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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 20, 2004 | Vol. 34 No. 4
First Person —
Summer Training 2004: Airborne School and Robin Sage

Cadet Gavin Maguire

By Cadet Gavin Maguire

Editor's note: This is the first in an occasional series of first-person accounts of activities in which members of the Johns Hopkins community participate. Ideas and submissions are invited from faculty, staff and students. The topic must be university-related. Please contact us at or 443-287-9900.

For five weeks this summer I did things that so many only dream about. I was able to jump out of a perfectly good airplane five times; I trained with the world-renowned Green Berets; I was given the opportunity to use some of the U.S. Army's best equipment, equipment that most only see in movies. These experiences represent only a few of the many summer training opportunities available to the ROTC cadet.

From 23 June to 16 July, I attended the three-week course known as Airborne School at Fort Benning, Ga. Generally, Airborne School — or "Jump School" — is divided into three separate weeks of training: Ground Week, Tower Week and Jump Week. During Ground and Tower weeks, an Airborne student is instructed on how to properly exit the aircraft, control his descent under canopy, prepare to land and land utilizing a proper parachute landing fall, or PLF. Physical training geared toward preparing the jumper for Jump Week and for general physical conditioning is interspersed throughout Ground and Tower weeks. The first two weeks, though, are simply the step-by-step instruction and training that prepares a soldier for his or her final exam: Jump Week!

During Jump Week, an Airborne student must execute five static-line jumps from an altitude of approximately 1,000-1,200 feet to qualify as a Basic Parachutist, thus authorizing the wearing of the Basic Parachutist Badge — or "Jump Wings" — on any of the Army's uniforms. Two of the five jumps are with combat equipment, one of them at night. There are about 50-60 seconds of canopy time between exit and landing when one can enjoy the view, but the goal of Army parachuting is to safely get to the ground as quickly as possible, so it's a far cry from civilian parachuting. However, once earning his Jump Wings, the newly minted paratrooper will take his place in a long line of Airborne soldiers, men and women, dating back to 1940.

Following Jump School, I almost immediately packed my equipment and flew down to North Carolina. I was bused to Camp McCall, an auxiliary camp of Fort Bragg, N.C., the home of the Special Forces. The reason I was down there was to act as a guerilla in the fourth phase (of six) of Special Forces training, known as Robin Sage. Generally, the role of the U.S. Special Forces is to go behind enemy lines and train indigenous peoples who are fighting an oppressive enemy with the idea that those indigenous people will, one day, be able to fight on their own. So, this two-week phase of the Special Forces candidates' approximately two year-long training is a field exercise designed to evaluate their ability to establish a rapport, train and execute missions with a guerilla force.

Myself, along with about 25 other "guerillas," or "Gs," were a part of a guerilla band led by our "Guerilla Chief," who, in actuality, was a retired SF soldier with 20-plus years of service. The team that came in to "train" us was made up of two officers, three weapons and tactics specialists, three engineers, two medics and two communications specialists, 12 in all. The entire group — the "Gs" as well as the A-Team — slept out in the woods for two weeks straight. Our days were spent receiving training in tactics, demolitions, survival, communications, first aid and so on. We (the Gs) also helped in planning, briefing and executing operations orders, the fundamental method of disseminating a mission in the Army.

We were able to use weapons such as the M4, AK-47 and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon in our missions, albeit with blanks, not live rounds. We set up a drop zone to receive a bundle of equipment and supplies that was dropped out of a passing aircraft. We set up landing zones to facilitate the air evacuation of a "downed pilot." We were able to utilize state-of-the-art Army communications equipment as well as night vision goggles. We also were able to kill and butcher a pig, which fed the camp for about three days (a pleasant break from our steady diet of "Meals, Ready to Eat," the Army's field ration). But possibly the best part of Robin Sage was to have access to some of the best soldiers in the entire world — to hear their experiences and to learn just a fraction of what they know. It's interesting to note that all of these soldiers were very normal guys who really didn't look or act any different than any other soldier, or civilian for that matter; they were just very driven and very dedicated to the United States.

Airborne School and Robin Sage couldn't have been more different types of Army training, but ultimately they were both fantastic experiences for me. They are basically "internships" in the Army that give practical experience, an insight into the Army, build confidence and hone leadership. I am now just looking forward to more opportunities to learn and grow, either while still a cadet or as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army.


A member of Johns Hopkins University Army ROTC, Gavin Maguire is a junior majoring in international studies. His hometown is Olney, Md.


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