Perhaps no military development has been so revolutionary as the employment of paratroopers.
Certainly none has been so spectacular or singularly effective. The history of the American
paratrooper is one of the most colorful in American military history.
General Billy Mitchell conceived the idea of parachuting troops from aircraft into combat. Shortly
after WW I, Gen Mitchell arranged for the first display of this concept at Kelly Field, Texas. In the
demonstration, six American soldiers parachuted from a Martin Bomber, landed, assembled their
weapons on the field, and were ready for action in less than 3 minutes after they left the plane.
Unfortunately, the officials who witnessed this historic event dismissed the whole idea as a folly.
Not all of the observers arrived at the same conclusion. Representatives of Soviet Russia and
Germany were greatly impressed with the demonstration. In August 1930, at Veronezh, Russia,
paratroopers participated in military maneuvers for the first time. German observers also quickly
grasped the potential of parachute troops and planners worked feverishly to develop an effective
military parachute organization.
Early in 1940, America awoke from its dream of isolation, and all branches of the armed forces
began an all-out preparedness program. In April 1940, after much controversy among the
branches of the armed forces as to who would assume command of a proposed “Air Infantry,” the
War Department approved plans for a test platoon of Airborne Infantry. The platoon was to
function under the direction and control of the US Army Infantry Board. The test platoon was
organized in July 1940 with 2 lieutenants and 48 enlisted volunteers. The first jump by members
of the platoon from an aircraft in flight was made from a Douglas B-18 over Lawson Field,
Georgia, on 16 Aug 1940. On 29 August 1940, at Lawson Field, members of the platoon made
the first platoon mass jump in the United States. As more airborne units were activated, it
became apparent that a centralized training facility should be formed. As a result, the Parachute
School was established at Fort Benning, Georgia, on 15 May 1942. Volunteers attend this same
school. It is a 3-week TDY course and when possible, students attend en route to their duty
assignment. Air Weather Service “jumpers” have been used since 1944, seeing action during
World War II at Normandy Beach, France; and, in the Netherlands and Yugoslavia. Since that
time, they have proven themselves in other parts of the world as well.
In Oct 1990 the first Air Force female graduated from jump school. In Nov 1990, MSgt Brenda
Frazier was assigned to an operational jump unit at Fort Bragg NC.
As with many elite groups, truths become distorted, traditions become altered, and it becomes
difficult for the newcomer to separate facts from fiction. Here is some information that should be
revealing and helpful to the potential weather jumper.
The overwhelming majority who arrive at Fort Benning and subsequently fail the course are
eliminated because they are not in good physical conditions. The remainder fails to complete the
course because they are not highly motivated or because they lack the courage to overcome their
natural fears. Approximately 10 percent of all students who enter the course fail to graduate.
Those who are in good physical condition and are properly motivated will complete the course.
Remember that this course is intentionally designed to tax a person both physically and mentally.
Those who meet the challenge will indeed value their parachute badge — the “Badge of Courage.”
In the 50 years that the Fort Benning Jump School has been in existence, more than 600,000
parachutists have graduated after completing more than 3,000,000 jumps. Since 1942, the injury
rate has declined to its current level of less than four-tenths of one percent. This extremely low
injury rate is due to two factors — superior training and superior equipment.