They’re Not Really Going to Make Us Jump (Are they?)
I send my four children a letter each month which includes a personal story from my days in the military. This is one of those stories.
This story is about an 18 year old boy (I knew I wasn’t a man yet, I was still an immature boy).
After spending 2 months in basic training at Fort Ord, California, I and the other 200 men in my basic training company got our orders for our next duty assignment. Being inexperienced privates (our drill sergeants would have said dumb privates), our orders were in sealed envelopes that we were not supposed to open. Various trucks and buses arrived at our company area, and I was told to board one. One bus took me and about 20 others soldiers to a civilian airfield. We boarded a large civilian passenger plane there that the military had apparently leased. The plane took off about 25% loaded. I had no idea where we were going because no one had bothered to tell me, and I was too dumb (oops! I mean inexperienced) to ask. The plane flew into the night and landed several times at various airports. Each time it landed, more soldiers (privates like me) got on. Finally the next morning, the plane landed, and everyone was ordered out of the plane where we were loaded onto more buses.
Note: No one had yet told me where we were or what we were doing, and I was still too dumb to ask.
The buses took us to a military base (I later found out it was Fort Benning, Georgia). I remember thinking, ‘Oh, we must be going to Advanced Individual Training here.’
Note: The normal training program in the military was 2 months at basic training followed by another 2 months in advanced military training for your specialty. (I had volunteered for infantry. See, I told you I was dumb.)
My bus took me to a row of wooden buildings. There was a sign over the sidewalk entrance to the area which read, ‘AIRBORNE – ALL THE WAY” with a parachutist jump-wing logo.
I remember thinking, ‘What the heck is going on? I’m not ready for this. I’m supposed to go to advanced individual training first.’
Note: Yes, I had volunteered to become a paratrooper, but heck, I thought that would be far off in the future, or they really wouldn’t make me do it. Jumping out of planes was for tough guys. Heck, I was still a kid. As far as I was concerned, it was impossible for me to really become a paratrooper.
Another Note: Unbeknownst to me, the military in its infinite wisdom had decided to start a new program where soldiers would go straight from basic training to their unit where the unit would train them in their specialty area. But since I had volunteered to go to jump school, they sent me there first. (Lucky me). (Oh, and just so you know, the program was a failure, and after about 6 months, they switched back to the old way of sending soldiers to advanced individual training before going to their unit.)
Anyway, a bunch of sergeants unloaded us from the buses and made it very plain that ‘Yes, we were now at the Army Airborne School’. They stuck me in a barracks, and woke me up the next morning, and ran me until I thought my legs would fall off. They worked us like dogs doing physical exercises for several days until our slots at Jump School came open. Then our “black hats” (ie; mean, sadistic, sergeants who liked to tortured poor privates with extra physical training) ran us the several miles to the training area for Week 1 – Ground School.
At Ground School, they made us run some more. Then they taught us how to fall.
Then they made us climb up on top of tall platforms and jump off to practice.
Then they taught us how to jump out of an airplane’s door.
Next they took us to 34 foot towers and made us practice by jumping out hooked up to a cable.
I remember during the first week my legs hurt so much I had to hold onto the stair railings in the barracks to go downstairs in the morning for physical training. After about 5 minutes of running, my leg muscles would finally stretch out enough that I could run without hurting so bad.
The second week of training was Tower Week. During this week, they put us in parachutes, hauled us up to the top of a 250 foot tall tower, and dropped us loose.
Note: I got hurt during one of my drops from the 250 foot tower (i.e. bruised my breast bone, I think, and hurt my back), but being (almost) Airborne, I just sucked up the pain and didn’t tell anyone. (I told you I was dumb. J )
That was the only time I ever got hurt during a parachute jump my entire career.
Finally, we got to the week three: Jump Week.
I remember thinking, ‘This has all been a joke. They aren’t really going to make us jump. That would be stupid. Everyone knows that.’
Even after they loaded us onto a plane, I was thinking, ‘They’re just trying to scare us. They’re going to say the weather is bad or something, and we’ll land back on the ground. They’re not really going to make us jump.’
Then they made us stand up and hook our static lines to a cable in the aircraft. But still I thought, ‘There’s no way we are going to jump. Only tough paratroopers jump. I’m just an 18 year old kid. I can’t jump.’ For some reason, I still thought they were going to land the plane and tell us it was all a joke.
But, you know what? They didn’t! They actually made us jump out of that perfectly good airplane while it was still in flight.
But you know what? After we made 5 parachute jumps that week, our instructors lined us up and pinned a set of jump wings on our chest.
And suddenly, that little 18 year old boy from Missouri was an Airborne soldier; a paratrooper; a lean, mean, fighting machine.
Lord, Please Help the U.S. Army.
Moral of the Story – I thought being a paratrooper was something that would be impossible for me to do. It was for better men than I. But, I found out that ordinary people can do ‘impossible’ things. A person can always do more than they think. If you have a dream, then go for it. The only thing stopping you is probably a fear of failure. I’ve heard it said that anyone who has never failed has never tried anything challenging. I think the moral of this story is that the impossible only seems impossible until you do it. Then you move on to the next ‘impossible’ challenge.