Military officials are investigating after 32 parachuting soldiers were injured —four badly enough to require hospitalization — when 87 jumpers were blown into trees during a night training exercise in Mississippi.
Injuries during training jumps are fairly common, but the scale of this accident is fairly rare, Col. Christopher Landers, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, said during a brief news conference Thursday.
“In my career, I’ve seen about a half-dozen times where this many jumpers end up in the trees,” he said.
He said the last soldier was brought down from the trees about 8 a.m. Thursday but equipment was still being retrieved that afternoon.
All injured soldiers should recover fully, with the most severely injured probably taking about three months, Dr. Duncan Donald, trauma medical director at Forrest General Hospital, told reporters earlier. He said five soldiers had broken vertebrae, but none of them had an injured spinal cord.
The soldiers were among 650 jumping in to open a 10-day training exercise at Camp Shelby, a 134,000-acre (525-square-kilometer) National Guard site that includes a joint forces training center for active and reserve service members, officials said.
Landers said the Army is investigating just what caused the accident. Each similar accident has had a different cause, he said.
Col. Bobby Ginn, post commander for the Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, said 23 soldiers were sent to emergency rooms, and most were sent back to their units or the Camp Shelby clinic.
The brigade combat team is stationed at the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska. A town hall for paratroopers and their families will be held there, Ginn said.
Mississippi National Guard spokeswoman Lt. Col. Deidre Smith said soldiers continued to jump into the drop zone after the injuries, with units trying to account for their members.
“Once all soldiers have been accounted for, our goal is ultimately to continue training,” Smith said in a statement. “Despite the challenges that we currently face, soldiers always place the mission first.”
Smith said the base works to reduce risks associated with airborne operations, with a nearby hospital in Hattiesburg on alert and emergency vehicles on standby at Camp Shelby.
About 3,000 troops from the Alaska base are participating in a 10-day exercise called “Operation Arctic Anvil” in preparation for further training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, starting in January, Landers said.
The Mississippi base is devoted to large-scale training, with convoys of military trucks a common sight on nearby highways and military aircraft frequently seen overhead.