'Sky Soldiers' take flight in Schweinfurt
November 30, 2011
PFAENDHAUSEN, Germany (Nov. 30, 2011) -- The autumn day was crisp and clear, with dazzling Bavarian blue skies hovering high above farmland and trees still boldly clinging to the last of their leaves for the season. With a thunderous bellowing of their rotors, CH-47 Chinook helicopters took off near USAG Schweinfurt on Nov. 21, soaring high above the 6,000 acres of training grounds here known affectionately as 'Area Mike.'
Troopers from Schweinfurt's only airborne unit, the 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, were inside one of the choppers as the first wave of jumpers in what would prove to be a successful squadron-wide parachute drop, and the first airborne operation conducted at Schweinfurt since 1988, according to Will Tackling, chief of training support at the garrison. Numerous people, not just the 1-91 'Sky Soldiers,' took advantage of the rare training event.
"In addition to this being a demonstration for the families, this is a training opportunity for the aviators and the paratroopers, and it requires the coordination of all our available assets in Germany," said Capt. Scott Schmutz, the S-3 air officer for the squadron.
Helicopter pilots from USAG Ansbach's 12th Combat Air Brigade took part flying the Chinooks, Army air traffic controllers honed their skills directing the choppers, and aspiring Airborne Pathfinders and Jumpmasters racked up notches in their belts towards future certifications.
While those seeking additional skill badges jumped with gear, the majority of the Troopers jumped "Hollywood," or free of any additional equipment other than the parachute and reserve. The Chinooks picked up Troopers repeatedly for a total of nearly 20 jumps from 1,500 feet into Pfaendhausen's drop zone, where hundreds of friends, family members and onlookers were waiting with cameras drawn to watch the Soldiers float gracefully to earth.
Coordination among all available assets is no small feat. Those assets, according to Schmutz, include the USAG Schweinfurt range control, European Command, the Cavalry's parent command in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team out of Vicenza, Italy, medic teams on standby -- all in addition to the pathfinders who set up the drop zones for paratroopers to land with artistic precision.
For many of the family members watching, it was the first time they had seen their Soldier jump from an aircraft, and the rare occasion was appreciated by all in attendance. From the first bold red streamer dropped from an aircraft to test the wind that drew gasps from the crowds to the last Trooper that lugged his chute to the turn-in depot, the crowd interaction was a big part of the day.
"This is such a rare opportunity," said 1-91 spouse Michele Bradfield, whose husband Capt. Jakob Bradfield assisted Schmutz in the planning of the jump. "Spouses hardly ever get the chance to see their guys in action like this."
And for the youngest spectators in attendance, the toddling children of some of the Troopers, the reaction was loudest of all. When one of the CH-47s made a pass over the drop zone, one airborne Soldier inside the chopper was sadly out of earshot of his son, who was cheer leading from the ground.
"Jump, Dad," exclaimed the excited boy. "Jump already!"
And jump the Soldiers did. In neat rows of plump green T-10D parachutes, they floated to the ground, just a few hundred yards from the road where their friends and family stood. After landing, they gathered their parachutes and trotted along the road, cheered on all the way back to the parachute turn-in point.