News: By the numbers: An Airborne career
Story by Capt. Saska Ball
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - For some Soldiers, their military career can start as a child. “I had a next-door neighbor that came back from Vietnam where he was a Special Forces Soldier. He gave me his green beret, some badges, medals, patches and stuff. That planted the seed to be an Airborne Ranger,” said Col. Roger Cotton, assistant chief of staff for human resources at Headquarters and Headquarters Company, United States Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), located here.
The idea to join the military came up again while Cotton was in high school, where he participated in the Navy Junior Reserve Officers' Training program.
Following graduation from high school in the summer of 1982, he left for the United States Military Academy.
In 1986, after graduating from West Point and before reporting to the Infantry Officer Basic, Cotton attended the Airborne Basic Course, continuing his path to becoming an Airborne Ranger.
His first jump took place on July 21, 1986, at Fort Benning, Ga. Twenty-eight years later on Jan. 24, 2014, Cotton completed his 100th airborne jump at St. Mere Eglise Drop Zone.
“It’s surprising to reach that goal quicker than you realize,” he said. “It’s a wonder when you start to look back and think, ‘How did I get here?’ I’m grateful that God has given me the opportunity 100 times to jump safely.”
Throughout his career, he has used six different types of parachutes, earned nine foreign jump wings, jumped out of 13 types of aircraft and landed on 17 drop zones.
Along the way, he became a jump master.
“I really enjoy seeing kids who are on jump number six and are scared. I try to bring them a little calm and help them out, to overcome something, use that inner strength,” he said with a smile. “It’s exciting for me.”
As his retirement approaches, Cotton reminisces about some of his most memorable jumps.
“Jumping into Holland for part of the Market Garden re-enactment stands out because that was historic. As you jump in, there are re-enactors all over the drop zone dressed up in their WWII garb,” he said.
“I love the Black Hawk jumps especially and the tailgate jumps from the Casa 212 because you can see what you’re doing,” he added. “And the C-130 jumps because I started with those.”
Fittingly, his career will come to a close at the home of the Airborne on April 18, 2014.
“The hard part is going to be stopping because I had so much fun. There is just something about the camaraderie of being with fellow paratroopers.”