For those of you who have never parachuted out of an airplane, what an experience you have missed! And the Army really does know how to train you for jumping “out of a perfectly good airplane.” If you don’t believe in group dynamics and group motivation and being an individual that is part of a group trained to succeed, then just go to paratrooper training and watch your whole attitude change.
The first two weeks of the Army’s three week training program are devoted to techniques, physical training, group hysteria (motivation) , running, and the repetitive practice of learning the sequence of jump commands, how to exit the aircraft, how to maneuver the parachute, how to land, and how to collect your gear on the Drop Zone (where you land). Also included are those special techniques for landing in trees and water. In addition, how to carry during your jump, about 90 pounds of combat gear so you can fight once you hit the ground. You can bet that at the end of this first phase of the training you are convinced you can jump out of an airplane … even though it is an unnatural act for a human.
The third week is the fun week. Here you get to jump five times out of the door of a C-130 or C-141 airplane flying at a height between 500 and 1,200 feet at a speed of 120-140 mph.
You will never forget your first jump. Strapped in your canvas seat with a web seat belt; a parachute on your back; and just in case it doesn’t work, a “reserve” chute on your chest; steel pot on your head, bright shiny paratrooper boots on your feet; just waiting for your “Jump Master” (the person that tells you what to do in the aircraft) to start the sequence of jump commands. On my first jump, I watch him stand up and yell “Get Ready,” “Stand Up,” “Hook Up,” “Check Static Line,” “Check Equipment,” “Sound Off For Equipment Check,” “Shuffle To The Door,” “Stand In The Door,” “Go” … and all this time I am still trying to get out of my canvas seat! What’s wrong? I know I am not scared; everyone else is getting up and getting ready and here I sit: this can’t be happening! What will my jump buddies think; what will my instructors say and do; how will I ever be able to explain this when we land?
Oh yeah! Now I remember! In all the excitement and the adrenaline rush of my first jump, I forgot to undo the seat belt! Undoing the quick release of the belt, I am finally able to get up and get ready with the rest of my buddies for the thrill of my life. After this, the other four jumps are a snap and I am a qualified paratrooper with a story that even after another 82 jumps, I will never forget. The first one is always the most exciting.
As an interesting side note, our Rockwall County elections administrator, Chris Lynch, was once the Army command sergeant major that was responsible, and ran the parachute training , for all personnel going through this training at Fort Benning, Georgia. If you can catch him in a free moment, you might get him to tell you some more stories that he saw while running this training.
Jerry Hogan is a former Rockwall County judge and U.S. Army Green Beret. He can be reached at 214-394-4033.