The Fort Bragg soldier who died in a training jump Monday was a U.S. Army colonel who served multiple tours overseas and penned a book about his military experience.
Col. Darron Wright had at least two decades of military experience, according to friends who publicly grieved his death on social media.
Fort Bragg officials have not officially identified the 18th Airborne Corps soldier killed. His identity is expected to be formally released today.
"He was an inspirational officer with contagious enthusiasm, motivation and energy," Col. John Norris, commander at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, wrote on Facebook. "Great soldier, leader, mentor, husband, father and very dear friend."
Before taking command in Germany last year, Norris was commander of Joint Base Lewis-McChord's 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Norris said Wright served as a deputy commander during a tour in Iraq.
Wright was relocated to Fort Bragg after being stationed at Lewis-McChord. He leaves behind a wife and children.
Darren Amick, who's been friends with Wright since 2004 and served time with him in the Army, said the shocking news has traveled fast.
"It's so unbelievable because he seemed so unstoppable," Amick said by phone from Texas.
Amick said Wright was a "soldier's leader" and was professional while still being approachable.
"A guy like that's going to be missed," Amick said.
Wright's book, "Iraq Full Circle," was published in October. In it, he assesses the Army's war in Iraq, where he helped command the last active combat brigade to withdraw from Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Amick said reading his friend's book is almost like he hasn't died.
"Reading the book is like having him here sharing a beer," Amick said. "Him just rambling and telling a story."
Col. Kevin Arata, a Fort Bragg spokesman, declined Tuesday to answer questions about where the jump happened or the type of parachute used.
Although Fort Bragg officials have not said whether the parachute was a factor in the soldier's death, the 18th Airborne Corps is transitioning to a new parachute.
Soldiers have to jump during the day without equipment, jump during the day with equipment and jump at night with equipment to be qualified to jump with the T-11, a square parachute.
The T-11 was the first major modification to the Army parachute since the 1950s. It was designed to replace the T-10, which has a circular design.
Army officials say the new parachute is safer because it can handle more weight and allows paratroopers to descend slower.
When the T-10 was designed in 1955, the paratrooper and the equipment he carried during a jump weighed less than 300 pounds, Army records show. In 2001, that weight was nearing 400 pounds.
The T-11 is designed to handle more than 400 pounds.
Soldiers at Fort Bragg started using the T-11 parachutes in 2009. Army officials conducted extensive tests in 2008 that determined soldiers suffered 70 percent fewer injuries with the new parachutes.
Soldiers jumping with a T-10 had a rate of descent of about 22 feet per second, which means a landing similar to a jump off a 7.5-foot platform, Army records show. The T-11 gives paratroopers a rate of descent of about 19 feet per second for a landing similar to a leap from a 5-foot platform.
The Army suspended use of the T-11 in July 2011 after an investigation into a Fort Bragg soldier's death a month earlier uncovered problems with the parachute. Paratroopers were cleared to use the T-11 in March 2012 after changes were made in the way the parachute is packed.
Darron Lee Wright (22 May 1968 – 23 September 2013) was a highly decorated colonel in the United States Army. He served three tours in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Wright was born in Dallas but grew up in Mesquite, Texas, where he graduated from West Mesquite High School and joined the National Guard. He then attended Kemper Military College in Booneville Missouri, earning an associate degree and commission as a Second Lieutenant in 1988. In 1991, Wright earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of North Texas.
Later that year, Wright moved to his fist assignment where he served as a rifle platoon leader, company executive officer, and company commander with the 3rd Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 7th Infantry Division (Light), at Fort Ord, California. After a short tour in the Republic of Korea he was assigned as a company commander with 3rd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment. After his company commander time, he served as a long-range surveillance detachment commander with 313th Military Intelligence Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He was at Bragg from 1996 to 2000.
From 2000 to 2004, Wright served as the chief of operations for 7th Infantry Division and as battalion operations officer for 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 4th infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colorado, with whom he deployed to Iraq from 2003 to 2004 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Wright was next assigned as brigade executive officer with 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, with whom he deployed to Iraq from 2005 to 2006. In 2007 he was assigned as battalion commander for 1st Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, Louisiana. From 2009 to 2013, Wright was assigned as deputy brigade commander for the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, with whom he deployed to Iraq from 2009 to 2010, and later as operations officer for the 7th Infantry Division and I Corps, Fort Lewis, Washington. Despite the high operational tempo of his previous 25 years of service Wright actively sought out challenging assignments that would put him directly in combat. He secured the position of assistant chief of staff for the 18th Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, which was already training to deploy to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The Wrights arrived and settled into their new assignment in August 2013, eager and excited for another adventure. On 23 September 2013, tragedy struck and COL Wright died during a training accident at the age of 45. After serving his country for 26 years and after 37 months deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, COL Darron Lee Wright was laid to rest on 2 October 2013 at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.
Colonel Wright is survived by his wife, Wendy, of Canadian, Texas; two sons, Dillon, a student at Virginia Military Institute, and Kyle of Canadian, Texas; a daughter, Chloe, of Renton, Washington; his mother Kathy Rice and step-father Harvey Rice of Mesquite; his brother Larron Wright, of Mesquite, Texas, and sister, Michelle Wentz, of Mansfield, Texas.
COL Wright’s decorations and awards include the Legion of Merit (2nd award), Bronze Star Medal with Valor, Bronze Star Medal (3rd award), Meritorious Service Medal (6th award), Army Commendation Medal (4th award), Army Achievement Medal (3rd Award), Presidential Unit Citation Award; Valorous Unit Award, Meritorious Unit Commendation, National Defense Service Medal (2nd Award), Iraqi Campaign Medal (with three campaign stars), Global War on Terror Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon (4th award), Air Assault Badge, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, Ranger Tab, and Senior Parachutist Badge. He is also a recipient of the General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award.
Darron L. Wright was a larger than life Soldier’s Soldier. He was a physically imposing, direct, and skilled warrior. He was also witty, hilarious, generous, kind, and wholly consumed with love for his family. He will certainly be missed but he will never be forgotten. His intellectual curiosity, boundless optimism, and untiring work ethic, allowed him to reach heights he could only dream of as a young boy growing up in Mesquite, Texas. It is in this spirit that the Darron L. Wright Award was created, to inspire fellow military writers and poets to aspire to become better and more accomplished at their craft and at telling their story.
“May we never forget those past and present who answered the call to defend us and provide the blanket of freedom we sleep under every night.”- Colonel Darron L. Wright