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Personal Stories Personal Stories
Aerial Delivery and Airdrop Technology
Putting Training to Work in the Lab and the Field

When Laurra Winters began work as a textile technologist at the U.S. Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) in Natick, Mass., little did she know that in a few years she would be officially “Airborne.”

Winters, a native of Freetown, Mass., graduated from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth with a bachelor’s degree in textile science in 1998. She credits two inspirational mentors at NSRDEC for giving her the guidance and support she needed to turn her educational credentials into a successful career.

One of her mentors was Erwin Wuester, the senior textile technologist in parachutes who has since retired after 20 years of service. When Winters came onboard, Wuester was well-established as the subject matter expert for parachutes and the many different types of textiles used on the battlefield. Winters says Wuester was a patient and generous individual who would freely share his knowledge about parachutes, giving Winters the confidence to work in the world of life support items, where decisions are critical to the safety of the warfighter. His attention also sparked in Winters a growing interest in applying her textile-science background to the world of aerial delivery and airdrop technology.

As a civilian textile technologist serving on the Aerial Delivery Engineering Support Team (ADEST), Winters addresses textile issues associated with personnel parachutes, cargo parachutes, and helicopter sling load technology. By providing immediate response to textile questions regarding fielded airdrop and aerial delivery items, inspecting parachute malfunctions and accidents, developing material improvements, and testing the equipment, Winters provides direct and critical support to the warfighter.

In 2002, Winters had the opportunity to attend the Soldier and Biological Chemical Command’s (SBCCOM) Greening Program. This program provides civilians with the opportunity to interact with warfighters in the military environment. In 2003, she volunteered to attend the three-week U.S. Army Basic Airborne Course (BAC) at Fort Benning, Ga. Before attending BAC, Winters and her teammates began months of training at NSRDEC, including grueling physical training (PT) each morning to prepare and better understand military expectations.

Despite her mental and physical preparation, Winters faced a new challenge upon her arrival at BAC in October 2003. For acceptance into the course, she had to complete a full PT test that soldiers are required to complete. Unexpectedly, the PT test recently had been altered to include the flex arm hang. Winters did not possess enough upper-body strength to pass the requirement, and she was forced to return home. She remembers that setback well: “It was one of the most disappointing moments. But I blocked it out of my mind and decided that BAC was one opportunity I didn’t want to miss, so I hired my own personal trainer. Quitting was not an option for me.” Less than a year later, she returned to BAC in May 2004, was able to complete the PT test -- including the flex arm hang -- and was accepted into BAC.

During the next three weeks, the real test began. The training program consisted of one week of tower, one week of ground, and one week of jumping. To complete the course, individuals must successfully complete a total of five jumps. Winters completed three jumps, but on the third she broke her leg. Having already overcome a large setback, Winters did not lose heart and has since accomplished her fourth and fifth jumps and is now “Airborne.”

Reflecting on her path to a career in aerial delivery and airdrop technology, Winters remembers her initial interview with the two scientists who would become her close mentors. She found their description of the aerial delivery community intriguing and unique. Even with her background in textile science, she knew that working with parachutes would be a new challenge. “Once a member of the Aerial Delivery Engineering Support Team, I was able to utilize my basic knowledge and interact with many different aeronautical and mechanical engineers to understand how parachutes perform,” Winters says.

Winters completed her master’s degree in material science system engineering at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in January 2010. It was another milestone in a career that has provided this young woman with some of the most exhilarating experiences of her life. Not many people can say that about their job!

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