If you haven’t seen the video yet, during the recent “Operation Flintlock” United States Special Operations Forces conducted an airborne operation with unnamed host nation forces. The video highlights the level of training or lack thereof of some Third World nation’s airborne forces.

Ask anyone from our Special Operations Forces who have conducted airborne operations in some forlorn country where the paratroopers are supposedly “well-trained” and you will no doubt hear some good stories.

In this particular video during “Flintlock 2019”, the host nation troops were conducting a tailgate jump, which as any SF guy will tell you is the best jump out of any aircraft. Flintlock 2019 ran for a few weeks from mid-February to March 1, took place in Burkina Faso and Mauritania. More than 2,000 troops from 34 Western and African countries participated, including SOF units from the United States, Spain, Canada, Belgium, and Germany,

Judging from the video, either these troops have never conducted a tailgate jump or were totally freaked out at the aspect of the open back end of the aircraft yawing at them like a giant beast.

The first jumper reverts to his initial training which is geared toward jumping out of the door. He turns his body nearly 90 degrees and conducts a nearly perfect door exit, which no doubt resulted in the jumper having twists galore in his canopy.

Then one aspiring skydiver decides to launch himself out the rear of the aircraft HALO style…ouch. But the best one, and one we can all recall seeing at one time or another occurred when one intrepid paratrooper rushed to the tailgate, got cold feet and promptly sat down. Then, realizing that he had to go, he scooted on his butt and eventually, and thankfully, slid off the tailgate…Airborne all the way!

The video can be seen below:

This brought back some poignant memories of a trip to Paraguay back in the day with my team from 3/7 Special Forces. We conducted several airborne operations both with the Paraguayan SF troops we were training and some others with the host nation’s Airborne Brigade which was located in the capital city of Asuncion. The airborne brigade would use the same national airport as civilian air traffic and we’d load up using gates right beside planes readying for international flights.

Imagine waiting to board your plane heading to …wherever and looking out the terminal windows and seeing a bunch of C-130s and troops in camouflage uniforms donning parachutes. Even more so, when those troops could walk right into the terminal to use the facilities prior to jumping or get coffee from the vendors?

One particular morning our senior medic and I saw a huge commotion in the terminal and when we went to investigate, we ran smack into the television star Xuxa, who was famous at the time for having a kid’s show. That is a story for another time.

And we published the blackmail story of our Air Force CCT brothers who filmed me acting as a primary jumpmaster wearing cowboy boots, jeans, and a leather motorcycle jacket during the deployment here:

But on an earlier jump, the Air Force CCT were making a joint airborne operation with their airborne brigade counterparts. They had their portion of the jump covered, but the Paraguayans wanted to take advantage of the American C-130s there and jump some extra aircraft. The pilots, some great guys from the West Virginia Air National Guard, didn’t feel safe having host nation jumpmasters on their aircraft, so rather than break up the CCT guys from their own training, they asked if we’d support it. No worries, we had a slew of jumpmaster qualified guys on the team.

The first two planeloads of paratroopers and CCT guys were the more experienced members of the brigade. The final two aircraft, ones that the SF guys were going to jumpmaster were younger members of the brigade and who were making their cherry blast. A cherry blast for those uninitiated consists of a jumper’s first jump with the unit after his airborne training has been completed.

They were a nervous lot. Our pilot a Colonel from the Guard and Delta Airlines was a great guy. He made it clear that once we were over the drop zone, the aircraft and the jumpers were all ours, with one stipulation. “Chief, in the event of a jump refusal, I don’t want anyone thrown from the aircraft. The last thing we need is a towed jumper.” I concurred and promised him that we would not do that.

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The drop zone (DZ) at the Army base was right in Asuncion, so the racetrack that the C-130s would fly after going over the DZ would take you right by some really high buildings, some of which were six or more stories tall. Seeing those buildings after the passes were completed both was a very cool sight, as I can’t remember hanging out of a door and seeing semi-skyscrapers…ever and struck home that the red light definitely meant stop.

During our pre-jump, we made that and our safety instructions quite clear. We did our JMPI (Jumpmaster Personnel Inspection) and the Paraguayans boarded the aircraft. Their nervousness increased. As our C-130s taxied to take our place in the waiting line for takeoff from the national airport, we began to don our own equipment. The Air Force loadmaster came up to me, “these kids looked scared shitless. Do you think they’ll jump,” he asked? We laughed, “wait until you open the doors,” I said. “Then the pucker factor will really show.”

