MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Laughter echoes through the paraloft's halls as Air Delivery Platoon jokes around while doing pull-ups. Despite the ongoing parachute tampering investigation that's plagued the Marines since Sept. 21, comradery is evident between the "band of brothers."
Emerging through the cluster of green skive shirts walks jumpmaster Sgt. Britton C. Howes. He is the man responsible for initially ceasing training operations that Saturday in question after discovering his jumpers' suspension lines severed. Because of it, three Marines pulled reserve parachutes to save their lives, and an additional 10 parachutes, including the assistant jumpmaster's, were tampered with. His immediate grasp of the situation is credited with saving the lives of his Marines and potentially many others.
"I was just doing my job," said Howes about the situation.
The 23 year-old began rigging parachutes in 1997 when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. At 17, Howes, a self-proclaimed joker, had a "summer of fun" before recruit training in October that year.
"My dad said I probably wouldn't like it because I don't like people giving me orders, but I found out that's the easy part," he said.
The Gilroy, Calif., native, encourages new joins entering the paraloft to have a thick skin and not to take things personally.
"We joke around a lot, but if there is work to be done, we get it done," explained Howes, who is getting ready to transfer to Okinawa after his five-year stint with 2nd Transportation Support Battalion here.
Saving money to eventually purchase a house is on Howes' to do list while in Japan. His biggest venture right now, is bringing his wife Maria Hergot Howes and 3-year-old son, Mathias Hergot, to the U. S.
In 1999, Howes met Maria during Exercise Battle Griffin in Norway; since then, the two have married and started a family. However, they have only spent five months together since exchanging vows in 2001.
"So far it's been a nightmare with all the paperwork and visas to get them over here," he said.
Paperwork is not a favorite task of the lean, 5- foot 9-inch sergeant. Howes elucidates it is the only reason he doesn't like being a jumpmaster. You have a lot less responsibility when you are just jumping, he said. He made his 50th jump two years ago and has since stopped counting.
Howes became a jumpmaster in early 2002, and according to platoon commander, 1st Lt. Christopher M. Cole, the Sept. 21 jump was the first time Howes served as the primary jumpmaster.
Cole said that from the time the first stick of jumpers exited the aircraft to the present, Howes has conducted himself very professionally and with a great deal of maturity.
"His ability to function and effectiveness under stress have been noticed by everyone in his chain of command," said Cole, who himself was forced to open his reserve parachute.
Howes remembers being in disbelief when he found the lines severed.
"I was trying to keep my options open before we really determined what it was. I was hoping it was something other than what happened. I hoped it was something sharp on the edge of the aircraft or some freak accident, and then at the same time I was worried about the jumpers and making sure they were alive," Howes said.
As Howes moves on to his new home in Okinawa, Cole said Air Delivery Platoon would be losing one of its assets.
"Sergeant Howes is regarded as a subject matter expert in the area of rigging," explained Cole. "His knowledge and expertise are continually sought after by not only junior Marines in his platoon but also his peers."