ROTC cadets receive jump training at Fort Benning

Abby Fisher

Don Ackerman spent his summer jumping out of a plane.

The junior political science and history major was one of five Kent State ROTC cadets who attended the Army’s Airborne Training School at Fort Benning, Ga. The three-week program trains soldiers how to become paratroopers.

The cadets from Kent State who were interested in going to Fort Benning competed for one of six spots and were chosen based on GPA, physical training tests, extracurricular activities and leadership points as determined by the ROTC faculty.

Ackerman brushed shoulders with approximately 380 other soldiers, including cadets from West Point.

“The Airborne School serves the entire army,” Ackerman said. “They’ve got everyone from ROTC cadets to officers and enlisted guys.”

The 24-day training school is divided up by week, the first week being Ground Week.

“During Ground Week, we would wake up at 4:30 a.m. and had physical training, grass drills and a three-mile run,” Ackerman said.

Ackerman ran every morning to prepare for the rigorous physical training Airborne School demands.

“At any time, a jumpmaster can tap you and you can be sent home,” Ackerman said. “They want people who are in top condition all the time.”

Caleb Hopka, sophomore computer science major, said soldiers learned how to exit from a mock aircraft.

“This was on the ground, and you learned how to do it with a static line,” Hopka said. “We also watched a lot of videos about jumping.”

Hopka recalled a lot of long days -ÿhe spent at least 12 to 13 hours training every day, learning different techniques as he progressed.

During the second week, soldiers learned proper jumping techniques by jumping off various towers. Labeled Tower Week, Ackerman, Hopka and Jesse Grimm, junior criminal justice major, jumped from a 250-foot tall tower along from a zip line and learned how to land with a parachute.

Ackerman explained that paratroopers are attached to a static line when they first jump from the aircraft that allows the parachute to deploy automatically.

“If you don’t feel your chute open, then you immediately pull your reserve,” Ackerman said.

During Jump Week, the final week of Airborne School, soldiers get first-hand experience by jumping out of an aircraft. Soldiers complete a series of five individual jumps, which includes one night jump.

“Jump week was the coolest and most boring time,” Hopka said. “We would wait about four hours just for one jump.”

For Hopka and the other soldiers, the first jump was without any combat equipment, known as a “Hollywood” jump.

“I was nervous as hell for the first one,” Hopka said, “but I got more confident the more jumps I did.”

Grimm enjoyed Airborne School so much that he decided to try skydiving when he returned.

“Parachuting as a sport is very different,” Grimm said. “You’re jumping from 12,000 feet instead of 1,250 feet.”

The purpose of using soldiers as paratroopers is to move troops behind enemy lines as quickly as possible, Ackerman said.

“This is why we jump from such low heights,” he said. “Airborne units are used with the Special Forces, Rangers and Navy Seals.”

All of the Kent State cadets who attended Airborne School graduated and are now qualified parachutists with the army.

“I was really honored and proud to be able to go to Airborne School as a sophomore,” Hopka said.

Contact ROTC reporter Abby Fisher at [email protected].