A Grim Reminder: Military Training Death, 17 April 2019 [Updated]

 

A West Virginia National Guard soldier fell to his death in a parachute accident during a military training exercise in Virginia. 

FATAL PARACHUTING ACCIDENT SUFFOLK, VA (April 17, 2019) The Suffolk Police Department and Suffolk Fire & Rescue…

Posted by Suffolk Police Department on Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The West Virginia National Guard public affairs officer (PAO) stated:

The name and unit of the Soldier is being withheld until notification of the next of kin has taken place. 

The West Virginia National Guard will host a press conference tomorrow [18 April] afternoon, time to be determined, to provide an update to our partners in the media.

An investigation is being conducted to determine the cause of the accident.

A PAO release, the day before, talked about a new lease in West Virginia for parachute operations. It pointed to training jumps in near-by states:

Members of the Special Operations Detachment – Europe and Co. C, 2nd Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), West Virginia National Guard, glide towards their landing site during static line and freefall operations Oct. 19, 2018, in Red House, Md. More than 50 Soldiers participated in multiple jump cycles throughout the day to maintain proficiency in jump operations.

Update: Nor was this the only death in training this week. Looking for a searchable copy of the Mueller Report led to a small San Diego news website. There it was reported that a member of an elite Marine unit was killed in a vehicle accident during a training exercise.

A U.S. Marine was fatally injured in a tactical-vehicle accident at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps announced Monday.

[…]

The critically injured Marine was airlifted to a trauma center, where he was pronounced dead Sunday night, Mannweiler said. His name was withheld pending family notification.

Training to maintain military skills is not free of risk. Leaders do their risk assessment and put mitigation measures in place to make the worst possible outcomes less likely. In the end, though, there is real risk—even in peacetime, even during “one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer.” We are blessed as a nation to have men and women who accept that risk with clear eyes, signing up and re-upping. May God bless this fallen soldier, his family, and his comrades in arms.

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  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Freedom is not free, even in training. 

    Bless him and his family.

    • #1
  2. Chris Hutchinson Coolidge
    Chris Hutchinson
    @chrishutch13

    I was just remined of training accidents Tuesday night, Clifford. It kind of hit me hard because of how I was reminded of it. My son is at that age where I can do no wrong so he talks a lot about being a Ranger. We were walking home from his soccer practice. It’s in a wooded area, it was dark, raining and he had his big bag on his back. He asked me if he looked like a Ranger. I told him he did and he would make a great one. Then as we walked he told me he’s scared to be a Ranger. I was a bit taken aback but told him I understood. It brought back the memories of two accidents.

    The first was shortly after getting to the Regiment in ’94. Jumping out of planes was not fun for me. I had also volunteered for the Rangers specifically because of Somalia and those guys were my heroes. So, to have 1SG Glenn Harris, a Mogadishu hero die in the way he did was poignant and jumping never got any easier. On the other hand, I never doubted the selflessness of anyone around me. As retold from one of his troops:

    (…) I watched the C-130 drop jumpers starting halfway down the airfield, which was a mistake, and that put Glenn and several others in the Chattahoochee River where he ultimately drown. When the safety boat reached Glenn, he told those onboard he was good and to grab the others who landed in the river first. One of the finest examples of taking care of the boys I’ve ever seen. (…) People tend to think combat is the only place where soldiers see the realities of death. Fact is, I know far more that have been killed in training than in combat, hands down. For those contemplating service, think about that- and for all those who haven’t served, just because someone hasn’t been to combat doesn’t mean they haven’t been around death

    The second was when four students died in Ranger School in Feb ’95 a couple of months before my class as I was already counting the days to start. That shook me up a bit too, not to mention my family. Mostly my wife and mom but it definitely played on my mind. My son asked me their names. I am deeply ashamed I couldn’t remember. It embarrassed me I had to look them up to tell my son. They are: Spencer Dodge, Milton Palmer, Curt Sansoucie and Norman Tillman.

    Rest Easy, Rangers. Rest East 1SG Harris.

    We are fortunate there are those willing to sacrifice for others, those who don’t look the other way when asked who will go for us, but instead answer, “Send me.” May God always Bless their families and this soldier’s family, and help them always remember their sacrifices weren’t in vain.

    • #2
  3. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Quite frankly, it’s amazing we don’t lose more troops during jumps.

    The oversight is rigorous.  If a troop hasn’t jumped in more than 90 days, he has to go through Basic Airborne Refresher before he can jump.

    Everybody goes through Sustained Airborne Training within 24 hours before the jump.  If the jump gets pushed  to the right (for, say, weather or delayed birds) and the 24-hour window has passed, everyone does Sustained again.  Actions in the aircraft are rehearsed during Sustained, in the bird you’re jumping out of if possible, more usually out of a mock-up of the bird.  Everyone practices–minimum–four practice parachute landing falls into a sand pit front/rear/right/left.

