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NEWS | Aug. 8, 2014

Paratroopers from around world forge bonds at Leapfest competition hosted in Rhode Island

By 2nd Lt. Megan Burmeister Rhode Island National Guard

WEST KINGSTON, R.I. - The opening ceremony would take place at 8 o'clock but Leapfest officially began as the sun rose on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014. A small group of paratroopers gathered a mile away from the official ceremony area where they paused in remembrance of all their fallen comrades, with special significance given to those who jumped on D Day, 70 years ago.

Command Sgt. Maj. ChristopherDyer, 56th Troop Command, Rhode Island National Guard, addressed the group quoting Shakespeare's "Henry V" from memory and ending with the famous line, "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he, today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother." The gathered paratroopers silently toasted the fallen paratroopers of World War II and of the more recent conflicts.

The command team of the host unit, 56th Troop Command, had a decision to make, and were still watching the skies while toasting the fallen. Like those whothey honored they too needed to decide to jump in the face of adverse weather.

"We have the ceiling so the pilots can see and the rain is OK," Dyer said. "We can jump in the rain so Leapfest is on."

The honored guest of the competition was retired Pvt. Robert Osborne, a WWII veteran with extensive combat history who had jumped into Salerno, Italy, and Holland during his service said, "The young men I'm looking at today, you are the future of the airborne. We made the path; I hope you guys follow it." Osborne then started the event, "I declare Leapfest 2014 competition open. Jumpers don your chutes."

Leapfest, hosted by the Rhode Island National Guard, is central in developing a sense of camaraderie and community. Through an extensive training program and closing the event with a competition, Leapfest builds confidence in both the United States service members and international paratroopers.

"Sure it's about winning the competition but it's also about building camaraderie as international parachutists," said WO2 Shaun Forsyth, a competitor from New Zealand. "It is also about us;we deploy with Americans, Australians, and British forces mainly and it's about us being able to fit into one of their companies or brigades and jump into action if we have to. That's what it is all about."

Partnerships and coalitions evolved over the years, no more importantly than within the Airborne community. Leapfest provides training that directly reflects this broadening of coalition partnerships.

"The purpose of Leapfest is to provide an opportunity for parachutists from around the world and around the United States to demonstrate their proficiency in parachute operations in a competitive environment and at the same time we try to foster good relationships with paratroopers and armies around the world," saidLt. Col. David Neary, executive officer, 56th Troop Command.

Leapfest began with the intention of maintaining ties to international service members through the efforts of the initial members of A Company, 19th Special Forces Group, Rhode Island National Guard. These relationships developed while the Soldiers conducted training missions overseas. The original intent of Leapfest was to provide a training event that would also be fun but it soon evolved into a competition that measured individual skill and ability.

The 56th Troop Command, the administrative headquarters for A Company, became the host organization as the competition grew to include participants from more than 40countries around the world and across the branches of the United States military. This year's competition featured eight countries sending participants.

"The competition is the culmination of many hours of coordination and integration amongst nations and the Rhode Island National Guard to ensure a successful event," said Lt. Col. Peter Parente, Rhode Island National Guard public affairs officer. "There is no part of Leapfest that isn't training. This valuable training, which exercises multiple units from within and outside our organization, positions us well for future operations."

Hosting Leapfest is a large undertaking. U.S. military units across Rhode Island, New England and the country provide the personnel and equipment to get Leapfest off the ground and keep it in the air. Riggers travel from Indiana to provide support handling the large amount of parachutes and the Connecticut and Pennsylvania National Guard provide the large platform CH-47 Chinooks.

"This event is high level, technical training" saidCol. Chris Callahan, Commander 56th Troop Command. "But you can not underestimate the human element. We are building relationships within the international Airborne community. The importance of this training cannot be understated."

Members of the Utah National Guard's Group Support Company, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), took first place at Leapfest, according to a news release from the Utah National Guard.

This year's competition consisted of 57 teams from all over the U.S. and international teams to include the UK, South Africa, Canada, Australia, Germany, Netherlands and Italy. Each competition team consistedof five personnel; four jumpers and one alternate. Competing from Utah's 19th SF, GSB were 1st Sgt. John McNichol, 1st Sgt. Robert Trone, Sgt. Oscar Cuevas, Staff Sgt Kenneth Mullan and Staff Sgt. Ryan Richardson.

Leapfest showcases accuracy in Airborne operations as it builds a culture of excellence within the airborne community. It promotes the camaraderie and espirit de corps of the airborne Soldier through international competition. The competition is attended by representatives from the Active Army, Army Reserve, Army National Guard, Marines, Navy, Air Force and several international teams.

"We made friends with some of the Canadians and hope to set up a friendship jump with them in the future," said Mullan.