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Paratroopers take flight during Operation Sleigh Ride

The weather outside was far from frightful Wednesday when scores of Fort Benning paratroopers executed Operation Sleigh Ride in support of Santa’s Castle.

“You couldn’t ask for better conditions,” said Sgt. 1st Class Chad Young, who participated in the afternoon airborne exercise. “Beautiful opening, soft all the way down, no winds pushing you left or right, beautiful landing.”

Operation Sleigh Ride, held annually on post, garners hundreds of gifts for the children of cash-strapped Fort Benning soldiers while also making it possible for sky soldiers such as Young to earn foreign jump wings.

This year’s event attracted close to 240 paratroopers to Fryar Drop Zone, said Col. Jon Ring, commander of the 1st Battalion, 507th Infantry Regiment, 11th Infantry Regiment, 199th Infantry Brigade, which sponsored the jump.

“It helps our community,” Ring said. “We also get the benefit of jumping with other paratroopers and we get foreign jump wings out of the deal.”

Participants were asked to donate at least one new, unwrapped toy to Santa’s Castle before boarding the birds and taking flight. In the past, those gifts were distributed through Santa’s Castle during the holiday season to the children of Fort Benning soldiers who, because of financial difficulties, would otherwise not receive toys for Christmas.

Last year’s participants received Canadian jump wings for their participation in Operation Sleigh Ride.

This year’s volunteers earned foreign jump wings from Chilean jumpmaster Sgt. 1st Class Manuel Linconir Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, who led the exercise, is assigned as a guest instructor at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

Santa’s Castle is a nonprofit organization run by volunteers.

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