    Everybody gets a Marshalling Area Control Officer (MACO) brief, where the exact specifics of that particular jump are reviewed (drop altitude, drop speed, number of jumpers per stick, etc.) and the specifics of the particular drop zone will be reviewed.  Personnel that have never dropped on that DZ will prepared by more experienced jumpers.

    Jumpmasters will rehearse all of this training before the conduct of Sustained.  JMs will also inspect the aircraft jointly with the crew.

    Each jumper will don his equipment/parachutes (primary and reserve) and receive an individual Jumpmaster’s Primary Inspection.  Once a jumper’s JMPI is complete, he will not take off or adjust his equipment.  If he does, he gets “what is your main malfunction” counseling and another JMPI.  The time spent between JMPI and entering the bird is often measured in hours.  Hours spent laid out on the tarmac, either sweating or shivering.

    Every stick that gets pushed out (#personnel per stick depend on the size of the DZ, which determines how long the green light will stay on) has a jumpmaster on it.  Every bird has non-jumping safeties on board to mitigate risk.  There is also a Drop Zone Safety Officer team that’s monitoring conditions on the ground and is in constant comms with the bird (loss of comms between these two = no jump).  DZSO’s biggest monitoring responsibility is wind speed.  For static line jumps, it’s a no-jump if winds gust or are steady at/above 13 knots. HALO no-jump is anything over 18 knots.  Most HALO sky gods won’t jump anything over 15. 

    There’s a lot in place to keep a jump as safe as possible.

    Still, stuff happens.

    I’d posit that you really don’t get “good” at driving your chute until you’ve got 20-25 jumps under your belt.  Winds are often different speeds and directions at altitude than on the ground.  So it takes some experience to be able to guesstimate the direction and wind speed pushing you and being able to look at the wind sock or smoke on the DZ and be able to figure out the best course adjustments to land on the DZ and avoid any obstacles near the DZ.

     

    • #3
  4. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret
    @CarolJoy

    @bossmongo

    I found your statement to be interesting: Once a jumper’s JMPI is complete, he will not take off or adjust his equipment. If he does, he gets “what is your main malfunction” counseling and another JMPI. The time spent between JMPI and entering the bird is often measured in hours. Hours spent laid out on the tarmac, either sweating or shivering.

    Why is it that the equipment cannot be taken off or adjusted?

    And the idea of spending hours laid out on the tarmac, either sweating or shivering, is not very appealing.

     

    • #4
  5. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):
    Why is it that the equipment cannot be taken off or adjusted?

    There are components of the rig that, if worn incorrectly or misrouted will kill you on exiting the aircraft or ensure that you hit the ground at terminal velocity.  If they aren’t worn properly, they may only contribute to injury, or even discomfort.

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):
    And the idea of spending hours laid out on the tarmac, either sweating or shivering, is not very appealing.

    Airborne operations are the very living, breathing example of “hurry up and wait.”  We actually pay the Air Force for the time we spend on their airplanes (usually, it gets technical).  So better to have the troops rigged up and sweating on the tarmac for hours waiting for the birds to show up than to have anything on our side that could cause a delay when the birds get there.

    • #5
  6. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Quite frankly, it’s amazing we don’t lose more troops during jumps.

    The oversight is rigorous. If a troop hasn’t jumped in more than 90 days, he has to go through Basic Airborne Refresher before he can jump.

    Everybody goes through Sustained Airborne Training within 24 hours before the jump. If the jump gets pushed to the right (for, say, weather or delayed birds) and the 24-hour window has passed, everyone does Sustained again. Actions in the aircraft are rehearsed during Sustained, in the bird you’re jumping out of if possible, more usually out of a mock-up of the bird. Everyone practices–minimum–four practice parachute landing falls into a sand pit front/rear/right/left.

    Everybody gets a Marshalling Area Control Officer (MACO) brief, where the exact specifics of that particular jump are reviewed (drop altitude, drop speed, number of jumpers per stick, etc.) and the specifics of the particular drop zone will be reviewed. Personnel that have never dropped on that DZ will prepared by more experienced jumpers.

    Jumpmasters will rehearse all of this training before the conduct of Sustained. JMs will also inspect the aircraft jointly with the crew.

    Each jumper will don his equipment/parachutes (primary and reserve) and receive an individual Jumpmaster’s Primary Inspection. Once a jumper’s JMPI is complete, he will not take off or adjust his equipment. If he does, he gets “what is your main malfunction” counseling and another JMPI. The time spent between JMPI and entering the bird is often measured in hours. Hours spent laid out on the tarmac, either sweating or shivering.

