By L.A. ShivelyDecember 24, 2009
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- While most people might spend a weekend mowing their lawns, the Green Berets of Charlie Company, 5th Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne); a reserve National Guard unit at Camp Bullis, had other plans.
That meant giving up a Saturday to don parachutes, jump out of helicopters and bid farewell to their company commander in their own unique way.
Maj. Timothy Ochsner relinquished command of Company C to Maj. Theodore Unbehagen during a change of command ceremony Dec. 19 and every available member of the unit participated in the celebration.
"We're jumping to honor our company commander who's moving up to another job," said Sgt. 1st Class Ted Heckerman, who has 800 jumps under his belt during a 32-year career.
Plus, jumping out of aircraft is part of the job. "We're required to do this as part of our proficiency for Special Forces," Heckerman said.
"To be part of this elite unit means to be airborne," said Lt. Col. Ken Chavez, 5th Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group commander, as he and Heckerman checked and double-checked each other's gear while they prepared to board the CH-47D Chinook that carried several "sticks" or groups of paratroopers to jump altitude.
Known as Green Berets, the mission of the U.S. Army Special Operations Forces includes special reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, direct action, foreign internal defense and counter-terrorism. To accomplish the mission, Charlie Company is organized into 12-man Operational Detachments Alpha or "A-teams" specializing in "high altitude-low opening" or military freefall insertions, combat diving, maritime and urban operations.
Members cross train because ODAs are small and flexible, and can operate for an indefinite period of time in remote locations with little or no outside support.
"One person is responsible but everyone is capable," said Sgt. 1st Class John McIntosh, adding that micromanagement is not an option. Each trusts the other to know and carry out his job while also confident his team will back him up.
Beyond kicking in doors, ODAs work one-on-one with local authorities and individuals to help stabilize a conflicted area and its people. Language and cultural skills are paramount in these duties that often include search and rescue, peacekeeping, security, humanitarian assistance and counter-drug operations.
"We're force multipliers. Our bread and butter is to work with the indigenous forces," said Sgt. 1st Class Iverson, who explained his cadre aligns with civil affairs groups and builds or repairs schools, infrastructure and tackles health issues in communities. In fact, health is often the highest priority for a village or district, Iverson said.
At a 1,500 feet altitude aboard the Chinook, the first of three waves of SF hooked up their static lines and made ready to leave the helicopter. Hand gestures counted down the time before the jump at four minutes, one minute, and 30 second intervals. A final green light signaled their exit.
At 12,500 feet, where breath crystallized and oxygen levels were thin, the HALO team made their jump. On the ground, friends and Family watched as the helicopter hovered, chutes popped open and men landed in the drop zone.
During the change of command ceremony, Ochsner passed the company guidon to Unbehagen and the group celebrated the growth of Charlie Company, 5th Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne) from just seven members to 100 percent strength in less than two years.
"This company is poised and prepared to go anywhere," Ochsner said during his closing remarks.
"We will continue to bring the best of Special Forces when asked to win hearts and minds," said Unbehagen as he took command.
"We have a very tight organization and all these men are very proud of what they do. They're three-time volunteers," Chavez said. "They volunteered for the Army, they volunteered for the Airborne and they volunteered for Special Forces.
"We're here to protect the nation and the state of Texas."
Their lawns will be mowed next weekend.