Riggers win Army competition
Tyler Kline, PFC Jaime Esparza, PFC Ismael Navarro and SPC York Peters work on packing a parachute. Esparza, Navarro, Peters and SGT Johnny Delgado (not pictured) competed and took first place in the annual Rigger Rodeo.

FORT BENNING, Ga. - The Home of the Infantry now has the added distinction of being home to the best rigger company in the Army. After a weeklong competition Aug. 10-14 at Fort Bragg, N.C., against nine teams from the U.S. and Europe, the parachute riggers of E Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, came out on top at the 2009 Rigger Rodeo.

"The pivotal moment when we knew we could win was toward the end, when the points came out after the (Army physical fitness test)," said team leader SGT Johnny Delgado, of E Company's Pack Platoon.

Parachute riggers, or Red Hats, are trained to pack, maintain and repair parachutes. Depending on their tasking, rigger companies can specialize in maintenance, aerial delivery or, as is the case with E Company, packing. E Company supports Airborne School operations and any paratrooper who comes through Fort Benning.

All of the Soldiers were first-time competitors at the event.

The E Company team, made up of Delgado, SPC York Peters, PFC Jaime Esparza and PFC Ismael Navarro, started off strong at the Rigger Rodeo with a first-place showing after the first day's events.

The Soldiers took second place in the "Red Hat" four-mile ruck march and MC1-1D parachute packing competition and took the lead with a first-place finish in packing the reserve parachute.

Taking the lead early on boosted the team's confidence, Navarro said.

"When we finished the ruck march, I didn't know we were in second place until they told us. I didn't realize how many teams we'd passed up," said Navarro. "My whole thing was to keep that lead and do the best in everything else."

E Company led by 30 points at the end of the day.

On day two, the riggers headed to Luzon Drop Zone for an Airborne operation. In this competition, each team appointed a jumpmaster and three jumpers. Despite taking third place in the Airborne competition, E Company widened their overall lead by 25 points.

On days three and four, E Company stayed in close contention with the 612th Quartermaster Company, which at times trailed by only five points, Delgado said.

During the next two days, the team packed G12E cargo parachutes, prepared A22 cargo bags for airdrops, replaced suspension lines and sewed patches into parachute canopies.

"Line replacement was the hardest event for me," Esparza said. "We don't do maintenance at Fort Benning, all we do is pack the (parachutes). And to have only a week before the event to practice something we don't ever do was kind of challenging."

"Repairing the canopy. That was the tough part for me," said Peters, who works in control and issue for the Airborne School. "My time wasn't good, but I got a score of 100."

Esparza and his fellow team members credited their team leader with teaching the skills they needed to win.

"He has experience in every field," Esparza said. "He showed us little tricks on how to go faster, what to do, what to look for."

After securing a second-place victory in the Army physical fitness test, and a team-high score of 326 by Esparza, the team went into the final event, the written test, with a 15-point lead over the 612th QM.

The E Company riggers blew the competition away with 332 points, nearly 60 points ahead of the second place finisher and last year's champ, the 5th Quartermaster Detachment.

They finished with a score of 897 points out of a possible 1,000.

E Company returned to Fort Benning with the Rigger Rodeo trophy and Army Commendation medals. Navarro received an individual award for having the highest score on the written test, Delgado said.

"We had some great competition," Delgado said at the rodeo when the win was announced. "612th (Quartermaster) gave us a run for our money the whole time. I couldn't do it without (the) Soldiers I came out here with."

Page last updated Thu August 27th, 2009 at 17:40