on the TAP. That looks like a worthy product improvement to me and I presume those will be issued with the ABN-TAP.

De Oppresso Liber!

LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (Ret) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments. SSD is blessed to have him as both reader and contributor.

The Rule of LGOPs

Saturday, October 31st, 2020

After the demise of the best Airborne plan, a most terrifying effect occurs on the battlefield. This effect is known as the rule of the LGOPs. This is, in its purest form, small groups of pissed-off 19 year old American paratroopers. They are well trained. They are armed to the teeth and lack serious adult supervision. They collectively remember the Commander’s intent as “March to the sound of the guns and kill anyone who is not dressed like you” – or something like that.

The Interwebz

Lose Something?

Thursday, September 17th, 2020

Maybe he was sitting on his helmet so his balls didn’t get blown off and forgot to put it back in before exiting the aircraft.

It’s Time to Develop a Skydiving Badge for US Air Force Academy Cadets

Saturday, September 12th, 2020

In spite of starting my career in the Army, I retired from the Air Force. Although I worked primarily in the intelligence business, I served on jump status during various SOF assignments in both services.

One of the easiest ways to deduce if an Air Force Officer is an Academy graduate is that they have jump wings (that is if they haven’t already told you). That’s because the AFA offers a course in skydiving.

The AFA’s Basic Freefall Parachuting course, known as Airmanship 490 (AM-490), is run by a cadre of Cadets who make up the Academy’s free fall team, the Wings of Blue. The team and course operate as the 98th Flying Training Squadron, 306th Flying Training Group, Air Education and Training Command.

The course website boasts:

Each year, over 700 cadets take the AM-490 course, “Stand In The Door”, and earn their jump wings.

Here’s an example of the instruction:

If you’re a static-line parachutist, you’ll wonder what they’re up to and how this translates into jump wings.

While it’s true that there are many members of the Army who attend Basic Airborne Training early in their service, but never jump again, many others are assigned to jump billets later on their careers and use the skills that they were taught as Privates or Lieutenants. But that’s not what happening at the Air Force Academy, because it’s impossible to serve as a parachutist after graduating form the Academy’s AM-490 course of instruction.

The most important issue at hand is that Cadets who complete the program do not learn a military skill, despite being awarded a badge which indicates otherwise.

AFI 11-410 (Personal Parachute Operations) governs management of the Air Force parachuting program. It states:

6.3.2. USAF Academy Parachutist Qualification. Members on active parachute status who are quali- fied as USAF Academy parachutists are authorized to fill validated parachute positions and student authorizations at the USAF Academy. These parachutists are not authorized to fill parachute positions elsewhere (emphasis added) unless qualified through paragraphs 6.3.1. or 6.6. This qualification requires completion of one of the following formal training programs:

6.3.2.1. AM-490, USAF Academy, CO. AM-490 satisfies the qualification requirement for assignment to parachute positions and student authorizations at the USAF Academy and may be completed after assignment selection provided the member is a parachute volunteer.

6.3.2.2. AM-492, USAF Academy, CO. Completion of the jumpmaster curriculum in AM-492 qualifies members to serve as jumpmasters for USAF Academy operations only.

To reference back to paragraph 6.3.1 which covers S/L training:

6.3.1.1. US Army Basic Airborne Course, Ft. Benning, GA.

6.3.1.2. S/L courses or programs of instruction, including Mobile Training Teams (MTTs), approved by the US Army Infantry Center (USAIS).

6.3.1.3. US Navy Special Warfare Command (NAVSPECWARCOM) Naval Parachute School (S/ L Course).

6.3.1.4. AM-490, USAF Academy, CO, when the diploma was earned prior to August 1994. (emphasis added)

To reference back to paragraph 6.6 which covers MFF training:

6.6.1. US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (USAJFKSWCS) Military Free Fall School, Yuma Proving Grounds, AZ.

6.6.2. MFF courses or programs of instruction, including MTTs, approved by USAJFKSWCS.

6.6.3. NAVSPECWARCOM Naval Parachute School (MFF Course), Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, CA.

To summarize what those paragraphs mean for graduates of AM-490; to actually serve as a military parachutist, they have to attend one of the courses of instruction mentioned above.

As you can see, Cadets can’t earn advanced ratings. They aren’t filing J-coded billets. They aren’t static line parachutists and they aren’t military free fall parachutists. So what are they? That’s simple; they’re skydivers. The USAFA is creating about 700 new skydivers per year.

Although it hasn’t been the case for quite some time, over two decades ago Cadets were even allowed to earn Senior and Master parachutist ratings, based on skydives (see above). They selected their own jumpmasters and considered wearing smoke canisters or the flag during demonstration jumps as “combat equipment” jumps.

A few years ago, BG Goodwin, an AFA Commandant, wore Senior jump wings which she had been awarded as a Cadet. It caused a bit of confusion for actual parachutists who questioned her qualification, considering she had never served on jump status.

