FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Eight Paratroopers ran to the helicopter, their heads bowed against the whipping wind from the propellers. The jumpmaster hooked each jumper to the floor of the UH-60 Blackhawk and signaled to the pilot that his men were ready to go. The aircraft ascended to approximately 1,200 feet. As it neared its destination, the jumpers were given their commands, checked their equipment, and anxiously awaited the command of "Go!"
These jumpers were just one of 21 teams who participated in this year's jump competition for the 82nd Airborne Division's All American week, a five day celebration that builds unit cohesion and commemorates the historic unit. The competition included teams from each battalion in the division. Each eight-man team conducted a static line jump from a Blackhawk, with the intention to land on a 20-meter-wide target on the drop zone. If a trooper landed on his target, he received a zero as his time. If not, his time started once he hit the ground and stop after his parachute was properly packed and he ran to the target. The team with the shortest time wins, and that battalion claims a trophy and victory until next year.
While some of the competitors volunteered for the opportunity, others were recommended by their chain of command. Sgt. 1st Class Ernest Williams, the air noncommissioned officer for 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, used this as a chance to treat some of his soldiers who stood out from the others.
"I chose a few of my jumpmasters who have worked hard throughout the year. I wanted to give them a fun jump," Williams said.
The competition is also a chance for friends and family members to come out to the drop zone and watch an airborne operation. Williams' wife, Heather, and their children, Kara and Kameron, came out to watch him take part in the competition.
"I've seen him jump out of planes before, but never a helicopter," Heather said. "We look forward to All American week every year."
Although it is a competition, the competitive spirit is quite relaxed at this event. Several Paratroopers considered it simply a great opportunity to get in an enjoyable jump.
"I'm not concerned about the competition, I just want a Blackhawk jump," said Sgt. Dustin Walker, fire support NCO for B Co., 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. "I've been waiting five years for this."
The biggest competition may actually be vying for a spot on the team, according to Cpt. Joey Driskell, operations officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1/504 PIR. "A lot of people want to get on this," Driskell said. "This is one of the most fun events of the week."
The winning team was with 1st Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 18th Fires Brigade. A team representative accepted a trophy for the victory and was recognized by the division commander, Maj. Gen. James Huggins, during the Division Review rehearsal.