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Airborne……All the Way!

 I already detailed my civilian skydiving violations so I will now take a stab at the military parachuting portions. 

I was not airborne qualified when I volunteered for SF training so I had to stop at Ft. Benning prior to heading for John Wayne University at Camp Mackall, NC. You have to be at least a sergeant to go to the Q course and I was a fresh E-5 sergeant when I showed up at jump school. This led to my appointment as student platoon sergeant responsible to our particular Black Hat instructor, who having a complete lack of rhythm was overjoyed to know that I could call cadence and march the platoon around smartly so he wouldn’t have to. 

Because I was going through the course in June we had a ton of ROTC college cadets, which gets interesting as they are not really soldiers yet. They could march in formation though which was a start. We began training and learned about the 5 points of contact for completing a proper parachute landing fall (PLF) which are the parts of your body that should hit the ground in order. They are, balls of the feet, calves, thighs, buttocks and the push up muscle. This explains repeated admonitions for us to “Remove your heads from your fourth point of contact”.

 All in all airborne training is almost identical to the WWII era. We ran, we did pushups, we did pull ups, we jumped from 34 foot mock aircraft and slid down a cable pretending we were under canopy and we did several million PLFs. Apparently the simple act of hitting the ground with bent knees and falling on your side is nearly impossible to do correctly. We did them first thing in the morning, we did them standing in line for chow, we did them before bed. Eventually we must have improved slightly because they decided to let us put on parachutes and load up on an aircraft, in this case a C-141 which holds about 130 wannabe paratroopers.

 We rigged up at the airfield and began the age old ritual of hurry up and wait as we sat for hours for absolutely no reason I could see. But eventually the aircraft arrived and the Black Hats were screaming, although a C-141 has four huge jet engines so we couldn’t hear them and they screamed all the time anyway. We trooped up the ramp and as student platoon sergeant I had the privilege of being the first one to put my knees in the breeze on our first jump, so I was last on. The primary jumpmaster was a particularly obnoxious 6’6” mutant Black Hat with a big Mickey Mouse tattoo on his left bicep and he gave me an evil grin as I passed him. The ride to altitude was quick and we passed it running through all the procedures for malfunctions and imagining what it would be like to auger in if nothing opens above your head.

We then got our first of the jump commands and the accompanying hand and arm signals.

 “Twenty Minutes!” Mutant Mickey bellowed flashing his ten extended digits twice.

 We noted this but took no action. MM returned again with “Six Minutes” and this begins the active steps toward hopping out the door.

 “Get Ready!” A double “talk to the hand”. This is time to take one last check of all the things that will hopefully save your ass when you jump and aggregate your fecal matter overall.

 “Outboard Personnel Stand Up” Double two-finger Boy Scout salute raised from sides to overhead. Obvious action.

 “Inboard Personnel Stand Up!” Obvious 

“Hook Up!” Double Fists with index crooked like a C pumped twice. Attach Snap Hook to cable and lock shut. Jerk it to make sure it is locked. 

“Check Equipment!” Double Fingers extended and joined tap chest and extend to sides twice. This involves checking all your connections and then tracing the static line on the back of the person in front of you to make sure it is OK. 

“Sound Off For Equipment Check!” Double hands cupped behind ears. Starting from the rear of the bird. Each slaps the ass of the person in front yelling “OK!” all the way to the front where I was and I look at MM and step forward yelling at the top of my lungs “ALL OK JUMPMASTER!”. 

MM gave me a devilish grin and got back to his duties which consist of taking control of the jump door from the Air Force Loadmaster and inspecting it to ensure it was safe to jump. This is a very intense process and MM got to it, examining the jump platform that extends 18 inches outside the aircraft. This locks down once the door is opened and ensures jumpers clear the side of the aircraft on exit. He stomps his foot down on it and when it held, he grabbed the edges of both sides of the door and then put both feet on the platform and arched his body outside the aircraft until he was fully in the slipstream with only his hands still inside the bird. This blew my mind as I had never seen it done before and if his hands had slipped he was gone. 

