JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-LAKEHURST, N.J. –
Clip, clip, snap … an Army Reserve paratrooper breathes heavily through his facemask while donning the harness of an MC-6 parachute. As the paratrooper adjusts his parachute, noises could be heard six feet away as two Sailors assist one of their own in donning the parachute system. With temperatures reaching the mid 90’s and individuals adhering to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, service members work together to refine and retool their proficiency in airborne operations. More than 70 paratroopers, including members of the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 12 conducted joint airborne operations training here on Aug. 13, 2020 in order to “maintain currency” among their jumpmasters.
“We have to be able to talk purple, especially when we deploy,” said Lt. Col. JohnPaul Le Cedre, commander of the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion. “We have units deployed around the world and when we conduct joint ops with the active component or Navy jumpmasters we need to be able to cross talk, which allows us to cross operate.”
During the last five months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 404th has maintained their readiness by administering virtual airborne refresher classes to Soldiers. During these virtual classes, jumpmasters talk through each of the steps involved in airborne operations, touching on tasks and procedures from donning a parachute to properly exiting an aircraft. As Solders move away from virtual training and come together for the first time, members of a U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal unit were invited to train alongside them and exchange their best practices.
“We invited them here because their proficiency allows them to bring their point of view and we don’t want to keep our experience insular,” Lt. Col. Cedre said. “We want to share our experience with others because it builds our own proficiency and we feel that, ‘hey maybe we can tweak things to become a little better and safer.’”
As members of EODMU 12 take turns in donning the MC-6 parachute system, Jumpmasters made their way around the field, observing the paratroopers engaged in rehearsals for sustained airborne training.
“They did a really good job of offering hands-on training and putting the parachute on to physically jump out of a mock airplane,” Lt. Jack James, an officer in charge with the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 12 said. “Learning how to practice the parachute landing fall is extremely important to staying safe during combat falls, and learning the positioning on how to jump from an airplane was helpful as a refresher.”
EODMU 12 Sailors are trained to diffuse conventional bombs, ordnance, and even biological weapons. Besides the ability to defuse bombs under water, the unit also possesses airborne capabilities which allow them to support operations alongside Army assets. Being offered an opportunity to train alongside their counterparts enhances their ability to perform at a higher level.
Lt. James said it was interesting to see the how things are done differently between the services and how much insight he was given into how a battalion level Army airborne programs works through this joint training.
“This unit requires a Sailor to be a jack of all trades,” Lt. James said. “We have to have the ability to insert with a lot of different units. At the end of the day airborne is like diving. It gets us to the point of the problem. Wherever we need to go, that’s the route, whether it’s diving in the water or jumping out of an airplane onto a target.”
No matter what military branch a paratrooper belongs to, each jumper’s mindset is different when it comes to mentally preparing for an airborne mission. Whether it’s pacing around a grassy area talking through the motions, or sitting down on hot concrete mentally mapping how a scenario plays out, jumpers prepare their minds for what their bodies are about to go through.
“I visualize everything from hooking up the static line to jumping out of the airplane,” Lt. James said. “I think about how I’ve been trained and the muscle memory I have through practice. It gets dangerous when you get complacent; training prevents that complacency.”
Lt. James said, unlike what is seen in movies, jumping is a nerve-wracking experience, but he’s learned new techniques, which will help him mitigate risk of injuries and perform better in the field alongside service partners.
As the training day winds down and the sun sets, Soldiers and Sailors wipe sweat off of their foreheads and congregate six feet apart muffling words of encouragement to one another through their masks.
“Success with a battalion airborne program in the Army Reserve means you must have good communication and relationships with your adjacent airborne units. Those units, in my experience, have been other Army units, U.S. Navy Special Operations, and Air Force Pararescue,” Lt. Col. LeCedre said. “When I see another jumpmaster from any unit there’s a recognition that this is a professional; this is an expert that can be relied upon, and I can trust this person.”
The question of “how will the military adapt to COVID-19?” is far gone as units continuously identify ways to overcome the challenges this pandemic presents, but no matter how rough the road, military services will continue to function and thrive … together.