Inside the Gates: 4/25 parachute drops begin with riggers' rigors
An Anchorage-based airborne unit has shifted from an Afghanistan deployment to training at home as it maintains its mission readiness – but for an Army paratrooper, even in practice one task remains a matter of life and death.
"For our parachute riggers and inspectors, they are number one," said Capt. Ashley Sangster, a spokesperson for the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division. "If we are not able to trust them, if we are not able to have effective equipment packed properly, we are unable to complete our missions of jumping out of airplanes. We wouldn't be easily, readily deployable."
After each of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's 4/25 paratroopers makes a static line jump, the parachute is packed up and hauled back where it came from to be inspected and repacked.
"We're looking for discrepancies in the chute," said parachute rigger inspector Sgt. Brittany Egan. "We look for holes because the chutes do get thrown out of aircraft, they do get drug around the drop zone, so you're looking for holes and anything that could cause a problem in the air."
If a hole or tear is found, it is quickly replaced. Parachutes go through three inspections before they are handed over to the paratroopers. They are looked over first by the rigger, a second time by the rigger inspector and a third time by the shop foreman.
"The third time is just to get a third set of eyes on it," said Staff Sgt. Eric Mantz, with the 4/25's 241st Quartermaster Company (Airborne). "I'm primarily looking at the outside of the pack. They may have missed something, and to alleviate that we use a third set of eyes to make sure it is safe to go on a paratrooper's back."
Once the backpacks are completely inspected, they are signed off.
"We write down the bag number which is on the bag," Egan said. "We also write down the serial number of the chute and keep track of it all in a log record. We include the date and then sign it by saying 'Yes, I inspected the chute and am completely confident with it.'"
Once that is finished, the backpack then awaits another signature from the foreman before it can be stacked in a bin waiting to be placed on a paratrooper's shoulders.
"I will sign a log book saying that I conducted an FI (final inspection)," Mantz said. "We like to investigate if there is an incident. We like to go back and see what was the cause."
Becoming a parachute rigger takes nine weeks of training – during which candidates not only become jump-certified, but make jumps using chutes they themselves have packed.
"After basic training you go through three weeks of airborne introduction course," Egan said. "From there it's three weeks of airborne school. If you make it through that, you go to advanced individual training for three weeks."
The 4/25 has a great deal of pride and trust in its riggers' work, which may seem mundane but marks the first line of readiness for airborne operations.
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