The troop doors open, the wind rushes through the C-130J Super Hercules and paratroopers await the commands of the jumpmasters before disappearing into the darkness.
“Ten minutes! Get ready! Personnel stand up! Hook up! Check static line!”
Both jumpmasters yell the instructions simultaneously while giving hand signals, waiting to hear a return response from the paratroopers. At one minute out, the first paratrooper is ready at the jump platform in the open troop door and waits for the countdown to jump.
“Five. Four. Three. Two. One!”
With their static lines attached to the cable, the first paratrooper steps out the door, leaving the rest to follow. As they step out of the aircraft and into the night, the static lines connected to the parachute deployment bags are left hanging out the back of the plane and a line of parachutes fills the sky.
For Exercise Swift Response 2019, military members from two continents worked as a team to conduct training to increase the participating nations’ readiness, capabilities and capacity to conduct full-spectrum military operations. They used combined training which fosters trust, increases interoperability, and enables allies to readily and effectively respond to regional crises and meet their own national defense goals.
With approximately 5,600 participants from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, the exercise took place this summer at locations in Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania, with additional staging bases in Germany, Italy, Slovenia and the United Kingdom.
Air Force Reserve loadmasters from the 403rd Wing’s 815th Airlift Squadron, Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, had a huge role in making sure all of the paratroopers got out safely during Swift Response jump missions. They rigged the aircraft with anchor cables for the static lines to ensure soldiers from the U.S. Army Airborne Divisions, along with any NATO airborne allies on board, could safely jump from the C-130J.
“We have to know what type of parachute will be used, if they are going out the troop doors or off the cargo ramp door,” said Master Sgt. Douglas Otten Jr., 815th AS loadmaster. “We need to know these things in order to rig the aircraft correctly.”
If jumpers are going out the troop doors, two anchor cable lines are installed inside the aircraft and the jump platforms have to be installed. This is performed by maintenance personnel after they remove the side rails in front of the troop doors. However, if the paratroopers are going out the cargo ramp door, only one anchor cable is used for the static line jumps.
“The jump platforms for the troop doors are inspected, along with the sides of the doors and the cables, by both the ‘loads’ and the jumpmasters,” Otten said. “We also have to check the anchor cables for splinters or broken wire prior to use. If a cable has either, then the cable is turned over to maintenance and is replaced.”
Airlift for paratroopers is just one mission of the Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 815th AS, commonly known as the Flying Jennies. They also airdrop or deliver supplies to service members in hard-to-reach locations. Sometimes this means doing an airdrop or having to land on a short runway and do a combat offload.
Combat offloads are completed when there is no forklift or K-loader available to take the cargo pallets off the aircraft. There are two different types of combat offloads, according to Otten. One is where the pilots hold the brakes, accelerate the engines and release the brakes, causing the cargo pallet to slide out of the back of the plane after the loadmaster releases the locks.
The second is where the load is pushed out the back of the aircraft onto steel barrels, then the aircraft is slow-rolled forward and a second set of steel barrels is put into place to hold the pallet.
The Flying Jennies deliver supplies for both humanitarian and wartime missions.
During one Swift Response mission, they transported a ground mobility vehicle with a pallet of bags and returned with a Humvee along with more than 70 bags and parachutes, which were floor-loaded and strapped down.
“This was the first time I got to floor-load this many bags at one time,” said Senior Airman John Beaudreaux, 815th AS loadmaster. “We had to strap them down at an angle and did a belly strap, which means to wrap around the middle to hold the bags in place.”
While the loadmasters are responsible for everything going on in the cargo area of the aircraft, it’s the responsibility of the pilots to get to the drop zone on time and on target. During an airlift mission, the pilots will call back times to the loadmasters, who relay the information to the jumpmasters.
“Getting to the drop zone on time is a challenge for us because it is a long flight, anywhere from four to five hours,” said Maj. Nick Foreman, 815th AS pilot. “We have to account for weather and winds. These changes can cause us to be early or late and we have to be at the DZ at the time when the Army wants us so they can execute their mission.
“On the first night, we had some issues, but we were able to make up some time enroute and still make it on time and on target for both nights. Timing is critical for a successful mission and we had a successful mission.”
(Kendziorek is assigned to the 403rd Wing public affairs office.)