Jumping 'into the thick of it:' Engineers conduct rough terrain airborne operations
November 3, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C., Nov. 3, 2011 -- When most paratroopers jump out of a plane, they hope to avoid thick forests or uneven terrain. For the airborne sappers and combat engineers of the 57th Sapper Co., 27th Engineer Battalion that is exactly what they look forward to doing.
And for good reason, 2nd Lt. Scott Vitter said, a platoon leader for the 57th Sapper Co.
"We are the only unit in the U.S. military that does what we do," said Vitter.
The 57th Sappers Co., purposely jumps into brush and this special skill set sets them apart from other paratroopers, Vitter added. They jump into tress because that is their mission; they are rough terrain paratroopers.
For the first time in two years, the engineers took to the skies and then the woods to maintain the unit's proficiency in rough terrain jumps at Luzon Drop Zone, Camp Mackall, N.C., Oct. 26-27.
"Being rough terrain qualified means jumping into territory where other paratroopers can't," Spc. Benjamin French, a combat engineer with the 57th Sapper Co., said. "When the infantry needs to jump into hostile territory, but they can't because of a wooded area or brush, we get the call."
"Then we jump in with chainsaws and explosives to build a drop zone to get them in the fight," explained French.
Jumping out of an airplane is not without risks, and doing so with more than 120 pounds of gear as you're hurtling toward trees only complicates matters, Vitter explained.
"Sure you might get lucky and have a soft landing," French added, "but more often than not you either crash through trees or get stuck in one."
French, like his comrades, knows from experience. During the jump, French got tangled in a tall pine tree more than 75 feet in the air.
"I didn't panic," he said. "I just stayed calm and used our rough terrain training to get out of the tree and meet up at the rally point."
The training that helped French get out of the tall pine tree was intensive, especially before performing an actual rough terrain jump, he said.
"We go through quite a bit of training," French explained. "Before we jump, we have a week of training dedicated to rough terrain. We then go to the jump towers and practice repelling out of them like we do the trees."
Though the combat engineers of the 57th Sapper Co., endure intense training only to literally 'jump into the thick of it,' they enjoy what they do and relish the fact that they are a unique combat multiplier, Vitter said.
"Not everyone wants to do this or gets the opportunity to do this," French said. "But I can't think of anything in the Army that I'd rather do. I mean not everyone gets to jump out of a bird with a chainsaw and explosives."
For Vitter, being a paratrooper in the 57th Sapper Co., is a privilege.
"It's an honor to be in this company," Vitter said. "I think we have the most exciting and rewarding mission out there."
Summing up what rough terrain means to the U.S. military, Vitter said, "Rough terrain means the drop zone ends where we say it ends!"