News: Special Forces practice water operations in Gulf of Mexico joint exercise
Story by Staff Sgt. Melissa Bright
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - In the hour or two before dawn when the surf is calm and quiet, the beach in front of the USS Lexington Museum in Corpus Christi, Texas, came alive with service members from the Texas Military Forces, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011.
More than three-dozen pairs of boots left deep prints crisscrossing the damp sand as the service members prepared for a water-hazard familiarity exercise and parachute drop into the Gulf of Mexico later that morning.
Army Capt. Daniel Edwards of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, gathered the group of Army and Air National Guardsmen in the museum parking lot at the edge of the beach for a brief review of the basic plan for the jumpers.
“We are here to do a deliberate water jump,” said Edwards, "The chopper should land on the flight deck around 0700 where we will be waiting with our gear. Our intent is to get this thing going as quickly and safely as possible so we have enough time for several iterations.”
The sky slowly brightened as the majority of the group headed up the long ramp to the Lexington to set up their equipment staging area and wait for air support from the 108th Aviation Task Force in the form of a UH-60 Black Hawk.
The rest headed back to finish unloading, assembling and positioning several Zodiacs on the bit of sand closest to the museum entrance. Despite their deceptively fragile appearance, the small, black, inflatable boats were more than up to the challenge of navigating the waters of the bay.
“We are using the boats,” said Army Staff Sgt. Shawn Dagley of the 672nd Engineer Dive Detachment, “to haul the jumpers and their parachute canopies safely out of the water and ferry them to the beach. We also have safety swimmers in each boat in case a jumper gets hurt and needs assistance.”
Army Maj. Max Krupp, commander of C Company, 1-19 SFG Group, said these training jumps are necessary, not just for the SF but also their support teams.
"Just like any other military training,” he said. “You need to practice working together to remain proficient."
The challenge of bringing together all the pieces of the mission proved equal to making the jump itself. The teams initially assembled earlier in August only to have their air support diverted to Camp Swift to support wild-fire mitigation teams working in the area.
“We were already here, ready to complete our training,” said Edwards. But, he continued, having overcoming challenges like this in real world missions is just something the SF is used to.
Personnel from the other units, like Sgt. Erica Urttia of the 294th QM Company, also took advantage of the opportunity to jump. “It was great,” she said, “But I definitely didn’t want to land in the middle of a bunch of jellyfish. Oh, but once you push off the edge, everything is just awesome.”
Behind her, the helicopter passed by again as four green parachutes bloomed into the deep blue of the sky, slowly drifting down to the boats waiting in the water below. It was a scene repeated more than a dozen times over the course of the morning.
“For some, it’s new. For others, it’s a refresher,” Edwards said. “Essentially, we are here to hone our airborne skills and provide a training opportunity for our boating support, our divers and our riggers.”
“We are very fortunate that the climate here in Texas is pro-training,” said Krupp. “We do some extremely adventurous and bottom line high-risk training and [TXMF leadership] has afforded us the latitude to train on the tasks that will allow us to be successful in our real world mission, and that includes today’s joint water jump. Special Forces definitely brings a lot to the table with our organic capability but it’s very hard to do anything without support from external units or our sister services.”