CAMP MACKALL, N.C. – As darkness enveloped Luzon Drop Zone on March 12, 2013, a moonless sky gave way to a vast sea of stars.
High overhead, a U.S. Army Special Operations Command Flight Detachment Casa-212 aircraft approached the drop zone – on board, Army Reserve soldiers from the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) moved into position to exit the aircraft.
A soldier approached the end of the ramp and peered out into the darkness, taking a deep breath. As a bright light flashed overhead from red to green, he stepped off the ramp and soared through the air from 1,500 feet above the ground. Then another soldier cleared the ramp, and another, and another until they all safely exited the aircraft.
Their parachutes opened wide above their heads, keeping them safe during the descent to the drop zone below.
At the end of the night, these soldiers walked away with their jump status maintained and a greater knowledge of night airborne infiltration techniques.
But days before, tucked away in a warehouse on Fort Bragg, N.C., Army Reserve parachute riggers with the 824th Quartermaster Company (Heavy Airdrop Supply) at Fort Bragg, N.C., packed and prepared parachutes for the upcoming night airborne operation.
“This is critical because we do deal with people's lives,” said Sgt. Clarence Curry, Jr., a native of Lincolnton, N.C., a parachute rigger with the 824th who is also inspecting the work of other riggers. “A malfunction happens and someone loses their life, it's basically upon the rigger; it's his fault.”
A shout of “Rigger!” is heard across the warehouse floor and Curry walks over to the parachute packer standing before a parachute system laid out on one of the packing tables. Lifting the suspension lines in his left hand, he inspects every inch; checking for any packing deficiencies.
Staff Sgt. Nikolai Mashtalov, the 824th noncommissioned officer in charge, said the unit provides parachutes and rigger support to USACAPOC units up and down the Eastern seaboard.
“We’re able to train more personnel such as jumpmasters, malfunction officers … it’s basically a multiplier,” Mashtalov said. “Our presence here creates greater flexibility.”
Mashtalov said while most airborne jumps occur during daylight hours, the riggers need to know how to operate at night – that is where the Luzon Drop Zone mission comes into play.
“It allows us to operate in a different environment and increase our skill set,” he said.
Those skills are across the board from the aircrew, the jumpmasters, and the ground communication team, he said.
“Everyone involved gets additional training,” Mashtalov said.
Additionally, this particular jump allowed the participating jumpmasters to receive their senior rating for the night airborne operation, he said.
“One of the most difficult ones (rating) these days is to actually perform jumpmaster duties at night on an aircraft,” he said. “That, a lot of times, is one requirement that jumpmasters are lacking to receive the next higher rating.”
It doesn’t matter if a soldier is active or reserve, the standards are the same, he said.
“All active duty requirements, as far as the currency and proficiency, still apply,” Mashtalov said.
“You still have to exit the aircraft once per quarter, you still have to maintain jumpmaster currency by performing jumpmaster duties within 179 days – so all the requirements are the same as the active duty,” he said.
It’s these requirements that can make it difficult for Army Reserve soldiers to maintain their status.
“They are limited to the one weekend a month. If the weather does not cooperate, then they will have to wait one more month for the next chance they get to jump,” Mashtalov said.