Army Airborne School: Everything You Wanted To Know, But Were Too Afraid to Ask

airborne school explained

Jump To A Section

Where Is Airborne School?

How Do I Qualify?

How Do I Sign Up?

What Should I Bring?

What Can I Expect At Airborne School?
Is It Hard?

Who CAN Go?

Who CANNOT Go?

What Happens After Airborne School?

What Happens If I Fail?

Conclusion

Where is Airborne School?

In the counties surrounding the Chattahoochee River, the natural border between Georgia and Alabama, lies Fort Benning, the training grounds for the US Army’s infantry.

fort benning aerial view

Established in 1917, Fort Benning is built upon a site originally used by the Dawson Artillery, a Confederate unit during the Civil War.

Fort Benning takes up 287 square miles and is home to about 35,000 military and civilian personnel.

In addition to schools for the infantry, as well as Ranger School, Sniper School, and many other specialized courses, Fort Benning might be best known as the home of the US Military’s Basic Jump School, aka Airborne School.

What are the qualifications to get into Airborne School?

Because everyone in an Airborne Division is supposed to be Airborne qualified, just about every MOS (military occupational specialty) can sign up to enter Airborne School.

airborne school explained1.  Medical Exam

A new recruit qualifies for Airborne School via a medical examination known as the Airborne Physical.

Every recruit, Airborne candidate or not, goes through something similar.

It’s just that the Airborne Physical is held to slightly higher standards, seeing as how the recruits’ bodies will need to withstand the impact from jumping at high altitudes.

The medical exam takes place before the recruit goes through Basic Training, and it isn’t anything to worry about.

(Still, heed this warning: the exam does involve a doctor, a rubber glove, and a genuine lack of bedside manners.)

2.  Army Basic Training

It should go without saying that successfully completing Basic Training is the main qualification for a recruit before entering Airborne School.

For recruits straight out of infantry training, Airborne School will seem like a vacation.

Although the instructors (referred to as “Sergeant Airborne” and colloquially known as “Black Hats”) take their job very seriously, they are not drill sergeants.

airborne school black hat
Airborne School Black Hat Source: Wiki.org

This means they won’t be screaming at you for no apparent reason, they won’t flip your bed or toss your room if something is slightly out of order, and they won’t jump at every opportunity to enforce group punishment.

This is because Airborne School is a gentleman’s course, and it really is meant to teach a skill, rather than break down a civilian and carve them into a mean-green-fighting-machine.

When do I sign up for Airborne School?

A recruit signs up for Airborne School at MEPS—Military Entrance Processing Stations—which officially marks day zero for the soldier-to-be.

MEPS is also where a recruit signs a contract, partakes in medical examinations (such as the Airborne physical), takes a drug test, takes the ASVAB, and swears in front of the American flag to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

army recruits swearing in
Source: Army.mil

In short, MEPS is one of the longest and most boring days a recruit will endure.

However, a recruit should do his or her best to cherish it, as it is one of the last days a recruit will enjoy civilian clothes and the freedom to slouch for at least a few months.

What Should I Bring?

Click Here to see a full packing list for Airborne School.

Some Things That You Need To Bring

The only required items that you’re suppose to have is your ID card and your ID tags.

You also need to have clear Ipro safety glasses, as well as a strap to keep them on your head.

Since you’re not allowed to wear contacts at Airborne School, you need to have the correct eyeglasses to wear behind your Ipro safety glasses.

You also need a PC, or Patrol Cap.  If you have a rank, it needs to actually be sewn on to the cap itself.

patrol cap

If your rank is not sewn on the cap, you won’t be able to wear it.

Your patrol cap is the only headgear you will wear, other than your Kevlar helmet.

You will also need 4 uniforms, 4 PT uniforms, as well as civilian clothing for your weekend bar excursions.

Also bring black and/or white socks with no Nike or Adidas or other fancy logos on them.

Just plain white or black socks, and they need to be covering the ankles.

One of the more important things you need to bring to Airborne School is good boots.

