Sunday, February 24, 2013

Air Force 'grease monkey' is also jumpmaster

by Air Force Staff Sgt. William Banton
JBER Public Affairs

2/21/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- On any given day, more than 100 Army airborne paratrooperss may be lined up in the back of a C-17 Globemaster III awaiting a final safety inspection before being cleared to exit the aircraft toward a drop zone thousands of feet below.

The important job of ensuring the safety, proficiency and qualifications of all military parachutists exiting belongs to jumpmasters.

The jumpmaster is a position which usually brings to mind Army paratroopers or
Air Force tactical air control party members, but rarely the image of an Air Force mechanic.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Ashley Windle, a vehicle and vehicular equipment specialist with the 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron, has the unique experience of being both an Air Force vehicle mechanic and a jumpmaster.

"I had always wanted to do the pararescue, combat controller, TACP thing, but I had bad hearing," Windle said. "So it was kind of luck as well that I got this job. I had to get a waiver, and it took a while to get that."

Windle, a veteran parachutist since 2008 who has performed more 50 jumps, is still able to recall his first jump.

"It was easy, it was with my supervisor and he was doing his jumpmaster upgrade, so it was pretty much he and I," Windle said.

For Windle, one aspect of jumping never changes.

"Even now, I mean I have 50 jumps, but I always have that little bit of nervousness and ask what I forgot," Windle said. "Especially now as a jumpmaster, because [I'm] responsible for those five, six, or ten Airmen."

Usually on Army posts, the vehicle maintenance jump position Windle fills is intended to help maintain the mechanical needs for the respective brigades by providing on ground support.

"As a vehicle mechanic, we are supposed to deploy in the contingency environment as a whole package," Windle said. "Like when [we] went to Iraq or Afghanistan, they usually took every body, so they would have a base for what to do."

With encouragement and support of his leadership and the perseverance to continue after failing the jumpmaster school the first time, Windle began the process to turn standard parachutist position into something more.

"I failed it the first time, because I just couldn't get the Jumpmaster Parachutist Inspection portion," Windle said. "But the second time I went, I tested out the first day."
The JMPI is the process in which the jumpmaster ensures the parachutist is rigged up properly and there are deficiencies in the chute itself before the jump.

As jumpmaster, Windle's job begins when the jump is scheduled.

"I'm coordinating with the air crew and going to briefings making sure that  they understand what our training objectives are and making sure we can work with them on theirs," Windle said. "Then I'm scheduling all the support we need, medical and all the additional support we need on the DZ."

The jumpmaster also helps coordinate the prejump, which is hosted up to a day before the actual jump.

During the pre-jump, the jumpers are briefed on everything from reviewing a mockup to discussing the safety and emergency procedures.

On the day of the jump, the jumpmaster inspects the aircraft checking to make sure the cable and seating are set up correctly.

They also inspect the floor of the aircraft, checking to make sure no obstructions exist and the aircrew has all of their gear strapped down.

The process for Windle is a very meticulous and exciting process.

"The excitement's there because I'm a vehicle mechanic doing this and the responsibility of being about to put a couple of people out of a plane," he said.
"If they exit and they get away from the aircraft fine, OK, good, but there is always that doubt of 'what if the chute wasn't rigged right.'

"There is a lot of responsibility on your shoulders and that's what's awesome about it," Windle continued. "I like the 'here's your responsibility, you get these ten guys out.'"

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