By Capt. Choli Ence, 128th MPAD, UTNGJuly 21, 2010
KAMPONG SPEU, Cambodia -- For airborne Soldiers, the opportunity to jump with airborne forces from other countries is a highly coveted and sought after event.
Such was the case for 49 Utah Army National Guard Soldiers from 97th Troop Command, 197th Special Troops Company (Airborne), and 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, who participated in a friendship jump with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces during Angkor Sentinel 2010 held at the newly built Training School for Multinational Peacekeeping Forces, July 12 through 30.
The Global Peace Operation Initiative is a State Department led initiative to address gaps in the international peacekeeping operations and normally doesn't include a friendship jump.
According to Sgt. Maj. Gary Barnes, operations noncommissioned officer for Headquarters, 97th TC, the idea to include a friendship jump in the exercise was first conceptualized during the initial planning conference in October 2009.
However, obtaining actual approval to include the friendship jump in the exercise proved more difficult.
In fact, Barnes said the approval for the jump came only after Col. Edward Gunderson, co-exercise support group director for Angkor Sentinel and commander of 97th TC, met with defense and Army attachAfA, Col. Mark Gillette, during the exercise rehearsal.
Once approval for the friendship jump was granted by the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, U.S. Pacific Command, and U.S. Army Pacific, the task of coordinating for the necessary equipment and support personnel began.
The KC-130J aircraft used during the friendship jump was supplied by the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing out of Okinawa, Japan, and the jumpmaster, safeties, parachute riggers and parachutes were all supplied by U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, based on Okinawa, Japan.
Despite these challenges, the friendship jump was deemed a success as 66 U.S. and 30 Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldiers exited the aircraft.
This friendship jump was only the second time that the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces had ever jumped with U.S. servicemembers.
Upon learning about the significance of this jump, Spc. Daniel Griffin, 1st Battalion, 19th SFG said "it makes me feel very proud and lucky to be here."
At the conclusion of this exercise, all U.S. Soldiers who participated in the friendship jump were awarded Cambodian jump wings. Unlike the U.S., the Cambodian jump wings are individually serial numbered and assigned to each Solider.