1st Recon Bn. made Marine Corps history, again

4 Sep 2004 | Lance Cpl. Khang T. Tran

"Mission success is what drives these Recon Marines to overcome stresses and possible fears that parachuting can cause, " said Gunnery Sgt. Dean R. Doolittle, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division. "Most Marines dream to attend Jump School and later attend Jumpmaster School, added Doolittle, the unit's assistant jumpmaster." Here is a group of Marines living out that dream and fighting the war in the enemy's back yard."Twelve Marines and Sailors of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, received the Navy and Marine Corps parachutist wings for conducting parachute operations in a combat zone in Iraq on Aug. 28.The gold wings, considered by many an “airborne promotion,” are a distinction of an advanced Navy and Marine Corps parachutist. The ceremony, held at Camp Fallujah, Iraq, was unique in of itself. Within the past year, many of the 12 1st Recon Battalion parachutists earned their silver wings, the U.S. Army parachute badge, upon successfully completing the Airborne Course, Fort Benning, Ga.The coveted gold wings, however, require more experience than what was achieved at the three-week basic airborne school. To bring home the gold, parachutists must successfully complete a minimum of five additional static-line or free-fall jumps with a Navy or Marine Corps unit. Jumping in a combat zone, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, waived that requirement for the unique dozen of 1st Recon Battalion parachutists.“Normally in peacetime, there is a fairly rigorous procedure that ensures appropriate training,” said Col. Rory E. Talkington, Commanding Officer of 1st Recon Bn. “However, the Marine Corps order stipulates if you are eligible to conduct a jump in combat, then all those requirements are waived; that’s the only exception,” added Talkington, a Spokane, Wash. native.Talkington was referring to Marine Corps Order 3500.20A, which states that if a Marine or Sailor performs a combat jump once, they will be eligible to wear the gold wings. The order was instituted into the Marine Corps during the 1960s.“This ceremony was a result of two separate distinct jump missions,” said Talkington. “In both operations, they parachuted behind enemy lines at night during the dark phase of the moon.”For some of the Marines, it was only their sixth jump, right out of airborne school. Regardless, senior leaders of the unit were impressed by their mission accomplishment under stressful combat conditions. " (Recon) stresses teamwork and mission accomplishment", said 1st Sgt. John K. Bell, Alpha Co., 1st Recon Battalion. "Both were met during these combat missions, said the Westminster Calif. native and a parachutist for more than 16 years. " These Marines and Navy Corpsmen displayed bravery and courage. They should wear their Navy and Marine Corps Parachutists Wings proudly." What made this combat jump unique was the keen training and preparation for the jump by the unit’s seasoned parachutists, according to Master Sgt. Nicholas J. Morin, 1st Recon's Bn's communications chief who also is the battalion's senior jumpmaster and gold winger. "We had more than 60 years of combined jump experience to teach from on this mission," added Morin. "We have some of the most experienced parachutists in the Corps. "More than half of the Marines and Sailors never jumped out of a helicopter, used a steerable canopy, nor had the experience of jumping at night, "said Morin, a Colorado Springs, Colo., native. "The seasoned jumpers spent more than 18 hours over during a three-day period, to train and conduct refresher and pre-jump training. Safety was paramount," said Morin.Safety is and always has been a focus during the unit's jump proficiency, according to Doolittle, who hails from West Palm Beach, Fla."You can train and conduct peacetime jumps over and over, " said Doolittle. "The jumps become instilled in your routine and are executed flawlessly. Then add combat and the fact that you are making history you would expect the level of apprehension to increase, but that didn't happen, these Marines are truly the consummate professionals."Doolittle attributed the success to the mission to the experienced jumpmasters and trust in the equipment. "Trust in your equipment, jumpmasters and yourself give these Marines the confidence to jump out of a perfectly good aircraft, at night, into enemy territory with out a blink of an eye," said Doolittle.Executing the jump in darkness, the new jumpers stood and waited patiently. With approximately 100 pounds of equipment strapped to their bodies, including their main and reserve parachutes, they jumped into history. "Many were waiting, thinking, some probably praying--22 history making minutes, all for a single wave of the green chemlight, that final 30 inch step into Marine Corps history," Morin said.For the parachutists making that combat jump and earning the gold, emotions were mixed with both pride and honor. “(The gold wings are) something a lot of Marines have been waiting to get for years,” said Cpl. John H. Knospler, a reconnaissance Marine with 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Recon Battalion. “Fortunately I was lucky enough to get them early in my career,” he added.Although pride was prevalent that day, many of the 1st Recon Battalion. Marines and Sailors expressed the most important thing was the mission, not the wings.“It’s a great honor to have them, but the gold wings don’t make the person,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Ricky J. Lopez, a reconnaissance corpsman with 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Recon Battalion. “The person makes the person. I could jump a million times and not have my gold wings, I’ll still be happy.”“The gold wings are really not a big deal to me,” said Consoler. “It’s just another way we get to work.”