Five Jump Chump!

Ground Week, Tower Week, Jump Week.
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Five Jump Chump!

Post by rehevam »

I haven't checked in for a while, but I've been at Benning since January, attending BOLCII and then Airborne. I just graduated a week ago Friday from jump school. I wrote down all my AS experiences to share with my family. Here's my account of the first jump. Folks on their way to jump school might find it informative, and old-schoolers might get a walk down memory lane...

22 Mar 09
Well, I have now graduated from Airborne training and wear the silver wings of a paratrooper. Jump week was way too hectic to be able to write as I went along, so I will attempt to reconstruct it here.
The week started off with a bang at our Sunday afternoon recall formation. We had one of these every Sunday at 1600 hours to make sure everyone was back and made it through the weekend in one piece. One private in our platoon showed up to this formation blind drunk, drooling all over himself and unable to stand up without help. He was promptly kicked out of the course and sent to the hospital for observation. It turned out that he also had cocaine in his system. I don’t know what will become of him, but I’m just glad they didn’t let him on an airplane with the rest of us.
On Monday, we had formation at 0430 hours. This was supposed to be the first day of jumping, but as soon as formation started, it started to rain. We ran about a quarter mile or so over to the ground week training area and began our pre-jump drills. These drills consist of a review of malfunction procedures, PLF’s, exits from the mock doors, &c. By the time we finished the drills, the rain was coming down in sheets. It was a scene of complete chaos. The instructors would yell at us, and tell us to run over to another pit for some other drill. When we got to that other pit, they would yell at us again, and make us run over to a different pit. We would get to that pit and the process would be repeated. This went on for at least 15 or 20 minutes in the pouring rain. Needless to say we all got soaked to the bone, all the while carrying our ponchos in our hands. Yes, that’s right; the one thing that would have kept us somewhat dry was rolled up in a beautiful six inch wide, perfectly rectangular shaped package and carried in the hands. Typical Army stupidity.
Once the instructors FINALLY got their act together, they marched us back to the barracks and put us on standby, waiting for the weather to clear. A lot of us took our soaking jackets off and threw them in the dryers. We basically spent the next six hours sleeping on the floor of the day room. At around noon, they finally called off the jumps for the day, and let us go. It turned out well for me since XXXX and the kids were here. They had arrived on Sunday afternoon just before recall formation. We spent the afternoon together bowling at the lanes here on post. If not for the weather, we wouldn’t have had that time together.
Anyway, the instructors set Tuesday’s formation for 0415 hours. On that morning, the sky was crystal clear, and we could see stars above us, so we knew we would be jumping. We went to the training area and did our pre-jump drills again, then ran down to the airfield. It was quite a sight, cresting the top of Cardiac Hill. As we looked down, we could see the airfield, and there, flooded in outdoor lighting were two C-130’s and one C-17 waiting to take us up and drop us. It was somewhat surreal, but very exciting at the same time. The sky was still black, so to have just the airplanes lit up there on the tarmac was something to behold. We got down there and did the mock door practice exits for a while. They fed us a pre-packaged breakfast at about 0600 hours while we sat there in the gravel outside a building called the harness shed.
After breakfast, it was time to move inside and get ready. Each chalk (a group of 25 to 28 soldiers who all board one side of the aircraft together) lined up on its respective bench, and then ran out the back door at a dead sprint for the parachute shed. This is where we picked up the parachute and reserve chute we would be using for that jump. The harness shed was a good 300 yards or so from the issue shed. To receive your primary and reserve parachutes, you enter the shed through a large garage type door and hold your right arm out horizontally. The pre-packed chutes are stored in these large steel baskets on wheels that lock shut when needed. A private would be assigned to hand each jumper a parachute as he walked by the steel basket. He would slide the parachute up onto your right shoulder with your arm running through all the various straps that comprise the harness part of the rig. You would then walk down to the end of the shed, turn around and receive your reserve chute from another private at another one of those steel baskets. The reserve was carried in the left hand with the rip cord grip facing away from the body. They were very strict about this arrangement. It kept you from accidentally activating the reserve chute. However, this turned out to be an extremely difficult way to carry all this gear! Once you left the issue shed, you were expected to sprint back to the harness shed with the main parachute on your right shoulder with your right hand on top of your helmet, while carrying the reserve in your left hand. I have to say, that this sprint back to the harness shed each time took more out of me than any of the other three to five mile runs of the previous two weeks. That was a smoking! By the time I got back to my spot on the bench each time my lungs were burning, my neck hurt and my shoulder ached like crazy.
Once back in the shed we were ordered to buddy rig our equipment. Each of us would team up with one other man, and help each other into the harness, and get everything rigged up, including the reserve chute. We would then sit down, and wait to get “JMPI’d”. JMPI stands for Jumpmaster Personnel Inspection. On command, everyone in your chalk stands up together, and a jumpmaster starts at each end of the line and systematically checks every critical point of equipment performance on every jumper in the chalk. He checks everything from the static line, to the canopy release buckles, to the leg and chest straps, and on and on. It takes a good three to five minutes to properly inspect each jumper. It took around two hours to JMPI the whole class. After you have passed the JMPI, the jumpmaster signs his initials on your helmet, and orders you to sit down on the bench with your feet and knees together, without talking and without touching ANYTHING on your equipment. At this point, he has basically signed his career on your helmet. If you die because of an equipment malfunction, he is the first guy the investigators are going to want to talk to.
