NEW LONDON, N.C. — Six men dangle their legs out the door of a Black Hawk helicopter as it takes off from the Stanley County Airport in New London, N.C., May 17. There were three of them on each side of the aircraft and nothing between them and the ground below but an inch-thick piece of webbing stretched the aircraft’s doorway.
The jumpmaster, who is in charge of these men, directing them until they jump, leans over and shows them three fingers to let them know they are three minutes from the drop zone, then two and then one. At the one-minute mark they remove the piece of webbing. At the 30-second mark, the men scoot closer to the edge of the helicopter.
A pat on the back tells each man it’s his turn to push himself out the door of the Black Hawk. A different piece of webbing, one end attached to their parachutes, the other to the aircraft, pulls open their chutes and the Green Berets fall from the helicopter.
It’s not natural for a human being to jump out of an aircraft,” said Maj. John Larch, the commander of Company B, 1st Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne) with the N.C. National Guard. “You have to overcome that. You have a huge rush of adrenaline and learn to trust your equipment and your training.”
After all the noise from the helicopter’s engine, the blades rotating overhead and the wind rushing through the open doors, it is suddenly quiet as the men fall through the air.
“As soon as you exit the aircraft you’re gliding down and there is a sense of peace and quiet,” Larch said. “About all you can hear is your own breathing.”
It takes less than two minutes for the men to float down to the earth, letting their bodies purposely fall to the ground to absorb the force and arrive safely on solid ground.
N.C. Guardsmen from Larch’s company and Airmen from the 118th Air Support Operations Squadron spent the morning May 17 getting caught up on their airborne training with static line jumps and high altitude jumps from Black Hawk helicopters.
Jumping on a regular basis is a requirement for these servicemembers to maintain their qualification status for both static-line jumping, when the chute opens automatically, and high-altitude jumps, where the jumpers are required to open their own chutes after free-falling.
Larch, who also jumped that day, said the training also helps build confidence.
“If you don’t jump on a regular basis, it becomes increasingly more anxiety-producing,” Larch said. “It actually becomes fun when you do it more frequently. We want our Soldiers and our jumpmasters to be comfortable and confident in their skills. In the event we are mobilized to go overseas and need to use these skills, we want to be ready.”
The day’s training was also an opportunity for N.C. Special Forces Soldiers to work with the 118th ASOS and the local fire department.
“These types of training missions show the cooperation between all aspects of the N.C. National Guard,” Larch said. “We have the Air Guard out here, we have the Army Guard aviation supporting us and we have the local fire department waiting to help us if we need it.”
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joseph Hall, with the 118th ASOS also jumped with Company B to maintain his airborne qualification.
“In real life we go to war with the Army so we support them,” Hall said. “It’s a great opportunity to do some team building with that unit.”