FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA – Almost every branch of the U.S. Army has a patron saint, a spirit that symbolically safeguards members within their respective profession. The infantryman has St. Maurice, the cavalry troops have St. George. Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division and other airborne units worldwide have St. Michael.
Nearly 400 Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division gathered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina for an annual training jump on May 7, 2019 in honor of their adopted saint. Organized by the Division’s chaplains, the St. Michael’s jump is an opportunity for Paratroopers to gather for religious fellowship while maintaining jump currency.
“The St. Michael’s airborne operation is a chance for unit ministry teams across all the brigades and battalions to get guys on an airborne operation that has devotional aspects,” said Maj. Luke Sprinkle, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division. “It’s an opportunity to bring together chapel communities, Families, unit ministry teams and Paratroopers altogether.”
The jump is the culmination of other training that began several weeks earlier, explained Sprinkle.
“It starts when Paratroopers participate in the spiritual fitness event with their battalion chaplains and that basically qualifies them to get a (parachute) on the St. Michaels airborne operation,” said Sprinkle. “After the St. Michaels airborne operation is complete and jumpers are on the ground, we feed them, have a short devotional time and they’re able to meet with their Families on the drop zone.”
Three-time participant, Master Sgt. Robert B. Blalock, the 82nd Airborne Division master of religious affairs noncommissioned officer, described what it felt like on his first St. Michael’s jump in 2017.
“The first jump was amazing,” said Blalock. “To simply learn the history of St. Michael and then being able to share that experience with Paratroopers of this fine division. It was amazing.”
This year’s jump will be Blalock’s last while assigned as a Paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division due to an upcoming permanent change of station move.
“I’m going to miss it,” explained Blalock. “It saddens me, but as with every Soldier, we spend a small period of time in those positions and then we have to move on, but I’m thankful for the opportunity that I was given to serve and to jump in the St. Michaels jump events.”
While grateful, Blalock said there’s more to these events than just the training or spiritual components.
“For me, just learning the history of St. Michael and then sharing that history of tradition with the younger Paratroopers of the 82nd (Airborne Division) was my favorite part,” said Blalock. “I hope Paratroopers come away with an appreciation for what we mean when we say that St. Michael is the patron saint of Paratroopers.”
Sprinkle hopes the Paratroopers walk away knowing their faith is not separate from the rest of their lives.
“Their faith involves what they do at home, what they do at (physical training), what they do at work and who they associate with,” said Sprinkle. “We’re helping them be better rounded Paratroopers and fully integrated Paratroopers. A fully integrated Paratrooper is a better Paratrooper.”