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A soldier's parachute begins to open Wednesday as he leaves a C-130 transport plane flying above the Juliet Drop Zone near Vajont, Italy. Jumpmasters from the 173rd Airborne Brigade had some great views of the nearby mountains while honing their skills.

A soldier's parachute begins to open Wednesday as he leaves a C-130 transport plane flying above the Juliet Drop Zone near Vajont, Italy. Jumpmasters from the 173rd Airborne Brigade had some great views of the nearby mountains while honing their skills. (Kent Harris / S&S)

A soldier's parachute begins to open Wednesday as he leaves a C-130 transport plane flying above the Juliet Drop Zone near Vajont, Italy. Jumpmasters from the 173rd Airborne Brigade had some great views of the nearby mountains while honing their skills.

A soldier's parachute begins to open Wednesday as he leaves a C-130 transport plane flying above the Juliet Drop Zone near Vajont, Italy. Jumpmasters from the 173rd Airborne Brigade had some great views of the nearby mountains while honing their skills. (Kent Harris / S&S)

A soldier from the 173rd Airborne Brigade touches down on the newly-mowed field at the Juliet Drop Zone.

A soldier from the 173rd Airborne Brigade touches down on the newly-mowed field at the Juliet Drop Zone. (Kent Harris / S&S)

Capt. Christopher Weld from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade, gathers his parachute after landing at the Juliet Drop Zone.

Capt. Christopher Weld from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade, gathers his parachute after landing at the Juliet Drop Zone. (Kent Harris / S&S)

VAJONT, Italy — The Sky Soldiers have taken to the air over Italy again.

More than 100 soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade are taking part in refresher courses this week to regain their jumpmaster status. Most of those jumping out of the C-130 from the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Wednesday were with the unit on its yearlong stint in Afghanistan.

“I’d rather be doing this,” Sgt. 1st Class Michael Levesque said with a smile. “Wouldn’t you?”

Levesque was a member of the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment in Afghanistan. That battalion has since changed its name to the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. And Levesque has moved on to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company for the brigade. There were soldiers from various ranks from many units from the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) on hand, including a few who aren’t even based in Vicenza.

Staff Sgt. Keith Nuttle was making his first jump into Italy. The grass was green, the sky was blue with a few puffy white clouds – some of them touching the nearby mountains.

“It’s gorgeous,” Nuttle said.

He’ll be serving with the 173rd in Bamberg, Germany. The 4th Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment is due to stand up there soon.

Nuttle said recent rains and a heavy cloud cover Tuesday – which returned to menace the skies later Wednesday — helped to buoy him.

“It gives guys who are 200 pounds like me a little more lift than it would normally be,” he said. So he got a little more air and a little softer landing.

Not that all the landings went that smoothly. Soldiers with duty on the ground spent a lot of time good-naturedly critiquing the landings of their colleagues during the drops. There were plenty of laughs mixed with a few groans.

Capt. Christopher Weld, also with the brigade’s headquarters company, didn’t have any problems with his landing. In fact, he didn’t seem to be having any problems at all.

“This is about as good as you can hope for,” he said of the conditions.

The majority of those jumping this week are veteran jumpers, who are qualified as jumpmasters. They’re getting refresher courses — which also involve some work on the ground at Vicenza and Aviano — before the rest of the troops start taking to the air in the coming weeks.

“We’re getting practice on our routines up in the aircraft,” Levesque said.

“Which is what we need to do.”

The air time isn’t bad either.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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