MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Free falling at 120 mph, a jump-qualified Marine will experience mental stress more than anything. At least that’s what any reconnaissance Marine will say. Once they’re in the air, that’s it, and them knowing what to do just in case that parachute doesn’t deploy is critical.
Four times a year, reconnaissance Marines with Company C, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, much like any jump-qualified Marine, must conduct jumps to maintain proficiency and sustainment, but more importantly, to be ready for what could happen.
The training Company C, 2nd Recon Bn. conducted March 12 - 16 at the Greater Sandy Run Area’s Tactical Landing Zone Pheasant aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune wasn’t just about maintaining the status quo, however. There was a more distinct focus.
Whether it was Marines making their final jumps before attaching to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Deep Reconnaissance Platoon or prepping another select group of Marines for the 26th MEU’s deployment next year, the training was meant to work as a team once on the ground.
The training included low-level static line, high-altitude opening and high-altitude low-opening jumps.
To prepare for the jumps, Marines had to go through refresher training which included mock jumps out of a makeshift CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, “landing” in a sandpit, air movement maneuvers, triple gear checks – a long, tedious checklist. But, this checklist is meant to leave nothing to chance.
Gunnery Sgt. Brad Dean, a Richlands, N.C. native and operations chief for Company C, 2nd Recon Bn., said the week’s training was about getting back in the saddle as a team, not individually. The 17-year recon veteran takes these opportunities to incorporate more training, while keeping Marines proficient.
Some of the things Dean wanted to accomplish was to get Marines to link up once on the ground, then bury their parachutes to leave no trace of insertion.
“This week was (the right time) to get the Marines, who are going out on the MEU’s, as proficient as possible,” said Dean. “Once they go out, it’s just them. They have their (para)chutes with them and they will be either training other countries’ forces or conducting operations.
“Granted, a lot of what we are doing this week is refresher training. We need to start from the beginning before we can get to that point of jumping out of planes and landing together as a team,” Dean went on to explain.
The first two training days were merged into one; Company C cancelled day two due to a rainy forecast. The recon Marines performed at least 85 jumps, which is unusual, according to Gunnery Sgt. Jason M. Elson, the paraloft chief for 2nd Recon Bn. and McMechen, W.Va. native. He said the norm is about 30 per day.
“We knew we wouldn’t have been able to get the jumps in (the next day) because of the rain,” said Dean. “The (Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266, Marine Aircraft Group 26) really hooked us up today. They gave us three birds for (most of the day) and one stayed with us until we were finished.”
On March 14 and 15, the Marines conducted night jumps fromUH-1Y Huey helicopters from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167, MAG 29. After they landed, they worked on concealing their parachutes and began conducting small movements as a team. The last day concluded with water insertions at Water Drop Zone Morgan Bay.
When it’s all said and done, whether it be the refresher before the training or Marines successfully conducting their jump operations, Staff Sgt. Jerry Fortenberry, the paraloft platoon sergeant with Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Recon Bn. and a Clarksville, Ga. native, said the training is not just a “check in the box” for the Marines – it’s for Marines’ safety.
“Before they can get in the bird and jump, they have to go through three hours of refresher training, within 24 hours of operations,” Fortenberry said. “If they don’t pass it, they have to go through an eight-hour refresher. This is all to make sure they know the ins and outs. We have Marines fresh out of (U.S Army Airborne School in Fort Benning, Ga.), and the things that they are taught can be lost quickly. This is important stuff.
“It’s not like going to the rifle range where you point at a target and shoot," Fortenberry added. "We are up in the air. They need to know that the smallest thing can have drastic effects, such as not listening to a jump master when he tells you, to ‘hold’ because you’re at a low altitude, which won’t be very forgiving.”