MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The cold wind blew strong as the rain struck the ground making sounds comparable to a symphony orchestra reaching the climax of its performance. The trees violently moved side to side and the tarps fastened to the HUMVEES appeared to be dancing away from their restraints.
Marines of all pay grades gathered inside the Aerial Port Of Embarkation building located on the flight line at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. They talked amongst themselves while they waited for the Joint Airborne/Air Transportability Training operation to begin.
The JA/ATT consisted of four units and two Dutch Marines combining efforts to participate in a joint training operation: 2d Air Delivery platoon, 2d Force Reconnaissance Company, 2d Recon Battalion, 2d Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company and the Dutch Marines, Capt. Charles Suilen and Master Sgt. Michael Hendrikes.
The units met at the 2d Force paraloft prior to the jump to receive some refresher training. The training included commands and conduct on procedures Marines would be following before, during and after the jump.
The entire operation involved using a C-17 to conduct High Altitude Low Opening jumps, Static line jumps and Container Delivery System drops from between 1,000 and 12,500 feet above ground level.
Several jumpmasters briefed the Marines on jump safety and the details of the operation. Among the many jumpmasters to brief the Marines was Staff Sgt. Shawn T. O’Hea, currently filling the billet of logistics chief for 2d ANGLICO.
“During an airborne operation rank matters not, and the primary jumpmaster is in control. He is usually a senior parachutist,” said 1st Lt. F. Damon Friedman, Air Delivery Officer of 2d Air Delivery Platoon and the parachute safety officer.
O’Hea has been a static line jumpmaster for six years. To claim that title he had to complete the jumpmaster course. In order to be a jumpmaster one must have 12 fixed wing jumps from a high performance aircraft, 24 jumps from a helicopter and pass a parachute nomenclature exam, which involves identifying over 250 parts of a parachute and equipment.
The mission had the four specified units travel to MCAS Cherry Point, and park their vehicles outside the APOE building. The chutes and rigs were unloaded from the trucks and the Marines began to suit up.
From there, each Marine loaded into one of two C-17s, which were flown by Air Force pilots, and took their seats. The roar of the massive aircraft made the wind outside sound like a whisper.
The plane took off at approximately 8:30 p.m. and began its scheduled course toward drop zone Falcon. Turbulence started throwing the bird up and down, as the Marines cloned the motion in their seats.
The wind slammed the plane side to side as the first group of Marines stood and readied their gear just before the jump.
The jumpmaster’s commands echoed through the belly of the plane, “10 minutes!” The other Marines repeated the exclamation.
While one jumpmaster gave the commands and hand signals to the deploying group, another stood behind him and ensured the jumpers were properly prepared.
“Hook-up!” The jumpers unhooked their static line from their reserve parachute and clasped it to the anchor line cable running above their heads.
The loadmaster opened the door over the left wing and stepped back so one of the jumpmasters could check the doorway and identify the landing zone.
O’Hea, the jumpmaster giving the commands for the first group, held onto the frame of the doorway and leaned out as far as he could. He pulled himself back and looked at the other jumpmaster shaking his head.
There was too much fog; he couldn’t see the landing zone at all.
The pilots made three passes around the landing zone to see if the fog would clear up. It didn’t.
The aircraft returned to MCAS Cherry Point and landed after nearly two hours of circling the skies.
Dozens of disappointed Marines exited the plane and returned to the APOE building. They packed up all their gear and returned to Camp Lejeune for the night.
The next day arrived and the same operation was underway.
This night, the winds were a little less cold and the rain a little less hard. The Marine packed C-17s lifted off the runway hoping for a successful mission this time.
When they began flying over the landing zone, the jumpmaster looked out the door again. He gave the thumbs-up, displaying that he could clearly identify the landing zone free of fog.
The static line jumpers went through the same commands and actions as the previous night. When it came time for them to step off the plane, the jumpmaster individually tapped each one on the back and yelled, “Go, go, go!”
The aircraft then made two more passes over the landing zone for the other two groups of jumpers. They all jumped successfully.
“I definitely enjoyed my 30 second ride down to the ground,” said Lance Cpl. Stephannie R. King, Air Delivery Specialist of 2d Air Delivery platoon. “It feels more like 10 seconds though.”
After the static line jumpers had jumped, the pilots took the bird up to 12,500 feet so the free fall jumpers could deploy.
The free fall jumpers consisted of four Marines wearing special Gentex helmets with goggles, and altimeters that were strapped to their wrists.
Three of them repeatedly checked each other’s gear while the fourth knelt down at the opening of the ramp to check the wind speeds and ensure they were directly over the landing zone. The fourth Marine verified their positioning and identified the wind speed. He gave the signal for the three to leap off the ramp and they were gone in the blink of any eye.
“Jumping free fall is much more of an adrenaline rush. I like it so much I do it in my off time, in the civilian world,” said O’Hea. “I was lucky enough to be with Recon and Force and meet the quota to jump free fall. It’s awesome.”
Along with personnel, the operation called for the C-17s to drop Container Delivery Systems, which are “50 cubic boxes of water and chow,” said Master Sgt. Sirisak Longnecker, an air delivery specialist and the paraloft’s chief.
“Overall the total operation was a success. A lot of needed training was completed and at the same time we developed a cohesive relationship within airborne units at Camp Lejeune,” said Friedman.
“We couldn’t have completed this whole mission without all of the different units giving their all and doing what they had to do,” said O’Hea.