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Airborne With the Country’s First Parachute Qualified SWAT Team

This article originally appeared in RECOIL Issue 42

Photos by Q Concepts

Justice from Above: RECOIL Goes Airborne With the Country’s First Parachute Qualified SWAT Team

One thousand …
Two thousand …
Three thousand …
Four thousand …
Five thousand …

Check canopy! Gain canopy control!

OK … good … f*ck this job.

That’s when I could feel my heartbeat again. The 10 seconds prior had been like holding my breath underwater. At jump altitude, 1,500 feet in this case, every nut, bolt, and rivet of our Cessna-182 seemed to rattle and bang as if trying to get out of the plane before I could. It made me wonder, what ever did happen to DB Cooper?

“One minute!”

The Jump Master’s command brought me back to the inevitable reality that I was going to jump into thin air on the assumption that an oversized bedsheet and a bunch of string was going to keep me from dying prematurely at terminal velocity. Honestly? I was way more stressed out and way less excited than I had hoped to be. But I remembered something I had heard from one of my NCOs way back in my “butter bar” Second Lieutenant days:

All due respect, sir, Jesus hates a p*ssy.

It was my last conscious thought before the release point.

“Execute! Execute! Execute!”

Followed by the aforementioned six seconds of falling to my death before all those snaps, straps, and rubber bands did what they were supposed to and I found myself tugging on the toggles of an SF-10A canopy and flying myself toward a bright pink X made of VS-17 panels in the middle of the grass between runways. That, for me, was when stress evaporated and exhilaration took its place.

Jump Boots and Badges

When a severe natural disaster hit the small island nation of Haiti in 2010, America sent its large-scale Rapid Reaction Force — the 82nd Airborne Division. These soldiers offered a unique capability to an area ravaged by natural disaster. Overland convoy was impossible, and travel by sea is slow and cumbersome. Add “unsafe” or “impossible” if high winds or rough seas are involved anywhere along the charted course. But the ability to airdrop pallets of supplies and hundreds of people to render immediate aid to people in need could potentially mean the difference between life and death for entire cities. At a minimum, it’s the difference between having no power and no food for a couple of days or a couple of weeks.

The final test of jump school: going out the door smoothly, without hesitation. Not as easy as it sounds for some of us.

The final test of jump school: going out the door smoothly, without hesitation. Not as easy as it sounds for some of us.

Fast-forward to 2017. A similar situation struck the island of Puerto Rico which, at time of writing, is still a long way off from anything resembling a full recovery. What’s the difference? In a foreign nation, such as Haiti, it’s perfectly acceptable for military units to conduct humanitarian aid, policing actions, and operations to restore and maintain civil order. But both of the latter missions usually require some application of force, up to and including the lethal kind.

Units from the National Guard are often seen rendering medical aid or distributing supplies, but they cannot use force against U.S. citizens. With most experts agreeing that a complete breakdown of law and order can occur within 72 hours or less of a major disaster, being able to rapidly deliver peace officers to a large-scale crisis zone becomes a very high priority very quickly.

A by-the-numbers pre-jump inspection is paramount to safety for the man going out the door.

A by-the-numbers pre-jump inspection is paramount to safety for the man going out the door.

This logic is what prompted a small training company based out of Miami, known as Dynamic Solutions Training Group, to attempt a not-insignificant feat. They’re trying to mainstream an entirely new area of crisis-response police training: Law Enforcement Airborne. I was fortunate enough to participate in the pilot course of this program, alongside officers from the Greenville County, SC Sheriff’s Office SWAT Team — the first in the nation (that I know of) to train officers in this specialty.

Chute and Shoot

The HMFIC over at DSTG is both a SWAT officer and Army veteran. After witnessing the results of devastating hurricane strikes in both Key West and Puerto Rico, they began working on a grant proposal to FEMA to develop a method of training for delivering specially trained police officers directly into the disaster area. Dynamic Training Solutions’ goal isn’t just to teach police officers to jump out of airplanes. They’re building a full spectrum course that offers a standardized parachutist certification while also reinforcing the hard skills needed for post-crisis law enforcement operations.

The final test of jump school: going out the door smoothly, without hesitation. Not as easy as it sounds for some of us.

The final test of jump school: going out the door smoothly, without hesitation. Not as easy as it sounds for some of us.

What the military calls static line jumping is known as round canopy parachuting in the civilian world. For this portion of training, DSTG partnered with the U.S. Round Canopy Parachute Team, or RCPT. The RCPT is a national organization of parachute enthusiasts specializing in the static line/round canopy discipline. Many of these folks started jumping static line in the military, and have had long careers in airborne or special operations units. All of our jump masters and riggers learned their respective trades from the military, and several of them are still on active duty. The RCPT holds several certification courses throughout the year that are open to the public. Once you complete a course, you can register with the Team and participate in any of their events, which range from casual jump weekends to full-blown historical reenactments in which members jump from actual World War II-era aircraft wearing full period kit (don’t worry, the parachutes are new).

