FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Oct. 28, 2009) - More than a dozen community, civic and business leaders, to include Miss North Carolina Katherine Southard, gathered to participate in airborne training Oct 27.

Shortly after noon, the distinguished visitors arrived at the XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters where they were briefed by the director of operations on the Corps organization, capabilities, and the joint forcible entry exercise that they would witness later in the day.

The guests were then transported to Green Ramp, Pope Air Force Base, where they had the opportunity to observe instructors from the Fort Bragg Advanced Airborne School demonstrate various components of airborne operations ranging from Soldier and jumpmaster actions in the aircraft to the rigging of individual equipment.

"Much like what we did with the JFEX and building working relationships with 19th and 18th Air Wings, we are also building relationships with some of the community leaders," said Col. Gregory C. Kane, director of operations, G3, XVIII Airborne Corps.

Each leader was then paired with an airborne buddy from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team who assisted them through the process of putting on gear worn by paratroopers and shared their own personal experiences in participating in parachute jumps.

"I appreciate the military and the professionalism, and the job they do for us every day," said Don Price, owner and president of Lafayette Ford. "I'm having a great time, I would say I wish I could go out there and jump, but I think I'll have to pass on that!"

Once armed with the appropriate paratrooper skills and a basic knowledge of the terminology, the visitors boarded a C-130 aircraft to witness a jump firsthand. The civic and business leaders along with about 10 paratroopers took off around 2 p.m. for a jump slated to happen at 3 p.m. Everything they learned on the ground would now be observed from 1,500 feet above the ground.

Less than 10 minutes from the jump, the Soldiers anxiously waited for the doors to open and to see the illumination of the green light signaling it was time to exit the aircraft. Unfortunately after two passes over the drop zone, poor weather conditions prevented the paratroopers from exiting the aircraft.

"I was actually here at Fort Bragg on the 4th of July, so it's neat to come back and see this side of this instead of just the gathering on the 4th of July," said Katherine Southard, Miss North Carolina 2009. "My mission is to show that I care," she said. "As Miss North Carolina, I want to do what I can for other people. This is just one of my efforts."

The aircraft then returned to Pope Air Force Base and offloaded its passengers. Although the jump was scrubbed, it did show the guests the other side of airborne operations that paratroopers hate to see, a "No Go" for the jump. Once on the ground, the visitors travelled to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team dining facility where they ate dinner with their airborne buddies.

"The best thing for them to experience is what the process is that we go through, and how tactically proficient we have to be to maintain proficiency and reduce injury on the drop zone," said Sgt. Gregg Prater of the 82nd Airborne Division.

The visit wrapped up with hugs and handshakes as the business and civic leaders left their Airborne buddies and departed the installation. Due to bad weather, the leaders were not able to observe the Joint Forcible Entry Operation at Sicily Drop Zone at 7 p.m. where more than 1,300 paratroopers and equipment were scheduled to drop. The parachute was postponed.

The JFEX takes place over four days and includes units from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division; National Guard Soldiers from Tennessee and South Carolina as well one Air Force fighter wing, three airlift wings, and one airlift squadron from various states.

"It's always great to bring our community leaders on post and let them see and experience what our Soldiers do each day," said Col. Billy J. Buckner, spokesman, XVIII Abn. Corps. "I think each of them leave even more proud of Fort Bragg and appreciative of the commitment of our Soldiers and their Families. Despite the rain, it was a pretty good day."