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ADAZI, Latvia - Despite all the planning, double checking and potential hazards associated with airborne operations, jumping out of a C-130 aircraft never loses its charm for paratroopers with 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade.
"As soon as the jump master says 'stand by,' my heart starts pounding, and I get really excited," said Pfc. Daniel Arroyo, a native of Isabella, Puerto Rico. "I love it." Paratroopers with 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, based in Grafenwoehr, Germany, are in Latvia for Operation Atlantic Resolve, dedicated to demonstrating commitment to NATO obligations and increasing interoperability with allied forces.
With many Latvian Soldiers on summer leave, paratroopers used the brief lull in combined-training exercises to refine their airborne skills.
Staff Sgt. Paul Zadzura, native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, had the opportunity to serve as an assistant jump master for the first time.
"You have a primary jump master, an assistant jump master and two safeties on a C-130 when we do a standard airborne operation," said Zadzura, a medic. "Today was the first time I got to control the door on my side, and go through all the proper commands, time warnings, and execute the jump itself."
Jump masters on an aircraft are secondary only to the pilots in terms of control. They determine the flow of paratroopers boarding the plane, preparing for the jump, and ultimately jumping from the plane.
"Traditionally, you could be about seven days out when you're notified of a jump," said Zadzura. "You have a good five to 10 things, besides the jump itself, you're constantly thinking about and (reminding jumpers of) to keep them focused on the mission, so everything runs as planned. You start coordinating with the drop zone and medical personnel. You start to talk about where the turn-in points are on the drop zone, how long the drop zone is and the mission that follows."
While "falling from a perfectly good airplane" can still be nerve wracking even after 20 jumps, Sgt. Ryan Tucker can't find a better feeling than a successful airborne landing.
"There's a multitude of things going through your head while you're up there for that short period of time," said Tucker, a native of Katy, Texas. "You're checking around to make sure you're not taking anybody's air or going into somebody else's chute. You're preparing, (and looking) to see where you're going to drop your equipment, and then seeing where the wind speed's at. Once you land, it's the greatest feeling in the world."
A regular paratrooper has a lot of things to track; the jump master has to track everything, from minor details such as ensuring other paratroopers are keeping their feet and knees together for landing to bigger pictures such as evaluating the objective.
"One of the best things about being airborne is you see your objective from the sky," Zadzura said.
"It's probably the best view you can have," he said. "It's just a matter of when you hit the ground, you get out of your harness, put your weapon into operation and accomplish the mission."
Whatever the follow-on mission may be, the jump itself always keeps paratroopers motivated.
Approximately 600 paratroopers from the brigade have been deployed to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland since April for Operation Atlantic Resolve.