Crossover Training for Military Jumpers
USPA takes every opportunity to support military skydivers as they serve our country and as they face struggles while entering civilian life after service. Our military counterparts in airborne operations train endlessly, and during their service, many of the paratroopers work with military instructors who are also USPA Instructors to earn there USPA A licenses. However, their training is subject to the conditions and equipment available at the time the training takes place. As confusing and dangerous as it would be for a civilian sport jumper to land in a combat situation, the opposite can also be true. Our military-trained counterparts can also be confused in a civilian setting by what they might perceive as a lack of guidance. Differences in equipment between the two disciplines can add to the confusion.
Some of the skills taught in USPA’s Integrated Student Program are not utilized during normal military jump operations. Under these conditions, military instructors are teaching these skills in an academic environment. Learning these skills only in a classroom setting and not using them on every jump, these highly trained paratroopers sometimes lack proficiency in essential skills for normal civilian operations.
Here are some of the concern’s instructors should address when working with military-trained A-license holders transitioning into the world of civilian sport skydiving.
One tool that instructors use to evaluate a jumper's experience is their logbook. An instructor can look back on a young jumper's history as recorded in their logbook and get some sense of who they are, what they have done and what we should expect of them. Unfortunately, some military courses fill out the logbooks with the minimum information required—not what USPA requires, but only what the military requires to determine that a jump is valid. There is no information about the dive flow or accomplishments required by the ISP.
Equipment and Knowledge
Military jumpers don’t always understand wing loading, how to accurately calculate it and how it can affect their canopy flight. While this may not be an issue on a military system, it is a necessity in the civilian side of the sport.
Typically, these jumpers have operated only the military versions of automatic activation devices. The start-up sequence is different and can cause confusion in extreme cases; jumpers have accidentally changed the setting of the device while turning it on.
Some military jumpers do not maintain their equipment or even pack for themselves. They learn the basics of gear maintenance in a classroom, but they have little, if any, experience in changing a closing loop or servicing the 3-rings. At times, these individuals may forget the Federal Aviation Administration regulations concerning parachute packing and repack intervals.
Because some military rigs are specialized military tandem containers, military jumpers may not have been trained on nor built up the muscle memory for where their emergency handles are on sport equipment. They reach high and outside to grab for the handles, and when they cannot find them, they start tracing for them without looking for the handles, which then causes them to grab the main lift web instead, all while wasting precious time and altitude. This scenario has contributed to the AAD activation for a jumper making his first civilian jump using sport equipment.
Aircraft and Spotting
Military course graduates have performed little if any spotting of an aircraft, let alone planning with a jump pilot and spotting the aircraft for themselves. Graduates usually have no knowledge of cloud clearances or the reasons for them.
Military course graduates often have little understanding of horizontal separation on exit and why it is essential. Most of the time in a military aircraft, jumpers exit belly to earth, following the jumper in front of them. These jumpers aren’t familiar with the concept of multiple disciplines and their inherent dangers on the same aircraft.
The most significant issues involve the individual's ability to perform an on-heading (within 10 degrees) flat track during breakoff from a group.
Military course graduates often have trouble with landing patterns, since they learn to "stack up," following the person in front of them and mimicking their landing pattern to land close together in a potentially hostile environment. They don’t learn to execute a landing pattern on their own based on a DZ’s landing pattern for the prevailing wind conditions at the time. Holding areas or play areas and the use of these areas is often a foreign concept.
Landing accuracy also presents unique problems. They usually follow the low man (who in most cases is their instructor), which makes it much easier to land within a designated distance because the landing target is not pre-determined before the jump. It is determined by where the instructor lands, and the student follows.
In a few extreme cases of crossover training, jumpers have not been held to USPA standards. Some military course graduates admit they have not done a dive flow that mirrors the A-license check dive. Some graduates have not performed a 3,500-foot hop-and-pop during their training. USPA is currently working to eliminate these deficiencies with the instructors in these courses.
Dealing with military-trained jumpers can present challenges for Group Member DZs, S&TAs and chief instructors as they work through these issues. USPA recommends that these individuals complete recurrency training along with an A-license check dive when arriving at a civilian DZ. Even if the individual is a current and licensed jumper, these procedures will ensure that any deficiency in their training will be identified and rectified. This crossover training from the military to civilian jumping needs to be correctly recorded in the jumper's logbook. This will ensure a safe transition for these soldiers to their civilian jumping career.
Military-trained USPA license holders must be patient with this process. Although highly trained and proficient at the job they have been performing, their switch to civilian jumping will require a few extra steps to ensure a safe transition—both for them and the jumpers around them.
Military-employed USPA Instructors are doing an excellent job training U.S. paratroopers, but they need to uphold all USPA standards when working with these soldiers to get their USPA A licenses. We want them to enjoy civilian skydiving for a long time to come.
These military jumpers are some of America's finest, and should one of these licensed airborne soldiers walk onto the drop zone, we should feel privileged to serve them as they have served our country in the past. They will likely become a frequent visitor to the DZ and a stable example of high standards for others to follow once they have completed their transition to civilian sport skydiving.