GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Soldiers from the 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment sent a 4,000-pound machine hurtling toward the Earth from 1,300 feet in the air.
The M119 Howitzer landed seconds later, a small puff of powered snow the only evidence of its rapid descent.
The airborne soldiers were conducting a “heavy drop” exercise, in which they practice dropping large equipment — like the howitzer and Humvee they used for this mission — at a remote location. After the equipment is safely settled, paratroopers from following aircraft land to secure it and get it ready for combat.
The Humvee takes a matter of minutes and the Howitzer can be ready to fire in approximately 20 minutes, said 1st Lt. Benjamin Hurley, an aerial delivery officer with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
“After the heavy drops land, they’ll go to the Howitzer and begin de-rigging it. It’s really quick,” he explained, referring to unhooking the parachute.
It takes many seasoned hands to safely drop complex machinery from a thousand feet in the air and have it ready to go so quickly. Roughly 150 paratroopers landed during the exercise, many of them with dozens of jumps on their record. But with this type of training mission, there is often a soldier still learning the ropes.
Air Force Capt. Pete Dowling, an air liaison officer with the 2nd Air Support Operations Squadron in Vilseck, made his very first jump during this exercise. The nerves one might think accompany a first-time leap from a plane are mostly myth, he said.
“In all honesty, I just wanted to get it over with. My brother is in Afghanistan right now and he’s got 13-14 jumps under his belt. I’m just trying to catch up to him,” he said. “It was a good, smooth exit. I was able to float on down to earth and prepare for a good landing … I’m up and walking again. Can’t complain.”