Geronimo! Paratroopers fall from the sky

Click on thumbnail to enlarge

Staff Sgt. Lisa M. Simpson
First published in
SFOR Informer#134, March 14, 2002

It was a small step for the Russian and American paratroopers to jump from the UH-60 Black Hawk but it was a giant leap towards forging a co-operative bond between the former Cold War enemies. Members of the theatre's Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSOTF) along with members of the Peacekeeping Russian Separate Airborne Brigade based in Ugljevik, Multi-National Division North (MND-N), teamed up for a combined airborne exercise Feb. 26.

Bijeljina - "Glory to paratroopers of all countries," exclaimed Col. Vladimer Livenskiy, commander of the Russian brigade. "It is a real pleasure for me to see Russians and Americans working together. We became the winners this time!"
Sixty-eight troopers wearing American-made parachutes jumped from 1,500 feet, more than 450 metres: 17 Russians and 41 Americans. They landed in a slightly muddy, freshly tilled field - complete with a farmer, a tractor and a horse - in Bijeljina, northeast of Tuzla.

The combined training culminated with a wing exchange ceremony where the Americans were awarded the Russian parachutist wings and the Russians were awarded the American parachutist wings.

Capstone event
Capt. Steven Stowell, team leader of the U.S. Special Forces Coalition Support Team (CST) based at the Russian camp in Ugljevik, was the lead planner for this exercise. "This is the capstone event for us, we have been doing a lot of training together and we help them (the Russians) with their mission in MND-N." The CST and the Russian soldiers routinely conduct sector patrols and inspections of weapons storage sites together amongst other duties.

"The CST does a lot of cross training with the Russians, sometimes we teach them things and sometimes they teach us things. It is all about exchange and communication," said Lt. Col. Sean P. Mulholland, commander of CJSOTF. "Capt. Stowell, Sgt. First Class Byars, Sgt. First Class Johnson, Staff Sgt. Byrd, Staff Sgt. Tappan and Sgt. First Class Williamson really understand their mission and have been great partners with the Russians. The team at Ugljevik has excelled in every turn in their mission."

All of the Russian soldiers who jumped with the Americans were airborne qualified in their army but Stowell and his soldiers gave them training on how to jump from an American aircraft using American equipment. As an added safety precaution, the Russian jumpers were interspersed with the Americans. Each flight carried a maximum of six jumpers and the first four flights averaged three Russians and three Americans. With two Black Hawks working simultaneously it took just under one hour for the planes to each make six rotations over the landing zone for a total of 12 flights, or "chalks" as they are called in the airborne community.

Two different ways
"The Russians land differently than we (the Americans) do. They land with their back to the wind and we land facing the wind," Stowell said.

"If you land with the wind at your back, the wind will push your parachute in the direction the wind is blowing," explained UH-60 pilot Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jay Anderson. "If the wind is in front of you, you can almost guide your chute straight down."
The wind was not strong but there was a breeze and those who forgot that block of instruction drifted several metres away from the landing zone and had to walk back to the assembly area carrying their expended parachutes. Fortunately for them, many of the local children had gathered to watch the exercise and were eager to help the soldiers gather their equipment.

Unlike a traditional C-130 combat jump where paratroopers stand in the doorway and leap from the aircraft wearing a main parachute, a reserve parachute and a rucksack, to expedite the exercise, in the UH-60 the paratroopers only wore their main and reserve chutes.

When jumping from the Black Hawk, the soldiers sat in the helicopter's open doorways with their legs dangling in the air and, when given the command from the jump master, they merely pushed their bodies forward with their arms to fall to the earth. The jump master is responsible for inspecting the paratroopers equipment prior to the flight and directs the soldiers out of the aircraft once over the landing zone. Also different, the static line, which pulls the parachutes open, is attached to the floor instead of the ceiling.
MND-N Commander Maj. Gen. H Steven Blum also participated in the training. At the awards ceremony, he summarised the day, saying, "Whenever you get American airborne soldiers and Russian airborne soldiers working together for the good of the mission, it's a beautiful thing."

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: Russia, US
Training and Exercises

Click on thumbnail to enlarge
Photos: PO Steve Wood

Chief Warrant Officer 3 John Hackett inspects reserve parachute of Russian paratrooper.


Click on thumbnail to enlarge

BlackHawks land, ready to pick up the next 'chalk' of jumpers.


Click on thumbnail to enlarge

Spc. Brian Schwarz holds the CJSOTF guidon.


Click on thumbnail to enlarge

Getting ready to jump, the paratroopers sit on the ledge.


Click on thumbnail to enlarge

Capt. Steven Stowell receives his Russian airborne wings.


Click on thumbnail to enlarge

Capt. Marc Whitcomb inspects equipment of Russian paratroopers.


Click on thumbnail to enlarge

Members of the Peacekeeping Russian Separate Airborne Brigade.


Click on thumbnail to enlarge

Capt. David Fivecoat talks to the local children.


Click on thumbnail to enlarge

A Russian soldier documents the day.