FORT BENNING, Ga. — The call goes out, “hook up!” The airborne students all repeat in unison, “hook up!” as they attach the static line to the anchor line cable in the C-130 aircraft. They check the line and then their equipment before shuffling to the door and waiting for the light to turn green.
“There is something [scary] about seeing that door open, going about 130 knots, and knowing you’re about to leave,” said Capt. Michael Bouchard, airborne student.
One by one they file out of the aircraft and descend the 1,250 feet to the ground. This is the second of five jumps they need to complete the Basic Airborne Course and receive their jump wings.
Just 2 ½ weeks prior, these service members were starting their journey.
The three-week course at the Army Airborne School in Fort Benning teaches members from every military branch, including the reserves and National Guard, how to safely conduct airborne operations. This allows them to potentially pursue a passion while also increasing their job performance and furthering their careers.
“It would be weird if all my Marines jumped out of the plane, and I just waved goodbye, which is what I did the first time I went up with them,” said Marine 2nd Lt. Olivia Dicarlo, airborne student and logistics officer.
Determined not to let that happen again, Dicarlo signed up for the course. She was also interested in skydiving, and this allowed her to have that experience while also getting paid to do it.
In the first phase of training, called ground week, students focus on the fundamentals of completing a successful jump. They learn how to properly wear the equipment and practice mock door exercises.
During these drills, they meticulously go over the in-flight procedure of grabbing the static line, shuffling their feet and exiting the aircraft. They do this on the ground 20 to 30 times to help build confidence for the challenges to come.
That leads the students to the 34-foot tower where they put that practice to the test. Here they work on conquering any fear of heights as they hook up to a line and make the jump.
Finally, the students work to perfect their landings. All this training is on top of the physical conditioning that takes place throughout the week.
“We instill the basics of airborne training so that paratroopers can safely exit the aircraft and land on the ground,” said Sgt. 1st Class Rob Bloomer, airborne school noncommissioned officer in charge. “It’s important to enforce the standards and basic discipline because this is a high-risk training environment.”
Students who complete ground week move to the next phase of training known as tower week. Throughout this phase, they refine their skills by working on body position and exiting the aircraft quickly.
They practice mass exits through the mock door, as well as jumps from the 34-foot tower and the 250-foot tower.
During each phase, the students repeatedly go over each step in the jump process to get as comfortable as possible.
“You’ve done it so many times that it’s all just muscle memory,” Bouchard said. “You can really just focus on the steps, and it kind of takes away a lot of those nerves.”
Students who master all aspects of the first two phases move on to jump week, where they complete the necessary five jumps for graduation. Two of these jumps are completed wearing combat equipment, including the last jump which is done at night to give the students the full spectrum of training.
“I loved it way more than I expected to,” Dicarlo said. “I felt the instructors put a lot of energy into it, which was really nice. They were super enthusiastic, which might sound small, but it made us laugh, and I think that kept people more engaged.”
After graduating with their jump wings, the paratroopers head back to their units to supply the joint force with the capable members they need to complete their airborne mission.