After takeoff, we reached cruising altitude and we got the first pass up and did our jump commands, when the loadmaster opened the door, about 50 sets of eyes got the size of pie plates….here we go.

The first pass of jumpers went off without a hitch, they included the cadre members for the new recruits. One lieutenant gave me a wink and said, he wished we came down there more often, so they could jump more. I gave him a smile and thumped him on the shoulder to try to show the kids that this was just a walk in the park.

The second pass was another story. We made our racetrack over the city and we lined up on the DZ, as I came in from my last door check, the green light came on….”Go, go, go.” The first four jumpers went out the door…semi-professionally but not too bad, but our number five jumper was a charm.  

He froze in the door, wouldn’t jump and then half in the door and half out the door, he slid down the frame until he was in a sitting position with his face plastered against the trailing edge of the door, with one leg out and one leg in.

Over the roar of the engines and wind rushing in, I could hear the loadmaster, yell, “Jesus Christ!” and was immediately on the intercom to the pilots. The #5 and #6 jumpers attempted to push past their guy sitting in the door, but I pushed them back. We got them back and attempted to haul in the kid in the door. He wasn’t having any of it.

“No, no, no!” he screamed, believing I was going to throw him out the door. As much as I tried to tell him that we weren’t going to do that, he held on tighter. We were now way off the drop zone, still flying straight and slow and over the buildings of Asuncion. There was no way he was going out then.

The loadmaster was yelling in my ear, “Chief, we have to shut the door!”  I nodded. So what’s a guy to do? Using the fingertips of my left hand, I forced the kids head backward, tilting his old-style US steel pot as far as it would go. With all the force I could muster I punched in the face with my right. He let go with one hand to grab his face and that’s when the loadmaster and myself picked him up and threw him into the seat on the inboard side of the aircraft. We strapped him in. The door was closed as soon as we could bring the deployment bags in and we made a really tight turn to get back on our track.

The kid was claiming he hurt his ankle, which was why he didn’t jump, total BS, but we went along with the charade and told him to relax and he’d be fine. But we had the rest of the jumpers to go, the pilot wanted to know if we should continue and I said we’d be fine.

We reorganized our passes to get the rest of the 2nd pass out and I saw an officer amongst them and moved him to the front. We tried to quickly allay their fears and that everything was going to be okay. The kid who was the #6 jumper said something I couldn’t hear, and I still couldn’t hear him. The Paraguayan lieutenant said, “he said, he’s not afraid to jump, he just doesn’t want you punching in the fucking face.”

I asked the LT to arrange to send an ambulance over to the airport once we finished the last three passes and take care of the kid with the “hurt” ankle as soon as he hit the ground.

During the next pass of jumpers, their exits would have made the Blackhats at Ft. Benning proud….almost. But we got the last of the guys out without further ado. We got all of the deployment bags in and bagged up and once we taxied to our spot at the airport, the ambulance was already pulling up to the tarmac for our “injured” trooper. He was playing it up like he had a compound fracture, but it is what it is.

The pilot, as we retold the story was relieved and laughed…after the fact. He told me that he’ll have nightmares of that kid falling out with skyscrapers all around. I hastily hooked a ride with the ambulance guys over to the DZ which was part of the base.

The Airborne Brigade commander was there and was aware of what happened. I quickly went over and apologized for hitting one of his troops, which can be a very touchy subject regardless of the circumstances. He was fine with how it played out, having already heard the story from his own lieutenant. He put his arm around me and told me he would have done the same thing that the kid’s safety was more important than his hurt feelings. We were good.

We did jumpmaster a mass tactical exercise later during the deployment. The Brigade Commander was the #1 jumper on my aircraft. As we were getting ready to put them out the door, he winked at me and covered his eye with his free hand as if to say, “don’t punch me, I’m going!” We laughed.

The Air Force CCT guys later told me the kid who froze in the door was given another chance and got over his fear and made his cherry blast…Good for him.

Just another stellar day in 3/7. DOL

Photo/Video: AFRICOM