OTF11: Joint jumpmasters soar in sky with Bulgarian armed forces

by Staff Sgt. Travis Edwards
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

A successful personnel drop starts with proper preparation; that can only be accomplished through practice.

With the help of one Airman from the 435th Contingency Response Group, four Soldiers and two sailors, more than 200 Bulgarian armed forces members took a dive out of A C-130J Super Hercules. According to Staff Sgt. Myron Austin, a jumpmaster for the 435th CRG, nothing else compares to it.

“Most people don’t want to do it; for me, it’s something different,” said Austin. “Being in a unit like the CRG, provides me an airborne capability that I wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise.”

With the conclusion of Operation Thracian Fall 2011, Austin has been involved in four exercises and operations involving coalition and fellow armed services jumps, making him one of Ramstein’s and the Air Force’s great ambassadors to our sister services and the rest of Europe.

“It’s fun to work with them (joint service members and allied jumpers) because it brings a host of jumpmasters together. With that many jumpmasters it provides us the capability to get the mission done quickly and efficiently,” said Austin. “It’s great working with Bulgarians; their enthusiasm, their willingness to jump — this has been a fun event to be a part of.”

But Austin isn’t the only one jumping out of aircraft with our allies, he’s one of about 10 Airmen, Soldier and Sailor jumpmasters involved in OTF11 who ensure the safety of every American and Bulgarian parajumpers.

“Our job is to get the paratroopers out of the bird safely; we went through a three-week course to be certified as jumpmasters,” said Army Sgt. Katherine Coleman, jumpmaster assigned to the 5th Quartermaster Det. Special Troops Battalion, 21st Theater Support Command.

Coleman became a jumpmaster in May and adds herself as the only female jumpmaster in her unit and one of only a handful in the Army.

“I love it! It’s a bit difficult for how tall I am because of the height of the static lines, but it is fun,” she said.

After the two weeks of the OTF11 jumps were complete, five of the Army jumpmasters came back to the jump site for some on-the-job training with the Bulgarian parajumpers.

“We gave them familiarization with our parachute systems, and they gave us the same for theirs,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Herschel L. Gillins, master jumpmaster for the 5th QM Det., Special Troops Battalion, 21st TSC.

“Working with the Bulgarians was great, and although there was a slight language barrier, we made it though. Their procedures are remarkably similar to ours, whether in the aircraft or packing the parachutes.”

On the last day of parajumping, both the U.S. and Bulgarian jumpers exchanged jump wings, signifying the time and sweat they put in together during the training and adding friendship to a long list of things to take back home.

On a few days of the jump training, the Bulgarian service members “I like the American chutes because they feel very secure,” said Bulgarian Armed Forces Pvt. Deyan Dimitrov, parajumper for OTF11.

The 435th CRG played an integral part of accomplishing the training, from the drop-zone team who set up the area where the jumpers land, to gathering the available jumpmasters from the Kaiserslautern Military Community, including the Navy and Army.

As the lead airborne planner, gathering those jumpmasters was Austin’s main objective before the operation started.

“It can be hard to find the right people for the exercise or operation,” said Austin. “But it pays out in the end when they all show up and we get everyone safely out of the plane.”

From the valleys they moved through, to the mountainous peaks crossed, OTF11 will be a mission the parajumpers and aircrew from both countries will not soon forget.

This the last story in a three-part series on OTF11, an off-station training exercise held in Bulgaria.