    Every stick that gets pushed out (#personnel per stick depend on the size of the DZ, which determines how long the green light will stay on) has a jumpmaster on it. Every bird has non-jumping safeties on board to mitigate risk. There is also a Drop Zone Safety Officer team that’s monitoring conditions on the ground and is in constant comms with the bird (loss of comms between these two = no jump). DZSO’s biggest monitoring responsibility is wind speed. For static line jumps, it’s a no-jump if winds gust or are steady at/above 13 knots. HALO no-jump is anything over 18 knots. Most HALO sky gods won’t jump anything over 15.

    There’s a lot in place to keep a jump as safe as possible.

    Still, stuff happens.

    I’d posit that you really don’t get “good” at driving your chute until you’ve got 20-25 jumps under your belt. Winds are often different speeds and directions at altitude than on the ground. So it takes some experience to be able to guesstimate the direction and wind speed pushing you and being able to look at the wind sock or smoke on the DZ and be able to figure out the best course adjustments to land on the DZ and avoid any obstacles near the DZ.

    This comment substantiates, I mean really gives substance to, my assertion about leaders and risk management.

    • #6
  7. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Airborne operations are the very living, breathing example of “hurry up and wait.” We actually pay the Air Force for the time we spend on their airplanes (usually, it gets technical).

    Then the Army paid for a heck of a lot of Nap of the Earth flight time between the hours of midnight and 2 AM over the woods of North Carolina for me.

    When that Green light went on, I could not wait to get the heck out of that friggin’ plane.  

    • #7
  8. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    A-Squared (View Comment):

    Then the Army paid for a heck of a lot of Nap of the Earth flight time between the hours of midnight and 2 AM over the woods of North Carolina for me.

    Actually, if the crew has NOE in its mission profile, and they need to certify having done it within X number of months, then they pay for the mission.  As I said, finances get technical.

    A-Squared (View Comment):
    When that Green light went on, I could not wait to get the heck out of that friggin’ plane.

    Jumping into Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah for the desert phase of Ranger School, we flew from Benning to Dugway.  We did in-flight rigging in a C-141.  Remember that comment that airborne ops are the epitome of “hurry up and wait?”  They had us rigged up and standing, with Ranger rucks and M1957 weapons bags for over an hour.  By the time the doors opened, I was already doing Lamaze breathing.  The light turned green, and the RI JMs started pushing studs out the door.

    Interesting thing about the C-141 is you just kind of airborne shuffle towards the door and the slipstream just sucks you out the bird (Bernoulli’s principle?).  Right as I was headed for the door, the plane did a huge pitch/yaw, and all the lights went red.  The RI was screaming “No jump! No jump!” as I threw my static line at him and backed–uphill–towards the door and got sucked out the bird.  I was getting out and getting some relief.

    I only had 9-10 jumps under my belt and had no idea how dangerous that was.  Made it with little or no damage.

    When we got to the cantonment area, they put us in formation while SFC Gorilla walked thru the ranks screaming “where’s the ranger that blew me off and went out on the red light!?”  

    I just stood there, looking confused and innocent.

    • #8
  9. Chris Hutchinson Coolidge
    Chris Hutchinson
    @chrishutch13

    A-Squared (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Airborne operations are the very living, breathing example of “hurry up and wait.” We actually pay the Air Force for the time we spend on their airplanes (usually, it gets technical).

    Then the Army paid for a heck of a lot of Nap of the Earth flight time between the hours of midnight and 2 AM over the woods of North Carolina for me.

    When that Green light went on, I could not wait to get the heck out of that friggin’ plane.

    Yep!

    • #9
  10. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Unfortunately death is always a risk (and occurs) in training. I recall being told during one of the Iraq wars that the US soldier death rate was not much higher than it was during peacetime (due to training accidents). 

    • #10
  11. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    Unfortunately death is always a risk (and occurs) in training. I recall being told during one of the Iraq wars that the US soldier death rate was not much higher than it was during peacetime (due to training accidents).

    There has yet to be a war where more troops are killed by enemy action than disease and accidents. 

    • #11
  12. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    Unfortunately death is always a risk (and occurs) in training. I recall being told during one of the Iraq wars that the US soldier death rate was not much higher than it was during peacetime (due to training accidents).

    There has yet to be a war where more troops are killed by enemy action than disease and accidents.

    Don’t you need to say for the US or West, here?

    Do we really think that more Iraqi and Taliban were killed by accidents and disease than by our troops? 

     

    • #12
  13. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Don’t you need to say for the US or West, here?

    Do we really think that more Iraqi and Taliban were killed by accidents and disease than by our troops? 

     Yes. First, they don’t provide us with full rosters, so we don’t know what percentage of our kills make up of their total numbers.  As we know from dealing with fire ants, you can kill every one you see without being a threat to the survival of the colony.