Even today, there are still a few senior officers a running around wearing badges they were awarded, but didn’t earn in the way parachutists would expect. That same argument could be made about those current and former Cadets wearing Basic wings. They aren’t qualified as parachutists.

Instead of awarding the basic parachutist badge, Cadets who complete the course should be awarded a cadets-only badge. There is already plenty of precedent for the concept. Cadets learn to fly gliders and even powered aircraft while at the Academy, but they aren’t awarded USAF pilot wings once they complete training. Why even the Space and Cyber communities have clubs for perspective members of their careerfields, but they don’t award actual careerfield badges. Instead, Cadets earn badges they only wear while at the Academy. Many of these are shared with Air Force ROTC.

Here’s a list of the many badges which can be earned by Air Force Academy Cadets:

Superintendent’s Pin: Worn only by those cadets whose name appears on the Superintendent’s list for obtaining the Commandant’s Pin, Dean’s Pin, and Athletic Director’s Pin for the previous semester.

Commandant’s Pin: Worn by those cadets whose name appears on the Commandant’s List. The Commandant’s List is reserved for cadets in the top one third in military performance by class. They will retain this status until the end of the next academic semester.

Dean’s Pin: Worn by those cadets whose name appears on the Dean’s list for obtaining a Grade Point Average of a 3.0 or above for the previous semester.

Athletic Director’s Pin: Athletic Director’s Pin: Worn by those cadets who obtain a semester Physical Education Average (PEA) of at least 3.00 during the academic year. The PEA is based on 50% Physical Fitness Test score, 15% Aerobic Fitness Test score and 35% P.E. class grade. Cadets on any probation do not qualify for the Athletic Director’s pin.

Combinations of the Commandant’s Pin, Dean’s Pin, and Athletic Director’s Pin are worn to signify attainment of placement on multiple lists the previous semester.

Soaring Instructor Pilot Wings: World War II glider pilot wings awarded to cadet soaring instructor pilots upon completion of AM-461. A star and wreath are added as cadets progress through the soaring program.

Flying Team Wings: Approved in October 2012, these wings are worn by members of the Flying Team, a select group of cadets who were selected after arriving at the Air Force Academy with a Private Pilot’s license. A star and wreath are added as cadets progress through the soaring program.

Cadet Flight Wings: Flight wings with star are worn by cadets who have soloed a USAFA glider or a powered aircraft. Wings without star are worn by cadets who have completed at least 10 flights in a USAFA glider but have not soloed.

Cadet Aviation Club Wings: Worn by cadet aviation instructors. A star is added for a senior cadet aviation instructor.

Cadet Space Wings: Worn by cadets who are involved in space activities. A star and wreath are added as cadets progress through the space program.

Cadet Cyberwarfare Badge: Worn by cadets to acknowledge the achievement of cadets who are involved in the cyberwarfare program. A star and wreath are added as cadets progress through the cyber program.

Parachutist Badge: Worn by those cadets who have successfully completed either the Airmanship 490 Basic Parachuting course taught by the 98 FTS or graduates of the US Army Basic Airborne Course, Ft. Benning, GA. Senior and Master Parachutist badges require operational experience and are awarded as authorized in AFI 11-402.

Air Assault Badge: Worn by those cadets who have successfully completed US Army Basic Air Assault School.

Bulldog Badge: Worn by those cadets who have completed the Marine Corps Bulldog program at Quantico, VA.

UAS Wings: Worn by cadets who have completed Small UAS (SUAS) certification. A star and wreath are added as cadets progress through the UAS program as instructors and evaluators/test pilots.

Here are a couple of examples.

Cadet Cyberspace Badge

Cyberspace Operator Badge

Cadet Flight Wings

Air Force Pilot Badge

The choice for a Cadet Skydiving Badge is easy. From 1956-1963, the USAF awarded a distinctive badge for Air Force parachutists. Based on the shield now worn by medical personnel, it featured a light blue background emblazoned with a white parachute.

Not only is this design distinctive, but it’s no longer used by the Air Force yet supports the service’s heritage. It’s the perfect design for our skydiving cadets. There are even Senior and master versions. The master variant is seen below.

In 1963, the Air Force switched back to the basic parachutist badge used by the other services.

As you can imagine, some AFA cadets do in fact attend the three-week BAC at Fort Benning, Gerorgia. That course teaches a military skill and graduates are awarded basic airborne wings. Just like cadets who attend Air Assault school, they earn their wings.

It’s not that the training isn’t valuable. It should continue. There’s no operational requirement to pilot a glider, but the skill does teach airmanship. Likewise, skydiving teaches Cadets about aviation and instills confidence. As an airmanship course of instruction, it should continue.

This isn’t the fault of the Airmen, but rather the institution. The Air Force is failing to prepare them for the mission. Recently, AETC attempted to set up its own MFF training program to help streamline its Special Warfare training pipelines with the eventual goal of adding S/L as well. The Air Force scrapped the project when it realized it couldn’t adequately replicate the exacting conditions and standards of the formal courses of instruction already mentioned.

