I woke to the sound of the Jump-Master, “Wake up soldier we’re getting close.” It was around dusk and we were scheduled to do a jump in Sicily. It was dark as devil’s eyes in that aircraft. The only thing I saw was the tiny red light that illuminated our confined space.
It was my first fully combat-equipped jump. And when I say combat-equipped I mean carrying about 100lbs of equipment on your front and back. That equipment was heavy and extremely uncomfortable. It didn’t make the experience any easier. It merely made it more intense. It was as hot as snake breath in there and you could feel the tension in the air. The plane nearly rumbled the urine right out of me. I was sweating profusely, but I never knew if it was from the temperature in there or from fear. I could see fear in everyone’s eyes. No matter how brave they seemed before hand. Besides the sounds of the plane…it was quiet.
I noticed one soldier, vomit in one of the airsickness bags. Then I saw another grab his collar and vomit into his shirt. It started a chain reaction causing three more men to vomit soon after. The smell made me nauseous, but I swallowed hard and held my lips together tightly. The fact that it was so hot in that plane didn’t help the situation at all. Have you ever smelled baked vomit? Not a pleasant situation to be in, I’ll tell you.
“Ten Minutes!” yelled the Jump-Masters. Everyone that was sleeping awoke and repeated, “Ten minutes!” The air thinned a bit because the time was nearing. “Inside personal stand up!” yelled the Jump-Masters. Everyone again echoed the Jump-Masters command. The echo was to ensure everyone heard the commands over the roaring engine of the plane. And at a twenty-five hundred foot altitude your eardrums are sure to pop. Everyone on the inside rows of the plane stood up. Sixty-four paratroopers were packed inside a C130 aircraft like sardines. Shuffled in two rows, catty-corner from each other, and in rows of 16. “Outside personal stand-up!” Jump-Master said and we echoed. The outside rows stood up. “Hook up!” He yelled, and your right we echoed. Now that I think about it, this is how it always is in the service. You better repeat to show that you understand and that there is no miscommunication.
We all then hooked our static lines, that were ran from our parachute, to the metal cable running from the front to the back of the plane near our heads. The static line helps pull your parachute out on time. “Check static lines! Check equipment!” They yelled. We all started to check the person in front of us for static line defaults and then we were to check our own equipment. “Last two men turn toward the skin of the aircraft and the second to last man check the last mans static line!” They yelled but not in unison. This we never repeated because of its difficulty. The last two men completed they’re task. “Count off!” They yelled and we repeated. Starting from the front of the plane each soldier counted and slapped the paratrooper in front of him on the buttocks when complete. Now we were to jump out of the back doors of the plane. When the count was finished the first jumper, which was I, said, “All OK Jump-Master!” Both Jump-Master’s looked at each other and nodded their heads for approval.
This was my cherry blast so I had to carry a cherry pie in my cargo-pocket, which they smashed up back in the pack-shed. The plane hit an air pocket and jolted I could feel the pie filling moving against my leg. Everyone shook and some fell on one another. It was at that moment that I was reminded about how much equipment I had on. It was almost unbearable. By this time I had held my urine for about as long as I could. I was ready to get out of this plane.
The Jump-Masters then both opened the two back doors. They secured themselves and hung out of the door. The breeze that engulfed the plane brought in with it a sort of cool relief but also a cold reminder of the danger that lay ahead. We needed that air too. That baked vomit was becoming a problem.
I could see the earth role past beneath us. It was breathtaking. The Jump-Master’s leaned back inside the door held up one finger and said, “One minute!” He then motions for me to step closer to the door. My heart sank and my feet were as cold as ice. I said a quick prayer and tried to steady my self against the rocking of the plane. I clinched ol’Betsy, my M16, and wondered about the journey that lay ahead for me.
The Jump-Master then says, “Thirty seconds!” He grabs a hand full of my static line and moves me closer to the door. I took a deep swallow and pulled everything I had together. I closed my eyes and tried to remember what I first thought about when I signed up for this. I gained enough relief in the rush it would provide to open my eyes. The red light disappeared and a green light opened his beady little eye. The Jump-Master then says, “GO!” From that moment on everything was in slow motion.
I walked out of the door and was immediately pulled away from the plane. I was falling rapidly and counting, one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand, four-one thousand. At that moment I felt a sharp pull at my groin area as the parachute opened. For a short while I saw earth then sky, then earth then sky. I gradually stopped bouncing. The fear and adrenaline rush that I felt was like no other. I finally calmed down and took a good look around me and at my parachute. I am safe for now. As the plane speed away I could hear nothing but the wind. I just fell toward the earth from twenty-five hundred feet and admired the peace and tranquility of the sunset sky. It was the best thing I had ever experienced, yet the scariest.
I write to remember this experience. I share to help you overcome fear. But I dedicate this to all my hunters from the sky, “AIRBORNE!”