Pfc. Thomas Perez, a rigger with the 725th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, and a native of Elizabeth, N.J., tightens a Soldier’s parachute pack at the Joint Military Complex Nov. 5 for an airdrop training mission. (U.S. Army photo/Staff Sgt. Eric-James Estrada)
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
"I will be sure always," is the motto of the U.S. Army parachute rigger. Every rigger is Airborne qualified and by tradition required to be ready to jump any parachute, packed by any rigger.
Parachute rigging in the Army has been around since the first Airborne unit was established in 1940. In those days paratroopers prepared and cared for their own parachutes. At the onset of World War II the Army created five airborne divisions and created support organizations with a mission to maintain airborne delivery systems.
By 1950, Army riggers joined the Quartermaster Corps. The U.S. Army Quartermaster School has operated the parachute rigger course at Fort Lee, Va. since 1951.
Like thousands before, Army 1st Lt. Kelsie Cabrera began her career as a rigger on the historic grounds of Fort Lee.
"When I was at Fort Lee, I went through my basic officer course and I was assigned to the rigger school," said Cabrera, who currently serves as the rigger platoon leader for 725th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division. "It was my first taste of rigging."
For Elizabeth, N.J. native Pfc. Thomas Perez, a rigger with the Centurion Battalion, being airborne was all he wanted to do when he joined the Army.
"I wanted to be airborne, anything that had to do with airborne," said Perez. "It was an exciting fulfillment for me. That's what I always wanted to do and I'm glad that I made that decision."
For Centurion riggers there are multiple steps when it comes to packing a personnel parachute.
For the main parachute there are 10 rigger checks and for the reserve there are 12 rigger checks. The procedure begins with laying out the parachute, ensuring the lines are in order, and inspecting for holes.
As a rigger packs a parachute, an inspector observes and ensures the process is correctly performed. An "in-processor"
and a final inspector further check the process and the parachute itself.
"These parachutes are a life line every single time someone goes out an airplane," said Cabrera, a native of Petoskey, Mich.
A rigger's job is one that goes beyond normal responsibility. For riggers, each day is not a training day; it's a life or death day.
"It's a lot of responsibility. Every single one of those parachutes that goes out, we're responsible for," said Cabrera. "These are privates first class, specialists, who are packing life support equipment. They work with life support equipment every day. ... They train for it all the time. These guys [the riggers] aren't training; they're doing it on a daily basis."
After each rigger check, the inspector verifies they followed each of the steps. For every single one of those 10 steps an instructor will walk up and verify that they've done each one.
At the end, once it's all rigged up, and the inspector has done the 10th check, the parachute is passed off to the final inspector, who actually walks through with their checklist ensuring everything is tucked in, the static line is stowed correctly and the log record book is filled out correctly.
The final inspector also reviews anything on the outside of the parachute that a jumpmaster would inspect, such as the static line.
"Its fun," said Perez. "It's a chance to put a piece of equipment on somebody's back that you put your hard work and time into, and you've given it your all to make sure that it is safe, it looks good, and it performs well."
When it comes to supporting the Spartan Brigade in airborne missions, riggers work together as a team to live up to the rigger motto, "I will be sure always."
"It was the most fun I had in the Army so far," said Cabrera. "That's why I'm here and why I come in every day because I love these guys and I love what they do."