MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The gray storm clouds loomed ominously over a barren, muddy field riddled with puddles of stagnant rainwater, as light gusts of wind buffeted the assembled troops.
The previous day’s foul weather and the promise of more to come soon, however, were not reasons enough for the Marines of 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion to put their training on hold during the early morning hours Jan. 30. Quite the opposite, several of them boldly ascended into the clouds to keep their parachute jump qualifications current.
The day’s training began at 5:30 a.m., with the Marines assembled in the battalion’s paraloft receiving a brief on 2nd Recon’s newest parachute, the SF10-A. This parachute replaced their older model, the MT11, and features a slower rate of descent and improved maneuverability.
According to Sgt. Shawn Thompkins, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion’s paraloft’s noncommissioned officer-in-charge, the Marines must complete a total of three jumps with the SF10-A to be considered “transitioned” over to this new parachute.
Two of them must be “slick” jumps, meaning jumping out of an aircraft with no gear but a main and reserve parachute, the 30-year-old Pensacola, Fla. native continued. The third time around, however, personnel must leap out with a rucksack weighing at least 45 pounds.
After Thompkins delivered his brief informing the Marines and corpsmen of these requirements, jumpmasters oversaw the troops conducting parachute landing fall (PLF) drills. The Marines and sailors practiced landing on the balls of their feet, then letting their body weight fall gently onto their calf, thigh muscle, buttocks and pushup muscles.
“These drills are done to make sure they’re executing their falls correctly,” Thompkins explained as the recon personnel demonstrated proper landing techniques in a sandbox outside the paraloft. “It minimizes the risk of injury during the real training if we can correct (improper) techniques ahead of time out here.”
After several tumbles in the dirt, the troops loaded their parachutes into the back of a truck and headed out to nearby Drop Zone Plover to kick off the actual training. As they helped each other don their parachutes, they conducted last-minute inspections to check for rips or tears in their gear, along with any loose straps that might have become entangled in flight.
Afterward, the recon personnel boarded a CH-46E helicopter in groups and circled the DZ from overhead for several minutes before hurtling out into the wind.
This was the part recon infantrymen like Cpl. Stephen Ellsworth had been eagerly awaiting since early morning.
“It’s one of the best rushes you can ever feel,” the 20-year-old Largo, Fla. native stated. “This was my eighth jump today, but I still get a little nervous at first. As soon as I’m about to jump out, though, I’m like, ‘Hell yeah, this is going to be fun.’ I think we’re all crazy, but I’d do this every day if I could.”
The 2004 Indian Rocks Christian High School graduate added that the SF10-A parachute did indeed offer smoother landing and better features than its predecessor.
“You can move around in the air more to kind of pinpoint where you want to land,” Ellsworth continued. “You hit the deck a lot softer, and the landing in general is just more smooth.”
Today, the goal was to get as many Marines and sailors in the battalion familiar with this parachute model, said Capt. Mark Raney, Headquarters and Service Company commander. During subsequent training evolutions, the troops will keep their jump qualifications current by doing such training approximately every six months, he added.
Refining skills such as these is vital for a reconnaissance unit to accomplish its mission, as the infantrymen must often be inserted behind enemy lines or in remote regions via airdrop to gather intelligence and scout out a region. As a fit and specially trained force, Raney said that 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion’s troops remain ready to continue training to support whatever missions today’s high-operational tempo demands of them.