FORT BRAGG, N.C. - We have all packed items such as an extra toothbrush, deodorant, clothes and snacks, but not everyone has had the opportunity to literally pack an extra life.
U.S. Army Reserve soldiers from the 824th Quartermaster Company worked diligently on packing T11 reserve parachutes in preparation for Operation Toy Drop to be held Friday and Saturday. They have been tasked with packing more than 200 T11 reserve parachutes and main canopy (MC-6) parachutes.
Army Spc. Frederick Gardner has been with the company for four years. He has earned El Salvador and Germany jump wings from participating in Operation Toy Drop in years past. He said properly packing a parachute can be challenging, but ensuring a successful jump is paramount.
"I took on the responsibility of taking care of other soldiers by packing their parachute," said Gardner. "If you don't pack it correctly, that's someone's life in your hands."
The unit, which supports USACAPOC, has been preparing for Operation Toy Drop since Nov. 23. Army Sgt. Leslie Ames, who has earned nine partner nation jump wings through Operation Toy Drop, says this is their busiest time of year. They are required to produce a large amount of parachutes within a small amount of time. Ames said packing is just one facet of being a parachute rigger, but it is the most rewarding.
"I like watching everyone come off the drop zone and knowing that they had a good jump and it was because of us," she said.
On average, it takes about 30 minutes to pack a T11 reserve parachute. Rigger checks are conducted by an initial inspector nine times throughout the packing process to ensure that no mistakes are made.
"We make sure the parachute is packed to standard, per the manual, and that there are no deficiencies whatsoever," said Ames, "There is no margin for error in what we do."
The pack life of a T11 reserve parachute is 365 days. After that, the parachute is unpacked, inspected and then repacked. The DA-3912 logs jumps, shelf life and pack life of the parachute.
Ames explained that some soldiers' only experience with jumping is for training exercises that require full battle equipment. Operation Toy Drop provides toys to various children and allows soldiers to have plain fun.
"I think it's an awesome charitable event and it's a great thing to have everyone come together for a good cause and remember how fun it is to be airborne," said Ames, "They get to just do a fun jump and earn foreign wings."