By Army Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy
National Guard Bureau
KINGSTON, R.I., (8/9/10) -- The goal: Reach the â€œXâ€ in the center of the field in the least amount of time.
Sounds simple enough, but when the start point to reach that â€œXâ€ is 1,500 feet in the air, the task isnâ€™t quite so simple.
More than 200 airborne Soldiers convened here late last week to do just that as part of the 28th annual Leapfest International Airborne Competition.
Sponsored by the Rhode Island Army National Guard, the event has four-person teams jump from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter with the goal being to land as close as possible to a large â€œXâ€ placed in the center of the drop zone.
Once on the ground, team members are timed on how long it takes to reach the â€œX.â€
â€œBasically, from the time youâ€™re on the aircraft to the time you hit the ground thatâ€™s all youâ€™re thinking about is getting there as quick as you can,â€ said Spc. Cody Kurtz, an infantryman assigned to the Maryland Guardâ€™s C Troop, 1st Squadron, 158th Cavalry.
Though each jumper is timed as an individual, their time is then averaged together with their teammates. Each team jumps three times with the time from each jump then averaged together for the final score.
Getting to the â€œXâ€ in the shortest amount of time is part running, but also part reading the wind.
â€œIf you need to go into the wind, youâ€™re going to have a difficult time,â€ said Kurtz. â€œItâ€™s just playing off what the wind is doing.â€
For Kurtz, it all starts with the exit from the aircraft.
â€œYouâ€™re just thinking about making a good exit so you can gain control of the canopy quickly and then identify where you need to be,â€ he said. â€œThen itâ€™s just trying to remember that as soon as I hit the ground I have to get moving, make sure I have the chute under control and just get there as quick as I can.â€
Luck also plays a factor, said Kurtz, who after his first jump reached the â€œXâ€ in seven seconds.
â€œI was lucky,â€ he said. â€œI was in a position where the wind was pushing the chute where I needed it to go, so, I lucked out. But there are a lot of guys out there that you see them running and the chute is inflated behind them and theyâ€™re not going anywhere.â€
Though the word competition may be in the name of the event, the focus is really on training.
â€œThe biggest thing is, obviously, weâ€™re training to get proficient at this,â€ said Kurtz, adding that normally when his unit jumps the goal isnâ€™t to hit a specific point in the drop zone, but rather to simply get on the ground in the drop zone.
Taking part in this event gives them greater experience with their equipment. â€œItâ€™s just getting a little better feel for control of the chute,â€ he said. â€œObviously, thatâ€™s going to benefit us when weâ€™re doing it for (a real world mission).â€
The event also brings together a variety of Soldiers with differing levels of experience in a very close-knit community.
â€œThere are a lot of different levels of experience here,â€ said Army Capt. Christopher Ahlmeyer, commander of C Company, 1st Battalion, 143rd Airborne Infantry Regiment of the Rhode Island Army Guard. â€œBut thatâ€™s a beautiful thing because everyone is able to work together and see different jobs.â€
And that benefits his Soldiers, said Ahlmeyer.
â€œItâ€™s more of a growing experience and also great exposure for them,â€ he said. â€œThis is unique for them where they can see how tight-knit and professional (the airborne community is).â€
For Ahlmeyer, one of the other benefits is the interaction with paratroopers from other nations. This yearâ€™s event drew jumpers from Italy, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Dominican Republic, who noted a few differences in jumping procedures.
â€œWhen it comes to actually dispatching from the aircraft, with the Chinooks the green (light) is basically a 30 second warning (to jump),â€ said British Army Cpl. Sam May, an instructor with Training Company, The Parachute Regiment. â€œWhereas, with us, green is go. That was quite difficult for all of us, seeing the green light and wanting to go and sort of having to just wait and hold until told to leave.â€
And, adding in the international competition aspect increased the training value, said May.
â€œFriendly competition is always good,â€ he said. â€œYou can always push boundaries more and more, especially when you get someone to compete against. So, I think itâ€™s beneficial for everyone.â€
That training time also included items outside of jumping, such as rappelling.
â€œThings like this, for us, are very few and far between,â€ said May. â€œLike the rappel tower is very unusual for our infantry forces, we donâ€™t get a chance to do it.â€
In the end however, it all came back to jumping.
â€œIf you ask anybody in an airborne unit, thatâ€™s why theyâ€™re here,â€ said Kurtz. â€œThey want to jump, they want to be with the best and this is certainly a showcase of that.â€
Members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Fort Campbell, Ky., took first place in this yearâ€™s event. Second place went to the 143rd Airborne Infantry Regiment with Georgiaâ€™s 3rd Squadron, 108th Cavalry taking home third.
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