Foreign jump wings are a prized possession. But when you are an Army ROTC Cadet, to wear foreign jump wings before you are even commissioned is rare.
More than 20 ROTC Cadets from colleges across the U.S. traveled to Spain in May as part of the U.S. Army ROTC's Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency program. Their mission was to teach Spanish soldiers conversational English. The additional plus for the Cadets was being able to jump with the Spanish airborne and earn their foreign jump wings.
For the Cadets, this trip was part of a historical mission because U.S Army Cadets had never been to Spain to train with the Spanish army--until now. And Cadets had never jumped with a foreign military. In response, Spanish soldiers jumped with the Cadets, who were accompanied by U.S. airborne instructors, and earned their U.S. jump wings.
The Spanish Airborne base known as BRIPAK--La Brigada Paracaidist--is located near Madrid and the classes the Cadets helped teach were located on the base.
Lt. Col. Jerzy Zubr, the TRADOC liaison officer for the Spanish Army TRADOC counterpart, said the idea for this opportunity came around about two years ago and started with a CULP trip to Portugal that included more than 20 Cadets.
"We heard about CULP through TRADOC channels and we decided to get the Cadets over to Europe," he explained. "The Cadets spent 3 weeks with the Portuguese army--at their officer's academy.
"So we decided that since it went so well in Portugal that we would bring them to Spain… But the mission here would be different--they would teach English. The whole concept in talking to Cadet Command was to take advantage of the relationship that already existed with the Spanish army parachute brigade. Why not bring airborne qualified Cadets to earn their Spanish airborne wings?"
He added that the Spanish army has been everywhere for engagement purposes, they are strong and reliable and are good friends of the United States. It was a good opportunity to work with the Spanish army and include them in the educational outlet afforded Cadets.
Sgt 1st Class Nestor Nieves, A Company, 1st, 507th Airborne School, was one of two instructors assigned to the mission to work with the Cadets. Several of them remembered him as their airborne instructor from the year before.
Nieves said the jump the Cadets performed with the Spanish airborne was much the same as what they learned in Airborne School--a static line jump.
"But it is different experiences for them because they jump off a ramp (exit out of the back of a plane). When it was all said and done, they did excellent," Neives said. "They went to BAR, basic airborne refresher, at Fort Benning before coming here. And they practiced jumping out of a door. But because they are jumping out of a ramp we did training at (Spanish airborne) towers. They have done very well. I have looked at a video and looking at the Cadets exists--they have good body position. I was pretty proud of them."
Nieves added that he thought the unique thing about the jump is that for many of the Cadets this was the first jump after school, in many cases year or so after school. But they still held the proper form and technique.
He said that a lot of students who come to airborne school are nervous and scared. But he said if they give him the opportunity to teach them, they will learn and do the right thing.
"So after those five jumps at school they were parachutists, and now they are paratroopers--by jumping with a unit and still remember all the principles," he said. "The day I requested my retirement is the same day my son raised his right hand to join the military. What I tell the students is, you might be my son's platoon leader or company commander. If you are doing your best I should be able to trust you the same way you trusted me.
"I trust you to train my son, take him to combat and bring him back. So what I would tell any students is concentrate, pay attention to detail and focus on what needs to be done and you will be successful."
Cadet Thomas Busterud, who attended West Point and will be a senior, said that from a personal perspective the thing he will take away from his mission with the Spanish army was the jump, and "to know all the Spanish soldiers I was with and I got to jump with them. It was really surreal to be in another country jumping with people who spoke little English."
Cadet Travis Alexander, who attends Georgia Southern University, said he enjoyed the CULP program and his time working with and learning from the Spanish soldiers.
"CULP is a very good program. When I found out about this trip I jumped on it as soon as I could," he explained. "And when I found out I got selected for this trip nothing could have brought me down for the rest of the year. One of the reasons I wanted (to do this) was because I had never been to Spain, and I really wanted to experience another culture. Also, the chance to earn foreign jump wings, get a couple of jumps was something I really wanted to do."
The fact that they were part of an inaugural mission, and were the first-ever Cadets to jump with a foreign military, did not escape notice of the Cadets.
Cadet Tiara Brown, who attends St. Bonaventure University, said the entire mission was a great opportunity but earning her foreign jump wings was icing on the cake.
"It feels really good to have something that people who have been in the Army for years do not have. But with that comes more responsibility," she explained."Knowing you have this experience, you have to take something back with you. You can't just say, 'I got my wings.' You have to share something, so I will be pretty glad to share everything I have learned and seen while I was there."