My Specialty: Parachute Rigger

SFC Wesley Prince

SFC Wesley Prince

Every single day, SFC Wesley Prince is faced with the responsibility of ensuring a fellow Soldier’s survival. As a member of the 165th Quartermaster Company (Aerial Delivery Support) in Marietta, GA, his sole job is to pack parachutes for Airborne Soldiers – and making a mistake is not an option.

We spoke with SFC Prince to learn more about what it’s like to be a 92R Parachute Rigger for the Army National Guard. Here’s what he had to say …

Q. How do you become a Parachute Rigger for the Guard?

A. I went to jump school at Fort Benning for three weeks and rigger school [at Fort Lee] for three months. The [jump] school has perfected the craft. You are sleeping/breathing everything Airborne, from the time you get up to the time you go down. It’s all about muscle memory. When the time comes to perform these functions, you’re doing it without second thought.

Q. What exactly does the training entail?

A. There are three phases of rigger training: packing, maintenance, and heavy drop. In maintenance, we learn to sew; we can repair anything. We learn several types of stitching patterns: heavy duty, medium duty, light duty. A Parachute Rigger could be a seamstress or a tailor. It’s a very good skill set to have.

Q. What’s a typical workweek like when you’re a Parachute Rigger?

In the military, there’s no such thing as a normal workweek. Typically, I work 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and I drill with the company one weekend a month.

We all wear a red cap while we are on either Rigger or Airborne duty. We have three types of headgear: the maroon beret, ACU patrol cap, and the red cap with a Rigger badge and rank on it. We wear them so we can be easily identifiable during an Airborne operation.

Q. So, you went to jump school first. Does that mean Parachute Riggers also use the parachutes?

All Parachute Riggers are Airborne qualified. You always get a little bit nervous; to me, that’s what keeps you alive. We jump a minimum of once every 90 days, but usually more than that. I’ve jumped more than 30 times. It never stops; that’s part of our proficiency.

Q. Why aren’t all Soldiers just taught how to pack parachutes?

The reason Soldiers don’t pack their own chutes is that you want someone who is packing every day – someone who is using that muscle memory, who is perfecting the craft, getting better and better every day.

In orientation they told us, “During the parachute-packing phase, you will pack a chute in which you will jump when you graduate.” You definitely pay attention after that. Because we both pack and we jump, we understand the importance more than anyone else.

Q. Humans make mistakes and yet mistakes are not an option with this job. How do you achieve perfection?

We randomly pull sets of parachutes periodically and check them, and check them, and check them. Because of this, the odds of someone having an incident are a whole lot less than someone crashing a car.

We take pride in everything we do; no one wants to pack a chute that costs someone their life. Our motto is, “I will be sure always.”

Story and photo courtesy of GX magazine. GX magazine is an official publication of the Army National Guard.

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The West Point Way

After taking a little R&R for the holidays, On Your Guard is back online and excited about the new year. To kick off 2014, we begin with an amazing story of a young Alaskan Soldier who was able to turn his life around, thanks to the National Guard.

SPC David Huff

SPC David Huff

Specialist David Huff has accomplished more than he ever expected in the past 3½ years. He completed his studies at the Alaska Military Youth Academy ChalleNGe Program. He enlisted in the Alaska Army National Guard. And in July, Huff was attending the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School after getting accepted to enroll at West Point, one of the Nation’s most prestigious institutions.

Not bad for someone who dropped out of high school after his freshman year. But thanks to the National Guard, Huff found hope and then his future.

“For me to even have the opportunity to go to the prep school is a blessing in and of itself,” says Huff, 21, a 25U Signal Support Systems Specialist for the 297th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade. “Through all this, I’ve learned that you really can’t go anywhere unless you have a goal in life.”

It took time for that lesson to take hold. At the end of his freshman year of high school, Huff got into an altercation with an upperclassman that led to a 45-day suspension. Because of that incident, his entire second semester didn’t count. Huff was left six credits behind with a diminishing grade point average. Feeling discouraged, he dropped out with an attitude problem, he says.

“I didn’t have a goal,” he says. “My biggest goal was just getting a diploma. I knew in this world that you couldn’t really do anything without a high school diploma. So that was my biggest goal. But there were lots of times where I did want to give up. I thought, ‘Geez, what do I do?’”

Determined to get his diploma, Huff joined the Alaska Military Youth Academy (AMYA) ChalleNGe Program, which helps Alaska’s at-risk young people graduate with the skills to succeed as adults. Huff says he excelled in the program but still left there immature.

“I got angry really easily and let opportunities that I could have had go by the wayside,” he says.

Huff decided to turn to the Army National Guard. Two months after he talked to a Recruiter, Huff enlisted in the Alaska Guard and took advantage of another great opportunity — the National Guard Patriot Academy. Although the program closed in January, the academy offered qualified recruits the opportunity to finish high school and earn college credit while giving back to the community.

A Patriot Academy instructor and additional role model got him to refocus on a diploma, plus look at options beyond that, says Brigadier General Mike Bridges, commander of the Alaska Army National Guard. One of those other options was the potential to receive a National Guard nomination to West Point from the Alaska Army Guard.

With no knowledge of West Point, Huff began researching the academy. The school has educated, trained, and inspired many of the Army’s greatest leaders throughout the past 200 years, such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, George S. Patton, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and Norman Schwarzkopf.

“To see the people who have actually gone to West Point and to see the things they have done, that’s a goal worth aiming for,” Huff says. “The experience that you get there, the different people that influence you, it’s second to none.”

With thousands of students applying to West Point each year, it is an exceptional honor being accepted for admission. After being denied admission twice, Huff was admitted into the West Point Preparatory School on his third attempt.

“I was taking college English, trigonometry, and chemistry, and they saw I was doing well,” Huff says. “I’m extremely grateful they recognized the academic and leadership potential in me because usually when they say ‘no’ the first time, it’s stays ‘no.’”

With roots in the Alaska Army National Guard, Huff will be able to share what he’s learned with Guard comrades and give even more to the country.

“The Alaska Army National Guard is sharing this young man and his potential with the Nation through service,” Bridges says. “He is succeeding in a great way, which makes us very proud.”

Huff has a growing list of people whom he credits for his success, but there are two who stand out: his father, Darryl Huff, and General (Ret.) Colin Powell. “Apart from God, I couldn’t have made it this far without my dad,” Huff says. “My dad always knew I could do better and pushed me.”

About Powell, Huff says he was inspired after reading his book My American Journey while attending the AMYA. Huff’s life mantra came from the book: “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

“I changed my mindset and my history of getting in trouble into something positive,” Huff says. “You get the right mindset, you get hungry, and you go after what you want.”

Story and photo courtesy of GX magazine. GX magazine is an official publication of the Army National Guard.

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