By by Sgt. Susan WiltFebruary 6, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - "On your feet!" With that command, the paratroopers began moving out to the C-130 aircraft waiting in the cold night air. As he waddled out towards the plane, Spc. Jason Hodge sagged under the weight of his parachute and the ruck sack strapped to his legs. Add the M-4 carbine he was carrying and the AT-4 anti-tank weapon in a protective case to his side, and he was probably wearing close to his body weight in gear. As the engines on the plane started, Hodge, a paratrooper from Company A, 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, sat uncomfortably, trying not to let his nerves show while his buddies cracked jokes around him. They were waiting for their flight to take off so they could do something that would probably be considered insane to anyone but a paratrooper - jump from the plane. Paratroopers in the 82nd Abn. Div. have been doing these types of jumps regularly for more than 60 years, so for most of the Soldiers in the unit, a night combat equipment jump has become second nature to them. However, to get to that comfort zone, every paratrooper has to experience a first night jump. The Joint Force Entry Exercise that the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Abn. Div., conducted from Jan. 29 through Friday provided several new paratroopers with the opportunity to experience their first JFEX jump. The purpose of the exercise was to validate the brigade's forcible entry capabilities before it becomes the Global Response Force in June, which will put the "Falcon" brigade on-call to deploy anywhere in the world. Elements from the Air Force, Marine Corps and Special Operations community took part in the exercise, which featured large scale airborne, air assault, ground maneuver and airfield seizure operations over the course of a 24-hour period. For Hodge, the initial jump was the hard part, everything else was easy. "It was my first night jump," said Hodge. He admitted that before the jump he was pretty anxious but his friends helped him calm down. "Everyone had a good sense of humor on the plane, so I was able to stay pretty calm," he explained. Like Hodge, Pfc. Aaron J. Swimmer, a Chino, Calif., native, experienced several firsts during the JFEX. "It was my first night (mass tactical) jump, my first JFEX, and my first (field training exercise)," said Swimmer, who's only been in Co. A for a month. Swimmer's jump didn't go as smoothly as he would've liked. "I landed in the trees," he explained. Swimmer was able to get himself loose and continue with his mission all while getting used to his equipment. "I got a better idea of using (night vision goggles) and putting them on at night," said Swimmer. He also mentioned that he got a better feel for all the gear he'd have to wear during a deployment. After the parachute assault, the paratroopers continued with their mission of seizing and clearing a field landing strip, so the brigade would be able to receive supplies throughout the operation, explained Lancaster, Pa. native, Capt. Michael Farmer, the commander of Co. A. The exercise gave both new and seasoned paratroopers a chance to work together and reinforce their confidence that they'll be ready to deploy when the brigade becomes the GRF. Pvt. Dyllan Feldmann, a paratrooper from Fort Dodge, Iowa who's been in Co. A for four months, is convinced that he'll be in good hands when the time comes to deploy. "I've gotten to know my squad and team and we're a tight pack group," Feldmann said. "With the group of guys I'm with, I know they'd square me a way. I'm glad to be in A Company," he said proudly.