    Second, do we really think camping in caves in hostile mountains, or squatting in delapidated cities with irregular running water or trash services, much less medical services, is conducive to health? 

    • #13
  14. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Don’t you need to say for the US or West, here?

    Do we really think that more Iraqi and Taliban were killed by accidents and disease than by our troops?

    Yes. First, they don’t provide us with full rosters, so we don’t know what percentage of our kills make up of their total numbers. As we know from dealing with fire ants, you can kill every one you see without being a threat to the survival of the colony.

    Second, do we really think camping in caves in hostile mountains, or squatting in delapidated cities with irregular running water or trash services, much less medical services, is conducive to health?

    I don’t. I just think we killed them in pretty big numbers in Iraq at least, and that fight was over so fast that they did not have time to die in accidents and such. 

    Some of it depends on what you call a war or such. I don’t disagree with the overall point. 

    Of course, these days for America, accidents are far more deadly than disease. 

    • #14
  15. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    Each jumper will don his equipment/parachutes (primary and reserve) and receive an individual Jumpmaster’s Primary Inspection. Once a jumper’s JMPI is complete, he will not take off or adjust his equipment. If he does, he gets “what is your main malfunction” counseling and another JMPI. The time spent between JMPI and entering the bird is often measured in hours.

    My single jump was like this. It was single because I attended Airborne as a USAFA cadet,  broke my leg on my only jump and never got the opportunity to try again. But it was glorious.

    • #15
  16. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Instugator (View Comment):
    My single jump was like this. It was single because I attended Airborne as a USAFA cadet, broke my leg on my only jump and never got the opportunity to try again. But it was glorious.

    Cool.

    It’s part of getting that 20-25 jumps under your belt: Jumping static line, unless you have a major malfunction that provides no lift capability, you’re probably going to be alright if you just keep your feet and knees together.

    • #16
  17. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    RIP, SFC Nicholas Sheperty.

    See you on the other side.

    • #17
  18. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    RIP, SFC Nicholas Sheperty.

    See you on the other side.

    Amen to both.

    • #18
  19. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    I just think we killed them in pretty big numbers in Iraq at least, and that fight was over so fast that they did not have time to die in accidents and such.

    I can’t to Iraq, but this interview with a Viet Cong gives some great perspective on how the biggest dangers to guerrilla fighters aren’t the enemy.

    https://www.cracked.com/personal-experiences-1562-8-facts-about-vietnam-war-i-learned-as-viet-cong.html

    the jungle was alien to many of us, and unlike most of the American soldiers, we were stuck spending our entire war there. My uncle and I didn’t trust the tunnel systems many of the other VC used. They were prone to collapse, and if that happened over a barracks or a mess hall it was likely to kill more people than an air raid. So we did most of our moving around outside, under the questionable cover of grass mats. This meant we were not only completely open to rain storms … but also to murderous animals. It’s easy to forget, amid all the drama of war, that there were tigers in that jungle. Easy to forget until you met a goddamn tiger, that is.

    Tigers may be shy, but every once in a while one of us would disappear in the middle of the night, and we’d all just sort of understand why. Tigers don’t exactly do end-zone dances after every kill, after all.

    And so many people were killed by snakes. There were also rats as large as cats, mosquitoes, spiders, and centipedes to contend with. While you won’t usually die from a centipede bite, one of my co-guerrillas committed suicide after being bitten because the pain was so intense…

    Sure, there were VC training centers, but local recruits rarely attended. For every trained person we got through a camp, three more came from the surrounding area with only the vaguest idea of what a gun was. We provided on-the-job training to our guerrillas, and that led to disaster. I remember teaching one recruit, about 17 years old, how to throw a grenade. He pulled the pin then asked us what to do next. We were shouting at him to toss it, but he just waved at us, and watched the fuse burn up to the shell. It exploded. So did he.

    Another recruit was given a Chinese AK to stand guard with, and then later that day he was asked to cut down a tree branch to give us better visibility for the night. Instead of asking for a saw, he flipped the AK on automatic and proceeded to shoot the branch down. The branch came down, but a bullet ricocheted off and killed him. So we had to bury him, as well as find a new position. His shooting had given us away.

    He goes on to mention that yes, they built tiger traps. Because they didn’t want to get eaten by tigers.

    • #19
  20. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    RIP, SFC Nicholas Sheperty.

    See you on the other side.

    He enlisted as a Marine, was in their elite units, and then transferred services, joining the West Virginia Army National Guard:

    [SFC] Sheperty, a native of Virginia and a resident of Baltimore City, Maryland, chose to be in the West Virginia Army National Guard because it has the reputation of having some of the best Special Forces units in the country, [WVNG Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. James] Hoyer said.

    “It’s a dangerous job, just being in the military,” Hoyer said. “Being in a Special Forces high-altitude parachute unit is especially dangerous.”

     
    • #20

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