82nd Soldier, brother honors fallen Fort Polk heroes
November 8, 2010
- Soldier jumps onto DZ named for fallen brother
- 'This is a day I'll never forget,' says paratrooper
FORT POLK, La. -- In January 2005, Fort Polk Soldiers Sgt. Brett Swank and Sgt. Andrew Brown, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment, lost their lives in combat operations during a deployment to Iraq. After the unit returned to Fort Polk, the drop zone at Beauregard Regional Airport in DeRidder - often used by 1st Bn, 509th Inf Reg and other Fort Polk units - during rotational deployments at Fort Polk, was named Brown-Swank Drop Zone in honor of the two Soldiers.
At the time Swank was killed, his younger brother, Jonathan, was a junior in high school. After completing school, the younger Swank said he enlisted in the Army. "It's something I had thought about doing even before Brett was killed," Swank said. "After his death, I thought the least I could do was enlist and serve."
Swank, who like his brother chose to attend airborne school, did his own rotation to Iraq as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, 18th Airborne Corps in 2008. "My parents were a little nervous, but they supported my decision," he said. "They were worried, but they were still proud; I think everyone in North Umberland, Pennsylvania was proud."
Jump ahead two years and Swank, now a sergeant, and the rest of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Abn Div, 18th Abn Corps, recently made a trip to Fort Polk to train for their role as the Army's global response force. While here, Swank decided to see how difficult it would be to make a parachute jump onto Brown-Swank DZ. Turns out, it wasn't too difficult at all.
"I got a call from the 82nd air ops asking about the possibility," said Fort Polk's G-3 Air Operations Officer Keith Morrow. "I thought it sounded like a great idea."
Morrow said he convinced his boss, who then spoke with Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk commander Brig. Gen. James Yarbrough.
"General Yarbrough gave his approval," Morrow said. "I checked with the Beauregard Airport and they had the room to do it, so I told their (82nd) air officer it was a go."
It was decided that Swank would be accompanied on the jump by Sgt. Christopher Fortin, a fellow Soldier in the 82nd Abn Div, Sgt. 1st Class Brad Moyer and Staff Sgt. Jason Simmons of the 509th Inf Reg, Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Stewart, Fort Polk G-3 Air NCO, and Staff Sgt. Jorge Abalos, Operations Group. The jump would take place Oct. 26 - weather permitting.
The day of the jump dawned bright and clear, but windy. There was some concern that wind would be an issue, but as the time on target approached, the wind died down to little more than a light breeze. As Swank and the rest of the jumpers went through their pre-jump routine, the Pennsylvania native said his excitement was growing. "When my brother was killed five years ago, I never thought I'd be a paratrooper one day, jumping on a drop zone dedicated to him," Swank said. "I talked to my mom and dad about it. They're both proud and excited."
As is one more Swank.
"I've got a younger brother who is also thinking about enlisting," Swank said. "He wants to go airborne also."
As Fortin put on his parachute, he said it was "cool" that Swank was allowed to make the jump on Brown-Swank DZ. "I didn't know his brother, but I know of him from when I was in the 509th," Fortin said. "When I got to Fort Bragg, we became friends."
Swank said he has a lot of friends in the 509th Inf Reg."When I meet someone from the 509th they always ask, 'Are you related to Sergeant Swank''" he said. "It's nice to know he's still remembered."
After donning their parachutes, the jumpers headed out via Blackhawk helicopter to their target - Beauregard Regional Airport's Brown-Swank DZ. As the Blackhawk passed over the DZ at 1,500 feet, the jumpers exited one by one, floating on thermals to their grassy landing spots - for the most part. Swank, who was given the honor of being the first jumper out, landed on the edge of the airport's tarmac, much to the delight of his fellow jumpers once they saw he was OK.
"I grabbed the way I wanted to, but I didn't see the tarmac behind me," Swank said, inspecting the new holes in his uniform. "My landing could have been better, but it feels great. There's no better way to describe it - minus the brush burn."
Moyer walked over and shook hands with Swank.
"Your brother was right here with us today," Moyer said.
"I know," Swank said. "And he's still messing with me. He dragged me across the tarmac. I'm surprised he didn't break my leg. But all in all, this is a day I'll never forget."