News: Texas and Chilean paratroopers plunge into training
Story by Staff Sgt. Suzanne Ringle
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - Like a scene from an action-packed war movie, the Corpus Christi shoreline witnessed Green Berets leaping from helicopters with parachutes, nearly translucent in the morning sun. The special operations Soldiers splashed into the quiet bay below as their chutes billowed above in the breeze. Today's mission: A joint, airborne training exercise joining the Special Operations Detachment – Africa (Airborne) and the Chilean marine special operators in Corpus Christi, Texas, aboard the historic USS Lexington Museum.
Held Aug. 23, 2014, this airborne operation, known as a "water jump," had a lot of moving parts requiring Texas Army and Air National Guard units, as well as public facilities, to work together to accomplish the training. The Chilean special operations and Texas Army National Guard special operations units have had a cohesive working relationship since becoming State Partners in 2008. Their partnership has allowed for a sharing of knowledge and expertise, as well as opportunities like the training here to gain a working, hands-on experience where everyone learns to function as a unit. This long-term bond fosters cooperation and strengthens international ties between allies.
Participants reinforced the significance of the training by having it take place on the legendary USS Lexington, or "Blue Ghost." With an impressive combat record from World War II, Korea, and the Pacific, the Lexington serves now as a floating museum in Corpus Christi, Texas, and frequent training site for events like this.
“Training here puts both, Texas special operations and the USS Lexington, in the public eye," said Maj. Daniel Edwards, operations officer for the Special Operations Detachment – Africa (Airborne). "The Lexington has the perfect dynamics: Flight deck, a great drop zone, and a beach for easy access. Plus, it’s cool to land on a flight deck and off the bow."
For nearly seven hours in the blazing Texas coast sun, SOF members strapped on their Maneuverable Canopy 6 (MC6) parachute rigging, checked and double-checked one another’s gear, and loaded up shoulder-to-shoulder in the open doorways of a UH-60 Black Hawk from the 108th Aviation Task Force. Over the rotors and wind, Edwards, primary jumpmaster, called “Go” as he delivered a strong tap on the shoulder of each jumper, releasing them from the safety of the helicopter as they placed their trust in their parachutes, floating toward the Gulf of Mexico. On shore, vacationers watched as every pass of the chopper produced six more parachutes blooming into view.
"It feels great to be able to do a water jump," said 1st Lt. Lena Casio of the 294th Quartermaster Company. "This is the first time I've ever actually done a water jump. I'm not quite as nervous because I know that all the safety precautions have been taken. I feel very safe with all the riggers and jump masters."
The Chilean special forces marines shared in the experience in order to gain a higher proficiency for "water jumps" that they will take back to their units. Not only did they bring their own military expertise, but also their highly-coveted golden jump wings. In the airborne world, it is a great honor to receive foreign jump wings. The Texas paratroopers who took this plunge received the honor in front of their peers and families at the end of the day.
The levels of experience among this elite group are diverse, from seasoned jumpers to a couple fresh out of airborne school. For a small handful of the three-dozen participants, this was their first water landing. For one, however, it was his "lucky number 13 jump," a special milestone in the career of an airborne Soldier.
A unique feature, not always realized by the general public when they think of units like this, is that each member of a special operations outfit brings to the table a specialized skill like language, weapons, communications, and medical, to name a few.
A recent graduate from airborne school, Col. Christopher “Doc” Smith, medical officer for the SOD-A, was especially looking forward to this event as his first after Jump School.
“It was great, six knots of wind, beautiful conditions," Smith said. "This is my first time flying with the MC6 parachute; it is a steerable chute. So it was much nicer being able to control my descent. I put it into the wind – had a nice soft landing. This was much better than dirt; I’d taste that salt water any day.”
The six boats retrieving the troopers created a frothy wake that made the drop zone visible from above. With each subsequent jump, the Texas and Chilean paratroopers bonded further while reinforcing their specialized combat skills. For this partnership, the training is but one of many demonstrations of trust and confidence between the two nations.