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The United States Army Airborne School — widely known as Jump School — conducts the basic paratrooper (military parachutist) training for the United States armed forces. It is operated by the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 507th Infantry, United States Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia. The Airborne School conducts the Basic Airborne Course, which is open to troops of both genders from all branches of the United States Department of Defense and allied military personnel.
The purpose of the Basic Airborne Course is to qualify the student in the use of the parachute as a means of combat deployment and to develop leadership, self-confidence, and an aggressive spirit through mental and physical conditioning. All students must volunteer to attend the course, and may elect to quit at any time.
The course is three weeks long and consists of three phases: "Ground Week", "Tower Week" and "Jump Week". Rigorous physical training (PT) is emphasized throughout the entire course. The initial entry PT test consists of the standard Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). All age groups must pass this test using the 17 – 21 age group standards. The pullup requirement was lifted in October 2006.
In 1940, the War Department approved the formation of a test platoon of Airborne Infantry under the direction and control of the Army's Infantry Board. A test platoon of volunteers was organized from Fort Benning's 29th Infantry Regiment, and the 2d Infantry Division was directed to conduct tests to develop reference data and operational procedures for air-transported troops.
First Lieutenant William T. Ryder volunteered and was made the test platoon's platoon leader, Lieutenant James A. Bassett was designated assistant platoon leader, and forty-eight enlisted men were selected from a pool of 200 volunteers. The platoon moved into tents near Lawson Field, and an abandoned hanger was obtained for training and parachute packing.
Lieutenant Colonel William C. Lee, a staff officer for the Chief of Infantry, recommended that the test platoon be moved to the Safe Parachute Company at Hightstown, NJ and train using parachute drop towers from the New York World's Fair. Eighteen days after forming, the platoon was moved to New Jersey and trained for one week on the 250-foot free towers, which proved to be particularly effective – drops from the tower added realism otherwise impossible to duplicate outside of an airplane drop, and proved to the troopers that their parachutes would function safely. Impressed, the Army purchased two and erected them on what is now Eubanks Field at Fort Benning. Two more were later added, and today three of the original four towers are still in use. Parachute landing training was often conducted by the volunteers jumping from PT platforms and from the back of moving trucks to allow the trainees to experience the shock of landing.
Less than forty-five days after it was formed, members of the test platoon made their first jump from a Douglas B-18 over Lawson Field on 16 August 1940. Lieutenant Ryder and Private William N. (Red) King became the first officer and enlisted man to make an official jump as paratroopers in the United States Army. On 29 August, the platoon made the first platoon mass jump held in the United States.
Members of the original test platoon formed the battalion cadre of the 501st Parachute Battalion, the first parachute combat unit. The second, the 502d Parachute Infantry Battalion, was activated on 1 July 1941. As more airborne units were activated, a centralized training facility was organized at Fort Benning on 15 May 1942. Over time, the U.S. Army Parachute School was known by a variety of names:
Before you get to jump out of a plane you must first learn how to land on the ground safely. The T-10D round-shaped parachute that static-line paratroopers use gives a descent rate of 23.5 ft/sec for 250 pounds suspended (the equivalent of one 200 pound jumper, 35 pounds of combat equipment, and 15 pounds of reserve parachute), which is the equivalent of jumping from a two-story building. For the jumper's safety, they must learn the skills required to safely transition to landing and dissipate the energy upon hitting the ground over their entire body, preventing injury. Soldiers are taught how to wear the parachute harness correctly and how to use the special training gear. During Ground Week, soldiers will spend a lot of time learning, practicing, and perfecting their Parachute Landing Fall (PLF). This maneuver teaches a soldier to transfer the energy of your fall (landing) up the sides of the lower legs and knees, all the way up to side of the upper body. The key is landing with your feet and knees together. To practice the PLFs, soldiers will jump from platforms of various heights even from two story buildings into sand or pebble pits simulating the final stage of parachute landing. All the while, the Black Hat instructors observe and correct the soldier's body position and PLF technique. Over and over a soldier will practice the PLF – expect a soldier's body to become quite sore from the repetitive falling as well as the uniform to get beat up. This week culminates in practice landings from the Lateral Drift Assembly, in order to simulate landing while moving across the ground. The 34-foot tower is also used to simulate exiting an aircraft in flight. To continue to week 2, you must pass all jump training test as well as the physical fitness requirements. Some students that are unable to advance may require additional training or get "recycled" to another class due to lack of progress or injury.
