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82nd Paratroopers Make their First Jumps Since Returning from Iraq

82nd Airborne paratroopers.
82nd Airborne paratroopers.

It's been more than a month since the last of the 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers deployed to Iraq returned to Fort Bragg.

But for many, last week was the true mark of their return to "normal" Army life.

That's because for the 82nd Airborne, "normal" means jumping.

On Wednesday, roughly 250 paratroopers from the division's Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion leapt from a C-17 onto Salerno Drop Zone, slowly descending under the canopies of T-11 parachutes.

The day before, the soldiers prepared for the jump with a Basic Airborne Refresher course, which is standard for paratroopers who haven't jumped in several months.

At the Advanced Airborne School, the soldiers had their equipment inspected, practiced rigging their rucksacks and walked through an airborne operation by practicing their exits from an aircraft and their landings.

"It's been 10 to 11 months since their last jump," said Sgt. 1st Class David Ortiz, the battalion's master jumpmaster. "Some have been waiting longer than others."

Ortiz said the refresher course was key to any return to jumping.

There are perishable skills, he said. And new ways of doing things, developed while the soldiers were serving in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq.

Outside of the Advanced Airborne School, Ortiz holds up a modular airborne weapons case.

It's where jumping troops would keep their guns while in the air.

But those jumping last week had never used one before. At least, not a case quite like this one.

It was fielded during their deployment. And Ortiz leaves little wiggle room in his instructions on how to connect it to their gear, and how far the case is allowed to hang from their bodies.

Last year, a soldier died during a jump on Fort Bragg, in part because his weapons case was too low.

Army investigators said improper rigging of the case may have contributed to his death. Ortiz shows them the proper way, then asks and answers their questions.

There are other changes, too, all made to ensure jumpers are safe, which is the key to any airborne operation, he said.

"It's new maneuvers, new techniques," Ortiz said. "They'll get new information they never knew about when deployed."

"It's our opportunity to make sure everyone is safe," he added.

The refresher course is common for Fort Bragg units returning from a deployment.

Usually, units take a day or two to review jump procedures before the first paratrooper steps off the back of an airplane.

In this case, the soldiers jumped form a C-17, "the Cadillac of the skies," Ortiz said.

They did not carry any combat equipment with them.

"That's the only Hollywood jump they get," Ortiz said, referring to the nickname for a jump unburdened by extra gear.

The first jump back marks a "return to normalcy," said Spc. Dechristopharoh Joseph.

Wednesday's jump was number 23 for Joseph.

He stood, alongside other paratroopers, over his equipment Tuesday, as jumpmasters wandered the passenger shed giving inspections.

It was an all too familiar scene for soldiers suich as Col. Michelle Schmidt, the 82nd Airborne chief of staff, who has well over 100 jumps in her Army career.

"For me -- I've been jumping for a long time. It's sort of muscle memory," she said. "You just have to be mindful of a few things."

Schmidt and other leaders underwent the same refresher training as the lowest ranked soldiers present.

She said that shared experience was good for team building, and for reintegrating those who were deployed back to typical Fort Bragg life.

"It's getting back to what the 82nd is all about," Schmidt said. "This brings us back to our roots. . We weren't focused on jumping out of airplanes in Iraq."

For Spc. Noah Ellison, the jump means that the time for relaxation is over.

Ellison, who made his 17th jump, said airborne operations were "kind of like riding a bike."

"You just need to refresh, he said.

The first jump back is a symbol the headquarters is "back into the swing of things," Ellison added.

"I'm looking forward to flying the plane, to the jump, but looking forward to landing? Not so much," he said.

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