As the Air Force crewmembers of the C130 Hercules aircraft hefted the doors of the plane open, the jumpmasters and safeties squinted into the bright blinding daylight.
The jumpmaster teams performed their checks and signals with precision and within moments, the number one jumpers stepped into the doors, ready to leap into the vast, empty sky. The pre-jump training, rehearsals, parachute rigging and the short, subsequent flight were like many others the Paratroopers had done before. Today’s jump, however, had an unusual audience and purpose.
Paratroopers of the 407th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, held a battalion organizational day to celebrate their extended Army family by inviting spouses and children to watch their airborne jump on Sicily Drop Zone, April 6. As if to punctuate the family theme, several military couples from the brigade were manifested to jump together, including a husband and wife that performed jumpmaster duties together on the same aircraft.
The commander of the battalion explained his motivation for using that particular airborne operation as a way to accomplish training while building family bonds.
“We wanted to get our families out here so they can see their Paratroopers exit an aircraft,” said Lt. Col Shawn C. Schuldt. “We had a great turnout: maybe 50 to 75 families came out to see the jump. We were able to broadcast the commands from the aircraft and the families got to hear the communication between the drop zone safety officer and the pilots. Everyone had a good time.“
Although he’s the boss, Schuldt appreciates a little fun.
“If you have to work on a Sunday, you might as well make it an enjoyable event.”
Many of the families had never seen an airborne operation and were also witness to a heavy drop of medical equipment and a field hospital. The battalion ate barbecue and families examined static displays of equipment and vehicles.
Not all of the families arrived to the drop zone by ground transportation. Three couples from the 2nd BCT jumped from the plane and landed, collected their parachutes, and ran to meet the rest of the battalion’s families. One of those couples, the Siekmans, is making a family tradition of serving with the Golden Griffins.
“My mother’s first assignment was in the 407th in 1981 when she got out of basic officer leaders course,” said 2nd Lt. Sarah H. Siekman, a quartermaster officer assigned to Company A. “She was quartermaster and a rigger platoon leader.”
Siekman arrived to the 82nd Abn. Div. only a month ago and was placed in the 407th BSB. Both mother and daughter were excited by the coincidence.
“I think it’s the coolest thing. I’m proud to work in the same unit that she did and carry on that legacy,” said Siekman.
Proving that the airborne community is small compared to the wider Army, Siekman’s spouse of eight months, 1st Lt. Brenden Siekman, also happens to serve in the same organization Sarah’s father did: the 2nd BCT’s 37th Brigade Engineer Battalion. Capitalizing on the day’s family theme, the Siekmans jumped together from the same C130.
“I am very thankful they gave us the opportunity,” she said. “This is our first time jumping together.”
Sarah said she plans to take up skydiving with her husband. Now that they’re both a part of America’s “Guard of Honor” division, they may get their chance.
“I’m happy that we’re on the same schedule,” she said.
Being a married couple that serves in the same brigade offers more than simply an opportunity to share a “bird” on an airborne jump for the two paratroopers.
“We can spend time together and know what each other is going through so we’re a good support system and sounding board,” she said.
Another couple did more than jump together that Sunday. The Wilsons, both jumpmasters in the battalion, have been married for seven years now. They both hail from California and have served together in Korea and at Fort Carson, Colo., but were deployed separately for tours to both Afghanistan and Iraq. Getting stationed at Fort Bragg and taking command of two of the battalion’s companies eventually afforded them a very rare opportunity: to perform primary and assistant duties for a jump from a C130 Hercules aircraft together.
“We’ve never gotten to jump on the same aircraft before so it’s special and a fun thing to be able to do with her,” said Capt. Ryan C. Wilson, the primary jumpmaster and the Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander. “When we’re pulling duties together, we’re not spouses. We’re jumpmasters, so we are responsible and professional in the work environment. The spouse relationship is secondary at that point.”
Capt. Jennifer D. Wilson, assistant jumpmaster and commander of Company C, offered an example of how a good marriage is like a good jumpmaster team.
“Being a member of a jumpmaster team means having faith in that other jumpmaster on the other door: what they see and their ability to communicate with you. It’s the same thing in a relationship. You trust that they will communicate with you whether it’s good or bad.”
When problems arise, whether at home or on an airborne operation, the Wilsons handle them the same way.
“Both as a jumpmaster and as a spouse, you have to be flexible and be able to work around those,” said Ryan. “You have to be calm, take a deep breath and figure out how you’re going to get around it. It’s the same in any kind of relationship.”
Although busy with the weight of command and the jumpmasters’ charge for the safety of their jumpers, the captains exist to support each other.
“We understand the commitment: working on the weekends, getting up early, coming home late,” said Jennifer.
Shared hobbies like mountain biking and cross fit ensure they get an opportunity to set work aside for a while.
“Anytime one of us is working out, the other is too,” she said. “You take what time you have and make the most out of it.”
The Griffin commander, Lt. Col. Schuldt, commented on how appropriate it was for the Wilsons to team up aboard an aircraft full of 407th BSB jumpers on the battalion’s family day.
“It ties back to building teams and having strong family teams together.”