Military Mom Goes Airborne, to First Jump and Graduation

The first of jumpers for Airborne leave the plane over the Drop Zone. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Hurry up and wait.  At this point in my son’s career with the U.S. Army, that is how we feel. He completed his Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (ABOLC) in early October.  He gave up his spot in Ranger school, but was to begin Resilience and Surveillance Leader Course. When he and a few ABOLC friends reported, it turned out the course was over booked. For about 48 hours, it was unclear what would be next. He sent a text a few days later to tell me he was going to Airborne School.

My son’s time at Airborne School was an interesting experience for me. I didn’t hear much from our son since he was kept very busy with his training.  I found the web site for Airborne School through the main Fort Benning website and a Facebook group titled, U.S. Army Airborne School, Fort Benning, that was very helpful.  Through the group, I met a number of other parents, spouses and girlfriends of members of Bravo Company.

A Soldier floats to the Drop Zone during the First Jump. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Airborne school begins with Ground Week. The second week is called Tower Week. The third and final week is called Jump Week.

A friend and veteran of the Army told me about that family could attend the jumps made during Jump Week.  The website also gave instructions on how to get to the Drop Zone (DZ) and Facebook group posted maps in their photos. I suggest calling the number listed on the Jump Week page prior to your trip to get information about your soldiers “drop week”.  They can tell you about the weather conditions and the scheduled jump times.

Since our son’s Jump Week was right before Thanksgiving the first two jumps were scheduled for Sunday, then two on Monday with the third and final jump on Tuesday. We made the two-hour trip to Fort Benning on Sunday to watch the first jump. I let my virtual friends on the Facebook group know we would be there Sunday and I’d try to post updates and photos.

The Drop Zone is on the Alabama side of Fort Benning, just south of the Fort Mitchell National Cemetery off of Alabama Highway 165. We stayed at a hotel in Phenix City, AL to be closer to the entrance to Fort Mitchell where the DZ is located. It was still about a 25 minute drive.  Once there, you will see bleachers and a concrete block rest room building. Be sure to pack drinks and snacks. If the winds pick up and are stronger than 12 knots the drops will be delayed.  You could wait quite a while.

2LT Nelson Lalli runs by the observation area with an Airborne School classmate to report in after his first jump. Photo by Stanley Leary.

The day we arrived the winds were low and the sky was pretty clear. A few other family members and friends were waiting as well. We enjoyed talking with them and learning about their soldiers.

The first jump was scheduled for 9:00 AM. They were delayed by the brief increase in wind speed.  Once they did begin, it was quite a sight. On the ground we could see several white trucks scattered on the Drop Zone. One young lieutenant who was waiting with us explained they are out there to monitor the landings and help if anyone needs it.  They also release smoke to help the jumpers know the wind direction.

I began to post photos from my smart phone to my Facebook page and also post updates to the Airborne School Facebook group. My new virtual friends on the group page who could not be there were anxious for updates. By noon I had 15 new friends. They all wanted to access the photos I was posting to my page.

The Drop Zone: two Airborne School participants run to report in after their first jump. Photo by Stanley Leary.

The first drop included about 15 jumpers. We watched as the green parachutes opened and they floated to the ground. The Drop Zone is a huge clearing at least a few football fields in length. Trees surround the clearing. Once they land the jumpers gather their parachutes, pack them up and run to report in. The small group of observers moved forward to clap as they ran by. Some of the soldiers smiled as they ran by.  Others waved. One young man I am not related to looked at me and yelled out, “Thanks Mom!”

I learned we should have asked our son’s number, displayed on their helmet, to help us find him.  They also have a stick (group) number. Just like we learned at The Citadel, once you get a group of people dressed alike it is hard to tell which one is yours from a distance.

2LT Nelson Lalli with Dorie Griggs, Chelle Leary and his Armor BOLC Classmate, 2LT Wilbanks. Photo by Stanley Leary.

In many ways, the group gathered there acted like surrogate family members to every jumper.  We clapped, cheered, waved, and smiled as they ran by.  The trainer in charge of the group kept yelling to the returning jumpers, “Cover your rip cord grip! Double Time!”

They are to run covering the grip to their spare shoot carried on their chest.  I knew our son would be doing everything he was supposed to so I looked closely at the soldiers running with their right hand on the front shoot. One by one the group gathered around us found their soldier, but somehow we missed ours. He knew we would be there so we assumed he would at least look over and smile as he ran by.

The last of the first group landed and the second jump was starting.  We had to get back home to prepare for work and school the next day. That night I sent a text to Nelson to see how the he felt he did. I told him we didn’t see him. He said he heard us clap and cheer as he ran by, but he had to report so he kept eyes front running to his destination. UGH! I guess it is good he is so focused.

He did tell me his number. Miracles of miracles, my husband found a photo of him running by in textbook form!

Members of U.S. Army Airborne School, Bravo Company, 04-12 graduating class wait to receive their wings.

Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving was the graduation. I promised my new Airborne family friends who couldn’t be there that I’d post photos. I had a chance to meet one of the moms who drove down from North Carolina to attend.  It was a cold windy day for the graduation. We sat in the stands with the other family and friends and waited for the ceremony to begin. A hawk was gliding near by and I thought it was appropriate symbolism to mark the occasion.

In true military form the graduation was formal, but quick, about 20 minutes total. Immediate family members who went through Airborne School were called forward to pin the wings on their son or daughter.  Next, all family members were invited to find their soldier to pin their wings on after they announced that “Blood Wings” are not allowed, a practice of pushing the pin on the back of the Airborne wings into the graduates chest.

It took a while, but we found our son in the middle of the 466 member graduating class. My son’s Armor BOLC classmate had just started to put his wings on.  My daughter and I fastened the backing to the two pins. Lots of photos later we headed home. Our son is now heading to Fort Stewart for his first job in the U.S. Army.

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5 Responses

  1. Congrats to 2Lt Nelson Lalli and to his proud Mom!

  2. [...] She’s cheered him through four years and graduation at the Citadel and watched as he made his First Jump at the U.S.  Army Airborne School. Through her writing and photos by her husband Stanley Leary, Dorie has taken us along as she [...]

  3. [...] about Fort Benning, the Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (ABOLC), the Armor Branch traditions, Airborne School, Ranger school, Reconnaissance Surveillance Leader Course (RSLC), and am now learning about Fort [...]

  4. I am former US Army Paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. My son will be going through Jump School soon. Is there any way that I can jump with him? At least one of his five jumps needed to graduate?

  5. Disregard last. Proud of your son.

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