MCTP NCO goes Airborne
Staff. Sgt. Kraig Walker at the dropzone following a successful parachute jump. Students at the Airborne School are required to complete five parachute jumps in order to earn "jump wings." (Photo courtesy of 5jump.com)

FORT RILEY, Kan. -- Staff. Sgt. Kraig Walker, a native of Salisbury, North Carolina, is the Mission Command Training Program's newest airborne-qualified member. Walker recently completed Basic Airborne Training at Fort Benning, Ga. following a conversation with the commander of MCTP.

Walker arrived at Fort Leavenworth in May 2010 after an overseas tour in Germany. Prior to his assignment in the operations section of Operations Group Bravo he worked in his primary military occupation specialty, Cavalry Scout, during his six years in the Army. "I have had a lot time to help with my career progression; I came to MCTP to get some experience working on a staff."

But Walker also had a dream: he wanted to earn his jump wings. "I have always wanted to be airborne qualified," said Walker "being a scout, it wasn't anything that was in my typical career progression, so I wasn't very hopeful on my chances of being able to go airborne."

And MCTP's mission did not make the possibility of going to airborne school very promising. While the unit has a training budget it has no authorization of its own to send Soldiers to earn their jump wings, nor is airborne training necessary to any of its duty positions (with the exception of Special Forces). Also, unlike most units in the Army enlisted personnel at MCTP only make up approximately 20% of the entire organization.

But Staff Sgt. Walker discovered that he might be able to go after all. "Col. Sexton met with us after he first took command of MCTP," said Walker. "He gathered all the non-commissioned officers together and told us that just because we are working in staff jobs, our careers shouldn't stop. As long as we prove ourselves and we have our chain of command's support, opportunities will be open to us."

Walker expressed his interest in going to Airborne School and began the process but apparently he did not get the paperwork done fast enough. "I was at Walmart on day and ran into Col. Sexton. He asked me where my 4187 (Personnel Action) was."

Walker got his paperwork done, a slot was found for him through channels and he was given the opportunity to go to Fort Benning to attend the Basic Airborne Course. Walker's class went through a three week course, from January 15th to February 4th.

Walker's class was made up of all ranks, ranging from private to major and he was designated a platoon sergeant in charge of roughly 90 students for training purposes. He reported directly to the instructors, the so-called "Black Hats."

Jumping out of an airplane and relying on a parachute to get you safely to the ground is not a normal situation and this is why Airborne School is not for everyone. "It is a big fear for people but in the end you just have to suck it up and do it," said Walker. "It's an all volunteer course so people who go made the choice to go."

"I felt safe at all times of the training," said Walker. "The instructors were jumpmasters, senior parachutists, master parachutist."

The course is divided into three weeks: Ground Week, Tower Week and Jump Week. The first week sees students proving their PT ability and learning the basics of operating and landing with the parachute.

The Tower comes on the second week. Jumpers stand on top of a 34-foot tower rigged up by a harness. "It literally takes a leap of faith to jump off that tower knowing full well if that fails, you are going to get seriously hurt," said Walker. "You have to trust that equipment is going to work and that the instructors know what they are doing."

All of the training leading up to Jump Week and actually parachuting from an airplane. "When you actually get on the plane, if you just apply the training you have, you will have a successful jump," said Walker.

As the student leader Walker was required to be the first off the plane. Once out the door it is all down to the individual paratrooper and the training he has received in order to react to malfunctions, to avoid other jumpers, to make a proper landing without injuring himself. Even under training conditions Walker had to use his training to prevent an accident. "A couple times I jumped out there were high winds. I had to go into my procedures to untangle myself. "

Following the final jump at Fort Benning Walker was pinned with the Basic Parachutist Badge, also known as "jump wings." But Staff Sgt. Walker says "I didn't go to school to just wear this fancy badge. I want to keep jumping."

Walker wants to have a shot at being assigned to 82nd Airborne Division someday and possibly completing the U.S. Army Ranger Course, a physically- and mentally-demanding course which saw Walker get injured during his first attempt at it. The Black Hats at Airborne School even suggested he might want to return there as an instructor.

Walker appreciates the opportunity he received while at MCTP. "It's nice to be a part of an organization that supports you as an enlisted Soldier. Having this training will set me apart from my peers and I am grateful that I was given this opportunity."

Page last updated Tue February 28th, 2012 at 00:00