Recon makes transition

21 Feb 2003 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark E. Bradley

When it comes to intelligence gathering on today's battlefield, clandestine insertion is the name of the game as the most successful battle plan often relies on the quality of the intelligence gathered on the enemy's size and activity.  But this data is impossible to obtain when the enemy knows they are being watched. 

To ensure the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Reconnaissance and Surveillance Platoon has every option available to them to slip in amongst the enemy undetected, approximately 12 'Recon' Marines along with another five from the MEU's Force Reconnaissance Platoon recently completed the Marine Corps' newly standardized MC-5 [ram air parachute] Transition Course aboard Camp Lejeune, NC. 

As the name implies, the course bridges the gap between the basic round parachute static line jump and the more advanced free-fall jump, according to the Marine Corps' Airborne Mobile Training Team's lead instructor, Gunnery Sgt. Michael S. Thurmond.

This training will enable the MEU commander to drop the Reconnaissance and Surveillance platoon via parachute several miles away from the desired impact area from altitudes up to 13,000 feet or even more than 20,000 feet with proper high-altitude physiological training, Thurmond said. 

The essential difference between the two types of parachutes is maneuverability.  In the static-line, round-chute jump, the jumper virtually falls straight down, making an insertion easily detectable by the enemy who can hear or spot the passing aircraft.  The MC-5 is a much more advanced parachute that can be navigated several miles via compass to a pinpoint position.  This makes the static-line jump "a feasible way to get Marines to the fight," said Captain Jonathan R. Smith, the Reconnaissance and Surveillance platoon commander. 

The transition course is crucial since the MC-5 parachute is most often used in advanced free-fall jumps where seasoned jumpers deploy their own chutes.  However, many of the Recon Marines and Sailors do not possess the necessary free-fall qualification, as openings at the coveted DOD-wide free-fall school are limited. 

With the transition course, these basic airborne qualified troops can advance to the MC-5 parachutes utilizing the static-line.

"With this type of insertion, the enemy will never hear you," Smith said  "You could fly in [at a high altitude] over an anti-aircraft or radar threat and make a final foot movement to the objective."

This is not new training in the Marine Corps, however the course itself is.  Thurmond explained the transition course used to be done "in-house" amongst the reconnaissance companies and was not considered a formal school, as it is now. 

This is only the second time the mobile training team has taught this two-week course that includes classroom instruction, emergency procedures training in the pool and several jumps from a KC-130.  The jumps range from the initial daytime familiarization jumps to more advanced night jumps with the troops fully combat loaded.

The standardized course is so new in fact, that Thurmond's team was not planning to teach the course at the company or platoon level until next month.  However, when an urgent request was submitted by Camp Lejeune's 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion and approved through Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps' Plans, Policies and Operations Department (PP&O), the Airborne Mobile Training Team was dispatched to Camp Lejeune to ensure the 26th MEU (SOC)'s Marines and Sailors completed the training prior to the unit's deployment next month.  2d Reconnaissance Battalion funded the training.

Though the efforts of 2d Reconnaissance Battalion will provide a tremendous asset to the 26th MEU (SOC), there may have been no one more appreciative of their efforts than the Marines and Sailors themselves who received the training.

Just moments after completing a 4,000-meter jump during the first week of training, Sgt. Chad W. Charlton called the course "outstanding training for the Recon side.  This gives us great standoff distance for insertion," he said.   The Bowling Green Ky., native was also appreciative of the quality of instruction provided in the standardized course.  "The instructors are great and everything is done at 100 percent," the assistant fire team leader said.  "Before you even go up in the plane, you are 100 percent positive you know what you are doing."

The Recon Marines wrapped up the course February 19, and stand more ready than ever to deploy with the 26th MEU (SOC) next month.  To keep up with Sgt. Charlton and the rest of the Marines and Sailors of the MEU, visit them on the web at www.26meu.usmc.mil.