This is often one of the most overlooked things most guys forget to bring.

They should be lightweight, but good enough to run in.

Also, make sure they have solid ankle support.  You’ll need it on your jumps!

Speaking of footwear, you’ll also need a good pair of PT shoes since you’ll be doing a lot of running.

You don’t need an expensive pair of Air Jordans, either.

running shoes at army airborne school

They’re going to get destroyed at Airborne School, so no need to spend $300 on a pair of sneakers.

Just pick up a cheap pair of of brand running shoes like Asics Gel Venture 5 or Under Armour Assert 6 if you’re looking for an inexpensive but comfortable brand.

If you’re heading to Airborne School during the winter months, you should also make sure you bring some warm clothing.

Army issued Silkies aren’t gonna do anything to keep you warm, and even the waffles won’t do much in the biting cold.

On top of that, during harness week you’ll have to take all of that stuff off.

You need to be thinking about bringing a solid type of fleece jacket that you can put on over your shirt and under your blouse.

You should also bring a combination lock.

Notice I said a “combination lock”, and not just a simple padlock.

combo lock at airborne school

You won’t be able to carry around a key with you all day during training, and there’s a good chance you might lose it during a jump or some other training evolution.

It’s imperative that you bring a combination lock to jump school with you, as there have been reports of theft.

Some Things That You Should Bring

The following are not required items for Airborne School, but it’s a good idea to bring them.

One thing that they don’t tell you is that you actually do NOT make your bed at Airborne School.

Instead, you take all of your belongings like your blankets and pillow and lock them up in your locker.

So instead of using the uncomfortable Army issued blankets and pillow, you can and should bring your own.

Another thing that is issued to you at Airborne School is a canteen.  The problem is, that same canteen was likely used by about 500 other airborne recruits before you.

army canteen at army airborne school
The one they issue you may look a bit like this…

Nasty…

Spend the $6 or whatever it is nowadays at the PX and buy yourself a new canteen.

There’s not a lot of electrical outlets in the barracks, so everyone will be fighting over them to charge their phones, ipads, whatever.

Bring an extension cord and a power strip and your fellow recruits will love you for it.

Make sure you lock up all of your stuff at the beginning of each training day, though.

If the instructors see any of your gear left out near your bunk they will give you a counseling statement. (a fancy way of saying you’ll get in trouble)

Believe it or not, you should also bring wet wipes.  For whatever reason, the Army always seems to have a shortage of toilet paper.

bring wet wipes to army airborne school

The last place you want to be is on the toilet seat after crapping out that Taco Bell from the night before, only to find that there’s no toilet paper left.

Another thing that you should bring to Airborne School is headphones.

You’ll have a lot of downtime in the barracks, and with a bunch of other dudes there, it can get kind of loud at times.

Don’t get the expensive Dre headphones, as there’s a fair chance they will get stolen.

What You Should NOT Bring

  • Supplements:  Supplements are completely banned at Airborne School.
  • Food:  No food is allowed.
  • Pets:  Seriously, who brings their pets to Airborne School?  You’d be surprised…
  • Weapons

What Can I Expect At Airborne School?

Basic Training lasts nine weeks and AIT—Advanced Individual Training—lasts from four weeks to more than seven months, depending on the recruit’s MOS.

Airborne School, however, lasts only three short weeks, including weekends and (most) evenings off.

Each week of the school corresponds to a phase of training: ground week, tower week, and jump week.

Ground Week

In the first week, a new recruit can expect to spend a lot of time familiarizing him or herself with the equipment a paratrooper uses, how to properly put on a parachute rig, and classes on jumping procedures.

A typical day in ground week consists of morning runs, pushups, and pullups, and jumping off a platform in order to learn and perfect the Parachute Landing Fall, or PLF.

ground week at airborne school
Source: Wikimedia.org

By the end of the week, the by-now bruised-all-over recruits spend a day learning how to properly exit an aircraft by jumping out of a thirty-four-foot tower and zip lining over a sand pit.

airborne school zipline
Source: Army.mil

The jump out of the tower isn’t a gentle ride. Before the recruit starts his descent, he will experience a brief freefall meant to replicate the actual experience of jumping out of a plane.