The Law Enforcement Airborne course I attended included the full RCPT certification curriculum. Day one started with a pass/fail physical training test including push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and a run, all performed wearing plate carrier or body armor. I ran the test in my Tyr Tactical Basic Plate Carrier, which accompanied me on 11 deployments overseas as a contractor, and Spartan Armor lightweight level IIIA plates. Bringing steel plates to this event is not recommended and you do not get bonus points if you do. (Note that the PT test is part of the Dynamic Solutions LE jump school, not the regular RCPT round canopy class.) With the PT test out of the way, we spent the rest of day one in class, learning the basics of round canopy jumping. This included nomenclature, how to don the parachute and harness, technical specifications and characteristics of the SF-10A parachutes we’d be jumping with (that’s the MC-6 if you’re still on active duty) and general jump safety protocol. All told, it was nearly a 12-hour training day.

In the words of Buzz Lightyear: "It's not flying; it's falling with style."

In the words of Buzz Lightyear: “It's not flying; it's falling with style.”

Day two opened with pre-jump and Airborne Sustainment Training. This is all hands-on practical rehearsal. We buddy-rigged each other into actual parachute harnesses suspended from ceiling and did detailed rehearsals of emergency procedures on descent including tree landing, wire landings, water landings, and jumper collisions. We got inside the actual aircraft we’d be jumping out of and reviewed all the proper jump master commands in sequence followed by a practice aircraft exit. We also got intimately familiar with the infamous PLF — the Parachute Landing Fall — which, in essence, is a highly refined way for your ass to hit the ground from 1,500 feet that poses the lowest possible risk of injury on impact. Note that I said lowest risk and not no risk. As I sit here typing approximately 48 hours after my last jump, my back, neck, one knee, and both shoulders are still sore enough that I’m on a strict regimen of naproxen sodium accompanied by bourbon and ginger ale.

Once we were done with pre-jump, it was time to go. We spent the rest of day two doing solo jumps. Only one student in the air at a time. We were able to get three of our required five jumps in this way, all out of the aforementioned C-182. This took us pretty much to sundown, which is when regulations require students stop jumping.

Day three started with a brief refresher of pre-jump and actions in the aircraft. This time we’d be jumping three at a time out of a Kodiak. The Kodiak we flew in had two short bench seats that ran down either side of the aircraft. Jumpers went up six at a time, with half of them jumping per pass over the DZ. Group jumps added a whole new dynamic as now I had to not only go through all the proper exit procedures and then navigate to the objective, but also avoid collisions and entanglements with other jumpers on descent. Not to mention that a Kodiak travels about 50 knots faster than a Cessna, which means as soon as you set foot in the slipstream you get just about sucked out of the plane. Kodiaks are also too small to stand up in. So try bunny-hopping into a 150-knot slipstream wearing 50 pounds of parachute gear and not smack the side of the airplane as your static line feeds out. Spoiler alert: I couldn’t do it.

Quick recovery of yourself and your 'chute prevents an unpleasant drag across the tarmac, or a goose chase after your equipment.

Quick recovery of yourself and your ‘chute prevents an unpleasant drag across the tarmac, or a goose chase after your equipment.

Both jumps out of Kodiak resulted in big twists in my riser lines, which means I couldn’t steer properly. Fortunately, twisted risers are a relatively easy problem to fix, and I got practice without losing my cool. After our final jump, we rolled into our force-on-force training scenario that required a full briefing to the team leader, dismounted movement to an object where officers were faced to deal with an armed aggressor, friendly informant casualty care under fire. After completion, the scenario was assessed and critiqued by fellow SWAT officer Jared Reston of Reston Group Critical Solutions. Jared has 15 years of SWAT experience under his belt, including a shooting that resulted in him receiving the Medal of Valor and a nod as the State of Florida’s “Law Enforcement Officer Of The Year.” In spite of these accolades he is laid back, approachable and wholly focused on student experience. Students were also awarded their jump wings, airborne tabs and course certificates upon completion of their fifth jump.

DSTG Lead Instructor Phil Veloso personally awarded each student with their new Law Enforcement Jump Wings.

DSTG Lead Instructor Phil Veloso personally awarded each student with their new Law Enforcement Jump Wings.

Day Four was all live fire training with Jared. His focus on disciplined accuracy and deliberate cadence fire is refreshing in the age of tenth-of-a-second split times at three yards. His first exercise of the day was six strings of 10 rounds shot from 25 meters. Each string was scored on a bull’s-eye. This immediately set the tone not just for accuracy, but for accountability of each round fired — paramount for any law enforcement officer, but especially for those serving in the SWAT or SRT community, who may be called on to make low-percentage shots under demanding conditions.

Jared Reston drills students on hostage-rescue shooting in full kit.

Jared Reston drills students on hostage-rescue shooting in full kit.

