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Physical fitness is heavily stressed for Soldiers taking part in the Airborne Orientation Course, an early training program for parachute riggers.

FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- It's not much to look at. An oblong box of unpainted, unfinished wood, the small structure gives the future airborne Soldiers their first taste of jumping from a moving aircraft. Built to resemble the belly of a C-130 Hercules aircraft, parachuted Soldiers in the Airborne Orientation Course program connect to a static line and proceed, one by one, to leap through the door of the "aircraft."

Even though the door is only two inches off the ground, it has the desired effect on Soldiers, said Capt. Ori Avila, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 120th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception).

"You can see the change in their faces," he said, "because it's become very real for them."

Established at Fort Jackson in 2006, the Airborne Orientation Course prepares Basic Combat Training graduates to become parachute riggers. AOC is the first stop after basic training for Soldiers assigned the parachute rigger Military Occupation Specialty.

"They will graduate on Thursday and will be here the following day to in-process," he said. "We have three weeks to work with Soldiers prior to them getting sent to Airborne School. The classroom portion of this training includes classes on nutrition; it includes classes on proper running techniques, and very specific items to airborne operations."

It also includes courses designed to give Soldiers a connection to the history and heritage of Army paratroopers.

"Because (the new Soldiers) are such a susceptible population, because they're still so new, the onus is on us to continue to develop them," he said. "I'd argue that no Soldiers on this installation at that level receive the type of interaction and one-on-one mentoring that they do with the cadre here."

It's a process that Avila said requires very specific physical and mental disciplines. The physical fitness element includes twice daily workouts, proper nutrition and performance-enhancing strategies.

"Between the cadre and myself, the majority of us are jump master qualified," he said. "The years of experience and the number of jumps we've got between us can help assuage some of their fears about exiting a perfectly good aircraft."

While they won't be able to participate, AOC Soldiers are expected to witness a live jump.

"We want them to see what it's actually like, and to see the cadre go through it," Avila said. "Their next stop is the Army Airborne School in Fort Benning, Ga. From there, they'll go to Fort Lee, Va., for Advanced Individual Training."

Page last updated Thu June 13th, 2013 at 00:00