News: Arctic paratroopers reboot ‘Prop Blast Ceremony’
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Jason Epperson
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - Spartan Brigade senior paratroopers recently reintroduced a more than seven-decade-long tradition when they jumped from UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters March 20 onto Geronimo Drop Zone at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
In mid-December 1940, 13 officers of the 501st Parachute Infantry Battalion stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., started the “Prop Blast Ceremony,” naming it after the blast of air that jumpers feel upon exiting an aircraft. During the Vietnam era, however, the ceremony began to take on a less-than-stellar reputation as it became associated with binge drinking and hazing.
U.S. Army Col. Matthew McFarlane, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division commanding officer, said although the ceremony used to be ritualistic and focused on initiation, like the Army, it has evolved and now focuses on leadership and professional development.
“Once you’re in the unit, you’re part of the unit,” McFarlane said. “This is really leader professional development. We have our brigade staff judge advocate out here. We have our brigade chaplain out here. We have a lot of staff officers and field grade officers who spend most of their day working behind a desk and coordinating and managing instead of doing. This allows them to get hands on, get trained at the basic skills they help coordinate [for] the training for their formations.”
McFarlane said the focus is to build the team as the brigade prepares for a month-long deployment to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. The goal, according to McFarlane, is to make sure leaders of the brigade are proficient in basic soldiering skills and are cohesive as they arrive into a stressful environment at the JRTC.
The Arctic leaders landed on Geronimo Drop Zone, which is a circular DZ surrounded by snow-covered mountains. The troops used steerable MC-6 parachutes to land, and then donned snowshoes to prepare for a long movement out of the valley, performing individual skill tasks along the way to ensure they are as proficient in basic warrior skills, as are their paratroopers.
“That’s what’s great about our United States Army,” McFarlane said. “We draw lineage that starts from the very first day of our Army. We have a bond with people we serve with now and with people that formally served in our units. We carry on tradition and carry on the honor that they established in whatever war they fought in, whatever training event they executed in, so it’s a great way to carry on some tradition and understanding on how the units evolved and what’s special about each unit.”
Maj. James B. Lee, the 4-25 IBCT chaplain, said the experience was an airborne tradition and not a rite of passage or initiation.
“It was truly part of being a paratrooper,” Lee said. “In that sense, that’s what made it meaningful to me.”
Lee said the time they spent together as leaders and staff preparing to go to the JRTC was genius.
“We have a lot of new staff. We have a new public affairs officer and we have a new judge advocate general,” Lee said. “I’m the old guy as far as special staff goes.”
Lee said, for him, the best part of the Prop Blast ceremony was the camaraderie of being paratroopers.
“We all have our cubicles, computers and jobs, but we actually got out and did what soldiers do for a day,” Lee said. “That was the first time I jumped out of a Black Hawk. That was pretty cool. I will say that jumping from a Black Hawk is nothing like what they tell you in pre jump. You do not have room to reach down and push yourself up and out of the helicopter. You really fall out of the darn thing.”
After the jump onto Geronimo Drop Zone, the Spartan senior leaders marched in snow shoes for 12 miles, completing individual and group tasks along the way. It was followed by a formal ceremony held at the 425th Brigade Special Troops Battalion’s (Airborne) motor pool.
This is the first time the brigade has jumped onto Geronimo Drop Zone since redeploying from Afghanistan supporting OEF 2011-2012.