All OK, Jump Master

For me personally, it was a roller coaster thrill ride. The literal up-and-down adrenaline bumps combined with a couple of subpar landings have left me battered, bruised, smiling and self-reflective. When I walked off the Drop Zone after jump number five, I was awash with relief that it was finally over and I’d never have to do it again. But a couple of days later, I find myself wondering if maybe that line in the sand isn’t a little more flexible. In the end, time will tell but, for now, I’ll be happy to keep my next couple of assignments on terra firma.

jump school.02

This course was graciously hosted by the folks of Skydive Palatka in Palatka, Florida. If your department has access to the right air assets and range space, Dynamic Solutions Training and their partners will bring the course to your department. For civilians, you can go direct to RCPT-USA and catch one of their open enrollment round canopy courses. If you’re physically able and not deathly afraid of heights, I’d encourage anybody reading this to consider stepping out of an airplane, and out of your comfort zone. Your next adventure may only be six seconds away.

Drop Tested

From an editorial standpoint, one of the great opportunities afforded by this class was being able to put some gear to the ultimate test. Chances are if something is uncomfortable, poorly designed, or cheaply manufactured, you’re going to figure that out real quick when you take it with you out the door of an airplane. I brought a few pieces of kit with me that performed admirably under the circumstances…

Drilling care-under-fire is vital for any team that may find themselves in contact with limited support and no backup.

Drilling care-under-fire is vital for any team that may find themselves in contact with limited support and no backup.

Disruptive Tactical Pants:
The Disruptive Pants, available through Chase Tactical, have a number of features that made them particularly nice to jump in. The fully gusseted and articular crotch region is made of soft, breathable material that cushioned me well from the harsh, cutting fit that sometimes happens when you cinch down the inner-thigh straps of a parachute harness. The removable kneepads are firm, but not rigid. They provide bump protection when you take a knee on tough ground for shooting, but also padding for when you hit the ground descending at 10 feet per second and don’t stick the landing quite right. Seen throughout this story in coyote tan, they’re available in a variety of colorways.

Viktos Johnny Combat Merc Boot:
I’ve been spoiled wearing low-cut hikers and trail-running shoes for the last few years, but jumping requires a sturdy-soled shoe with at least a modicum of ankle support. The mid-height Merc boot proved itself lightweight and breathable in muggy marshland of north central Florida, but also provided ankle structure and impact cushioning throughout its medium thickness sole. The rear-zip closure makes getting in and out of them a breeze and, to date, they show little to no scuffing, smudging, or discoloration. Comfortable enough to wear daily, I look forward to putting these boots through their paces. (See what I did there?)

Students discuss final approach to the objective at their pre-assault rally point.

Students discuss final approach to the objective at their pre-assault rally point.

Hard Headed Veterans ATE Helmet:
Protecting your brain shell is pretty paramount when falling from a thousand-plus feet in the air. I’ve had this Hard Headed Veterans Above-The-Ear (ATE) helmet for a few months now. It’s one thing to wear a helmet when you’re on the range or walking a shoot house. It’s another thing when that first blast of wind hits your face on aircraft exit. I’m happy to report that the ATE helmet only titled on my head once, and it was because I didn’t recheck my straps between jumps. The four-point suspension combined with a dial-adjustable headband and thick, heavy comfort pads made this NIJ IIA-certified helmet comfortable to sit in for hours at a time and, when I was unfortunate enough to bounce my head off the ground on a landing, I felt fine, and the helmet didn’t show so much as a paint scrape.

Dynamic Training Solutions

Round Canopy Parachute Team – USA

Reston Group Critical Solutions

Skydive Palatka

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3 responses to “Airborne With the Country’s First Parachute Qualified SWAT Team”

  1. Robert Jones says:

    As a retired Special Forces Colonel and master parachutist; and former deputy DA; I can only say, you guys are idiots.

    We need cops to be LESS militarized, not more. You are not paying attention to the concerns of the people you serve. Dump the MRAPS; skip the parachute training; get rid of the military uniforms, and get back to basics. Like “this is my taser, this is my gun.”

    • J River says:

      100% on point!

      Retired prior Enlisted Officer (Master Parachitis, MFF Parachutists, and other cool schools as well) and currently Sheriff Deputy.

      Leave the military mentality for the movies and be more people oriented… and cautions for those few uncontrollable ones of course.

      Perhaps focus all of the energy on getting to known your community better while letting the known you’re there to serve them.

      Don’t get me wrong, I truly miss the Adrenalin rushes of stepping out of the tailgate of a C-130 / C-17 from over 12K feet and free fall, even better full locker at night… But that was the mission then. Today? I’m a LEO, on the streets of USA. No need for beyond the enemy lines covert infills in the middle of the night. Just go and do some good intelligence work, secure a warrant, and execute. All faster than rigging up, flying to altitude, and reaching the HARP. Cheaper to the tax payers and less risky for everyone involved.

      Just imagine the headline news: Cop dead after fatal parachute accident while conducting an arrest! Don’t want to be that Sheriff/Chief.

    • Austin says:

      I agree wholeheartedly, i looked up airborne cops as a joke, and this is infact a joke. Pretty cringe when i see cops LARP as rangers with ops cores and multicam

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