WEST KINGSTON, R.I. – Paratroopers from around the world waited for the dense fog to clear. As they performed their sustained airborne training, the thumping sounds of the blades of a CH-47 Chinook Helicopter echoed through the trees. As the fog began to break, paratroopers were ready to start of the largest, longest standing, international static line parachute training event and competition: Leapfest.
More than 250 paratroopers, including nine foreign jump teams, participated in the competition August 3rd and 4th on Castle Drop Zone, located behind West Kingston Elementary School. Seven teams from the U.S. Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) took to the air alongside their airborne comrades. “Being in this competition is a great experience, it’s something that I would never have the opportunity to do had I not been in USACAPOC(A),” said Sgt. 1st Class Edward Dutch of the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion, Riverdale, Md.
The competition’s objective: get all four team members out of the helicopter at 1,500 feet and get to the finish line in the quickest time possible – and beat out the other teams. Each competitor was strapped to a MC1-1C/D static line, steerable, parabolic parachute. Competitors are timed from the moment he or she lands until reaching the orange “X” in the middle of the drop zone. After three jumps, each team’s combined total is calculated with the shortest time earning top team honors.
“My strategy for this competition was to not go over the target,” said Spc. Ciera Terry of USACAPOC(A). “I plan on landing before the target and dump air when I am about 200 feet.” Dumping air allows the paratrooper to descend faster to hit the target accurately.
Terry is one of four paratroopers who made up an all-female team comprised of 1st Lt. Laurie Hawkins, Staff Sgt. Lisa Dodd and Sgt. Heather Manley all from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, USACAPOC(A).
As the only female team, the media spotlight shined on these paratroopers as they floated down from the bright Rhode Island sky.
“I am having a great time here meeting different paratroopers. Maybe other units can take from the opportunity that you can bring female jumpers,” added Terry.
Organized by the Rhode Island National Guard, this marks the 30th year of the competition.
“The difference from about 25 years ago is that they are now using the CH-47’s and a different parachute system,” said Col. Terrell Parker, Chief of Staff, USACAPOC(A) who jumped out of a UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopter with an unsteerable T-10 parachute in the mid 80’s. “The scope of the operation is much larger drawing in a bigger crowd with more media attention. Even though we might not win, there is nothing bad about this operation.”
And there was nothing bad about Cpt. Lance Jensen performance. Jensen, a civil affairs officer from the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion, finished first in the individual category with a total time of 15.5 seconds.
“What I was doing is landing a few feet of the target, grab my risers and sling them around running after the canopy towards the target,” said Jensen who was not anticipating coming in first against more season paratroopers from around the world. “Events like this brought cohesion, esprit-de-corps and camaraderie with jumpers.”