Saw an old soldier walkin' down the street...
He had a chute on his back and jump boots on his feet...
I said, "Hey old soldier, where ya' goin' to?"
He said, "The US Army Airborne School!" ...

Airborne school, three weeks of physically, mentally and spiritually trying ordeal that any soldier with enough intestinal fortitude to volunteer and meet the standard of, can attend and earn the title of "Airborne".

But first, one must ask the question, What is Airborne? Where did it come from? Why is it such a Damn Big Deal?

Scientifically speaking, "Airborne" is a form of military low-altitude parachuting conducted from between 800 and 1500 ft. It is different from much higher-altitude civilian parachuting programs in the sense that the jumpers go "out the door" with the aid of a static line, a 15-20 foot canvas cord which relieves the jumper of the responsibility of having to open his/her own parachute. It is noted that the static lines are between fifteen and twenty feet because depending upon the model of airplane/helicopter the prospective jumpers are using, they may requires static lines of differing lengths. Airborne also differs greatly from other civilian programs not only in it's proximity to the ground and method of exit(It should noted though that there are civilian static line parachuting programs out there), but it also has to do with the rate of decent and force with which the paratroopers comes in contact with the ground.

To explain this, one must point out the differences between civilian and military parachuting. In civilian parachuting, which came after the military variant, the primary goal was to allow the perspective jumper to enjoy the rush and exhileration of falling through the sky while also allowing them maximum time to appreciate their surroundings while also allowing them the least dangerous possible landing, not mention the landing that requires the least thought. Now, there are a number of ways these requirements are satisfied, quite simply, in fact. In the first instance: Allow the jumper to enjoy the rush of falling through the sky, to remedy this, you simply throw the jumper out the door, much the same in military parachuting. In the second instance: Allow the jumper maximum air time to appreciate surroundings, you simply increase the size of the parachute canopy = increased lift = more air time. In the third case: Give the jumper the easiest, safest landing, the enlarging of the canopy will allow for much of this, but the jumper is also given rudamentary instruction on what should be a "proper" landing, mostly a "Try to remember these things when you hit the dirt".

With military parachuting, on the other hand, there is one primary objective: Get a whole lotta soldiers into a far-off battlefield as quick as possible, consequences be damned, let's kick some ASS!!! WOOOHOHOOOOO YEAH ARGHHH!!!! Forgive me, I got a bit carried away there. Anyways, with this in mind, lets see where civilian and military parachuting differ. The jumper still must be "helped" out the door in case of sudden reluctance, which is pretty much the same across all lines, although I'm sure they aren't so draconic about it on the civilian side. Second, air-time. In the military case, this is a non-factor, as more air-time = more oppurtunity to be ventilated in the worst way, aka shot-up. So parachute canopies are smaller, which means the soldier falls faster; From around 1200 feet the soldier is insured about 40 seconds in the air, maybe 30 seconds if it's raining (The rain saturates the canopy and increases rate of descent). And the third factor: Get the jumper to the ground safely. On the civilian side, much of this is cared for by the size of the canopy, which brings the force of impact with the ground way down. But in the military case, this isn't the truth. Because of the reality a military parachutist faces: "You're jumping to get to the ground, not to have a joy-ride", the fun parts are usually minimized, although you can never kill the rush of jumping from a perfectly good Air Force aircraft. Bit I disgress. With a military parachute, a soldier will hit the ground much harder, and measures are taken to compensate for this, mostly with strenuous training and re-training. So with these things explained, you, the reader, should have a fairly rudamentary understanding of what being Airborne consists of, although I'm pretty sure I missed a few things, but so it is.

On the Historical Side, the American Airborne tradition officially began on June 5th,1944 with the midnight Airborne invasion of Normandy by allied soldiers, most notably the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Airborne (The so-called "Screaming Eagles"), on the American side of things. This midnight attack was pivotal in the war, because not only did it break the previous symmetry of allied tactics (Attack only at dawn & in perfect weather), but it also created enough chaos to catch the Germans completely off-guard the next morning with the well-known beach-head assault of the main ally forces. In actuality though, the Airborne tradition began four years prior, when word had spread of the frightful effectiveness of a deadly new method of soldier insertion utilized by the Russians and Germans; parachuting soldiers into battle, instead of the previous conventional methods of enterting, such as foot power, boats, etc. In response, the US Army began developing their own military parachuting program in hopes of someday harnessing this deadly power for their own purposes.

The first individuals to actually "Go Airborne" were the infamous "Airborne Test Platoon", whose initial training lasted only three weeks, the same length as it does today. These brave paratroopers who risked their lives on a totally experimental program led the way for what would become one of the most prolific and enduring traditions of the United States Military. After the fine-tuning of the Airborne program was complete, the army began widespread training of the infantry in order to have a deployable Airborne attack force. At the time, this training was focused almost exclusively on the 82nd Infantry Division and the 101st Infantry Division (At the time, both divisions were HQ'd at Ft. Bragg, NC. Today, only the 82nd remains at Ft. Bragg, while the 101st has moved to Ft. Campbell]. Four years later, the 82nd and 101st made the jumps into Normandy and the Airborne legacy began and the tradition continues to this day.

