MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Rotor blades cut through the air, sending sand into a chaotic swirl. Landing gear separates from earth as a thundering roar of twin engines permeates through the sky.
There is nothing uncommon about the heights to which the Marines of 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, are willing to take their training.
As the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter ascends to 2,000 feet, final checks on the gear are made in preparation for an adrenaline-filled plunge.
Approximately 20 Marines from 2nd Recon Bn. participated in the training exercise April 26 at Landing Zone Falcon. Some Marines were fresh out of jump school, while others participated to maintain their level of training since returning in October from their last deployment to Iraq. The unit tries to apply the fundamentals of parachuting at least once a month, with Marines getting the chance to jump two to three times each exercise.
Like many of the unit’s training exercises, risk is diluted through meticulous planning and an intense focus.
“Safety is huge,” said Cpl. Timothy L. Donoho, a team member of 2nd Recon Bn. “We’re checked by the jumpmaster at least two times. You just want to focus on all the steps in order to get a good exit.”
Jumpmasters ensure no corners are cut when it comes to safety procedures during the pre-jump process.
“You’re checking to see if your harness fits your body, everything is strapped right and if everything is tight enough,” said Cpl. Brandon Temple, a recon infantryman. “The whole time you’re thinking, ‘I hope my chute opens.’”
The pilots signal the jumpmasters to update them on the approach to the designated altitude and location of the jump while communicating through a series of elaborate hand gestures.
“The signals are verbally and physically repeated inside the aircraft so each jumper knows what’s happening,” said Sgt. Brian J. Mohr, assistant jumpmaster for the training exercise. “(The signals) take the jumpers from ‘get ready’ to ‘go.’”
“It’s so loud in the (helicopter) you can’t hear anything,” said Temple, a Hendersonville, N.C. native. “The hand signals really help us communicate more effectively.”
As groups, known as “sticks,” consisting of five jumpers file toward the rear of the helicopter, an invigorating anticipation sets in.
“After your first couple jumps, you kind of get over that initial fear,” Donoho said as he prepared for his ninth jump. “But you still get that thrill, that adrenaline rush every time.”
The primary jumpmaster gives the go-ahead, and in a short moment, the entire stick takes to the sky. The off-white chutes gust open as the cluster of jumpers slowly glide toward the vast landing zone below.
“After the jumpers land, they are required to get with their stick leader, so he can account for his stick and make sure no one is hurt,” said Mohr.
In order to uphold the battalion’s motto of “swift, silent and deadly,” these men continue to push their training to immeasurable heights.
The Marines of 2nd Recon Bn. then start to properly set up their jump rigs and begin the trudge back, so they can do it all over again.