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C-130s from Fort Bragg's 440th Airlift Wing take part in rare 'elephant walk'

C-130H Hercules transports with the 440th Airlift Wing from Pope Army Airfield taxi during the "elephant walk," April 17, 2014,

It's a rare sight to see eight C-130 cargo planes in a line lumbering their way around Pope Field's flightline.

Rarer still, is when those planes take off and return to drop dozens of static-line and high-altitude, low-opening (HALO) paratroopers back onto the tarmac.

"This never happens," 82nd Airborne Division Sgt. Tory Hoskins said.

In a joint-training session Thursday, soldiers and airmen from Fort Bragg and Pope Field did just that, parading the C-130s in the so-called "elephant walk," shortly before taking off around noon for airfield seizure training.

Spread among the first six planes in line were 60 static-line paratroopers from an array of units. Another plane contained 30 HALO jumpers from the Air Force's 21st Special Tactics Squadron.

The final plane split immediately from the group after takeoff to embark on its own aeromedical evacuation training mission,

The 824th Quartermaster Company provided the rigs for the operation. Because of the rare nature of the multi-unit, large formation event, Sgt. Josh Medina, a jumpmaster with the 824th, said everybody wanted in on the action.

"When we have an operation like this, which doesn't occur very often, we send out an email," Medina said. "And everybody wants to jump in. We have guest jumpers from a lot of the units on post."

About 40 of the static-line jumpers were from the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, including Sgt. Brian Cook.

Cook said he was anxious about the idea of jumping onto the tarmac, a departure from the usual dirt of the drop zones used in most training. But the nerves were offset by the opportunity to be a part of the rare event.

"I think it's going to be pretty cool," Cook said. "I told my wife to come out with the kids to watch me do it."

Capt. Katherine Jenerette, another USACAPOC reservist, had never jumped onto an airfield in some 50 jumps in her career.

"This isn't as much of an exercise where we have our combat equipment on and everything," Jenerette said. "This is more about efficiency, proficiency and maintaining our readiness."

Senior Master Sgt. Andy Madzan said maintaining readiness is a cornerstone of the work done by the 440th Airlift Wing at Pope, including keeping the C-130s ready to fly at a moment's notice.

"This is what we do everyday," Madzan said. "We're manned for this. It's the opportunity to do this all at once, that's what you normally don't see. Eight planes up in the air. That's just neat."

While an eight-plane launch is unusual, two- and three-plane launches are the norm at the flightline.

Madzan is the maintenance squadron supervisor and has been at Pope since the 440th began there in 2007. He said Pope has not done an eight-ship elephant walk since he's been there.

Madzan said the maintainers' jobs remain the same leading up to the operation, but the airfield itself comes to a stop during the flight.

"It's going to affect us, only because we're going to be watching it," Madzan said. "It's really something to see."

Staff writer Jaclyn Shambaugh can be reached at shambaughj@fayobserver.com or 609-0651.

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