One of the things we attempt to do here at www.allenbwest.com is keep you informed, but also provide analysis and assessment you might not see elsewhere. We seek out certain trends that we can tie together to make you a far better informed citizen.
It’s imperative that if we own up to Benjamin Franklin’s challenge — that we have a Republic, if we can keep it — it will require a well-informed electorate. And as well, you’ve heard me say before, a well educated and informed (and armed) electorate means we have citizens, not subjects.
Recently I came across a story that is part of a very telling trend in our military and I felt it was important to share it.
We’ve shared stories about military aviation platform incidents, some fatal. Along with that, we’ve brought you the appalling stories about our military aviation maintenance crews having to scour museums and boneyards for repair parts for our military combat aviation systems. Now comes a story that, for me, really hit close to home.
As reported by Military Times, “Navy SEAL Jason Kortz was 10,000 feet over Perris, California, about to perform his first a high-altitude, high-open jump while wearing night vision goggles and weighed down with bulky, cumbersome combat gear.
America’s elite special operations troops conduct such training missions to prepare for the types of high-stakes, clandestine missions that have become a centerpiece of the U.S. military’s war on terrorism. Tragically, this jump was also Kortz’s last.
As a student in the Navy’s Advanced Tactical Air Assault Course, Kortz had completed 32 prior free-fall jumps. But this training mission was much more complex — and it became a catastrophe almost the instant he exited the aircraft.
Tumbling head over heels at speeds exceeding 100 mph, Kortz panicked. He was unable to arch his body and stabilize the fall, military investigators concluded. He deployed his main parachute, but the uncontrolled fall caused it to tangle around his body.
Kortz radioed the jumpmaster, who told him to cut his main chute and deploy the backup. When he did, it got tangled in the main chute and wrapped around his gear. Moments later, the third class special warfare operator was dead.
The Navy’s investigation, released to Military Times under the federal Freedom of Information Act, found troubling flaws in the SEALs’ jump-training programs. Officials determined Kortz was ordered to perform the complicated jump before he was ready, and that his death was “preventable.”
Adm. Brian Losey, then the commander of Naval Special Warfare, ordered a thorough review of his command’s air operations. But Kortz’s death on March 18, 2015, was far from an isolated incident. He was one of 11 special operators who died in such training accidents between 2011 and 2016, a 60 percent increase over the previous five-year period, according to 13 years worth of records obtained and analyzed by Military Times.”
This hits close to home for me because I achieved the status of U.S. Army Master Parachutist. In my twenty-two year career, I graduated U.S. Army Airborne and Jumpmaster school, and completed 73 static line parachute jumps with the requisite numbers of combat equipment, night, and jump master duties. The “Master Blaster” award is given to those who meet the requirements with the minimum being 65 parachute operations.
I’m also honored to have been awarded the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps Parachute Insignia, Gold Wings, during my three year joint assignment at Camp Lejeune North Carolina. My highest altitude jump was 3,000 feet, static line.
Therefore, I find these statistics very disturbing, of course some bureaucratic bean counter would say this isn’t a large number — unless you’re one of those who died… or their family.
But the 60 percent increase between 2011-2016 needs an analysis. In reading the article from the Military Times, there is a very dismissive excuse of these highly professional Warriors being careless and complacent…that is an easy way out.
“A Military Times review of accident investigations involving Army, Navy and Air Force special operations personnel revealed troubling training shortfalls, lapsed jump qualifications, and a number of accidents and deaths at least partially attributed to overconfidence on the part of the jumpers or the trainers. To that end, the spike in deaths has raised the question of whether there is a cultural problem inside some parts of Special Operations Command, and whether its fraternity of elite warriors fostered a complacency that undermined safety.”
Perhaps the constant deployments of these Warriors is a reason we’re seeing this increase in military parachute training operations deaths. Military parachuting is not like civilian sport parachuting. For a static line paratrooper, you’re weighed down with at least 100-125 pounds of gear and exiting the aircraft en masse, with hundreds of other paratroopers, at night.
Static line training jumps are executed between 800-1000 feet; an actual combat jump in only 500 feet, with no reserve chute. For the free fall Special Operators there are two types of operations, HAHO and HALO (High Altitude High Opening and High Altitude Low Opening).
On top of the same combat gear as a static line jumper, these Warriors don oxygen masks and must maintain their proper arched back body position, or else. These are the types of operations, just like rifle marksmanship, that require repetitive training. My concern is that we’ve subjected these Warriors to a constant cycle of deployments that has degraded their ability to stay current with this vital aspect of their combat employment.
As well, there’s been a full-fledged push to increase the U.S. Special Operations forces rolls…and that could also be to their detriment.
“Privately, SOCOM officials point to several factors that may help explain the spike in jump-training deaths. Since 9/11, the command has expanded dramatically. Today’s force of 70,000 elite soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines is nearly double what it was in 2001. That means more operators who are doing jump training and, in turn, reporting more mishaps, officials said.
Since 2013, SEALs have lost four operators in jump training accidents. The Air Force has lost three operators over the past decade. The Marines lost three since 2009. The Army lost one Green Beret and one Ranger in the same time period. Officials say there was no single factor attributed to the jump deaths, which varied in both type and service. Eight of the 11 SOCOM jump deaths since 2011 involved free falls —– with heavy combat gear — before the jumper opened his parachute. That includes high-altitude, high-open, or HAHO, jumps as well as the most dangerous jump: high-altitude, low-open, or HALO jumps, which are required for the most secretive missions. Three of the 11 jump deaths involved static-line jumps, in which the parachute opens immediately after leaving the plane.”
Quality has a quantity all to itself, and if we want to grow our Special Operations forces, it is an admirable pursuit — they are after all, our modern-day Spartans. But any increase in quantity must never forget the standards that ensure the highest quality. And that means the standard of training may need to be higher.
We’ve heard some from the left complain about ensuring “civilian control” of the U.S. military. So, let me remind y’all that out of the previous administration’s SecDef, SecArmy, SecNavy, and SecAirForce, there was a combined TWO years of military experience…and that was all with Ray Mabus.
I believe when you have “civilian leadership” that’s been on the hot tarmac at Ft. Bragg’s Green Ramp, preparing for a night mass tactical training jump, and knows what proper military parachute training and preparation entails, the result is that they look for trends in training that send up a red flag. Then perhaps the number of deaths we’ve witnessed in this report wouldn’t have occurred. And yes, I do question having a Secretary of the Veterans Administration who isn’t a veteran…but that’s a topic for a later time.
We need folks in the “civilian leadership” of our military who’ve been there, done that, and got the t-shirt. The Bubbas in Vietnam had a saying: ”you can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?”
Going forward, let’s learn a simple lesson: having retired senior military leaders take leadership positions in the military ain’t a bad thing. Remember, to include our commander in chief. There’s no requirement for the top level civilian leadership in our military to take a military strategy course and many may not be able to articulate the difference between a brigade, regiment, MEU, MEB, ARG/MEU, CVBG, or AEG. And you know what? This isn’t some discovery learning position, because as this story presents, there are lives at risk…and not just in combat operations.
Sadly, we never knew who U.S. Navy SEAL Jason Kortz was, nor of his death in March 2015…how many more of our men and women in uniform are losing their lives in training because the “civilian control” is failing them?