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.
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.