The second week of Jump School concentrates on the jump towers. Soldiers will continue using the 34-foot tower and will also use the swing-landing trainer, the suspended harness, and the 250-foot tower. Soldiers will become familiar with the mock door trainer to simulate mass exit training (how to exit an aircraft in flight). Parachute jumps from the 250-foot high tower culminate the second week of training and are the final transition from ground training to actual parachuting. Additionally, soldiers are taught the different phases of parachute flight from aircraft exit, through opening shock and chute deployment, then onto the deployment of the risers, steering the chute, and all the way to landing. One critical skill learned is how to identify a parachute malfunction and deal with it. This may involve emergency procedures including when and how to deploy the reserve parachute. Soldiers also learn about oscillation, landing falls, and how to recover from drag. The T-10C parachute is partially steerable using the parachute risers and soldiers are taught the different techniques to steer their chutes into the wind and aim for the Point of Impact at the center of the Drop Zone. The second week completes a soldier's individual skill training and begins building team effort skills. Once successfully completing the skills required and the physical fitness requirements, a soldier progresses to jump week.
Finally, soldiers get to practice their new skills while jumping out of real aircraft in flight. The C-130 or C-17 aircraft pick up the paratrooper students in front of the hangar at Lawson Army Airfield. From there it is a very short flight to Fryar Field (commonly referred to as "Fryar Drop Zone"), where all of the training jumps are accomplished. Fryar Field is named after Private Elmer E. Fryar of the United States Army's 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions in World War II.
The Air Force aircraft fly at 1200 feet above the ground at an airspeed of about 130 MPH. After the flight crew completes the pre-drop and slow-down checklists, soldiers rise out of their seats and move at the jumpmaster's direction to one of two paratroop doors (on each side of the aircraft). At "green light" one stick of soldiers exits the plane – jumpers continue to move to the door until the red light is illuminated. At that point the aircraft will begin its racetrack maneuver circling back to the beginning of the drop zone and continue to do this until all jumpers have jumped.
A soldier must complete 5 jumps, including one night jump, to graduate Airborne School. During jump week, the schedule varies and soldiers will jump in a variety of configurations from no load (Hollywood style) all the way to a full combat load jump. Jump week can seem chaotic, with a large group of soldiers gathered in the ready-room waiting to be loaded onto the aircraft one chalk at a time. Immediately after landing on the Drop Zone (DZ), the soldiers collect their parachutes and other gear and meet back at the rally point on one side of the DZ, where they wait for a bus to take them back to Lawson Army Airfield to get ready for their next jump.
The jump schedule varies greatly based on class dynamics, weather, and aircraft. Graduation is normally conducted at 0900 on Friday of Jump Week at the south end of Eubanks Field on the Airborne Walk. However, if there is inclement weather, or other factors delay the scheduled jumps, graduation may be conducted on Fryar Drop Zone following the last jump. Guests and family members are welcome to observe all of the jumps at the DZ, attend the graduation ceremony, and participate in awarding the parachutist wings to the soldiers. On graduation day, families typically spend only a few minutes with their soldier, pinning on his or her new airborne wings. The soldier frequently departs Fort Benning that day or the following day, to attend another advanced military school or to report to another duty station.
The Airborne School instructors are commonly referred to as "Black Hats", due to the distinguishing black baseball cap with shiny brass rank insignia and parachutist badge that is part of the instructor's uniform. However, all students at the school are required to address them as "Sergeant (or Petty Officer in the case of a Navy instructor) Airborne". A student's interaction with Black Hats consists largely of shouting, "Yes Sergeant, Airborne!", and "No Sergeant, Airborne!". Instructors may come from the United States Army, Marine Corps, Navy or Air Force. The reasoning is that because students from four military services attend, each service insists that they have at least one representative to ensure quality instruction. The U.S. Coast Guard does not usually participate in Airborne training as it does not directly relate to the service's Homeland Security and daily search-and-rescue missions.
The battalion was organized into six companies: Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) for administration and command-and-control; four Line Companies (A, B, C, and D) execute the Basic Airborne Course Program of Instruction (POI), and a parachute rigger support Company (E). D company has since been disbanded, and a week-long buffer occurs between class cycles.
The vast majority of students at Airborne School come from the U.S. Army. These include soldiers headed for assignments to the 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, 4th BCT 25th Infantry Division, 16th Military Police Brigade, 173rd Airborne BCT, 75th Ranger Regiment, or the Special Forces Qualification Course. Also Marine Recon units as well as ANGLICO Units attend. Recent BUD/S graduates, USAF Combat Controllers, USAF Special Operations Weather Technicians, USAF Pararescuemen and USAF Tactical Air Control Party also attend the school in order to be jump-qualified. Summer cycles frequently include a substantial numbers of cadets from ROTC and West Point.
During in-processing, each student is given a roster number (with the prefix C, N, or A to identify a cadet, NCO, or officer, respectively), which is applied to the student's assigned equipment and used as identification throughout training.
All students are quartered in gender-segregated company barracks for the entire course except for officers and warrant officers, who are assigned to bachelor officer's quarters.
Upon satisfactory completion of the course, the student is awarded the United States Army Parachutist Badge (commonly referred to as "Jump Wings"), regardless of branch or MOS, a certificate from the school, and copies of orders authorizing its wear.
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