By Kristin Molinaro, The BayonetJuly 24, 2009
FORT BENNING, Ga. - Hundreds of Soldiers dropped out of the skies above Fort Benning this week in a bid to earn their wings.
Airborne School students with B Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, parachuted from C-130s into clear skies above the Chattahoochee Valley Monday through Wednesday for the ultimate test of their skills.
To earn the title of Airborne Soldier, each student must complete a total of five jumps by week's end.
Of the nearly 525 Soldiers that began training July 6, only 424 made it into the final week, said CPT Winston Nabors, B Company commander.
The Soldiers who remain are those who have overcome their fears, worked hard and are determined to finish, he said.
To graduate, each Soldier must complete five parachute jumps onto Fryar Field Drop Zone, two with combat equipment and three "Hollywood-style," with only the parachute and reserve.
"My first jump was both terrifying and peaceful," said PV2 Daniel Shirer. "When I looked out through the door of the aircraft, my first thought was 'wow, I've never been this high.' It was scary. But by the second jump I wasn't afraid anymore."
There's fear but you trust the leadership, training and equipment to get you through it, said CPT Justin Zevenbergen, another student with B Company.
After getting the first two jumps under their belt, the students are generally more confident, Nabors said.
"The students start off with two 'Hollywood-style' jumps early on to get them familiar with jumping from 1,250 feet," he said. "The combat jump is a bit more complicated because of the equipment they must carry."
The Soldiers conducted their final 'Hollywood' jump and a night combat jump Wednesday.
Night jumps are not as difficult as they sound, said LTC Jon Ring, battalion commander, who jumped with the troops Tuesday.
"Students generally land better at night because they can't see the ground. It comes as a surprise to them, and it should be a surprise," Ring said. "When students anticipate a landing, they tend to tense up and that can lead to injuries."
As B company students prepared for their last jump Wednesday, CPT Daniel Hankes said he looked forward to the final test of his abilities.
"I feel anxious, apprehensive and excited," Hankes said.
Cadet Ema Gondkavska said that as with her previous four jumps, she didn't feel nervous about the last one, just determined.
"I couldn't believe my stomach didn't turn inside out when I looked out the door of the plane on my first jump. I wasn't nervous; I was ready to go for it," she said.
Gondkavska is already looking ahead to a future hobby in skydiving.
"It feels great when you are up there, you don't want to land," she said.
B Company students graduate today at Eubanks Field.