A Life In The Skies
by U.S. Army Spc. Michael Alexander
September 18, 2021
He felt the nervousness in his gut as he prepared to jump out of an aircraft for the first time. It was late, around two in the morning. They were flying 1,000 feet above the ground, but it was so dark he couldn’t see the whole way down. With an 80-pound rucksack hanging from his waist and a weapon at his side, he had to dig deep to muster the courage and act on his training to jump out of the aircraft.
U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Erin Allen, a pilot with 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment “Fighting Eagles” (2-1), 1st Combat Aviation Brigade (1CAB), started his Army career as an airborne infantryman.
Even then, however, he knew he eventually wanted to become a warrant officer and pilot aircraft.
U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Erin Allen, a pilot with 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment “Fighting Eagles,” 1st Aviation Combat Brigade (1CAB), poses for a photo at U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwöhr Training Area, Germany. Allen was in the process of qualifying for static-line operations June 9, 15 and 16, 2021 during 1CAB’s deployment as a rotational force to Europe in support of Atlantic Resolve, which provides ready and postured, combat-credible forces through multinational training and security cooperation activities. (U.S. Army photo provided by Chief Warrant Officer 2 Erin Allen)
Through his training and experiences over two different career paths, Allen has developed into a more lethal, tactical and technical expert, a Soldier more ready and better able to help his unit however needed.
In his first jump after graduating from Airborne School with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, a battalion-sized, mass-tactical jump, they forced entry onto a simulated airfield and seized control of the airport to allow for more aircraft and personnel to arrive and support the mission, Allen said. It was a huge learning curve, and that he felt like he was in way over his head as a young private. However, he fell in love with jumping from that point on, he said.
Allen spent three years with the 82nd before moving to 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd (Airborne) Brigade Combat Team. During his three years there, he was given the opportunity to go to the U.S. Army Jumpmaster School. A jumpmaster is an expert who is responsible for safely deploying jumpers out of the aircraft. Allen was a jumpmaster for approximately two and a half years while part of the 173rd.
During his time jumping out of aircraft, Allen executed around 46 static-line jumps. A static-line jump is when a select number of paratroopers, eight to 102 depending on the type of aircraft, are tethered to a static-line cable inside the aircraft. As they jump, the force of the aircraft moving pulls against the jumpers’ main parachute resulting in it being deployed automatically as they leave the aircraft. This allows the jumpers to quickly jump, orient themselves at a low altitude, land safely on the ground and continue operations.
After six years in the airborne community and two and a half as a recruiter, Allen transitioned to the other side of aircraft.
“If I found a point in my career where I could transition to being a warrant officer, to become an aviator, then I would seek out that opportunity,” Allen said. “I've been blessed with my entire career. I've been blessed with my wife and my family to allow me to chase both [of] my dreams to have a very fulfilled career as an infantryman and jumpmaster in the airborne community and then find the opportunity to transition into becoming a warrant officer and aviator. I couldn't be happier.”
In August 2019, Allen graduated from flight school and became an aviator flying CH-47 Chinook helicopters. As a pilot in 1CAB, he qualified to fly static-line operations in June 2021. Before the qualification flight, Allen had to train on Chinook static-line operations and learn how to prepare for them. This process involved learning in a classroom environment taught by expert instructors who have already qualified. Once that was completed, he would fly traffic patterns and dry runs with instructor pilots. He practiced returning radio calls to drop zone safety officers, working with jumpmasters and accurately operating the red and green lights to communicate with jumpers.
When the time came to actually qualify, Allen said it took about two weeks of preparation. He had to coordinate with the 173rd IBCT, whose Soldiers would be the ones jumping. He had to figure out how much fuel would be needed and when and where to refuel. He had to determine the air speeds necessary to allow the jumpers to safely exit the aircraft. He also had to plan how the sequence and timing of the operation would go with the pilots of the other two participating aircraft. After planning, all that was left was the qualification. Over the course of two days, he and other qualifying pilots flew, dropped the jumpers and finished the mission. In addition to the joy that came with qualifying, it was also special to Allen to be able to work with his old unit.
“It allowed me to really take a step back and look at my career,” Allen said. “I was able to participate as an actual jumper, jumping into a drop zone. Then being able to actually fly the aircraft which some of my past peers are continuing to jump, it's very humbling. It kind of brings my career full circle in the very short amount of time of 10 and a half years. It just brought a smile to my face the entire time like I was a kid again.”
Allen is one of many pilots who trained and qualified for static-line operations in 1CAB. There are more than just pilots involved, however. Staff Sgt. Michael Cox, a standardization instructor also with 2-1, assists static-line operations from the backend of the helicopter, instructs other Soldiers during the qualification process and has worked with Allen.
“I can’t say enough good things about CW2 Allen,” Cox said. “He’s an all-around great pilot and warrant officer, [who is] extremely willing to help the company in any aspect it needs him to.”
The 1CAB is currently deployed on a rotation to Europe supporting Atlantic Resolve. One way they support Atlantic Resolve is by conducting realistic training in realistic environments, both on their own or with other units, NATO allies or partners. Having aircrews capable of completing static-line operations allows 1CAB to support a more dynamic range of missions with other units and to help them complete their objectives.
“It allows 1CAB as a whole to accept more missions, to support the ground force and to be able to deliver the ground force to the objective in one of the most lethal, high-risk manners possible,” Allen said. “We have a bunch of qualified crews, and we train this in real-time. Once that day comes, we're actually going to put boots on the ground on a real objective. Essentially it's like going back to battle drills in basic training. It's muscle memory and allows us to actually safely conduct this type of operation and allows the 1CAB to be a more lethal unit in the Army.”
Throughout his military career, Allen has had the uncommon opportunity to train, qualify and perform static-line operations both as an airborne infantryman and as a pilot. Soldiers like Allen who train and push their limits are part of how the Army maintains its readiness and lethality.
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