FORT BENNING, Ga., (Feb. 25, 2015) — “I will be sure, always.” The riggers of E Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, live by this motto, and having provided 73,000 parachutes to support Fort Benning and all the Airborne points of instruction that were conducted in fiscal 2014, they are not the only ones whose life work depends on it.
Packers of the company start as early as 5 a.m. and pack 15 T-11 parachutes each day. Each parachute will take the packer approximately 20 minutes to complete. The parachute is then inspected for compliance before it used by a unit.
“We’re technical experts on life-support equipment – all parachute systems and associated air items,” said Capt. Christopher Clones, company commander. “It’s one of the logistics branches of the Army.”
Packing a parachute is done in 13 steps, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mark Springer, airdrop technician.
Those steps are listed on each lane in the main pack facility to ensure each parachute is packed without error. Clones said listing the steps allows for a sort of “open-book test” for the riggers.
Riggers, who are assigned to a Quartermaster Aerial Equipment Support Company, are responsible for providing “light pack,” or personal parachutes for all the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade points of instruction, Clones said. This includes the U.S. Army Basic Airborne Course, Jumpmaster Course, Pathfinder Course, Reconnaissance and Surveillance Leaders Course and the Ranger students.
At Fort Benning, the riggers also provide maintenance support to units at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, and to other units all over Georgia. The company is broken down into a pack platoon, a supply platoon and a maintenance platoon, Clones said.
Soldiers packing the parachutes are all basic Airborne-qualified and have attended Rigger School where they received their parachute rigger badge and distinctive red hat after the 16-week, three-phase course, Clones said.
Clones said the red hats help fellow Soldiers identify riggers for support to correct a deficiency or for rigger expertise with a parachute.
In school, he said students learn to pack cargo parachutes and rig equipment to be air dropped, maintenance for all seven parachute systems and light pack – the T-11, the MC-6 and the T-11 reserve system parachutes.
Another priority for riggers, he said is airdrop or rigging equipment to be airdropped. An airdrop is used to provide classes of supply – food, water and ammunition – immediately to ground forces, Clones said.
“This was the primary means of getting immediate resupply (in Afghanistan),” Clones said.
To ensure compliance and accountability, on every parachute there is a rigger logbook to be signed by the individual rigger who packed the parachute and initialed by an inspector, Clones said. Additionally, the number of parachutes packed is tracked for riggers, as well. There are two major milestones, reaching 2,500 and 5,000 parachutes packed.
“Those are major milestones which they’ll receive recognition for,” Clones said. “They could easily get to 2,500 in two to three years of being a young packer.”
The catch, Clones said, is that all parachutes must be properly packed with no incidents overall. One mistake and their count is reset to zero.
“It is very unique because the (rigger) community is so small that you can be a private here at E Co. … and come back as a platoon or first sergeant later in your career,” Clones said.
Riggers will remain in an Airborne unit through their entire military career, Clones said.
RIGGER OF THE YEAR
Recently, E Co. held their 2015 Rigger of the Year competition and the winner, Clones said, had packed 1,073 parachutes thus far in his career.
Spc. Aaron Dawson was named the 2015 Rigger of the Year for Echo Company. He will be honored in a ceremony to be held March 9.
“I like to be the best at everything I do,” Dawson said, noting that he competes with himself to strive to be better. “The people I was competing with motivated me a lot.”
The competition was held over four days and involved 11 events for the riggers to compete in. The events required riggers to sew a basic patch, sew a repair patch, replace a control line, spot jump, with the winner being the one closest to the target, a six-mile ruck march, a T-11 parachute pack-up, MC-6 parachute pack-up, T-11 reserve parachute pack-up, G-12 cargo parachute pack-up, rig a container delivery system bundle and a physical fitness test.
The second and third place competitors were Spc. Salvador Quiroz and Spc. Joshua Bishop. The top three competitors, Dawson, Quiroz and Bishop will go on to the Rigger Rodeo held this year in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Quiroz said he has confidence in the team’s ability to take on the competition.
“It all comes down to basically team work and checking each other’s work,” Quiroz said. “You might know everything, but you have to trust whoever you are with to know what they’re doing also.”
Clones said the top three competitors all came from the Control and Issue platoon.
Dawson said while some younger riggers may have a problem with complacency and missing little details in rigging a parachute, the riggers of the Control and Issue platoon leave no room for error.
“We are good at what we do; there is a reason we are in this platoon, and there is a reason we took the top three,” Dawson said, noting that pride in what they do is paramount.
Dawson will also be invited to Normandy to participate in the D-Day anniversary jump.