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Going Air Borne; (Female Paratroopers of Pak Army).

Byline: Capt Sana Nasri

"Because the task is difficult to many tire and quit, But that's the time to summon up your patience and grit, And that's the time to prove your skill. So stick it out and work until you justify your faith that you can do what any man can do", said Mr Edgar Guest

The word "parachute" comes from the French prefix paracete, originally from the Greek, meaning to protect against, and chute, the French word for "fall", and it was originally coined, as a hybrid word which meant literally "that which protects against a fall", by the French aeronaut Francois Blanchard (1753-1809) in 1785.

An art or a skill of landing on a desired area via parachute is known as paratrooping and a paratrooper is the one who jumps from aircraft / helicopter over battle field or into an operation by landing with support of a parachute. A paratrooper is also called "Vertical envelopment shock trooper". It is one of the strategic techniques to enter a theatre of war. Parachutes first appeared in the 1470s in Italy as a means for people to escape from burning buildings.

In order to train highly motivated and dauntless soldiers, Pakistan Army raised Parachute Wing in 1964 that was further established into a proper Parachute Training School (PTS) under Special Services Group (SSG) in March 1981. Since its inauguration the school has sofar conducted over 2,60,000 static lines and 30,000 free fall jumps. The school conducts different types of courses of parachute training including Basic Airborne Course (BAC) and other higher advance courses.

BAC is a unique adventure which can be experienced in life only if one possesses strong mental and physical strength. The basic purpose of this course is to train the soldiers to use parachute and learn certain landing techniques as per changing conditions. The course develops leadership, self-confidence, fearless and an aggressive spirit through mental and physical conditioning.

Pakistan Army, in another landmark achievement, successfully completed the first ever Lady Officers BAC at PTS. The duration of course was for three weeks, from 24 June to 12 July 2013 and selection criteria was based on series of Physical Efficiency Tests (PET) conducted by the team from SSG. A total of 24 female officers were selected for this course among many volunteers.

Airborne Soldiers have a long and distinguished tradition of being an elite body of men - and now females - people who have always set the example of determination and courage. Similarly, when a female volunteers for this training, she accepts the challenge of continuing this tradition.

To organise BAC for Lady Officers, the training activities designed for three weeks were very well planned. The training of PTS enhances physical standards of the individuals to a level where one can sustain and fulfil the essential requirements of physical endurance and strength required during paratrooping. Our extensive training was made possible by qualified and competent instructors of SSG which was broadly distributed in following weeks:-

* Ground Week

The first week comprised of ground week. Our day used to start from 0530 hours in the morning with Para PT till 0730. It was followed by training apparatus during the day and in the evening, PET and lecture/demonstration were conducted. Every day was equally challenging and demanding.

During the same week, airborne instruction begins with an intensive programme to build individual airborne skills. Before exiting an aircraft, one must first learn how to land on the ground safely. For the purpose, understanding the basic concept of Para Landing Fall (PLF) is vital. This drill is a safety technique that allow a jumper to land on ground without injury.

We were also taught to wear the parachute harness and use of special training apparatus during the same week. The parachute harness comprises of two chutes: one is main parachute which weighs 29 lbs and other is reserved (emergency) parachute that weight 12 lbs.

Mock Dock drill is also part of first week training. The mock door is a replica of the cargo compartment of a C-130 aircraft. This training includes practice to open the artificial aircraft door and anchor line cables for each door. It allow us to learn the jump commands from a Jumpmaster as well as the proper method of exiting an aircraft.

Certain unforeseen situations were also kept in mind while training. Suspended Harness is designed to teach the jumper to practice emergency procedures including emergency landings on tree/ water/ power lines/ react to twists, collisions, entanglements with other parachutist and turning/holding the parachute. PTS most famous saying Get Ten is quite memorable for the jumper, if she was found relaxing.

Another segment of the training is Swing Landing Fall Trainer (SLFT) apparatus. It is suspended above a 12-feet-high platform from which jumper, wearing a parachute harness, descend to practice PLFs. The training aid provides a downward motion and oscillation similar to that experienced during a parachute jump. It is completely a team effort in which role of fellow officer (buddy) is most commendable. To qualify SLFT, we had to do eight satisfactory jumps after carrying out practice in each wind direction.

The practice of dragging is also done during first week. This phase teaches us to quickly recover after landing in Drop Zone by properly activating the canopy release assemblies on the parachute harnesses or turn around method. During the process we learnt to react to the situation, if dragged by parachute while using various recovery training apparatuses.

* Tower Week

Tower Week consists of the activities completed during ground Week with a team based effort, comprising of buddies as Moundmen, Ropemen and the jumper. It completes the individual skill training and further builds team effort skills. The 34-feet high tower is a replica of the cargo section of a C-130 aircraft. A jump door has been built on each side of the replica. The tower is a primary training apparatus to help teach basic jump techniques and points of performance. We also practiced the exit technique, proper body position, and the 4000-count during tower week. The tower also gave us an experience to overcome fear of height and the opening shock.

During the training, we went in groups of four to the tower and mastered techniques to avoid parachute malfunctions. In such eventualities a jumper may cut-away her main parachute and deploy the reserve parachute. These activities not only raised our confidence level but also simultaneously gave us an opportunity to check our physical strength for actual jumps. Initially jumping from 34 feet tower was bit scary, but after 50 jumps it became easy and convenient.

To move forward to final phase of the course, jumper must qualify on the SLFT, master the aircraft exit procedures from the tower, gain canopy confidence, and pass all physical training requirements.

* Jump Week

Successful completion of the previous weeks of rigorous training prepared us to go for actual Jump. Finally this Week was very exciting and was bringing us near to our goal. All participants of the course successfully completed three jumps from 1,300 feet height from a MI-17 helicopter at Tariq Drop Zone, Tarbela. We were bit curious and little tensed before our first jump. Changing wind conditions was another risk factor too.

But then it was all fun during subsequent falls. As we took off in Up and Out Position, started soaring like an eagle exploring the sky, enjoying the serenity and we felt like being at the top of the world. Unbelievable and rejoicing moment that cannot be explained in words. Indeed executing parajump, not only boosted our self-confidence, determination, self reliance, masterful activity, believe, and courage, but also made us proud for setting a course to be followed by other women of Pakistan.

Besides undergoing though training, we all enjoyed the course as comrades. Facing challenges together made us believe in team work. We were called by helmet numbers during the course and, like good soldiers, different jokes were associated with every helmet number due to the peculiar habits of each individual. It was tough but we went through it like true soldiers.

I want to share my one lighter moment with the readers, whereby, during 3rd jump, I was capturing the moments through video. While attempting this, my concentration was divided and resultantly, my parachute landed on a tree. But as I was properly trained to handle any such eventuality during the course, I managed to come down unharmed even after landing on tree top.

After the successful completion of jumps, we were awarded with the Para Wings (Insignia) at a ceremony by Major General Abid Rafique, General Officer Commanding, SSG, at Tarbela. Our wing symbolises our dedication, courage and hardwork by our instructors. Becoming a paratrooper at PTS is a unique experience requiring special enthusiasm and a desire to be challenged mentally and physically. I believe that to achieve something you have to burn your blood and sweat. You have to be determined and not to loose hope. Give your best, and you will get the best.

I really feel proud and honoured to be serving in Pak Army which provides equal opportunities to all genders to excel in relevant fields. With this fearless spirit, we moved ahead in our pursuit of successful completion of paratrooping course and achieved what we dreamt for, following famous quote of Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

"There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure."
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Date:Aug 31, 2013
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