Even the Academy has halted training that didn’t adequately prepare its students for operational roles. At one time, Cadets participated in Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape training run by Cadets at the Academy. When it was determined that it didn’t adequately prepare students for operational requirements, the Resistance portion of the the training was halted and Cadets who required it, received the training as part of the formal course at Fairchild, once commissioned. The Survival and Evasion training continues as part of Basic Cadet Training as it instills confidence and teaches basic outdoor living skills.

Creation of a Cadet Skydiving Badge aligns with other aeronautical programs at the Air Force Academy, recognizing unique skills taught at that institution, while reserving the parachutist badge for those who are actually qualified to fulfill operational duties as parachutists in the operational Air Force.

Very recently, the Air Force asked for feedback regarding dress and appearance, but as I am now retired, my input is understandably not wanted. However, this issue continues to affect the active force. Perhaps others who continue to serve, will make similar suggestions.

National Airborne Day

Sunday, August 16th, 2020

Several years ago one of my children asked at dinner, “Dad, what’s a leg?” I replied, “that’s your mother’s side of the family, son.”

GAO Report – Military Parachutes: Observations on Army and Marine Corps Acquisition Programs

Monday, July 20th, 2020

The House Armed Services Committee directed the Government Accounting Office to review the Army and Marine Corps’ procurement of free fall parachutes.

Their report examines the acquisition strategies used by the Army and Marine Corps for their parachute programs and the extent to which the Army and Marine Corps programs are meeting their cost, schedule, and performance goals.

The Army awarded its contract for the Advanced Ram Air Parachute System—known as the RA-1—in 2011. The Marine Corps awarded its contract for the Enhanced-Multi Mission Parachute System—now called the PS-2—in 2018.

GAO found that both programs are on cost and schedule.

Download your copy here.

Sneak Peek – MultiCam Vic Project

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

The MultiCam Vic Project is a collaboration between Firebird Skydiving and Airwalk to offer a run of MultiCam and MultiCam Black hightops.

Expect some slight changes before production.

Participate in the survey if you are interested.

Parachute Rigger School Jumpers Once Again Fly Skies Over Pickett

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

FORT PICKETT, Va. – The sky above this installation was once again filled with paratroopers dropping from aircraft as the Quartermaster School resumed airborne operations April 22.

The Virginia National Guard base – a 45-minute drive west of Fort Lee – is where the QMS Aerial Delivery and Field Services Department conducts airborne operations for parachute riggers.

Staff Sgt. Raymond Debusshere, an instructor, said his department last conducted jump training March 12. It has since undergone a thorough review and reassessment to determine how to best conduct such operations without putting paratroopers at risk for contracting COVID-19.

“We’ve added various safety precautions,” said the jumpmaster from a hangar skirting Pickett’s massive airfield. “We are practicing spacing, and every jumper out here has a face mask. In addition, we’re using hand sanitizer before and after every JMPI. We also added lifts (flights) to maintain spacing on the aircraft.”

JMPI, or Jumpmaster Personnel Inspections, is a safety process ensuring every paratrooper is prepared for the operation prior to boarding the aircraft. Jumpmasters meticulously check straps and equipment placement to ensure they’re secure and not likely to cause injury. With all the precautions taken, the operation took longer than usual, Debusshere admitted. “(It) added a lot to the process, but it was crucial and it worked out well.”

The QM School is one of the few Army entities outside of operational units that has resumed airborne operations. Not surprisingly, the task of securing aircraft through normal channels for the mission proved to be a challenge because the coronavirus pandemic has shifted air support functions across the Department of Defense.

“It was an undertaking calling different units and trying to get them to come in,” said ADFSD’s Kenneth Pygatt, airborne operations coordinator. “Some units have been willing, but their commands (are being highly selective in the approval of flights). It has been a task to bring it all together, but we got it done.”

There are no aircraft assets assigned to Fort Lee, thus, airborne operations must be coordinated through aviation units spanning the entire region. Active duty Marine aviators from Cherry Point, N.C., supported the April 22 drop. There are roughly 20 different aviation units that support the rigger course, Pygatt said.

Despite all that has taken place to resume training, parachute rigger students seemed oblivious to the changes. Many of them were in the first few weeks of the 92-Romeo course when the pandemic-necessitated measures such as social distancing became the “new normal.” It was apparent at the airfield they had become accustomed to it. They were focused on the day’s mission – jumping a parachute they packed themselves to demonstrate confidence in their abilities. It has always been a course graduation requirement. All of that seemed to overshadow even the pandemic precautions.

“I’m just excited to jump,” said a masked Pvt. Angelica Gonzalez while waiting for her lift. “It has been a while since I’ve been up there (all students complete the Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning, Ga., before coming to Fort Lee), so it’s a refreshing moment for me.”

The Charlie Company, 262nd QM Battalion Soldier was one of 28 rigger students making their culmination jump. Numerous NCOs and officers also participated to keep their airborne-qualification status current.

More than 600 Parachute Rigger Course students graduate from ADFSD annually. The Fort Lee training is 14 weeks long.

By Terrance Bell