Although it just sounds mad there is method. While flappin’ in the breeze MM is visually inspecting the outside of the aircraft to ensure there are no protrusions that could snag a static line resulting in a towed jumper. He is also ensuring there are no other aircraft in the vicinity and finally he is visually acquiring the Drop Zone DZ and looking for the landmarks that tell him how long to the DZ. He popped back inside with a big old grin and proclaimed. “One Minute!” and then he looks at me, points to the door and says “Stand In The Door!” I then shuffle over to the door, hand my static line to the Safety and step one foot out onto the jump platform and place both hands on the outside of the aircraft. At this point I can feel the 130 mph wind whipping at my leg and right in front of my eyes is an open door in the side of an aircraft and 1250 ft. below the Georgia scenery is whipping by. This is a very WTF moment and it was a long and amazing minute but eventually we were over the release point and I saw the green light come on and heard the second to last thing before I was airborne “GO!” 

At this point I should spring forth off both feet and assume the correct body position to safely pass through the jet wash and survive the opening shock. What actually happened was that MM revealed just what had been tickling him as he gave me a size 14 boot directly to the ass so instead of gracefully flinging myself in perfect aerodynamic form out into the wind I launched flailing like a man falling off a building. The last thing I heard behind me was MM laughing his ass off. 

Static Line parachuting is almost foolproof so even my horrible body position had no effect and the chute jerked open wicked fast. It felt like a decent car crash but it stopped and lo and behold above my head a fully inflated canopy. WOO HOO! It is all well and good to know that these things work 99.999% of the time but that all BS until you see it up where it belongs and you realize you will not hit the earth like a giant lawn dart. You don’t spend a lot of time under canopy so I was busy figuring the wind direction and pulling risers to turn into the wind. You can’t fly a round parachute but you can rotate it and you definitely want to be facing into the wind because land with it and it will smash you flat. 

I got turned and saw the ground rushing up and got into position for a textbook PLF, which I executed and then stood up and enjoyed 10 seconds of pure exhilaration before a Black Hat was screaming at us to police up or parachutes and double time off the DZ. One jump down, four to go for the wings. 

The next two jumps were fairly uneventful and we progressed to the fourth which was the first time we jumped with combat equipment. The first three were “Hollywood” with just a main and reserve parachute, while now we would hang a full rucksack in front of our legs. This adds to the difficulty and requires you to release the rucksack on a lowering line so you don’t land with it. We were all focused on this new twist as we loaded up and headed to altitude. We were the second stick to go and the first left safely so we were stood up, hooked up, and shuffled to the door. The first sign I got that something was wrong was when the AF Loadmaster stood up and pushed past the Jumpmaster to look out the door. 

When he popped his head back in his eyes were big as dinner plates and he started yelling at the other crew and they were yanking open bulkheads and grabbing tools. I had just a second to lean toward the door and it was instantly obvious what the problem was as there was hydraulic fluid streaming off the entire wing. By now the Load had a 5 gal. can of hydraulic fluid open and was pouring it in a reservoir behind a panel in the skin. The problem was the level was dropping faster than he could pour it. They moved us back toward the front of the aircraft while they figured out what to do. After a bit the word came that they could turn the plane by goosing the engines so they were going to put the rest of us out in one big pass instead of the six it should have taken and then fly to a nearby air base and land without us. 

They got us all lined up and ready to go and yelled at us to hustle out the door as we didn’t have enough drop zone to fit everyone. The green light came on and we all barrel-assed out the doors with the Black Hats pushing from the back like Japanese subway packers. Everyone was out and the sky was full of parachutes and amazingly we only had 3 or 4 out of 60 some land in the trees and we had no major injuries. 

The fifth jump was gravy after that and my taking over his marching duties led my Black hat to get me the Honor Graduate award so I got my wings pinned on by a General and a cool statue that raised me up in Willy, Sammy’s Dad’s eyes as 30 years earlier he got the same award.