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Taking the plunge
Rangers in training perform safety exercises on Lanier
3 Ranger Training pic1
A boat races to pick up a soldier as he lands in Lake Lanier on May 8 at War Hill Park in Dawson County as part of a 5th Ranger Training Battalions training exercise. - photo by Scott Rogers DCN Regional Staff

DAWSONVILLE - About 100 Rangers in training from Camp Frank D. Merrill in Dahlonega parachuted into Lake Lanier at War Hill Park near Dawsonville last week.

The soldiers are training to be U.S. Army Rangers, an elite infantry force.

The event on May 8 was closed to the public because of safety concerns, though family and media were invited to attend.

The jump was a nice spectacle for families - many with young children - who watched from the lake's shoreline, and exhilarating for jumpers. But it served an important purpose.

"This is kind of like water survival training," said Jackson Perry, a noncommissioned officer. "It's essentially training for if we were to accidentally land in the water."

The goal of the operation, Capt. Thomas Shandy said in a statement, was to "improve the airborne proficiency of all soldiers involved, while also increasing the communication and coordination amongst the various law enforcement agencies and military located in north Georgia."

Several agencies supported the operation, including: the sheriff's offices from Hall, Dawson and Forsyth counties; Dawson County Emergency Medical Services; Department of Natural Resources; Hall County Fire Department; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and Georgia Air National Guard.

The soldiers parachute onto land about once a month and water about once a year, Perry said.

"In real life, you would not try to land in the water - you would try to land on the land. But you could land on the water, so if you don't practice for landing on the water, and it did happen to you, then it's more dangerous," Perry said.

He explained the added dangers of a water jump.

"If you don't have a surveyed water drop zone, you don't know how deep it is - you could land in water that was knee deep. You don't know what kind of obstacles could be underneath it, things that could impale you. You don't know what temperature it's going to be."

The real-life dangers of a water landing in combat aside, soldiers seemed eager for the change of pace a water jump brought.

"This is the best landing you're going to get, not getting slammed into the ground at 40 miles per hour," said Jimmy Garrett, who added that it was "one of the most dangerous airborne operations."

By midmorning, the humid air and bright sun seemed to make the Ranger trainees, even those who expressed wariness of cooler water temperatures, pumped to make the jump.

In groups of six, soldiers boarded the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters.

They watched fellow trainees make the jump three at a time from a grassy waiting area, where they waited along a wooden fence in their preordered jump placement.

Because of the water jump, soldiers were also spared the weight of full gear. Perry said full gear weighs anywhere from 40 to 100 pounds.

"If you land with a parachute in the middle of a lake, you're stuck there. You're going to have to lose most of your equipment," he said.

One of the only noticeable pieces of gear, aside from the dark green parachutes strapped to their backs, were knives all trainees had secured to their ankles.

A piece of gear called B-7s allowed the Ranger trainees to float while waiting for boats to scoop them up and take them back to shore.