(Fair warning number two: do your best to “adjust” the harness straps that run between your legs, or prepare to pay the consequences.)

Tower Week

Week two, aka tower week, the recruit continues to perfect his or her airplane exiting procedures as well as work on the PLF.

By the end of the week, the recruit spends a few days jumping off Fort Benning’s famous 250 foot towers.

250 ft tower at army airborne school

Even though the recruit should expect to feel extremely week at the knees, there really isn’t any reason to worry.

Injuries jumping off the towers are extremely rare. The recruit will be strapped in as well as attached to a parachute.

Try to have fun with it!

Jump Week

Lastly, the third and final week, Jump Week, is when the recruit gets to put all of his or her theory into practice.

army airborne school jump training
Source: flickr.com

So how many jumps do you do in airborne school?

In order to pass Airborne School, the recruit has to complete 5 jumps, 2 of which will be with a full combat load (a thirty-five-pound rucksack and a weapons case carrying a dummy weapon) and 2 will be “Hollywood,” which means the recruit will be jumping with nothing but a main and reserve parachute.

The last jump the recruit does in Airborne School is a combination combat jump and night jump.

army airborne night jump
Source: AF.mil

It’ll take place Thursday night, the night before graduation, and the recruit can expect some beautiful and amazing night-sky views.

Is Airborne School Really Difficult?

Depending on what time of year a recruit’s airborne class begins, one unexpected challenge in the course may be the long hours exposed to the weather.

Georgia’s heat and humidity are commonly known as brutal forces throughout the country, but most people don’t know realize how cold Georgia’s winters can be.

An Airborne recruit won’t have to worry about snow, but in January and February he or she can expect the temperature to be around freezing, as well as to be standing outside enduring such temperatures for days on end.

Additionally, the recruit will be moving around, building up a sweat, thereby allowing every rest stop to become an opportunity for the recruit’s sweat to freeze over.

In Airborne School, every candidate has to pass the Army’s Physical Fitness Test (PFT) in the 17-21 years of age bracket, no matter the actual age of the soldier.

For candidates straight out of basic training, passing the test shouldn’t be a problem, as he or she will have just finished spending a few months training for it.

Second to getting injured, the most common way that a soldier fails Airborne School is failing the Army PFT.

Come prepared, take the workouts seriously, and anyone should be fine when it comes to passing the physical requirements of Airborne School.

Any special advice?

My personal advice for how to best survive and pass Airborne School comes with the caveat that success or failure isn’t always be up to the recruit.

However, here it goes: Don’t Get Hurt.

It goes without saying that jumping out of an airplane is extremely dangerous.

In some cases, there have even been a few deaths at Airborne School.  You can read about a few of them in the resources section below (see Airborne School deaths).

It’s extremely rare, but it does happen.

However, most injuries in Airborne School occur during other phases of the training.

Due to the vast amounts of time a recruit spends jumping off platforms, out of towers, and down zip lines, rolled, twisted, or even broken ankles are the most common injuries in the school.

The instructors will do their best to keep the recruit safe, but accidents happen, so listen closely and pay attention.

A parachute not opening is extremely rare, and a parachute and a reserve parachute both not opening is probably unheard of.

If an injury during an actual jump occurs, it probably is the result of an improper PLF. On my last jump in Airborne School, my best friend from basic training landed in a sitting position, cracking his tailbone.

I am not sure what exactly happened, but I do know that he didn’t get to graduate and had to go to a non-airborne unit in Texas, and that I never saw him again.

Who CAN go to airborne school?

Airborne divisions are comprised of just about every MOS, so even if you aren’t set on joining one of the combat arms units—infantry, artillery, and the like—a recruit still has the opportunity to be a paratrooper.

As of 2017, the Army started allowing women to sign up for infantry training, so gender in no way plays a role in who can or cannot go to Airborne School.

