By Staff Sgt. Jeremy D. Crisp, XVIII Abn. Corps PAOJune 10, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Some stood at Sicily Drop Zone with apprehension on their faces. Others couldn't contain their excitement, while most were just wishing the plane would get to the landing zone so they could load up and jump.
There was a variety of emotions flowing from Soldiers in the XVIII Airborne Corps Headquarters and Special Troops Battalion May 28 and Friday; as on these two days the paratroopers would make a long-awaited jump from a high-performance aircraft. Something done in garrison by qualified paratroopers at least every three months, however, this would be the first jump in nearly 16 months for most of the corps' personnel.
After returning from a 14-month Iraq deployment in April, the troopers needed to exit an aircraft in order to get back to proficiency, manage paid parachutist positions and maintain corps' standards, explained Maj. Jack W. Sander, a New Orleans native and operations chief for the XVIII Abn. Corps STB.
More than 200 Soldiers in the two days of jumping ran the gamut of ranks and experiences: from general officers to the private with only six jumps to a 60-year-old paratrooper and
numerous Soldiers with between 50 and 100 jumps. They were all there for the same reason of landing safely and getting back something that had been missing in Iraq.
"It's like a welcome home for all the corps' Soldiers just getting back from the deployment," said Capt. William W. Wood, who acted as the Task Force Bragg Special Troops Battalion logistics officer-in-charge while the corps was deployed.
And there was no place like home for one paratrooper taking part in his 87th jump.
After 14 months in Iraq as the XVIII Abn. Corps G5 noncommissioned-officer-in-charge, Sgt. 1st Class Darald L. Jones said jumping out of a "perfectly good aircraft" was one of the many things he missed about Fort Bragg.
"It feels good getting back out there," said Jones, a Wilmington, N.C., native. "The nerves are always there, but nothing beats the rush of jumping and I'm glad to be doing it once again."
But actually doing what Jones and his fellow Soldiers couldn't wait to do for more than a year would involve some more waiting. The unit had an airborne operation scratched two weeks ago due to high winds. On May 28, the corps' Soldiers would wait some more at Sicily until their aircraft arrived after dropping another unit in a previous operation.
However, when their ride finally landed amidst a cloud of dust, the thoughts of a 'scratched' operation fled as relieved troopers began loading the aircraft. Minutes later, nearly 60 corps' Soldiers landed safely on the ground, with more soon to follow.
"It was a great jump," said Sgt. 1st Class Eric M. Pitts, operations sergeant, Headquarters Support Company, XVIII Abn. Corps, STB. "It's like riding a bike - it doesn't take long to get back into the swing of things."
Following the jumps were laughs, grunts of pain, Soldiers dusting each other off and stories brewing about how well, or not so well each had landed; a different set of emotions altogether than before the operation. It was a sense of relief for the paratroopers that after 16 months, they were once again jumping out of airplanes.