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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

British Paratroopers Train at Fort Dix for Afghanistan Deployment

3 July 07
By Eric Rutherford
115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
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FORT DIX, N.J. - The hand-held wind meter’s plastic cups spun rapidly in the breeze, displaying a wind speed of seven knots. Low clouds spread over Coyle Field in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, sky-lining the Humvees and the troops working diligently at the top of the hill. A light rain pattered down.

“They should have been here ten minutes ago,” said Maj. John Meredith, speaking with a heavy Welsh accent. “There must be some sort of problem.”

Meredith, a member of the British 4th Battalion Parachute Regiment Reserve, worked with the ground crews to ensure the drop zone was prepared properly for the British paratroopers who would soon land.

The ground crew continued to take wind readings, and set up large neon orange tarps on the ground in the pattern of an “A,” while observers and medical personnel stood by.

Static crackled over a member of the crew’s hand-held radio. “We have you in sight. You are clear to jump,” he transmitted into the radio. As those on the ground looked toward the horizon, the gray aircraft floated out of the clouds like a shark stalking through murky water.

Almost as quickly as the Air Force C-130 cargo plane came into view, it was overhead, leaving four distinct contrails behind it. When it passed over the drop zone, small objects began falling from it. They fell free for a brief moment before blossoming into round canopies, dangling their human cargo as they headed for the ground. Seconds later the plane was out of sight.

Joyous yelling and laughter could be heard from the people in the parachute canopies as they descended for about 20 seconds toward the earth. The yells and the laughter came from members of the 4th Parachute Regiment Reserve. A paratrooper infantry unit that traveled from Leeds, Yorkshire, England, to Fort Dix, N.J., for two weeks of mobilization readiness training this June and July in preparation for a deployment to Afghanistan next year. The training is designed to familiarize British paratroopers with American equipment, signals and terminology.

“The training here is first class,” said Warrant Officer Doug Muirhead, the regimental sergeant major, about the unit’s opportunity to come to an American installation and train with U.S. forces. “We are getting good training, which is important for interoperability.” The two-week training that the unit, which is made up of around 400 troops from throughout Great Britain, is conducting here is comprised of low-level jump certification, weapons training and land navigation. Of the unit’s 400 troops, about 130 made the trip to America for the training.

“Trips abroad don’t come around that often, so we look forward to it. The training facilities are fantastic,” Muirhead said about his experiences training on American installations. The training mission was no small task to organize, and was assisted and planned by the 404th Civil Affairs Reserve at Fort Dix. Staff Sgt. Monica Peck said American forces helped to survey the drop zone, familiarize the British with U.S. parachutes, rig the chutes and perform safety checks.

Peck, an Army Reserve jumpmaster and civil affairs team leader from the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion out of Riverdale, Md., not only assisted with planning and set up, but also made the jump with a handful of other American Soldiers. This is not Peck’s first time working with British paratroopers. She trained with them at Fort Bragg in 1997, but was unable to jump with them, because she had to end the training to attend jumpmaster school.

“Here I am, ten years later, and it is a real honor for me to get to be the leader with this group of guys, (they are) good folks,” Peck said. The British paratroopers return home July 8, and will deploy to Afghanistan next year.

Photo - Warrant Officer First Class Jim O'Donnell wraps up his parachute to clear the drop zone after a low-level jump from an Air Force C-130 aircraft at Fort Dix, N.J. O'Donnell, from Glasgow, Scotland, is a senior permanent staff instructor for Britain's 4th Battalion Parachute Regiment Reserves. The unit is spending two weeks at Fort Dix to prepare for a mobilization to Afghanistan next year. Photo by Spc. Eric Rutherford.

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