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Monday, June 3, 2019

Jump School: Where the Airborne Earned Their Wings

With the 75th anniversary of D-Day approaching fast, today's article will look at how the famous Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506 PIR, 101st Airborne (and other  paratroopers) earned their wings.
Welcome to parachute infantry training
Though Easy Company was trained at Camp Toccoa near Currahee, Georgia, jump training there was shut down later in the war when an accident revealed that the airfield was too short for the safe use of transport planes. Afterwards, paratrooper training was conducted at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Once a prospective paratrooper finished his 8- to 15-week basic training, he went on to the four-week jump school. The course was divided into weeks A, B, C and D. Week A was for weeding out the physically weak with at least 9 hours of daily exercise: day and night runs, rope climbing, pushups, tumbling exercises and hand-to-hand combat. Physical exhaustion, orders to always run everywhere and punishment meted out for the slightest infractions ensured that most washouts occurred either this week or the next.
Conquering Currahee: 3 miles up, 3 miles down
Week B retained the intensive physical training and added lessons on exiting a plane properly, positioning the body safely, steering during descent, avoiding injury on landing, and deciding when to use the main parachute on the trooper's back and when to resort to the reserve chute on the chest. Wooden C-47 models were used by sticks, teams of 18 paratroopers, to practice jumping out as quickly as possible, 2 jumps every second being the ultimate goal.
Airborne training as portrayed in “Band of Brothers”
Week C continued physical and jump training with the addition of two jump towers used to test the trainees' courage and acclimatize them to the psychological stress of the jump. The tallest tower was 250ft tall. A soldier would be placed in a harness, with parachute already attached, hoisted up, then let fall. Most candidates dealt with this easily, but the other tower, much smaller at a mere 30ft, turned out to be much more terrifying and was responsible for many washouts. Here, soldiers had to climb up on their own and jump without a parachute, relying instead on a security cable that was designed to slow them down for a safe landing, a task many applicants instinctively balked at. Week C also taught soldiers how to pack their own chutes, a lesson their lives literally depended on a few days later.
Jumping from the short tower without a parachute suspended by a cable.
The taller tower for parachute jumps
Looking down from the top of the tall tower during week C
Finally, week D put the trainees in planes and had them jump once per day, every day from Monday to Friday. For many, this was the first time they were on board a plane and now they had to jump out of it from a high altitude. Their lives depended on the lessons of the previous three weeks and if someone hadn't packed his chute properly, he was likely to plummet to his death,as it unfortunately occasionally happened. After every jump, they spent the evening exhausted, packing their parachutes for the following day's jump.

Training jump as depicted in Band of Brothers

Those who made it through the four weeks had their graduation ceremony on Saturday. They received their coveted silver wing badges and were henceforth allowed to “blouse” their trousers: to tuck its ends into their jump boots, when they were  off base.
WWII training video about the structure and parts of a parachute

Depending on their skills and previous job experience some of the paratroopers went into service companies within airborne battalions as cooks, clerks, drivers, mechanics, translators and the like. One special occupation, which required an extra 3 weeks of training, was parachute rigger. Originally, jump school taught not only jumping, but also how to load equipment on a plane and how to inspect, repair and pack chutes. However, as demand for new airborne graduates increased, training time was cut down, and only riggers were given advanced instruction on these topics, while “ordinary” airborne were limited to basic packing and maintenance, which, of course, still put them head and shoulders above most soldiers without such training.

H/T to Robert in Cullman


  1. A tough course for a insertion technique that was not fully proven at the time. Big gonads on those folk back then. When I went through 'jump school' in 81, it was not at Ft. Benning but at Ft. Sherman in Panama. It was taught by cadre of the 7th Special Forces Group that were stationed at Ft. Gulick. We had 434 people pass the PT test administered on the first day. What the cadre knew (and we did not), is they had one C-130 that they would use in week 3 and they only had it for one jump a day. They also knew that there would be roughly 10 'strap hangers' (folk that would be jumping that were not part of the course). They needed to get to 54 student jumpers. They did. Here are a few of they things the did to winnow 434 down to 54.

    We were required to shave our heads daily. Any less frequent than that then it would be too long at morning.

    Every time a cadre member came out of the 'tac shack' he would yell out 'I smell a quitter!' then place the entire group in the 'dying cockroach' position until several folk gave out.

    The cadre required that we take a 5 minute break every hour. In that 5 minutes we were required to douse down our uniforms with water. There was only one water point with a 3/4 diameter hose so it was impossible for everyone to water down. Failure to water down was classified as 'failure to follow instructions'. If you failed to follow instructions twice you were removed from the course. Essentially what this mean is that every hour for 5 minutes several hundred people had a fist fight at the water point.

    In those three weeks I spent more time in the dying cockroach position and 'knocking out push-ups' then I did in the more than 20 years of Army service combined. In the end I made it. My hat is off to the members of the 7th SFG for the dedication and commitment to producing 54 proud paratroupers.

    1. That is an awesome story Garry and my hat is off to you and the others. Thanks for sharing.

    2. Garry, thank you for that personal experience. That is something no one can ever diminish or take from you.


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