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Fort Indiantown Gap hosts airborne training for first time in 10 years

  • Published
  • By Brad Rhen

For the first time in a decade, paratroopers dotted the skies above Fort Indiantown Gap May 17 and 18.

In what is believed to be the first airborne training conducted at Fort Indiantown Gap in about 10 years, active-duty Air Force tactical air control party specialists from the 14th Air Support Operations Squadron from Pope Army Airfield, N.C., jumped out of CH-47 Chinook helicopters from the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade.

The 14th ASOS Airmen were joined by several TACPs from the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 148th ASOS.

The jumps were from around 1,200 feet altitude, and the paratroopers landed in West Field along Harrison School Road.

Maj. Thomas Giovarelli, assistant operations director for the 14th ASOS, said the unit had other training planned at FTIG and added the airborne training when they learned it was possible.

“We tied an airborne op into our overarching scenario,” said Giovarelli, a Bethlehem, Pa., native, who previously served as a fire support officer with the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 2-104th Cavalry. “That was like our simulated infil.”

The opportunity to jump at FTIG was attractive, Giovarelli said, because it is an unfamiliar drop zone. For paratroopers, jumping in unfamiliar locations with different types of terrain provides better training than jumping in places they are familiar with, Giovarelli said.

“A lot of times we get out to these ranges in North Carolina, and the guys become so familiar with the ranges we go to more often, so I started exploring five or six months ago different places to train,” he said.

Although the 14th ASOS is attached to the 82nd Airborne Division, which typically uses fixed-wing aircraft for unit airborne operations, the 14th ASOS uses both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, Giovarelli said.

“A lot of the guys will tell you that they prefer rotary-wing, especially being able to walk off the back of a ramp and not get violently sucked out of a door,” he said. “Whenever we have the chance to steer our own training, we’ll lean a little more to rotary-wing.”

Tech Sgt. Zachary Holder, one of the TACPs from the 148th ASOS who participated in the training, said it’s nice to work with other units and branches of the military to see how they conduct operations.

“We always have to stay combat ready and combat effective," Holder said. "Uncle Sam certified us and paid us to learn how to do this so we need to maintain our certifications and maintain our readiness. That’s why we’re out here.”

Holder said the jumps were the his first out of a CH-47 with the parachute they were using.

“I’m personally scared of heights, so this is me facing my fears, but I had the opportunity and I didn’t want to pass it up,” he said. “I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, but it’s not my cup of tea.”

Airborne drops have not been held at FTIG in recent years because the drop zone is not very big and the Pennsylvania National Guard doesn’t have airborne units anymore, said Capt. Michael Shea, range management authority.

The airborne operation was another example of the variety of training Fort Indiantown Gap can accommodate, said Lt. Col. Andy O’Connor, acting garrison commander.

“We have such a wide variety of ranges and facilities here, so we can accommodate all kinds of training,” O’Connor said. “That’s one of the main reasons Fort Indiantown Gap is the busiest National Guard Training Center in the country.”