GILA BEND, ARIZONA –
Citizen Airmen from the 701st Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina took to the sky in a C-17 Globemaster III over the Arizona desert early Saturday morning for mission critical training with the U.S. Air Force’s Wings of Blue parachute team.
Training is a critical component of maintaining readiness and exposing aircrews to various situations, terrain and cargo they may encounter while performing their duties throughout their career and this particular mission provided just that.
“We are constantly seeking new opportunities to train in unique environments that may simulate what we experience during an actual mission,” said Lt. Col. Mike Parker, deputy chief of standards and evaluation with the 315th Operations Group at JB Charleston and 2000 USAF Academy graduate. “The high altitude, low opening (HALO) jumps we participated in varied from a typical static line jump in that the aircrew and aircraft was operating at a much higher altitude, increased airspeed, and involved a more complex methodology for calculating the jumpers’ launch and parachute release points.”
Parker described the HALO jump as a jumpmaster-driven mission because the jumpmaster is giving directions to the flight crew; whereas, in a typical static-line jump scenario the pilot is making all of the decisions about the jump zone and other components of the operation.
Staff Sgt. Lee Hiott, 701 AS loadmaster and resident of Summerville, S.C., gained invaluable skills during the four passes over the jump zone that he may not have been able to learn back at his home station in Charleston. He was excited about the opportunity to work with his fellow Airmen and see first-hand what is involved in executing HALO jumps out of a C-17.
“This was my first airdrop mission,” said Hiott. “It was nice to experience a different aspect of our job that we don’t get to see every day and utilize equipment on the aircraft that we have been trained on but may not have been exposed to in a real working environment.”
Just as important as this mission was for the aircrew, it was equally important and rewarding for the USAF Academy’s Airmanship-490 class where cadets go through 40 hours of ground training and where they will learn how to exit an aircraft and land a parachute by themselves. Once a cadet has completed five successful jumps, they earn their jump wings. The AM-490 class is led and taught by cadets who are members of the Wings of Blue.
“This was our first experience jumping out of a C-17,” said Ryan C. Palmer, a USAF Academy cadet with Squadron 23 and a member of the Wings of Green. Wings of Green is comprised of sophomore cadets who have completed AM-490 and anticipate joining the Wings of Blue. “Having all 25 of my buddies jumping out of the back of the aircraft at the same time was awesome.”
Palmer described their week of training as pretty intense as he and many of his fellow cadets were able to complete a range of nine to 19 jumps per day as they strive for the goal to complete jumpmaster training and become a member of the Wings of Blue. Prior to his arrival, he had 55 jumps under his belt. Palmer now heads back to the academy with well over 90 jumps completed.
In addition to all of the training that was completed during this mission, the Charleston-based aircrew was able to share their experiences and Air Force careers with several of the cadets as they had the opportunity share the flight deck with the pilots of the mighty C-17 on their way back to the Academy Sunday morning.
“As a graduate of the USAF Academy, it was rewarding and inspirational to be able to share my career as a pilot,” said Parker. “To hear their feedback and what they are experiencing brings back many great memories. Hopefully we can accomplish more training with the Wings of Blue in the future.”