KILN, Miss. - A Bell UH-1 (Huey) helicopter soars 1,500 feet above Stennis Space Center International Airport in Kiln, Mississippi, on Aug. 6, 2014. Four Soldiers from the 421st Quartermaster Company stare out into the blue with static lines hooked up ready to make their jump.
“I always wanted to jump … ,” said Army 1st Lt. Neil Hamel, a newly-commissioned officer with the 421st. “The adrenaline rush from jumping out the door, clearing your head after the chaos of the world spinning under you while your parachute opens, and enjoying the great view and peace once you’re floating through the air; it’s a great experience.”
Great experience like this doesn’t come without challenge, according to Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 John Harris, senior tech with the 421st.
Countless hours are spent preparing to make these two-minute jumps possible, from finding an aircraft and checking the weather to organizing medical personnel.
“A lot of guys don’t see everything that goes into a jump,” said Harris.
Before any jumps are made, the day begins with sustained airborne training, required within 24 hours of each jump. Training consists of standard operating procedures of a jump. In addition, the trainers cover how Soldiers will be strapped into the Huey helicopter, review jump commands, and go over the different landing falls.
Next comes strapping into the parachute systems. The SF-10A that the 421st jumps with is a steerable canopy weighing approximately 30 pounds.
“I prefer the SF-10A,” said Army Sgt. Sean Bryant, a six-year rigger with about 32 jumps under his belt. “It is the 'Cadillac' of parachutes, because it has such a smooth landing and is steerable.”
While the word easy seems out of place in the airborne community, today Soldiers are thankful for a lighter load.
“In the rigger community, we call today’s jump a ‘Hollywood Jump,’” said Army Sgt. William Walker. “We are just jumping out one side of the helicopter with no rucksacks or any added weight besides the chute, so it should be a smooth and easy jump.”
Finally, the moment of truth; it’s jump time.
A Huey lands and four soldiers hook up. It takes off, circling around the airfield waiting for the command to jump. Crews on the ground direct the jump to ensure everything runs smoothly.
“I prepare the drop zone with the landing marker that indicates where the soldiers should try to land based on the wind,” said Army Sgt. William Robertson, a pathfinder with the 421st. “I also give the bird the command to execute the drop of personnel and need to make sure I can see all chutes are fully deployed once they are dropped.”
No matter the preference of parachute, or jumping out of a high-performance fixed-wing plane or a helicopter, the responsibilities demanded from these soldiers is well worth the reward of flying through the skies by the sound of cheers as they float down and the smiles when they land.