Missouri S&T undergrad earns ‘paratrooper’ title

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On March 18, 2008

While most Missouri University of Science and Technology students were
returning to classes after winter break, sophomore Jacob Brakeman was learning
how to fall.

Brakeman, a civil engineering major from St. Charles, Mo., was one of 12
Army cadets selected from a class of about 25,000 students nationwide to attend
the Army Basic Airborne Course from Jan. 2 to 26 at Fort Benning, Ga. Brakeman
was chosen based on his grade point average and Army Physical Fitness Test

“The purpose of the Basic Airborne Course is to qualify in the use of the
parachute as a means of combat deployment, and to develop leadership,
self-confidence and an aggressive spirit through mental and physical
conditioning,” Brakeman says.

The three-week course is divided into week-long sessions where cadets train
alongside Army soldiers. During week one, Ground Week, cadets and soldiers
learn individual airborne skills to prepare for a parachute jump and safe
landing. First, Brakeman learned how to jump from a C-130 or C-17 aircraft
using a mock door, which is essentially the frame of the plane minus the skin
and working parts. Soldiers and cadets also practiced jumping from a 34-foot
tower to simulate the shock of the parachute opening and the exit from an
airplane. Finally, Ground Week included training using a lateral drift
apparatus (LDA), which is a zipline on which soldiers and cadets can practice
parachute landing falls (PLFs).

During Tower Week, week two, individual skills are refined, and course
participants learn the procedures for a “mass exit” of an aircraft. Cadets and
soldiers train on the 34-foot tower, the swing landing trainer (STL) and
suspended harness.

“The SLT is a harness connected to the ceiling, which helps train you how to
land when you are drifting certain ways,” Brakeman says. “You start out on a
platform 15 feet above the ground, and an instructor tells you to drop. At this
point, you drop about 6 feet before a harness catches you and swings you
around. Then, the instructor drops you the rest of the way and you perform a

Brakeman says the best way to describes the suspended harness is as a
“medieval torture device.”

“They suspend you in the harness from the ceiling, and then make you
practice pulling down on the straps connecting you to the parachute to practice
steering,” he says.

Finally, week three is Jump Week, when the soldiers and cadets get to test
their skills, and nerves, by making a real jump from an aircraft.

Brakeman says the mornings of Jump Week start with a mile run to the
airfield at 4 a.m., where participants prepare their equipment and wait for
their turn to fly and fall. As many as 85 jumpers are packed into a C-130,
designed to carry 92 combat troops, and are taken up to make the plunge.

“You get all your warnings and preparatory commands and before you know it,
you’re out the door and without fail, your chute opens and you’re riding down
for a little under a minute before you hit the ground like a sack of potatoes,”
Brakeman says. “As soon as I hit the ground for the first time, I just thought
to myself, ‘That was one of the dumbest things I have ever done! When do I get
to do it again?’”

Brakeman and his fellow trainees completed five jumps during the week before
graduating to receive the title of “paratrooper.”

“This experience left me with the most confidence I have ever had,” Brakeman
says. “I felt like I could do just about anything, which was good, because I
needed that kind of attitude to try and catch up on the class work I missed,”
he jokes. “All in all, it was one of the best experience of my life, and I look
forward to the next time I get to exit one of those ‘big iron birds.’”

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On March 18, 2008. Posted in News