AUSTIN — When Capt. Daniel Stephens entered a wind tunnel blasting air at more than 100 mph, the soldier’s cheeks flapped against his face.

“The first time you get kind of mad because the opposite happens of what you really expect. I tried to reach for the door and ended up flying back,” said Stephens, commander of Charlie Company, 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade. “Once you get relaxed (and find a stable position), it’s kind of calm actually.”

Stephens was among 11 soldiers in the company who trained for future airborne missions June 26 at iFLY Austin Indoor Skydiving.

The company is the only airborne unit at Fort Hood and the only one qualified to use military free fall in operations, with four jumpers qualified through the Military Freefall School at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., as well as nine more preparing to go to the school.

“It’s a tremendous honor. I’m definitely very blessed to be here,” Stephens said. “I feel very lucky to be with the guys.”

Lt. Col. John P. Cogbill, squadron commander, said the wind tunnel introduces soldiers new to the airborne unit to the free fall sensation.

“(Training) is extremely important because military free fall operations are inherently risky just due to the fact that you’re not tethered to anything and you’re leaving an aircraft anywhere between 12,500 and 25,000 feet,” Cogbill said. “Once you’re up there, there’s no one really that’s going to be able to help you, so in order to mitigate that risk, we need to take every opportunity that we have to practice and maintain proficiency in a controlled environment.”

Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Ford, platoon sergeant for the 2nd Detachment, said working with experts who traveled with them to Austin was beneficial.

“Getting in the wind tunnel (and getting) the opportunity to have them critique me and give me pointers and get those small, minute details (just right) helps out a lot,” Ford said.

Contact Sarah Rafique at srafique@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7549. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.

I'm the education reporter at the Killeen Daily Herald. Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SarahRafique

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