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Tuskegee University Army ROTC Cadet Jonathan Andrews has proof that jumping out of a perfectly good airplane has its rewards. This summer, the Junior Mechanical Engineering major earned his Airborne Jump Wings — making him the only current member of Tuskegee’s Army ROTC battalion to have earned the distinction.
The Stone Mountain, Georgia, native attended the United States Army Airborne School — commonly known as Jump School — after competing for a spot during the 2018-19 academic year. Because Tuskegee is allotted only one student representative due to the size of its student enrollment, the spots are highly competitive and reserved for cadets who have the best physical training scores and who are overall top performers within their respective battalions.
“This has been a goal of mine for quite some time and I’m grateful for the opportunity because it’s truly rare. As I think about the many obstacles I’ve overcome to get to this point, this has become one of my most rewarding experiences,” Andrews explained.
The Basic Airborne Course, held at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, is open to troops of both genders from all branches of the U.S. Military, ROTC and allied military personnel. This year, nearly 600 cadets started off in the course, however only half of the class received their wings at its completion.
Andrews explained that initially he had some reservations about attending the training, since he doesn’t do well with heights.
“I knew I would have to work through [my aversion to heights] someday, as there are some duty stations that are non-special operations that require you to go through Airborne School. I didn’t want to limit myself because of fear,” he explained. “MAJ [Roderick] Mack, SFC [William] Puthoff and my father were in my corner ever since I fully committed to go to Airborne School, and they were essential in giving me positive support.”
The Airborne School trains cadets in three phases: ground, tower and jump. During Ground Week, trainees begin an intensive program of instruction to build individual airborne skills, which will prepare them to make a parachute jump and land safely. The second phase — Tower Week — uses an apparatus that lifts each candidate to a height of 250-feet above the ground. Candidates also have to jump from a 34-foot tower that simulates jumping from a moving aircraft. The final phase — Jump Week — includes successful completion of five parachute jumps with the T-11 parachute at 1,250 feet from either a C-130 or C-17 aircraft.
Mack, a recruiting operations officer and instructor at in Tuskegee’s Army ROTC program, noted that attending Airborne School is a stepping stone for a majority of students who are heading into other assignments, such as special operations, long-range surveillance units, the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program, or even the Special Forces.
“This is a tough and rigorous training that in turn makes each cadet a better cadet when they complete the program,” Mack noted. “I also have my Airborne wings, so I know firsthand what the training is like. To finish this program and earn your wings is an honor and humbling experience.”
At least for the next year, Andrews will be the only cadet in his battalion qualified to wear Airborne wings.
“It feels amazing to have accomplished such a tedious goal. I had the right people rooting for me and I’m honored to have finished the program because I know this is something that not everyone in the Army is able to do,” he noted. “But with this new badge comes more responsibility. I’m looking forward to sharing my experience with other cadets. I can finally say ‘I got my wings.’”
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