MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Captain Andrew R. Jones is about to execute orders to Company B, Anti-Terrorism Battalion, 4th Marine Division, in Amarillo, Texas, in the next few months, and the week of March 12 – 16 was his last chance before departing 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion to earn his Navy and Marine Corps Parachutist Insignia, commonly referred to as gold jump wings.
Luck was on Jones’ side.
The Alamosa, Colo., native and 12 reconnaissance Marines with Company C, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, recently earned their gold jump wings when Company C Marines conducted jump operations throughout the week in preparation for upcoming Marine Expeditionary Unit deployments.
It was a long road for Jones, who has given the Corps 17 years thus far. Out of those 17 years, the Headquarters and Service Company commanding officer for 2nd Recon Bn., has spent at least four years in the recon community.
Jones enlisted in 1995 and spent his first three and a half years with 1st Reconnaissance Company, which, at the time, did not have a jump mission. Since then, he attended Auburn University in Auburn, Ala., through the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program, earned his degree and a commission, served a variety of roles as an infantry officer, and served as an executive officer for Recruiting Station Montgomery in Alabama.
The opportunity to earn his gold jump wings was simply not available to Jones for the past 13 years. Achieving the gold wings was something he always wanted to accomplish since his enlisted days.
“At 1st Recon (Company), if the opportunity arose, we could jump, but our focus was on dive missions, supporting the (Marine Expeditionary Units),” said Jones. “All of us (new recon Marines) always saw the senior (Marines) wearing the gold jump wings. It was something we aspired to.”
Getting there wasn’t an easy process, as the Marine Corps has requirements for Marines to meet before they can proudly wear the jump insignia.
Marine Corps Order 3120.11 states in order to receive the Navy and Marine Corps Parachutist Insignia, a Marine must serve in a billet identification code for parachute duty for at least 90 days and conduct at least an additional five jumps to the required five from U.S. Army Airborne Course at Fort Benning, Ga. The five jumps include transitioning to the MC-7 series parachute and conducting a day “slick” jump, followed by two day combat-equipment jumps, then the same for night, respectively, plus one more of any type. The jumps must also originate from two different types of aircraft. However, if a Marine loses familiarity with the standard operating procedures within 180 days, a Marine must take a refresher – basically, eight more hours of classes.
“I came in with seven jumps, but that didn’t matter,” said Jones. “All I needed was one day combat-(equipment) jump and two night combat-(equipment) jumps. But, it’s been 13 years, so I needed my refresher.”
First, knowing he wasn’t a priority, he asked Capt. Thomas Wallin, the Company C executive officer and a Mountain Lakes, N.J., native, if he could participate.
“I made my last jumps that week and I consider myself lucky for getting my gold jump wings, especially since I’ve only been in a jump billet for two years,” said Wallin, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate. “I told (Jones), ‘No problem.’ A lot of the time, Marines get stuck on that last night jump, and if they don’t do it in a certain amount of time, they have to do all the jumps over again, according to the (Marine Corps) order.”
So, on March 14, he conducted his day and night slicks for his refresher. The next day, he executed one day combat-(equipment) jump and one night. Jones literally thought he was closing in on a loop, until they ran out of parachutes.
“I honestly thought that that was it,” said Jones. “It has happened to me about two or three times since I’ve been here, whether (the training) was cancelled due to the rain or aircraft not being available.”
Several Marines jumped in to track down another chute for Jones. Gunnery Sgt. Jason M. Elson, the paraloft chief for 2nd Recon Bn. and a McMechen, W. Va. native, received a phone call to bring another parachute out. Elson dropped what he was doing, packed a parachute and drove out to the training site.
Relieved, Jones thought he was clear; it was finally going to happen. Then the Huey UH-1N helicopter took off back to Marine Corps Air Station New River – only to refuel.
“We were waiting to get on the helicopter, but it took off,” said a frustrated Jones. “But, we looked over and saw some of the aircrew sitting down next to the runway. Surely, the helicopter had to come back and pick up their crew.”
Jones was right.
The night turned pitch black and the last of the Marines boarded the chopper. He was on his way to achieving a lifelong goal. The anticipation was killing him. At this point, he said he just wanted to jump out and touch the ground. He didn’t care how he was going to land. All that mattered was that he landed in the drop zone.
“A lot was going through my mind, to be honest,” Jones admitted. “I thought about all the Marines who packed the chute, the jump master who was responsible for the static lines and the pilots who flew the 1970s-era helicopters. It was my last jump; just a normal thought process.”
What began as a nightmare, turned out to be a long time coming for Jones. He can move onto his next duty assignment in Texas knowing that the wings on his chest don’t represent how long he’s had them or how long it took to get them, only that he is able to wear them.
“Over the years, all people saw were the silver, basic jump wings you get from Fort Benning,” said Jones. “Nobody ever really joked about it. They just asked. (Company C) had no obligation to make me a part of what they were doing, but they wanted to make it happen. I can finally say I finished something I started 17 years ago.”