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Rangers conduct annual water training jump
I-Ranger Training pic1
Pilots and Ranger Brigade members prepare to take off in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during the annual water jump at War Hill Park. - photo by Amy French Dawson County News

"Splash!"called out three-year-old Caleb Brown each time a member of the Ranger Brigade parachuted into the water of Lake Lanier earlier last month.

Brown, along with his mom Janine and brother Ryelee, attended the 5th Ranger Training Battalion Water Jump at War Hill Park on May 11.

Janine Brown said that her family lives near Camp Merrill in Dahlonega.

"We live off Hwy. 9 and we always see the Chinooks coming over. Literally everything stops in our house," she said.

She and the boys scramble to get outside and watch the massive helicopters pass over.

So when she heard from another mom, who is the wife of a Ranger, about the annual event she brought her boys out to see the action up close.

Paratroopers from the 5th Ranger Training Battalion parachuted last month out of Georgia Army National Guard helicopters into Lake Lanier after an early delay due to cloud cover.

Sergeant First Class Christopher Nastari, who was in charge of this year's jump, received word just before the first helicopters went up that the cloud cover was too low to begin.

"They are wanting clouds to get above 1,250 feet, but even at 1,250 we need a waiver," explained Army Ranger Captain John Tilley.

The Rangers, who were already suited up to go, removed their gear to wait while the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters headed back to Camp Merrill to refuel.

Camp Merrill in Dahlonega is the where the mountain phase of Ranger School is conducted by the 5th Ranger Training Battalion.

Jumps could be delayed for a handful of reasons including thunderstorms with lightning strikes within a 10 mile radius, winds over 17 knots and low cloud cover, according to Nastari.

Aside from being cleared for the conditions, each soldier who is going to jump has to clear their own inspection.

"We've got something called a jumpmaster personnel inspection. They do a once over to make sure everything is rigged properly and they are loaded in, trying to negate any issues they may have up in the air," Nastari explained.

Jumpmasters receive special training and inspect every parachute on every soldier before anyone loads an aircraft. They also fly with the paratroopers to oversee the details and communicate with people on the ground.

"I've got the ground chiefs and then we have got our pathfinder chief that actually talks to the aircraft. They are in the water and tell when to release the jumpers and we have got the jumpmaster in the aircraft where they are doing safety checks and actually telling the jumpers to go, to actually jump out," he said.

This particular training exercise, however, is a bit out of the norm according to Nastari.

"The reason we do it once a year is because of logistical reasons," he said. "It's hard to dry the parachutes and when you deploy and go to combat, nine times out of 10, odds are you aren't going to jump into water. It's a good morale builder for the hard work these guys do year round."

Beyond being a training exercise and morale booster, it is an opportunity for the battalion to work cooperatively with local emergency and medical service personnel including Dawson County Emergency Services, the Georgia Army National Guard, and Forsyth and Dawson County sheriff's offices.

Many of the boats in the water were manned by the local services to help bring jumpers in out of the water as well as mark off designated areas from regular boating traffic during the exercise.

"It gives them cross training and the opportunity to partner with us and provide us with extended safety from the general public, boaters and whatnot," Tilley said.

"Just last week the boat that went down in Lake Lanier, it gives them opportunities to train for something like that."

The battalion jumps 11 other times during the year in the Stringer Drop Zone in Dahlonega, according to Nastari.

That particular drop zone requires more precision than the extensive area available in Lanier.

For the water jump, Rangers leap out of helicopters in an MC-6 parachute, which is steerable.

"So if guys can't hit the drop zone, they've got no reason to be jumping. When we jump from a fixed wing aircraft, a C-130 or C-17, you aren't going to be afforded that luxury [steerable parachute]. It's wherever the wind takes you," Nastari said.

"This is a lot nicer, the landing doesn't hurt."

"Here, there is a large drop zone, the water. If you land in the trees here, you are going to hear about it for a long time," Tilley said.

According to Nastari, 150 were expected to jump.

"Typically we do about 70-80. Being in the water and a once a year thing, being a fun time more or less, we will get 150 out today," he said.

Families and friends covered the beach area of the park with tents and grills and lounge chairs waiting to see "their" soldier make the jump.

Once the cloud cover cleared, helicopters moved quickly and efficiently picking up-and literally dropping off-one soldier after another to the delight of onlookers.

"This is what we look forward to once a year to have the opportunity to come and jump. We very rarely get to jump into water and it's a family day," Tilley said.