FORT PICKETT, Va. --
One minute from now you have a choice.
The bitter November cold and uneasiness of the helicopter ride only help amplify your body’s displeasure with your decision.
“I tell them, you are going to get nervous. Just watch the guy in front of you. Don’t overanalyze the situation,” said Sgt Rob Work, assistant team leader, 2nd Recon Battalion. “You are going to be nervous; you’re jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, a perfectly good helicopter.”
In 30 seconds you will step out into thin air at 2,000 ft.
“When they call out the one minute and 30 second warnings that’s when you get that adrenalin rush. You really just focus on what you are about to do,” said Sgt. William Thompson, team leader, 2nd Recon Battalion. “That’s the point where a lot of my nervousness goes away.”
“Knowing you are about to jump out is a blast. It’s the biggest rush you can get in the Marine Corps,” said Work.
Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 2nd Recon Battalion, perfected plummeting from helicopters and parachuting onto targets here as part of the Realistic Urban Training.
“Going into the Recon community they are going to send you to jump school, dive school and sniper school. Those are the schools you need to fulfill your job,” explained Thompson.
Details of specific Recon missions and how they relate to parachuting are understandably hard to come by, but the skill allows the Marines to insert deep within enemy lines and conduct an array of operations, he added.
For some of the Marines fresh out of jump school these parachute jumps were their first with a new and more agile parachute.
“With jump school chutes you can’t steer them. It’s pretty much like you are a lawn dart and when you hit the ground you hit really hard,” said Thompson.
At jump school students spend much of their time jumping from C-130 airplanes, an experience much different from the CH-46E “Sea Knight” they used here.
”In a C-130 you are getting sucked out the door. You are flying more than you are dropping. In a helicopter you are going to drop four to five seconds out the door,” said Work.
Once out that door there is more to parachuting than just hanging on for the ride. Marines must steer their chutes into a fifty meter target while racing toward the earth at 18 ft. per second.
“The more you jump the better your chances (of hitting the target) are. It’s not very hard as long as you are paying attention to what the wind is doing and what your chute is doing,” said Sgt. Shawn Thompkins, parachute rigger, 2nd Recon Battalion.
While he explained the method, the veteran of almost 100 jumps scoffed at the thought of a jumper completing that task straight out of jump school.
To make sure these Recon Marines hit their mark when jumping; month after month they hit the skies. With each additional jump more of that original nervousness is replaced by and excitement that baffles Thompkins’ friends and family.
“They don’t understand it and I didn’t either when if first got into it, but the more you do it the more you like it,” said Thompkins. “It becomes an addiction. You want to jump, you can’t wait to jump.”