Other branches of the military—Navy, Air Force and the Marines—do send their members to the Army’s Airborne training, but typically on a case-by-case basis.

For example, Airmen looking to become an elite Para-Rescue Jumper will go through Airborne School, as will Marines going to Force Recon training.

If a recruit happens to go through Airborne School in the summer, he or she can expect to be going through the training alongside Army officer cadets, usually those who are only a year or two away from becoming pinned as second lieutenants.

Who CANNOT go to airborne school?

The only limitation keeping someone from entering Airborne School is the failure of the Airborne-specific medical exam.

This isn’t something a recruit can train for, and he or she will find out if you are disqualified during MEPS, even before basic training starts.

The exam ensures that a recruit doesn’t suffer from a long list of illnesses and/or diseases, and he or she will likely already be aware of the disqualification long before the exam.

For a complete list of physical limitations, consult the Army manual AR 40-501 and see “medical limitations for Airborne training.”

What happens after Airborne School?

New recruits don’t get any say in where they will get stationed, and on that note, I recommend that a new recruit becomes familiar with the saying “to the needs of the Army.”

It is volunteer service, after all.

If the recruit graduates Airborne School as a regular paratrooper, he or she can be expected to be stationed at one of three Army Airborne units:

Other Potential Assignments After Airborne School

If a recruit is continuing on to more specialized training after Airborne School, such as Ranger Regiment selection, or the selection process for Special Forces training (at this time, both are only open to men, by the way), he can expect a wide range of bases to be stationed at.

The three ranger regiments are at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, Joint-Base Lewis-McChord, Washington and right at Fort Benning.

As far as Special Forces units, there are five active duty groups and two National Guard groups.

The five active groups are in:

    • Joint-Base Lewis-McChord, Washington
    • Fort Bragg, North Carolina
    • Fort Campbell, Kentucky
    • Elgin Air Force Base, Florida
    • Fort Carson, Colorado

The two National Guard groups are in Draper, Utah and Birmingham, Alabama.

What happens if I fail?

Like my friend who broke his tailbone on our very last jump, if a recruit fails Airborne School and he or she is new to the Army, the recruit can expect to get sent to any number of the non-Airborne units around the continental US or worldwide.

Conclusion

If a recruit hasn’t joined the Army yet and he or she is worried about the physical requirements of Airborne School, don’t be—basic training will more than prepare the recruit.

A recruit shouldn’t be turned away from Airborne School simply because he or she is afraid of heights.

I consider myself to be pretty comfortable high up, and I was scared out of my mind every time I jumped. In other words, scared of heights or not, jumping out of a plane is terrifying and kind of insane.

If a recruit is really gung-ho about being all that he or she can be (a now out-of-date Army motto), they should strive to be more than just a paratrooper.

I encourage recruits to sign up for the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP), or, better yet, go straight for Special Forces selection (I actually recommend RIP rather than SF selection, because one can always progress from a Ranger regiment to SF, though it is much more difficult to go from failing SF selection to RIP, and may not be possible at all).

Airborne operations are not common in modern warfare. In fact, the last major operation happened in the very early years of the Iraq invasion.

As a veteran, I am proud to call myself a paratrooper, but I have to be honest and say that in my four years jumping out of planes (all twenty-plus jumps of mine happening during training exercises) I mostly felt like I was just paying homage to the airborne units of the past: like those soldiers that jumped into Europe and Africa under heavy enemy fire.

Still, I wouldn’t have done anything different. Airborne all the way!

Army Airborne School: Everything You Wanted To Know, But Were Too Afraid to Ask
5 (100%) 1 vote

Resources:

Airborne School Packing List

Airborne School Deaths

https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2016/03/05/paratrooper-s-bad-exit-from-plane-led-to-his-death-jumpmasters-admonished/

https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2015/07/20/report-jumpmaster-cited-in-training-death-of-paratrooper/

https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2018/08/03/army-delta-force-sergeant-major-dies-in-free-fall-parachute-training/

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2018/08/09/after-a-brief-respite-special-operations-parachute-deaths-are-up-this-year/