"I started jumping from 5 feet and I'm working my way up to 1,250. If you have a fear of heights, Airborne School will help you get over it," said PFC Ryan Layne, an Airborne School student in his second week of training.
Layne said he's always wanted to jump out of an airplane and will finally get the chance when he enters jump week.
Layne is one of 1,500 Soldiers attending Fort Benning's Airborne School this week.
Students with A Company began the first of three phases of training, while B Company troops entered their second phase and C Company troops completed five static line jumps to earn Airborne wings.
During the first week, called ground week, students focus on the individual skills needed to make parachute jumps and land safely, said CPT Winston Nabors, commander of B Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Under the watchful eye of "Black Hats" cadre from the battalion, ground week students learn mock door exercises, conduct 34-foot tower jumps and train on the lateral drift apparatus to practice parachute landing falls.
Layne said he felt nervous on his first tower jump, but after his 10th he felt much more confident.
"I didn't want to screw up the first time, but now I feel good," he said. "It's given me the motivation to overcome my fears."
The students, who qualify, move into tower week where they use the 34-foot and 250-foot towers to jump.
Tower week builds on ground week skills and emphasizes the "mass exit" concepts the Army uses in airborne operations, said SSG Joseph Tremblay, Black Hat with C Company's 2nd Platoon.
The students work with the 34-foot and 250-foot jump towers; swing landing trainer and suspended harness until they've mastered the landings, he said.
After two weeks of training, jump week is the test of the students' skills, Tremblay said.
Students must complete five parachute jumps onto Fryar Field Drop Zone, two with combat equipment and three "Hollywood-style," only the parachute and reserve. Students who complete all five jumps earn their wings.
Despite the rigorous, extensive training, not all Soldiers will make it to jump week, Tremblay said.
"Not every Soldier is a paratrooper. Some are scared of heights and some just aren't cut out for (Airborne School)," he said
"Soldiers have to be prepared for the physical aspect of it, being thrown to the ground. It takes a lot of dedication to continuously jump off a 12-foot platform and hit the ground hard," said SSG Steven Grafton, Black Hat with C Company.
In her second week, Cadet Olivia Oh said this course has taught her a lot about motivation and integrity.
"I came here without any expectations other than wanting to jump out of a plane. I have learned a lot that I can bring back to my fellow cadets," said Oh, a criminology student at the University of California - Irvine.
For those who stick with it, the benefits are many, Tremblay said.
"Completing Airborne School opens up opportunities and can help Soldiers get promoted, he said.
"This course instills students with the warrior spirit," said CPT Jeffery Curry, commander of C Company. "It's not just a class, it's a way to get to work."
B Company students will graduate Friday, followed by A Company July 31.