MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
Airmen from the 820th Base Defense Group traveled to Rhode Island to compete in the largest international static line jump training and competition in the world.
The 820th BDG represented the only U.S. sister-service team and placed second of the 70 teams at the 34th Annual Leapfest, hosted by the Rhode Island National Guard.
“Winning second place feels great,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Mark Melchiori, 822nd Base Defense Squadron fire team leader and Rhode Island native. “It’s not every day you get to do something like this. We’re always training, but it’s cool to get to have some fun with it.”
The competition judges jumpers’ ability to exit a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter and land as close as possible to a designated area within a landing zone. While competition was stiff, the event stressed the importance of training allied countries’ ability to work together toward a common mission.
“If you look at the countries here, they’re all allies of ours,” said U.S. Army First Sgt. Chris Callan, 56th Troop Command first sergeant. “We know from Iraq and Afghanistan that U.S. [troops] may look [around] and not necessarily see an American, but they may see a Brit or a German. So, [familiarity] is important, because we could find ourselves in a situation where we have Americans and their allies jumping into a mission together.”
While they may speak different languages, the jumpers agreed they all speak airborne.
“The paratroopers community is unique and very important,” said Italian Brig. Gen. Enrico Pollini of the Associanzione Nazionale Paracadutusti D’ltalia. “The brotherhood is the same across the countries. This is the third time we’ve been here, and I thank the organization and the U.S. for this opportunity to jump together with foreign paratroopers and exchange wings. When we exchange wings, we give our history to them and they give their history to us.”
While Leapfest may be good for camaraderie, and the training may be necessary for today’s mission around the world, that doesn't change the 820th BDG’s approach to the competition.
“Competition breeds excellence, and that’s what we aim for,” Melchiori said. “In the future, I hope to see more teams come up from the 820th. We have so many talented guys that could benefit from this, especially the younger ones who are just getting into it.”