173rd paratroopers jump en masse
Paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team gather their chutes after the unit's first mass tactical jump since transformation.

GRAFENWOEHR, Germany (Army News Service, Oct. 31, 2006) - As eight C-130 Hercules transports slowed to 130 knots at just 800 feet above the ground, more than 700 U.S. and German paratroopers jumped from the aircraft, living up to the embroidered wings on their uniform sleeves.

The Oct. 16 and 17 jumps marked the first mass tactical jump by the four Germany-based battalions of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team since its Sept. 15 designation as a modular unit.

The exercise will not be the last, though, for the troops located in Bamberg and Schweinfurt, who are part of a 173rd that is now six battalions strong.

"This is just the beginning," said Col. Chip Preysler, commander of the 173rd, which is headquartered in Vicenza, Italy.

The jumps started a series of training events meant to build teams and mold unit leaders into an effective combat force, Preysler said. The four battalions followed the airborne operation with small-unit live fire and artillery training on Grafenwohr's ranges, operated by the Joint Multinational Training Command.

These exercises "are the building blocks that enable our Soldiers to progress in their critical skills," Preysler said. "Getting boots on the ground safely is essential to being a paratrooper."

On the first day's jump, the paratroopers contended with overcast skies, a slight breeze and communication problems.

The second day, however, was nearly perfect, with minimal winds and few issues, according to combat jump veteran Sgt. 1st Class Michael Levesque.

"It was a textbook operation," said Levesque, who in his five years with the 173rd has run more than 30 drop zones.

Levesque's team, which organized and oversaw the jump, included Air Force liaison officers from the 37th Airlift Squadron out of Ramstein Air Base, medics and a detail of troops collecting parachutes on the drop zone.

"It was beautiful jump," said German Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Grillo. "It's a beautiful day to be a Soldier."

Grillo was one of 29 German cadre and students from the German Army Parachute School to join 173rd members on the second day's jump.

The combined jump enabled the German Soldiers to earn the U.S. Army Parachutist Badge, commonly called "jump wings."

"We have been working with the German Airborne for quite a while, using their 34-foot jump tower," Preysler said. "Thanks to them, we have been able to complete all our Basic Airborne Refresher training."

Preysler also noted the value of JMTC's facilities.

"This is one of the premier training spots in the world. It offers us a very large drop zone, and offers live fire training in conjunction with this airborne operation," he said. "We really couldn't do that anywhere but here."

First Sgt. William Groene of the 91st Cavalry combined a new jumper's enthusiasm with a senior NCO's perspective once the exercise finished.

Completing his first jump since 1986 when he attended airborne school at Fort Benning, Ga., Groene said, "I waited 20 years to do this again. I volunteered for it. This jump is getting us one step closer to being combat ready."

Page last updated Thu May 3rd, 2012 at 12:46