By Staff Sgt. Bruce Cobbeldick (USAREUR)November 26, 2013
VICENZA, Italy -- With a new mission as a rapid-deployment contingency force, paratroopers of the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) attended classes here in October and November in order to qualify new jumpmasters, certify in sling load operations, and validate the function and expeditionary deployment of communication equipment.
Designated as the Army Contingency Response Force, the brigade stands ready to deploy forces in as little as 18 hours to conduct full-spectrum operations anywhere in the U.S. European or Africa Commands areas of responsibility.
Instructors from the U.S. Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, Ga., conducted the U.S. Army Jumpmaster Course from Oct. 28 to Nov. 14, resulting in 31 new jumpmasters certified across the brigade. Students spent more than 120 hours both in the classroom and in practical outdoor instruction.
Candidates for the course must be in the grade of E-5 or higher, completed a minimum of 12 jumps from high-performance aircraft and served a minimum of 12 months on jump status, according to Staff Sgt. Brandon Kiel, the brigade liaison for the course.
"The number one job in an airborne unit is being a qualified, skilled and proficient jumpmaster," said Staff Sgt. Mickey Mays, a jumpmaster instructor. "It is a big step up in terms of leadership and responsibility, as lives depend on the skills taught in this class."
"As a former Sky Soldier myself, I enjoyed the opportunity to work with the paratroopers here," said Mays. "I look forward to coming back."
The most difficult test, the Jumpmaster's Personnel Inspection, assesses each student's ability to ensure the proper wear and function of the military parachute harnesses, and emphasized the importance of identifying and correcting all equipment deficiencies on every paratrooper prior to executing an airborne operation. Jumpmaster candidates spend countless hours inspecting paratroopers and equipment for any deficiencies that could cause potential injury or death, said Kiel.
Once paratroopers get to the ground, they need resupply in an expeditionary environment, often through helicopter-borne methods. In order to ensure the brigade can safely conduct operations, instructors from Fort Lee, Va., certified Soldiers in the Sling Load Instructor Certification course.
The brigade certified 51 paratroopers as sling load instructors who are now able to certify others in the methods of conducting sling load operations.
The course is critical to get supplies ranging from food and ammunition to entire vehicles in a fast manner that take advantage of aircraft capability and bypass potentially dangerous and slower ground convoy routes, according to Staff Sgt. Philip Phothisane, an instructor for the course.
"I feel like I got so much knowledge just in the first few days of this course that I think those who complete this course can get out there and perform at a high level," said Staff Sgt. Oliver Montejo, from Company A, Brigade Support Battalion. "The instructors really guide you and let you know how to perform these tasks well."
Soldiers on the ground in an expeditionary environment need to communicate and to ensure, prior to receiving deployment notification that their equipment is fully functioning. To validate their systems, the brigade communication section hosted a Warrior Information Network Tactical training package where Sky Soldiers assigned to the brigade communications section and signal company validated their equipment.
Spc. Patrick James, from Lubbock, Texas, said that he and his fellow Company C, 173rd Brigade Special Troops Bn. paratroopers have been on the go, taking time to bolster their skills and capabilities with the communications terminals as a means of ensuring the brigade will have good, reliable communication in the event of a exercise, deployment or contingency to ensure their readiness.
Moving forward, brigade paratroopers will continue to invest in opportunities and specialized skills required for contingency operations. The brigade is scheduled to host a Pathfinder course in January as well participating in a number of directed exercises that are meant to test the unit's readiness, expeditionary capabilities and effectiveness while working as a combined task force with NATO and partner nations.