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Airborne Operations - Recent

Airborne Operations in the 21st Century

The 75th Ranger Regiment's parachute assault on 19 October 2001 onto Objective Rhino at Dry Lake Airstrip in southern Afghanistan began US ground combat operations in the war on terrorism. It was the first mass tactical combat parachute drop since the 75th and the 82nd Airborne Division jumped into Panama during Operation Just Cause in December 1989. PSYOP Soldiers parachuted with approximately 200 Rangers into Afghanistan to operate portable loudspeaker equipment designed for broadcasting surrender messages to opposition forces.

During the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 82nd's paratroopers had planned to conduct an airborne assault, and the units had begun to rig their equipment and vehicles for a heavy drop. However, on 26 March 2003, V Corps ordered the division to As Samawah. The 82nd also was told that it would be reinforced with TF 1-41 IN, a mechanized infantry unit originally from the 1st AD but currently located at Tallil Air Base, and a lift helicopter company, A/9-101 of the 159 Aviation Brigade, from the 101st Airborne Division.164 This would give the brigade greater combat capability and mobility for the projected fight in and around As Samawah. The paratroopers derigged their equipment in record time and departed Camp CHAMPION on 27 March 2003.

On March 26, 2003, the 173rd Airborne Brigade conducted a jump into Northern Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the largest airborne assault since D-Day. Soldiers landed in the Bashur Drop zone effectively opening a northern front in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Kurdish controlled area was expected to be friendly, little resistance was anticipated, and none was encountered. The 173rd's jump into Northern Iraqi was the first wave of conventional American forces into the area. However, the weather was bad when the planes took off for the jump and the weather continued to be bad hours out from the jump as the C-17s approached the jump site. But the team knew that calling the mission off wasn't an option. More than 1,000 soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade loaded up onto C-17 jets lining the Aviano Air Base runway. The weather called for a pitch-black night, with no moon or stars and there was going to be fresh mud on the drop zone from the heavy storms in the prior weeks. Because they were in hostile air and because the drop zone was nestled in a valley, the C-17's had to go into an intense, steep dive from 30,000 feet to 600 feet. The unit remained in Iraq until February 2004.

The actions of the brigade caused the Iraqi defenses to commit forces to the area making it safer for swift progress to Baghdad by other US forces. In early 2004 the March 26, 2003 jump was classified as a combat jump, and the paratroopers who participated in it can stick their chests out with pride showing off the gold star, or "mustard stain," that crowns their parachutist wings.

Smaller Airborne Operations

The Marine Corps maintains the use of parachuting as an expeditionary oriented means of insertion for select units. Its focus is on the clandestine insertion of personnel for execution of their primary mission or the resupply of expeditionary forces by means of parachute. Marine Corps parachuting techniques are primarily used by reconnaissance, reserve ANGLICO and air delivery personnel. Because Marine Corps equipment does not always align perfectly with proponent service equipment, techniques, tactics and procedures, the Marine Corps has authority to deviate proponent policy in support of their service specific requirements.

The Marine Corps maintains the following parachute capabilities: Low level round static line parachutes in alignment with US Army forces and training requirements, Ram-air static line capable parachute systems (RAPS), Ram-air military freefall capable parachute systems (MFFRAPS), Tandem Offset Resupply Delivery System (TORDS) for reconnaissance operations, and various cargo parachutes for expeditionary air delivery insert of supplies and material to forward deployed Marine forces where land transport is either still risky or unattainable.

Six recon pathfinders from 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, jumped into the Iraqi night sky and into history from a Marine KC-130 Hercules cargo plane belonging to the joint Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadrons 234 and 352, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. The high altitude high opening jump took place in western Iraq, 23 July 2004. The reason they chose to do a HAHO vice a HALO (high altitude low opening) jump was the stand off distance the aircraft would be from the drop zone as well as the noise of the parachutes opening at 10 thousand feet vice four thousand feet is not even close. The sound of a parachute opening at four thousand feet is quite distinct, but there is no noise of a parachute opening at 10 thousand feet."

Although reconnaissance Marines have religiously practiced air insertions time and time again, they have been virtually nonexistent in combat. According to Headquarters Marine Corps historical reports, the last combat airdrop a Marine Corps unit successfully performed was nearly 35 years earlier. The insertions made in past efforts by recon Marines varied from using ground and aquatic vehicles to just plain walking.

The first was on 14 June 1966 during the Vietnam War. A small team of recon Marines made the low altitude night jump determined to quietly insert and set up an observation point within enemy territory. The team made it to the ground with only one small injury and was later extracted. The jump was hailed as a success by most involved and the combat jump was accepted as a viable means of placing Marines in hostile areas. The second, on Sept. 5, 1967, almost killed the combat airdrop idea for the Marine Corps. A group of nine Marines jumped into the night sky for a supposed 700-foot elevation drop. Because of mechanical malfunctions with the plane, the Marines unknowingly jumped from around 1500 to 2000 feet. The team was blown off course by unexpected winds and landed separately in dense jungles far from their intended target. They suffered numerous wounded, three of which had to be medically evacuated, and some of the team barely escaped capture by the enemy. The failure of this mission halted the process for two years until Nov. 17, 1969, when the last jump occurred and the three Vietnam jumps marked the end of the Marine Corps combat jump history.




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