FORT BRAGG, NC – Special Operations Forces Soldiers from Fort Bragg took to the skies during SOF Week, Dec. 6-13, for training, toy drops, and to earn a paratrooper prize – foreign jump wings.
All week long the various SOF units jumped out of perfectly good airplanes to take part in, what could be called, part training and part charity event. They donated toys to earn a chance to train with jumpmasters from nine other countries.
“It’s the best way that the U.S. Army can give back to the local community,” said Sgt. 1st Class John Manning, 528th Sustainment Brigade (Airborne). “It brings in the warrior spirit to earn foreign wings and at the same time, we give the toys to the local community to children, whose parents might not be able to afford the stuff. It is a great program.”
Manning was one of many SOF jumpmasters who took part in the 16th Annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop, Dec. 7, and SOF week. He worked with both U.S. and Brazilian jumpers. In all there were nine foreign countries that participated in the operation.
Sgt. 1st Class Noah Pryear of the 3rd Military Information Support Battalion was another SOF jumpmaster who participated in the event. He was teamed up with Soldiers from Latvia and said that it was a great learning experience for both jumpers and jumpmasters.
“It gives Soldiers a sense of accomplishment to work and learn from each other,” said Pryear. “They (the U.S. jumpers) are very excited to interact with [paratroopers] from other countries. It gives us a better understanding of how each other takes action on airborne operations and execute the duties of a paratrooper.”
Manning agreed that there is an amount of information sharing going on during the jumps, but he iterated that while there are some differences to the way the countries jump, there is one thing that everybody focuses on – safety.
“As jumpmasters we pick each other’s brains and we always have to be safe,” he said. “We share a lot of different techniques and learn about each other. The core is always there. We always concentrate on safety and accomplishing the mission.”
Another aspect of the jump was the chance to earn foreign jump wings. Parachutist Badges, or jump wings, are military badges awarded by the armed forces of most countries in the world to Soldiers who receive the proper parachute training and number of required jumps.
After World War II, individual paratroopers who worked with foreign jumpers would exchange wings the same way that athletes exchange jerseys at the end of games. In the 1960s, the practice took on a new meaning and it involved whole units and ceremonies.
Lt. Col. Andreas Wiechert of the German Army liaison staff said that the jump allowed the Soldiers to interact and build lasting ties.
“It’s an opportunity to train in the international community,” he said. “Another thing is when we later do the wing exchange, it is more than a badge- just a wing- it is a sign. It is a visible sign of our friendship and of our partnership. This is really amazing. If you see the history of how it changed between both countries; from former enemies and then to allies then to friends, that is great and that means much to me.”
Paratroopers usually have to jump from foreign aircraft using the host countries’ equipment and jumpmasters, however, For SOF week, the Soldiers jumped from U.S. aircraft (Germany did supply some C-160s) using their own parachutes, but received instruction from foreign jumpmasters.
“They got to pair up with a foreign country jumper and got to jump from a platform of a foreign country,” Pryear said of the U.S. troops. “As for the foreign jumpmasters, they learned how we do things from the air. They were able to spot the panels, the ground markers, where the Soldiers were released for the target.”
After each jump each country handed out their respective wings. Soldiers will be able to wear them on their Dress uniforms – with pride.
“It shows that you earned your spot as an airborne Soldier,” said Pvt. Tyler Austin, 3rd Military Information Support Battalion, who earned his first set of wings. “They show that you have earned your foreign jump wings and that you have gone above and beyond as an airborne Soldier.”