By Cheryl Rodewig, The BayonetJune 27, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. - About 270 Airborne students finished Tower Week last Friday. Upon graduation Friday, they'll receive their silver jump wings and officially join the ranks of the Army paratrooper.
But first they had to successfully complete three weeks of Airborne School.
"They start off with the basics," said Capt. Brian Miraglia, commander of C Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. "They learn how to conduct a parachute landing fall. They learn how to do an individual exit from both the tower and the mock door.
"Each training event basically builds their confidence … creates that muscle memory. Most of these Soldiers have not been deployed; they've not experienced a situation where they're under extreme stress, where their adrenaline's pumping -- and that's what happens when the door to the aircraft opens and they're standing there. What this repetition and these gradual steps do is teach them to do that without thinking, do all these correct steps without thinking."
Each week of Airborne School raises the elevation. Students begin with Ground Week, then face the 34-foot and 250-foot towers during Tower Week. The training ultimately prepares them for Jump Week, when they exit from an aircraft at 1,250 feet over Fryer Drop Zone.
After jumping out of the 34-foot towers, Pfc. Mariela Iniguez said she has come a long way since Ground Week.
"I really didn't know anything (then) -- how to jump, how to fall," she said. "Now, I think I have a pretty good idea of how the jump is actually going to be. I feel a little more confident. I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into when I volunteered, but now that I'm here, it's pretty fun. The training is hard, but it's worth it."
Students completed several jumps from the 34-foot towers, including mass exits with combat equipment and simulated malfunctions, where the equipment had to be released early.
Jumping from the towers for the first time was scary, said Pvt. Anthony Quarles, but it got better.
"It was pretty nerve-wracking, but then after two or three jumps, it's actually pretty easy," he said. "We get instruction in how to do it the day before and we do it the next day. They actually have instructors do an example of everything, so we know what to expect."
Airborne School was a requirement for Quarles' MOS: parachute rigger. He chose it, he said, because he "wanted to try something new."
The first time he was in a plane was less than a month ago, when he flew home.
That's not uncommon, Miraglia said.
"We do have Soldiers who this is their first experience of anything like this," he said. "I had a Soldier in my platoon a couple years ago; his first airplane ride was to Fort Benning for basic training and his second was at Airborne School and he jumped out of it."
While safety and training are a big part of what the three-week course covers, ultimately, the experience builds "a bold Soldier," Miraglia said.
"It's a Soldier who's willing to jump out of an airplane," he said. "A lot of Soldiers would opt out of that. It teaches them to overcome their fears. It teaches them to trust in the noncommissioned officers who are teaching them how to do this potentially life-threatening thing. And they do it and they graduate and they realize they're fine. That teaches them they can trust the Army, they can trust their NCO leadership, their officer leadership, and they can trust their equipment. It creates a unique Soldier."