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Packing it in

  • Published
  • By Robert Fox
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
Former Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady probably never imagined having to use some of the survival equipment packed by survival equipment Airmen into his parachute when he took off in his F-16 Falcon June 2, 1995, from Aviano Air Base, Italy. 

The reality of why pilots are saddled with the bulky parachute and gadgets came to light that same day when a surface-to-air missile shot down his aircraft and sent him into six brutal days of evading Bosnian Serb forces. 

If it weren't for the survival equipment course taught here, Captain O'Grady might not have survived. 

"It's a pretty stressful job," said Tech. Sgt. Larry Evans, a survival equipment instructor at the 361st Training Squadron. "Just knowing if you're not doing your job correctly, you're really taking someone's life into your hands every day." 

Survival equipment shops are responsible for about 20 pieces of equipment, including six different parachutes, g-suits, escape slides, various floatation devices and cold water suit, the sergeant said. The equipment packed into pockets, with the exception of g-suits, come into play immediately after a pilot or aircrew egresses the plane during an emergency situation, he said. 

Re-packing parachutes comprises the bulk of the work in the field, Sergeant Evans said, and the risk lies with the pilot. He said, a stitch in the wrong place can puncture an air bladder in a g-suit or raft and static electricity can turn a parachute into a useless wad of nylon. 

But, Airmen train at packing, re-packing and, when they think they are done, they re-pack again until they can provide a flawless, quality product to Air Force fighter pilots.
It is that responsibility that makes the career field worthwhile to Airman Mathew Olmsted, a student set to graduate from the course. 

"I take great pride that I pack the parachutes," Airman Olmsted said. "In the best situation, the parachute will never need to be used, but just in case something goes wrong, I'm responsible for that person's life." 

Sergeant Evans said the first part of block seven, where they learn to inspect and repack the backpack automatic parachute, is the hardest for most students. He said in the beginning students don't think they can get the huge parachute into such a small bag, but by the end of day-12, they can do it no problem. 

"If you are lucky enough to get assigned to para-rescue or combat controllers, they jump everyday, so you really get to reap the rewards when you see them jump," Sergeant Evans said. "And they jump out of planes to save others, so you are really touching a lot of lives." 

Airmen aren't only taught how to build a survival pack, but also how to maintain and repair equipment. They are taught how to sew so they can repair g-suits, rafts and parachutes, Sergeant Evans said. 

The fruits of survival equipment Airmen's labor was seen when Marines rescued Captain O'Grady June 8, 1995. He was safely returned home not only because of the daring rescue mission, but also because of a functioning parachute and a little bag of survival items and gadgets that allowed him to escape capture.