Photo Information

A U.S. Marine Critical Skills Operator with 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, releases his ruck sack from his body, preparing to land during a double-bag static line parachute training course , Aug 26, 2014, in rural Arizona. The course was an introduction to the High Altitude, High Opening insertion method utilized by Special Operations Forces.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Steven Fox

MARSOC Marines Take to the Air, Acquire HAHO Insert Capability

24 Sep 2014 | Lance Cpl. Steven Fox The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

One minute, shouted the Jumpmaster – his voice competing with the incessant hum of the aircraft. 
Marine critical skills operators with Bravo Company, 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, aboard the plane, held out their right index fingers, acknowledging the one-minute countdown to their final jump of the double-bag static line parachute training course. 

The light at the ramp shone green and, one-by-one, operators leapt from the rear of the aircraft into the night sky, gliding toward the black Arizona desert below. 

On the ground, 1st MSOB paraloft parachute riggers scanned the sky with thermal and nightvision goggles, looking for jumpers. 

“I have one-two-three-four-five-six good ‘chutes,” announced the rigger who first spotted the jumpers.

Those with nightvision capabilities kept a close, attentive eye on the jumpers as they began to execute the landing of their final and most difficult jump of the course. 

Along with a mobile training team of Marine instructors from Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., the 1st MSOB Paraloft personnel coordinated and conducted the 11-day point of instruction.

The course, which took place Aug. 19-29 in rural Ariz., started with several days of classes, parachute packing, and emergency procedure tutorials and drills. Before the Marines could execute any jumps, it was necessary for them to gain a complete conceptual understanding of the way a DBSL HAHO jump is conducted, and what to do if something went wrong. 

“The intent of this course is to be able to take a basic parachutist and give them the information needed, and the ability to jump a ram-air canopy via static line,” said the 1st MSOB Paraloft chief. “It bridges their capability from the low level parachuting they already know, to the High Altitude, High Opening (HAHO) jumps.”

Jumps during the course allow a team of jumpers to establish a flight pattern, and the ability to travel together over long distances to an offset location.

The Bravo Company’s executive officer  explained, “It offers them an opportunity, as they’re in the air, to do long distance navigation. With HAHO, they’re able to stay consolidated for a longer period of time, which increases their likelihood of landing together.”

Halfway through the course, the operators conducted “slick” jumps – with no combat gear –to familiarize themselves with jumping and navigating to the drop zone.

“After a certain amount of slick jumps and gaining a certain level of confidence, we start adding the complexities of the combat equipment,” explained the paraloft chief. “That consists of their ruck sack, which is placed inside of a container called a parachutist drop bag, their weapon, secured to their side, and supplemental oxygen.”

Though the Marines never jumped from an altitude high enough to require supplemental oxygen, it was essential the operators understood the difficulties of jumping with the cumbersome equipment for future jumps, which will require a supply of oxygen.

Ultimately, this is the operators’ first step to developing an expertise in HAHO jumping. Applying everything they have learned to more advanced training, further refining their insertion capabilities is what follows.

“They’ll do follow-on training that enables them to operate within their teams, so they can actually start looking at the tactical side of it, not just the actual capability of jumping, but how to use this as an actual insert method on the mission, itself,” he executive officer explained.

More specifically, the operators will start jumping from higher altitudes, traveling longer distances, carrying mission-critical equipment, all under cover of darkness and ensuring the training more closely resembles real mission conditions, according to the executive officer. Once every Marine hits the drop zone, numerous considerations must be accounted for, as that is when the mission truly starts. The jump is not the mission; that’s just a way to get to a desired location.

As the Marines continue to refine their insertion skills, they increase their value as operational assets to commanders while forward deployed. The potential missions for deployed Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command require expertise in a variety of insertion techniques. 

“It is a capability we need to have so we can be the force of choice that the commander goes to,” the executive officer said. “Whenever any contingency operation comes up, or any emergent mission arises, we want to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.”

Sustaining a force-of-choice status, and an excellent reputation requires constant self-examination.

“We are continually doing a mission analysis and looking at what capabilities we have, and what our capability shortfalls are, and we will continue to address those so we are as mission capable as we can be,” the executive officer said. “That starts with considering everything from your capabilities, and your actual readiness and preparedness, to your level of professionalism that you portray in everything that you do.”