Operation Eagle 2012, Czech Republic 13th – 15th July 2012-07-30
I’d spent several months not knowing what to expect when I would be joining fellow soldiers and air force men for ‘Operation Eagle’ in the Czech Republic in July of 2012.
The operation would bring together a total of 18 representatives from the Slovak, Czech, US, Portuguese, German, Argentinian and British Forces.
First order of the mission was to collect two of our team from Prague airport before making our way to the Jump School and DZ at Pribram Dlouha Lhota. With this accomplished we found or accommodations and settled in already talking like old friends despite having never met before.
After unpacking we decided to RV at the bar and met up with who can only be described as the ‘Cool Crew’, (complete with Ray Ban sunglasses) we were introduced to the Portuguese members of the team. So with beers in hand we settled down to wait for the POC to arrive and give us our first ops brief before settling down to a quiet night. I slept well in the knowledge that despite our difference in backgrounds and experiences we had already rallied like old comrades and were all looking forwards to getting some ‘sky on our boots’!.
Good ground training and familiarisation with the Czech OVP-68 Parachute started early the next day after a slightly delayed but hearty breakfast and we continued with the practicing of correct exit position for our ‘jumpship’ the time served Antonov AN-2 and review of emergency procedures throughout the day. We were also introduced to the current US rig and combat load with weapon and container. Our US Jumpmaster was excellent and took the time to explain and demonstrate everything in detail although my small frame soon succumbed to an aching back after standing fully rigged for the best part of an hour whilst I was fully kitted out for a combat jump US style.
0800hrs on day 2 would be the time to get on our game faces, (after shaking off the after effects of the good Czech beer) and get ready for our first jump. We again reviewed emergency procedures and the DZ plan before kitting up ready for the first jump.
Kitting up and completing our final checks before boarding the aircraft happened in good order with us understanding our position in the stick and then we embarked ready for the off. From that point onwards we would constantly head on a 240 deg heading, (convinced the compass was stuck on the aircraft) before being hooked up to the line and standing up ready to jump. Its at this time that you realise you are committed and there is no turning back and with that the order came to “STAND UP” from our Czech Jumpmaster and I followed the rest of the stick in quick time out of the door and the freedom of the sky. I felt that familiar ‘tug’ and was ever relieved to see a full canopy and the aircraft leaving behind me. At that time I realized that maybe we had left the aircraft a little too far over from the DZ and being lighter than most was being ‘carried’ by the wind so rapidly assessed whether to try and ‘fly’ to the airfield and possibly end on the roof of one of the hangers or ‘hold’ and steer to a field clear of the solar panels …. I went for the field … and missed it!! … I love the OVP, it responds well and I made a good landing on a farm track in the middle of a line of trees and bushes. I was so pumped about making a good landing I never took any photos’ … but all is imprinted in my memory. The training and motor memory had kicked in and good reliable equipment made sure I landed safely. All others from that drop made good exits with safe landings although some landing sites were more exotic than my own. But surely this is what operational jumping is all about and what we train for … Hooah!!.
Unfortunately the wind that day got the better of us and after standing by for several hours we were stood down. There is plenty to do and places to visit around Pribram. Despite being ‘ The Brit’ on the team I live in the Czech Republic so was happy to take some of my team mates to my home town of Cesky Krumlov. My beautiful wife was happy to receive us and we enjoyed a late afternoon and evening taking in the sites of Krumlov and enjoying the Bohemian hospitality. Of course that is only one side of the story and I understand that Pribram and Prague were both visited by team members over that last couple of days with their own memories and tall tales to relate another time.
Day 3 saw a very early start to be back at the hanger ready to deploy for 0700 hrs where we were soon kitted up ready for the next jump. By 0800 I had ‘sky on my boots’ again and felt the rush of jumping out the door into the wide blue yonder, (okay well grey and cloudy but low winds) and had at least 3 high twists when I looked up. Again no worries here … the OVP is a big canopy and pulling the web straps apart and giving two good kicks saw them easily gone and floating effortlessly toward the ground. I wanted to go for the ‘X’ which I know isn’t anywhere near the DZ so I compromised and landed on the tarmac of the runway instead … note to self, take wallet out of back pocket when parachuting … despite a good PLF I still managed to bruise an arse cheek from the roll .. but that feeling of euphoria makes up for the limp that soon wore off after the hike back to the riggers and RV to hand in my packed up chute.
With the wind picking up we were worried that this might affect our graduation but without worry we were soon taking off for our last ‘run in’ and qualifying jump. Our ever friendly US Jumpmaster tapped us out of the door this time and gave the order “GO” as we exited and descended from the blue. Again this drop gave new experience and required quick thinking to asses flight and avoid power lines which I did and made a good landing in front of an audience from the local community who must have thought an ‘invasion’ was happening. In my best Czech I shook hands with a couple of local boys and with a huge smile on my face made my way to locate the rest of my stick at the RV before making our way back to the airfield and final graduation.
It is with honour and joy in my heart that I am now the very proud recipient of Czech and US Para wings. Following tradition each operation member had his US wings ‘punched’ into his chest by our US Jumpmaster along with a hearty handshake. Our Czech Jumpmaster thanked us for our participation and good conduct and awarded us with the Czech Parachutist ‘wings’.
This final gesture was to mark the end of an extremely successful and enjoyable operation. We all left with new found knowledge and respect for each other. At heart, we are all soldiers regardless of who we work for and we departed the DZ as brothers.
The pictures that were taken by the team paint there own picture .. one of smiles and pride.
LCPL TM Cranton, Combat Medic, UK Royal Army Medical Corps

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