So the final question we have is: "What is the big deal about being Airborne?", the answer to which is a fairly simple one. Amongst members of the Army, and perhaps even the Armed Forces at large, being airborne is regarded as just one little thing that you've done that perhaps the soldiers around have not (unless you're at Ft. Bragg, where everyone their mom is Airborne), a matter of pride perhaps/bragging rights.

But regardless of the reasons, an individual who's been through the training feels a sense of accomplishment, that one completed the jumps from a plane required to be given the title of Airborne. Amongst members of the Army, it is an enduring tradition, a legacy probably matched only by that of the Infantry, which is the only thing more macho than Airborne. I'm sure you can imagine the ego-trip of being Airborne Infantry.

Any corrections anyone has about this write-up are welcome, specifically about the historical aspect of this node. If you want to learn more about the historical side of Airborne, you should see "The Longest Day", a movie about the allied invasion of Normandy from various angles. It is an excellent movie, although LONG, like it's title suggests. And last, but not least, forgive all the run on sentences.

Officially designated as the Basic Airborne Course (BAC) but known throughout the military as Airborne School. Even more informally referred to as jump school.

In theory, the primary purpose of the US Army Airborne School is to qualify and instruct soldiers in the individual level aspects of Airborne operations. In practice, the primary purpose of the jump school as it exists today is to jump qualify to anyone who can pass the course. This is a subtle, but important difference. The sad fact is that the true goal of the majority of the student attendees is not to ultimately serve in an Airborne unit, but to obtain bragging rights over the legs.

It is my understanding that in the distant past, jump wings were difficult to earn. Today, the mystique of the Airborne has lead to a softening of the hardcore nature of the school. Everyone wants to be Airborne because, well, the Airborne are just plain cool. This means that everyone from the most earnest young private to the geekiest ROTC cadet to the aging supply sergeant who wants to go before he is too old is given a shot. There was one freshly commisioned female nurse in my stick who physically could not walk when she was loaded out for our night tactical jump - motivated and had hooah attitude but highly unlikely in real life. One of my buddies had a 41 year old master sergeant in his stick. Evidently, he had recieved an age waiver and was in attendance because it was the last thing he wanted to do before he retired. On the other hand, there are also SEALs, Marines, and freshly tabbed graduates of Ranger School in attendance so the true hardcases are there, they're just not a majority. What amazed me was the guys falling out of easy paced formation runs. I am not much of a runner myself, (no, scratch that, I'm a terrible runner) but if you can't do a four mile run in formation, you have no business being there.

In my opinion, Airborne school is a victim of its own popularity. It is half assed because it can't decide between being a hardcore guts-and-willpower weedout course or a pure technical skills qualification course. You recieve just enough harrassment and punishment PT from the black hats for things to get mildly unpleasant - just enough to get really annoying but not enough to test your will. Just enough bruising and superficial injuries to get in the way of training at your peak, but not enough to require a serious gut check. On the other hand, for a lot of the desk jockey types, Airborne is the most mentally and physically demanding military course they will ever attend so I suppose that's one way of keeping the Airborne mystique alive.

Ground Week and Tower Week consists of watching bad demonstrations, listening to incoherent lectures, PT and running to and from training areas. Its like the School (if not all of US Airborne TRADOC) is stuck in the 40's. How about some good hi-res slow-motion videos? How about a large series pictures and visual aids? What about actual harnessed demonstrations instead of hard to picture and hard to relate to mimed demos? The first two weeks could easily be condensed down to four, maybe five days tops, but for historical reasons, the course will probably always remain three weeks in duration. I left Benning mildly annoyed - I had my wings but felt that more that half my time was time spent wasted. I had a much more positive experience at Air Assault. Even though Air Assault was much more physically and mentally demanding, the training was conducted in a more intelligent, rational and professional manner.

If you plan on attending jump school, try to manage it so you attend during the spring or fall. Georgia summers are a bitch. Remembering Fort Benning summers from when I was a milbrat I pulled what I thought was the smart play and signed up to go during my winter break. I found out that it does get cold in Georgia in January and that falling down from a significant height onto cold, hard ground really kinda sucks. Class sizes are smaller in winter so there is less waiting around, which is good. But it also means that at any given moment, there is more of a chance that a black hat has his eyeballs on you, which is bad. If you go during the summer, remember to keep yourself hydrated. I knew more than one attendee who ended up getting recycled due to dehydration related heat injuries

If you are in decent physical shape, the toughest part of jump school will be dealing with all the sawdust. It will get everywhere. In your eyes, in your ears, in your pants. Everywhere. Due to this condition, students requiring corrective lenses must wear contraceptive eyewear and are not allowed to wear contacts. I knew a lot of guys who wore contacts. Like any rule or reg you can break it, the key is to not get caught. I got caught sleeping on the aircraft on my fourth jump... Don't get caught.

If and when you graduate, remember, the coolest thing about being jump qualified isn't a pair of those little silver wings or a goofy commemorative coin, its the right to tell jump stories to your wide eyed friends.


Some corrections regarding patientfoxes's writeup.

US Army Airborne tradition starts long before Operation Overlord Normandy, June 1944. The 82nd made a combat drop into Salerno, Italy as a part of Operation Avalanche in September 1943. Two months prior to that, the 82nd jumped into on Sicily in July 1943. There is even a case preceding that one, where the 509th PIB made a drop into Algeria as a part of Operation Torch/North African Campaign.

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