Getting the jump just right

By John Maslin


 


Dropping from a helicopter with only a piece of braided rope as your lifeline probably isn't everybody's idea of fun but it's all in a day's work for members of the NZ Army's Enhanced Infantry Company from Linton camp.

About 20 soldiers from the unit were taken aloft in groups of five by an Iroquois helicopter at RNZAF Base Ohakea and once the "swarm" ropes were dropped from the chopper, the troops wrapped feet and hands around the rope and headed to terra firma.

While a training exercise for the soldiers from Alpha Company, 1 Battalion, it was a chance for media to witness the specialist drills and methods used by the army.

Until now the army had tended to be a little bit secretive about some of its training routines but the veil was lifted for a couple of hours yesterday.

According to their commanding officer Major Brad Taylor, this jumps training gave the troops another weapon in their arsenal.

It's not all about leaping from helicopters. The company also carries out training days in urban locations and on the water - you sometimes see them on the Whanganui River. The amphibious training is sometimes done in tandem with the RNZ Navy.

Major Taylor told the Chronicle that the training involved taking "stock, standard" infantry personnel and giving them additional training.

"They enjoy it because it's different from what they usually are doing. And it gets them training with other resources such as those provided by the air force and the navy," he said.

"These boys had a few weeks off over Christmas so it's good for them to get back into it."

Those undergoing training on the southern side of the sprawl of Base Ohakea are not an elite force. The skills they are acquiring will be taken on by others coming through similar programmes.

And Major Taylor said the Enhance Infantry Company was not a specialist unit but rather was part of an expanded training programme.

"This is what these boys joined the army for. We're creating a mindset with them as we would for any troops to be ready to deploy overseas," he said.

Yesterday's training had a squad of about 20 men dropping from the Iroquois from heights of 12m, 18m and 28m.

The lowest and highest drops included a routine called "swarm roping" where braided rope, securely anchored to either side of the chopper, was dropped to the ground and the troopers made a rapid descent, their hands protected by thick gloves.

But because the drop is such a rapid one, the soldiers will only carry their weapon and little else.

If they're coming out of the chopper with a full kit on - weighing up to 30kg, including ammunition and their weapon - then they use a system called rappelling. The rope is much thinner and the descent is slower than swarming because of the combined weight of soldier and full kit strapped to his or her back.

At the start of their training, the company was based at Papakura camp where soldiers first practised hooking up the ropes to a stationary helicopter then tried out the descent techniques from a tower. Only after all that initial preparation do they get to experience the "live" drops above Ohakea.

The chopper airlifted five men at a time and they belayed their ropes and "swarmed" from both sides of the Iroquois. Up in the air, the overall command is the prerogative of the pilot and his word is final.

If the flight crew want soldiers getting out one side or both sides, they issue the command. And if the pilot doesn't want them leaving the aircraft, again it's his call.

It echoes the underlying emphasis that safety is paramount. Major Taylor said while the training was similar to what the elite Special Air Service commandos did, there was a broad gap between the SAS and his troopers.

"We're an element of the service and able to provide a contingency force if it's called for," he said.


Video supplied by NZ Defence Force


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- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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