PLOVDIV, Bulgaria — A C-130J Super Hercules flies above a clear strip of land, packed with paratroopers from two different nations. As they approach their destination a jumpmaster stands at the back of the aircraft ready; then directs the pack as they get ready for their jump.
During flying training deployment Thracian Summer this routine occurred more than 20 times with more than 1,500 paratroopers taking part. Jumpmasters were available each time to ensure paratroopers were able to do what seemed so simple — jump off the ramp of a C-130.
“There’s a lot more to being a jumpmaster than just jumping out of the aircraft, you have to make sure all the paratroopers exit the aircraft safely,” said Staff Sgt. Bradley Grissom,
435th Contingency Response Group jumpmaster. “We do this by ensuring the function checks are done with integrity, by coordinating with the drop zone safety officer on the ground to make sure the winds are within an acceptable range to be able to jump safely. It’s a very valuable duty to have.”
Jumpmasters also conduct a secondary inspection of equipment and working with aircrew by coordinating proper drop times.
“After the jumpers get rigged we inspect the gear to make sure there aren’t any deficiencies,” said Master Sgt. Mitch Braddock, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa pararescue functional manager. “We also work with the aircrew to ensure the paratroopers are dropped within an area where they’re able to get to the drop zone.”
Being a jumpmaster in USAFE-AFAFRICA means working not only with American paratroopers, but those of partnered nations as well. Braddock worked with Bulgarian paratroopers during FTD Thracian Summer, providing the opportunity for Americans and Bulgarians to work together.
“We get to go to other countries and work with their militaries by providing the jumpmaster support for their paratroopers,” Grissom said. “They might not be able to get that training each year without us. In this case with the Bulgarians, a large part of the paratrooper training is done when we’re here.” Braddock has been a jumpmaster for 18 years and over that time; there have been numerous changes to the technology used while conducting a paratrooper drop.
“The changes to technology have made jumping a lot easier,” Braddock said. “Everything from the aircraft, to the computer systems in those aircraft, to the parachutes. It’s far easier to get to the drop zone quickly and safely.”
Grissom is a jumpmaster responsible for the static line jumps, where paratroopers hook their parachutes to a cable and, when prompted, walk out the back or the sides of the aircraft.
His favorite experience came not as a jumpmaster, but his first day of U.S. Army Airborne school. “I was the first person at the door, so I was the first person to jump out,” Grissom said. “My first experience with jumping was when I was the first person looking out the door and seeing the ground before the green light came on. That was the biggest adrenaline rush of my life.”
As a free-fall jumpmaster, Braddock had the opportunity to train new jumpers by doing what’s called a tandem jump, a method of jumping where the student is attached to the instructor using a harness.
“Doing tandem jumps with first-time jumpers was probably some of the more fun jumps,” Braddock said. “That’s because of the training it gives us and the other person has a lot of fun, those jumps are pretty neat.”
The jumps could be for training, or for contingency operations. But one thing’s for sure: they’re executed as safely and as
efficiently as possible thanks to the professionalism of the jumpmaster. “Ready!?” the jumpmaster asks the paratroopers. “Thirty seconds!” the jumpmaster yells over the roar of the engines. The last few seconds are all they need to calm nerves and prepare for the jump to come.