45-year-old colonel gets Airborne wings

Capt. Erin Dorrance
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***As 400 applicants lined up at Army Airborne School the first day, there was a lot of buzz about a 45-year-old Air Force colonel who was in their class to endure the grueling course in hopes of receiving his jump wings.

On Nov. 18, Col. Kevin Ross, 86th Contingency Response Group commander, received his Airborne jump wings at Fort Benning, Ga. He was the oldest graduate of 340, and one of only eight Airmen in the course. The class experienced a 15 percent washout rate that included injuries and people who did not pass the demanding physical fitness test.

“It was a great experience, but it was physically punishing so I’m glad it’s behind me,” said Colonel Ross. “It was important to the CRG’s mission for me to make it through jump school, and it really gives me a better appreciation for what my Airmen and other Airborne-qualified servicemembers go through. I’m excited to get to go out and jump with them.”

Colonel Ross isn’t the only one excited about jumping with his troops; the 27 Airborne-qualified 86th CRG members look forward to the jumps as well.
Staff Sgt. Lee Lyles, 786th Security Forces Squadron and Airborne jumper, said Colonel Ross gained respect from his troops by not just wanting to lead from the sidelines, but by wearing the boots and exiting an aircraft from 1,250 feet above ground side-by-side with his troops.

“It will be an honor jumping out of airplanes with our group commander and him joining in on all the customs and traditions that come with being a paratrooper,” said Sergeant Lyles.

Colonel Ross’ current position as the 86th CRG commander is a jump-coded billet. Governing directives state that the 86th CRG must have an airborne-capable assessment team that evaluates airfield suitability and obtains other critical airfield data. As the assessment team leader, the commander must be airborne qualified.

In 2003, the 86th CRG commander, Col. Steve Weart, jumped with his team and the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade into Bashur, Iraq, to open the airfield during Operation Iraqi Freedom, said Colonel Ross.

As Colonel Ross looked back on his experience he said getting his jump wings was not something he had thought about since 1980 when he was in ROTC at Texas A&M. He was discouraged from applying because a serious injury would put his ROTC pilot scholarship in jeopardy.

Through Colonel Ross’ career he has flown the T-37, T-38, EC-137 and several models of the C-130. He and his family never expected him to be jumping out of airplanes instead of piloting them.

“My kids thought it was cool, but they were also afraid I would get hurt,” he said.

After the three-week course wrapped, Colonel Ross pinned on his Airborne wings with great pride and no injuries.