Female Paratrooper shines through Indian partnership
October 29, 2013
Army 1st Lt. Laura Condyles, a rigger-qualified officer with the 725th Brigade Support Battalion, recently returned from graduating second place at the Indian Army's Heavy Drop Course in Agra, India.
Condyles, a 25-year-old quartermaster officer hailing from Mechanicsville, Va., was chosen from a distinct group of rigger qualified officers in her unit to attend the Indian Army's Heavy Drop Course at the Army Airborne Training School (AATS)
The 52-day course began in early August in one of the hottest areas in India with average daily temperatures hovering around 105 degrees.
"When I first got there, we found out that the class wasn't in English. The whole class was in Hindi the entire time!" said Condyles. "They had an old dictionary they used to translate the tests for me."
Fortunately, the Indian Army assigned student-sponsor, Capt. Ashish Jha, to help Condyles as they both worked through the course. Condyles had to pass three, 3-hour written examinations during the course.
"Of course, the questions were originally in Hindi and were translated to English, so I just kind of had to take my best guess at what they were saying."
The Indian Army's AATS installation is similar to Fort Benning. Most of their airborne training takes place there, including airborne school, the heavy drop riggers course, high altitude low opening (HALO) school, and the pathfinder school.
The Indian forces have two main aircraft used for heavy drops, the Russian made AN-32 and the IL-76, which are comparable in size to the American C-130 and C-17, respectively.
India's Air Force packs all of their personnel parachutes, and their Army focuses on heavy drop rigging.
The Russian engineered rigging equipment utilizes three different platforms. Each system has an extractor parachute, an auxiliary parachute, and a main parachute.
"With each platform, there were three different parachutes that we learned, so all-in-all I learned how to pack nine different parachutes, said Condyles."
Recently, the Indian forces purchased U.S. built C-130 and C-17 aircrafts.
Experienced in the American products, Condyles was able to assist the Indian Army in training with the type V platforms and container delivery systems (CDS) portion of the training.
Condyles excelled in the heavy drop course and earned the Indian Army's Medal of Excellence for achieving the coveted "i" indicator on her completion certificate. The indicator means she performed at such a high level that she is qualified to be an instructor for the course.
"I got it! I'm the first foreign officer that's ever gotten the "i" grade before, so that was pretty neat!"
"I loved it! I had a great time," said Condyles. "The cool thing was I'm the first American that went to the course. They had other foreign officers that went to this course before too, one from Sri Lanka, one from Ethiopia, from Nepal, and Pakistan."
"I was really fortunate that Capt. Jha was there to translate for me. He would help me write out notes. He would help me translate the lectures. But packing is more hands on, so if you see someone do it, you may not know what they are saying, but you can understand it."
In addition to improving her rigging proficiencies, Condyles was able to learn a great deal about the Indian Army and culture during her time there.
"They drop live animals. They put chickens and goats on a platform and drop them in for food."
A list displayed at the installation of items dropped includes bagged items, tent supplies, bottles, hay, medicals, fish, meat on hoof, meat dressed, frozen meat, chicken dressed, chicken alive, fruits and vegetables, and fuel, oil, and lubricants.
"At their motor pools they have temples. So, before you get into a military vehicle and drive away, you have to pray to the gods, whatever gods you want to, or the god in the temple before you drive away."
One of the benefits of partnership training opportunities is learning the unique cultures within the militaries of our international partners.
"Their structure there is pretty different. Officers, Soldiers, and NCOs (non-commissioned officers) are very, very separated. It's not like our Army where we work together a lot more closely. When you are an officer on post, they cook your meal for you, or they deliver it to your room. They clean your bathroom for you every day. They mop your floors in your room every day. They even make your bed for you every day, and they do your laundry every single day!"
Even with the conveniences, Condyles' training was made difficult by the high temperatures, and local power outages.
"There are blackouts in India, so the whole city would just lose power, and then we would lose power. I had electricity about 40 to 50 percent of the time."
Condyles was the only female Soldier at the installation, and with the exception of a handful of Sri Lankan Soldiers who were training for airborne school. She was the only foreign Soldier there as well.
The Indian Army does not have many females in it. The only ones are officers, and less still who are airborne qualified. There were many differences for Condyles to adjust to while she trained in India, including the food.
"Between 75 to 80 percent of the country is vegetarian, so we didn't eat much meat. But they had goat and chicken when we did. I had a lot of grains and pulse. Pulse is like lentils, and everything was in a sauce. The goat was pretty tough, and the chicken was pretty good."
"My favorite thing to eat in India was paratha. It's chapati bread, kind of like our pita bread, stuffed with fried potatoes and onions and a spicy sauce you dip the bread into. That's what they would eat for breakfast." "They love bread. I noticed each day I was getting more and more bread. It finally came to a point where they gave me eight pieces of toast because they just love bread!"
Condyles purchased Indian clothes to wear for her cultural and historical experiences, including two trips to the Taj Mahal, a visit to the historic Agra Fort, a village wedding celebration experience, and sadly, a mourning ceremony for one of her instructor's 22-year-old son who was tragically struck and killed by a train.
The Indian traditional holiday of Raksha Bandhan, was celebrated during Condyles' time in India. Raksha Bandhan is celebrated by sisters and brothers in India. The sisters tie bracelets called Rakhis on their brothers' wrists as a way to symbolize their request for their love and protection.
At one point, Condyles was invited to one of her instructor's home for dinner.
"I had dinner with his entire family. It was really exciting because they had never met an American. They never even talked to one, and they brought in the entire village, and I met the entire village! It was such an exciting event they hired a professional photographer to take pictures, and they made this big meal for me!"
An interesting part of her visit included meeting a cow who lived in the family's home.
"I was there completely by myself, so I had to be immersed in the culture."
"I really liked their culture, and learning about them. One of the things I learned was to just respect different cultures. People do different things, and are raised differently, but it doesn't mean it's wrong or right, they just do things differently, and I think it is important to know that."
The instructors and students at the school were very interested in American culture too.
"They asked me to give a culture presentation, so I made a power point presentation. I thought it would only take about 20 minutes, but it turned into three and a half hours because they asked so many questions. They were just so interested in the United States and our culture."
Daily norms at the school included visits by roaming cows, ceremonial prayers, and tea breaks.
"There were cows everywhere, even in the rigger shed I worked in. We would be rigging a parachute and a cow would just walk in and sit down on it."
"Any time they loaded anything on a platform they would burn incense and pray. They also broke open a coconut and everybody ate pieces of it, and they eat a candy called ladoo. It's a candy made of rice and sugar. Before we did any big training we had to light incense and pray."
"Every training day at 10:30 a.m. we stopped and the whole class had tea for 20 minutes, 'tea time'."
The Indian officers Condyles dined with taught her proper Indian table etiquette.
"When you eat, you have a fork in one hand and your knife in the other, and you can't switch them, and when you put you knife and fork down they have to be crossed with the fork pointing down. When you are done, you have to put your knife and fork down parallel to each other. And if you don't that means you are not educated, and not civilized. I do it here now. It's habit now."
In all, Condyles thought the training was well worth it, and she hopes for more U.S.-Indian military cross training events to further improve interoperability between the countries.
"The Indian Army is very professional and very disciplined. I had a great time training with them and getting to work with them. I would love to work with them again in the future, and I think our military would benefit greatly from working with them. We could learn from each other."