Army Strong Stories: Airborne. All The Way Part 2

The following is Part 2 in a series recounting a recent visit to the Army's Airborne Training School at Ft. Benning, Georgia. You can read Part 1HERE.

Army Strong Stories: The Swing Landing Trainer

SSG Webb
At the headquarters building of the 1-507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the unit responsible for the Airborne School, we joined Richy Rosado, our PAO contact who then gave us a quick briefing on the Regiment’s history. Rosado, himself was and 10 year Army veteran, having served in both the Ranger Regiment and Special Forces, details revealed after it was mentioned that not only was I jump qualified, but also that my father served in Special Forces during Vietnam.

Prior to this Rosado and I did what all soldiers typically do when meeting someone for the first time—size the other up until we’re convinced of their legitimacy. It's something of a reflex. From day one, you'er trained to depend on the soldier to your right and left, and naturally you want to know if those standing with you are the real deal. Common history and shared experiences can speed that assessment up, although my long, unruly hair and unshaven face probably didn’t make the best initial impression.

The same drill was repeated upon being introduced several minutes later to Staff Sergeant Webb who had been assigned to escort us around. SSG Webb’s ruddy complexion said he spent a lot of time outdoors, and his solid frame filled out the ACU’s (Army Combat Uniform) he was wearing. The firm handshake confirmed his level of fitness.

Note to self: Do more push-ups.

DC 3 used in WW2 and Beyond
From here, SSG Webb walked us up an asphalted track past the Airborne Walk memorial, which is flanked on either side by a DC-3 and C-119, airplanes relics used by paratroopers in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Along the way, SSG Webb pointed out the various training apparatuses lining Eubanks Field. He spoke in that official tone professional soldier use when talking to civilians until someone mentioned that I was Airborne qualified.

“Oh. You know the drill then,” he said in a suddenly less formal tone, and his face loosened in relief, realizing he didn’t have to explain everything to the same level of detail. The reaction, however, made me feel guilty for not saying anything earlier. I didn’t want to be that obnoxious guy who’s all “been there, done that.” Yet by the same token, one of the biggest annoyances to enlisted soldiers is wasting their time. Officers--the smart ones--try to avoid doing this. Having been both sides of this fence--enlisted and officer--this is the last thing I wanted to do during my visit.

“When did you go through, sir?” SSG Webb asked.

I had to think a moment. “97,” I replied. Fourteen years? It's been that long already?

The four of us chatted for a few moments when a truck rolled up, and out stepped a man who I, at first, mistook for one of the school’s cadre until he introduced himself as Rick Jones, a contractor from California. Jones’s association with the Airborne School is an interesting one. The president of R.J. Manufacturing, a company specializing in producing ropes, Jones was contacted by the Army to develop a long-lasting rope to replace those used on a device at the Airborne School known as the Swing Landing Trainer (SLT).

Watch the Swing Landing Trainer in Action
Jones explains his redesigns to the SLT

The SLT is a contraption I'm familiar with to put it mildly. Its purpose is to simulate the final moments prior to performing a Parachute Landing Fall (PLF). Students stand on a platform roughly ten feet high where they are fitted with a harness that, in my time, was suspended by a set of four ropes hanging from a set of pulleys. Four students on the ground would pull those ropes tight as you jumped off the platform and swung in the air until the class instructor gave the command, at which point the students would release the ropes, thus allowing you to execute a picture-perfect PLF.

The problem with the SLT, though, was that with the thousands of students going through training, the ropes tended to wear out quickly, and the Army turned to Jones for help with something more durable. Jones did the Army one better. After studying the problem, Jones redesigned the entire apparatus by affixing the harness to the four corners of an H-shaped, metal frame suspended by a cable looped through a ceiling-mounted pulley and then run back down to a release lever operated by the instructor.

This may not sound like much, but considering the savings in maintenance costs Jones provided the Army, that money can be applied elsewhere. What’s more, as opposed to the arbitrary heights a student would be dropped from on the old SLT, the new configuration drops students from a consistent height, which has resulted in fewer injury-related withdrawals, particularly among females.

The imposing 250 ft Towers
What immediately strikes you about Jones is his passion for, not only this project, but for the Army as well. His excitement in detailing the finite aspects of the SLT’s engineering, is hard to miss.

“I do have a business to run,” Jones said. “But if I could, I think I’d do this for nothing.”

His assertion is believable considering Jones could’ve provided the Army with new ropes and then charged them for replacements over time. As the company’s owner, he could easily send someone to Ft. Benning to check the SLT’s equipment. Instead, he makes the trips himself, and often helps out with other projects when he’s in town. Later that day he would be climbing to the top of the 250ft tower to assist with a maintenance check. Climbing 250 feet up some metal frame-like structure when technically you don’t have to, demonstrates dedication …in an extreme way.

Next Week: Airborne 5000 and the 34 ft Tower
* * *

To read more about today's soldiers, check out Army Strong Stories, blog posts actually written by the men and women serving in the United States Army.

It's still Movember everyone, please help me as I raise funds for finding a cure to prostate cancer while also growing silly facial hair to prove my dedication. Yes, that's right, I'm asking you to donate a few bucks to the cause. Remember, the ass you save may be your own.

Disclaimer: In accordance with FTC regulations, it is necessary for me to disclose that the Army paid for my travel, lodging, and meal expenses during my trip to Fort Benning, Georgia.

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