By Jane Benson, NSRDEC Public Affairs August 7, 2017
NATICK, Mass. -- An all-civilian team from the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center participated in Leapfest 2017 on Aug. 6 in West Kingston, Rhode Island. The event, hosted by the Rhode Island Army National Guard, is an annual international military parachute competition that includes military and civilian participants from all over the world.
Leapfest provides onlookers with an up-close view of military airborne operations, and, according to the event's website, www.leapfest.com, it is the "largest, longest standing, international static line training event and competition."
This year's event included 350 jumpers on 70 teams, including 32 international teams and 38 teams from the United States.
The event included paratrooper teams from New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, South Africa, Canada, Mexico and Botswana. The United States had teams from the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Reserve, U.S. Army National Guard, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force as well as one Department of the Army all-civilian team from NSRDEC.
A team from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment won first place. A team from the Air Force's 820th Base Defense Group won second place, and a team from the 3rd Battalion of the Canadian Army's 22nd Regiment came in third place.
Each team included four paratroopers who performed one static-line jump from CH-47 Chinook helicopters. Paratroopers jumped from an altitude of 1,500 feet.
The NSRDEC team included Jennifer Hunt, David Accetta, Richard Landry and John Mahon. Accetta, Landry and Mahon are former military and currently civilian Department of the Army employees. Although Hunt is not a former member of the military, she attended military jump school.
The team of NSRDEC civilian employees finished 29th in the competition.
A second team from NSRDEC that included Sgt. 1st Class Steven Fief, Staff Sgt. Shundrea Windham, Sgt. Eduardo Sanchez and Sgt. Jonathan Repollet was scheduled to compete, but with the weather delay the team was unable to participate.
Maj. Robert Puente from Product Manager Force Sustainment Systems, located at the Natick Soldier Systems Center, also participated in the event. He had high praise for Accetta, chief of NSRDEC Public Affairs, who coordinated Natick's participation in the event.
"David Accetta deserves all of the credit for putting this wonderful opportunity together," said Puente. "He planned, coordinated and organized everything that needed to happen in order for our teams from Natick to compete. We as a group that competed are very grateful for his hard work in supporting each of us."
The U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, or USARIEM, also had a team made up of Col. Raymond Phua, Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Kent, Maj. Joe Kardouni and Maj. Nicholas Barringer. USARIEM is also located at the Natick Soldier Systems Center.
NSRDEC's Mahon is a retired CW4 and a senior airdrop equipment specialist in the Aerial Delivery Directorate. Throughout his career, Mahon has made an invaluable contribution to the airdrop community and the airborne Soldier. His greatest contributions have been in developing aerial delivery capabilities, training airdrop techniques to the U.S. Army Parachute Riggers, and developing Quartermaster leaders for our Army. In 2016, Mahon was inducted into the Quartermaster Hall of Fame, one of only five people in the airdrop technical specialty area to earn that honor.
"Leapfest is one of the extremely few opportunities for a paratrooper to demonstrate parachute skills, mingle with foreign paratroopers from many nations, and develop friendships across the DoD paratroop community," said Mahon. "This type of event should be conducted annually on major paratroop installations as it gives an opportunity to hone skills without the pressure of meeting all the tactical timelines and demanding requirements of follow-on missions. Ultimately, these events would result in enhanced safety of the individual jumper."
Hunt, who was on the same NSRDEC team as Mahon, is a textile technologist/materials engineer on the Aerial Delivery Engineering Support Team, or ADEST, in NSRDEC's Aerial Delivery Directorate. At just under 5 feet tall, Hunt is a powerhouse of dedication. To garner better insight into her job, Hunt is one of the few women and one of the few civilians who has graduated from the U.S. Army Basic Airborne Course, also known as jump school, which provides paratrooper training for the armed forces.
"As part of the ADEST team, my job requires a high level of knowledge of personnel parachute systems," said Hunt. "Having the technical background is critical; however, the real-life experience of jumping these parachutes alongside Soldiers and learning from them adds so much value and insight to the work I do."
Richard Benney, director of NSRDEC's Aerial Delivery Directorate, recognizes the importance of having his employees, including Mahon and Hunt, participate in Leapfest.
"Leapfest in Rhode Island has been an annual event for many years and NSRDEC along with our partners have been, and continue to be, active participants," said Benney. "The event provides both a local and weekend training opportunity for NSRDEC military personnel and for Army civilians, who are approved for static line jumps, while also encouraging a healthy competition while promoting teaming and collaborations both within the NSSC and with other DoD customers/partners and allied nations' airborne elite."
"Jumping these parachutes fosters relationships and trust with airborne Soldiers," said Hunt. "Soldiers want to know you have experienced jumping out of an airplane just like them. It breaks down the barrier that exists between someone telling you the parachute is safe and someone that actually uses it."
"The paratroop acquaintances and friends I've made over many competitions have taught me to appreciate the equipment that we use and allows me to take them to their limit, occasionally," said Mahon. "At the end of the day, one realizes that parachuting, especially military static line parachuting, is a perishable skill, and one has to be on top of their game every jump. Remember, despite your skills, if you anger gravity, gravity wins."
The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities for decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the Joint Warfighter and the Nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.