By Sgt. Andrew Valenza, New York National GuardAugust 9, 2019
SOUTH KINGSTON, R.I. - Military paratroopers competing in the Rhode Island National Guard's annual "Leapfest" competition got to the 1,500 foot starting altitude of their jump thanks to ten Soldiers and two CH-47s from the New York Army National Guard.
The team from Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation, based in Rochester, N.Y. constituted half of the airlift for the Leapfest International Airborne Competition. The other two CH-47s that were used to transport the 192 jumpers came from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard flight facility at Fort Indiantown Gap.
Hosted by the 56th Troop Command, Leapfest is the largest, oldest, international static line parachute training event and competition. It's routinely attended by military parachutists from the active Army, Army Reserve, Army National Guard, Air Force, Marines, Navy and teams from around the world.
Since 2011, the New York Army National Guard aviators have been providing transportation to the jumpers.
It's a great event to be part of, the New York Soldiers said.
"I like the mission, and I like doing para-drop operations," said Chief Warrant Officer John Hermanson.
"It's nice to go out of your local flying area, and I always have a good time with all the different services and missions, he added.
Hermanson has flown the Leapfest mission for the last four years.
He enjoys the mission because of the experience of working with Soldiers from around the world, Hermanson said.
Sgt. 1st Class Brian Tenace, a standardization instructor in para-drop operations for Bravo Company, said the Leapfest mission is fun and excellent training.
"This task is a great experience for crew members. It is a collective task that takes planning and proper aircraft configuration to install a static line," Tenace said. "It's a great experience to be able to work with different Jump Masters and safety personnel during the LeapFest."
As a standardization instructor, Tenace's job is to qualify other crew members for para-jump operations.
The purpose of the Leapfest competition is to promote the camaraderie and "esprit de corps of the airborne Soldier through an international competition, according to the Rhode Island National Guard.
The participants are judged by their ability to land as close as possible to a marked, designated area within the landing zone after exiting the CH-47. Upon completing a parachute landing fall, participants are timed by qualified judges until they reach the designated area, the playground at the West Kingston Elementary School.
The helicopters took off from the University of Rhode Island campus.
This year 50 teams, 35 from the U.S. military and 20 from other countries took part.
According to Tenace, the job for the aircrew -- two pilots and three Soldiers in back--as a whole is a difficult one.
It requires immense cooperation and communication, he explained. The pilots maintain a certain speed and track while managing when the jumpers are cleared to jump by communicating with the drop zone.
Meanwhile, the crew members in the front left and right windows are responsible for airspace surveillance and watching for other aircraft, he said.
A crew member in the back is responsible for relaying communications between the jumpmaster and the pilots, Tenace said.
That Soldier is there for the safety of the jumpers, jump master and the crew, they announce what position the jumpers are at in the aircraft. He's also responsible for collecting the static line and parachute deployment bag which is left hanging out of the open CH-47 ramp after the paratroopers jump.
That ensures the bag doesn't get caught in the rotors, Tenace said.
"Overall this is well-rehearsed task between the jumpers, jumpmasters, and flight crews to include prior to entering the aircraft through the jumpers exiting the aircraft and safely landing on the ground," Tenace said.
Hermanson said the flights always go well because of the quality of the New York aviation Soldiers and the work the Rhode Island Soldiers do in advance.
"They give us a good brief on how we're going to do the mission, the timeline and emergency procedures," Hermanson said. It's just another task for us and we train for it. I don't really see this as a challenge."
For Tenace, the best part of the annual mission is to just be there.
"The best part of Leapfest is being a part of the competition itself, because not only is it a competition between the jumpers, but also between the aircraft crews," he said.