The Army’s been taking its time releasing information on this, but during an 82nd Airborne jump on 14 July 16, Sergeant Arturo Valenzuela fell to his death.
Sgt. Arturo Godinez Valenzuela, 31, died of multiple blunt force injuries during a high-elevation fall during a parachute training incident on July 14, according to a North Carolina death certificate obtained by Army Times.
(Of course, his name could have been Arturo Godinez in the Spanish style…
The cause of the incident remains under investigation, according to Army spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Buccino.
Maj. Gen. Richard Clarke, commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, released a statement:”On behalf of the entire All American Division, I express my deepest sympathies to Sergeant Valenzuelas Family and to his brothers and sisters in arms. Sergeant Valenzuela was part of the Family of Paratroopers and his loss is felt by all of us in the community. We know that airborne operations are inherently dangerous but we know we must be prepared to do them. His death is a great sacrifice to his country and our shared values. We are committed to the greatest levels of transparency with our partners throughout the investigation process.”
The thing is, Arturo Valenzuela wasn’t an All American from the 82nd: he was a Mexican soldier, conducting exchange training with the American unit.
Mexican-Norteamericano military-to-military relations tend to be, not exactly frosty, but deliberately correct. Mexican pride still burns from the Mexican-American War, and patriotic Mexican soldiers are very resistant to being the junior partner in anything. And the United States, for historical and cultural reasons that were in place before any of us were born, is viewed by much of Latin America as a bigfooting colonialist empire, much as Russia is viewed by the nations of its Near Abroad. Protesting about our good intentions doesn’t change this (any more than Russian protests about their good intentions does). So, in the light of all that, it is interesting to see Mexican troops actively training with their US-ian counterparts.
The Mexican military (especially special operations units and the navy) bears a lot of the burden of the drug war in Mexico, which has a degree of pervasiveness and depth of violence more like the height of the Iraqi insurgency than anything we’ve seen in the USA, even in the Prohibition gangster era or the height of the crack epidemic of the 90s. Given the degree to which the police are subverted, the military is the critical institution for Mexican security.
This creates opportunities for the USA to work to help Mexico improve its military professionalism further (and opportunities for the Mexican troops who live this reality to share their practical experience with their counterparts of del Norte. The US benefit of these exchanges if often overlooked).
Unfortunately, intensive training often produces injuries, and occasionally fatalities.
via Army IDs foreign soldier killed in parachuting death over Fort Bragg.
We’d like to add that, by now, the accident’s cause should be as understood as it’s going to be, and it’s interesting that the US Army has said nothing publicly about it. There is certainly a lack of trust of the T-11 parachute compared to its thoroughly proven T-10 ancestor. The T-10 was a conventional conical round parachute with essentially no steering capability, intended for mass tactical jumps. Over the decades, it underwent only two major changes, the addition of an anti-inversion net which prevented most inversion and line-over malfunctions, and a late change to zero-porosity fabric that produced a slower descent at the price of greater oscillation. The T-11 is a somewhat more complex chute that looks more squared-off in planform. (It’s still a conventional non-steerable parachute, not the sort of ram-air square used in skydives and HALO).
The sergeant was participating in an exercise with nearly 340 paratroopers. The operation was cancelled in-progress after his fall; 108 completed their jump. The time of death was listed on the death report as 4:32 pm.
Buccino said the soldier was using a T-11 parachute, a new parachute involved in five training deaths of U.S. soldiers since 2011. Root causes have included improper exits from the aircraft, a poorly-secured rucksack that slashed another soldier’s shoot, and an improperly routed static line creating a towed jumper, according to investigations.
“Another soldier’s shoot.” We guess that proves we’re not the only ones who use text-to-speech and don’t have an editor. But Gannett claims to have editors.
The article goes on to note that today’s smaller Army still conducts 60,000 parachute jumps a year (down from about double that in the 1980s). The vast majority of these are static-line jumps, and the vast majority of those are done with the T-11 chute. A retired senior special operations officer who tipped us to this story notes that:
I wasn’t there, so can only speculate about what went wrong. My speculations include jumper lack of airborne experience generally, lack of familiarity with mass exits from high performance aircraft generally, particularly if the jump platform was a C-17, bad and/or weak exit, and a malfunction of the T-11’s slider.
These are all plausible, and our best guess is that even if we (or our correspondent) had been there, we might be none the wiser. A jump mishap often seems inexplicable at first, and only with time and effort can you determine a most probable cause.
We’d also add that the interesting detail wouldn’t be the gross numbers of parachuting deaths (there will always be deaths, although you make every effort to bring them to zero. It’s an inherently risky activity), but the percentage of malfunctions. Because paratroopers are drilled and recurrently trained on most common malfunctions, it’s probable that many other soldiers survived malfunctions; the interesting number that the Army will not share is, are there more or fewer of these per 1,000 jumps than there were in T10 days?
A parachute jump death of a foreigner on US soil using US equipment is guaranteed to produce an unusually intense investigation micromanaged from unusually high levels of command. The last one we can recall was a German soldier jumping an experimental extreme-low-altitude chute in the 1980s. Development of that parachute was discontinued as a result of the investigation.