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CAMP DWYER, AFGHANISTAN

Author: Sgt. Ezekiel Kitandwe 1st Marine Division

10.03.2010

CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan – As the myriad of lights from the brightly lit camp below slowly start to fade, a distinct sound of gears grinding can be heard as the hydraulic cargo doors of this massive metal beast slowly start to part, revealing the black abyss of the Afghanistan night sky. Dusty air quickly fills the belly of the beast, and little can be heard over the sounds of the rushing wind. Seconds later, the jump caution light switches from red to green, and with a flurry of hand and arm signals from the jumpmaster, it is time to go. One-by-one, each Marine walks to the edge of the ramp, taking a leap few others in the world are trained to do.  This combination of low-level, static line jump and High-Altitude High-Opening combat jump out of a C-130 transport plane was conducted by the Marines assigned to 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division (Forward), during a training exercise held at Drop Zone Jake outside Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, Oct. 3-7. The five-day training exercise was the first of its kind to be conducted by the Marines in Afghanistan. It consisted of three jumps: one day, ‘jump slick’ (no combat gear), one-day combat equipment and one-night combat equipment jump (with full gear), focusing on military parachuting proficiency and reconnaissance patrolling. It was also an opportunity for the Marines to both refresh and maintain parachute insert proficiency.  “To my knowledge, this is the first time this has been done in Operation Enduring Freedom by any conventional forces,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Brian Yarolem, battalion operations chief, 1st Recon Bn, and senior jumpmaster. “It gave the Marines a chance to get back in the saddle and refresh their jump training for follow-on operations.” The training started with a series of basic refresher classes that covered the safety hazards they might encounter once they hit the dirt at DZ Jake. Once the classes were finished, it was time to polish their skills in the air. Before jumping, each team, or stick, ran through their safety checks. These checks include everything from what to do in case of a malfunctioning canopy or entanglement, to proper emergency landing procedures. “Safety is paramount,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Wilson, 1st Recon Bn., assistant jumpmaster. “It’s important that everyone knows exactly what to do in the event something goes wrong. That’s why we spend hours rehearsing so that the Marines are not only fluent but comfortable.”  The parachute training portion of the exercise consisted of two phases: low-level static line jumping and High-Altitude High-Opening jumping. The low-level static line jumps were conducted by the Marines of 1st Platoon at an elevation of 1,500 feet, while Force Recon conducted their HAHO at 6,000 feet. The Marines honed their techniques as they worked on speed, direction, and landing capabilities. During these jumps, parachutes are automatically deployed as each Marine exits the aircraft. “It was intense and I enjoyed it,” said Cpl. Clark Hallam, a 1st Recon Bn Marine with eight jumps under his belt. Hallam admits that the first few seconds before his parachute deployed were nerve-wracking, however, “When the chute opened, I had so much to do in such a short period of time I forgot about being nervous.” Hallam’s only regret is that the whole experience, though exhilarating, was relatively short.  According to Gunnery Sgt. David Jarvis, platoon sergeant, and jumpmaster, 1st Platoon, his Marines have been jumping together as a team for a little less than a year now. That’s why they spent most of their downtime ironing out any kinks the team might have. “Jumping is a perishable skill that needs to be rehearsed just like we do with live fire exercises,” Jarvis said. Once on the ground, the Marines were expected to consolidate their weapons systems, execute a communication plan for accountability, and then conduct a movement to action on the objective carrying packs and gear that weighed anywhere from 340 to 420 pounds.  “There is no time limit required to complete these requirements,” Yarolem explained, “except getting it done under the cover of darkness and use of stealth – a characteristic every Recon Marine is taught.” All in all, the five-day was completed without any major glitches except for one knee injury on the last night of combat jumps and one hair-raising moment when Gunnery Sgt. Bryan Maass, a jumpmaster with Force Recon, was forced to perform a cut-away during his second HAHO jump of the exercise. Cutting away is a standard emergency procedure prior to deploying the reserve and involves a release system activated by pulling a handle. “This is something I teach my Marines, and something we practice,” said Maass. “I am just glad the training worked.” According to Capt. David Van Dam, Bravo Company commanding officer, the reconnaissance field requires the mastering of many skill sets to ensure mission success. He also stated that maintaining proficiency with these skills is essential to reconnaissance training.  “I think the Marines performed very well and the operation went extremely smooth,” said Van Dam. “The Air Wing was very supportive and the Marines were excited to do what they trained for during the workups.”  For some of the Marines from 1st Platoon, one of the few platoons whose members are all jump qualified, the jump exercise was the last step they needed to accomplish in order to earn their gold jump wings.  “I am extremely proud of the Marines,” said Capt. Tyler Freeburg, 1st Platoon, platoon commander. “They completed a high-risk training evolution in theater, which validates our capabilities for performing future operations here.” 

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