Once the JMPI’s were done, the jumpmasters would then “front and rear” each jumper. This is a secondary inspection that is quicker, and not quite as comprehensive as the first. You then sit down again, in the harness waiting for your turn to board an airplane and jump. The problem with all of this from the jumpers’ perspective is that you pretty much get rigged up and sit down in those horribly uncomfortable harnesses on those hard benches, at around 0630. However, the jumps aren’t even scheduled to start before 1000! So basically, there you sit, with thick nylon straps cinched up tightly around your groin, your feet and knees together (you’re not allowed to sit comfortably with your feet apart), sweating in this sweltering steel building, having been awake since 0315 or so, not allowed to sleep, or talk, or touch any part of your equipment. There were television screens all over the harness shed, with a centrally connected DVD player, but they wouldn’t put in any movies for us. The only thing they would show us was a 15 or 20 minute video that was an orientation to the Fryar Drop Zone. To add insult to injury, I happened to be in the chalk that was dead last to get to jump! On day one, we sat in the harness from around 0630 until about 1300 hours before we even boarded the plane! The first groups of jumpers were coming back into the shed, all pumped up and happy, having completed their first jump while we sat there miserably in pain waiting our turn. We basically passed the time yelling at privates for sleeping and chewing gum to help stay awake.
By the time the harness shed NCO finally announced “chalk 14 on your feet and face the flight line,” most of us would have done literally anything to get out of those harnesses. So we stood up, and filed outside, to the flight line and stood in line waiting for our C-130 to come pick us up. We could see it sitting on the tarmac, idling about 100 yards away. We were all starting to muster just a little excitement after the beat down we had just experienced in the harness shed when all of a sudden, the engines on our plane shut down. It was like getting sucker punched in the stomach. It killed any last sliver of excitement and motivation that any of us might have had. Sure enough, word came from the pilot that the plane was having mechanical problems and would be grounded for the rest of the day. This meant that we had to stand there on the tarmac waiting for the next plane to come get us. We stood there for probably another 15 minutes or so. 15 minutes standing there in that gear after six and a half hours of sitting in it was like pouring salt into a wound. You can’t quite stand up straight because there are straps over your shoulders and under your groin that compress your upper body and make you sort of hunch over. This has a tendency to weigh heavily on your shoulder muscles as if you are carrying a heavy ruck sack.
Finally our plane taxied up and parked in front of us and we waddled out to it. The entire back end of a C-130 opens up to allow for all kinds of cargo to be loaded into the large, empty belly of the aircraft. A ramp comes down to ground level, and another part of the tail is pulled up, allowing equipment up to the size of a large truck to be pushed into the cargo bay. Approaching the aircraft from the rear, with the propellers spinning, you get absolutely blasted by a hot, smelly choking wind. I found myself trying to get really short and hide behind the guy in front of me, so he could block the wind and allow me to breathe easier. I will say though, that at this point, I started to get excited about jumping again. There’s just something about the noise, and smell, and wind and all of it that appealed to me and told me that I belonged there. We worked our way up the ramp and into the cargo hold of the aircraft. The inside of a military airplane is nothing like a jet liner. All of the hoses, and pipes, and wires, and cables are exposed. There is no attempt at all at improving the aesthetics of the machine. It’s stripped down to nothing but functionality. On a C-130 configured for Airborne operations, there are four rows of strap benches arranged along the length of the cargo bay. The benches resemble the old strap lawn chairs, only much stronger. There are two rows along each outside wall of the plane and two rows directly opposite those and facing them. When you sit down, you end up with your knees intertwined with the guy facing you. About midway up the fuselage, the wheel wells protrude into the cargo area, and there are no seats along that portion of the wall. To be one of the guys sitting facing the wheel wells is considered a stroke of luck. You have more leg room there than anyone else does. On the first jump, I ended up in a really tough spot at the end of the bench right before the wheel wells. When the airplane taxied up and accelerated I nearly slid off the end of the bench onto the floor. Once the plane was in the air, I pretty much rode with my body at a 45 degree angle leaning sideways toward the rear of the plane, and hanging on to the strap seat trying not to fall off.
As soon as we were in the air, the jumpmaster stood up and began his sequence of commands to get us ready to jump. The first command he issues is “Ten minutes!” and holds up all ten fingers. The jumpers then repeat the command once over each shoulder, and then down toward the floor for a total of three times, leaning the upper body each time to the left, right, and down. Since the airfield at Ft. Benning is literally within 10 miles or less of the Fryar Drop Zone, the jumpmaster issued the ten minute warning immediately upon take off. Next the jumpmaster shouts “get ready!” This time the command is repeated while leaning toward the front of the aircraft, then everyone in unison tilts their body to the rear of the aircraft, slaps his knee and shouts “Airborne!” The jumpmaster then shouts “outboard personnel stand up!” This command is repeated by everyone, and those who are seated along the outside wall of the plane stand up. Then it’s “inboard personnel stand up!”
On this first jump, I happened to be seated such that I was going to be the second man out the door on the second pass over the drop zone. We were dropping 10 jumpers from each side of the aircraft on each pass for this one. My seating position meant that I ended up sitting there with the parachute of the last jumper of the first pass jammed into my neck and cranking my head over to the side; very uncomfortable! Every time we hit some turbulence his chute would bounce up and down on my head, and my canopy release buckle. This made me very nervous for obvious reasons. The guy sitting across from me was keeping an eye on my equipment though, and would alert me if something popped loose.
By this time everyone on the plane was really getting pumped up. Up until that point, the thought of jumping out of an airplane in flight was just an abstract concept. I really hadn’t even thought about it much. All my thoughts were consumed with just passing off all of the drills and training we were going through. That said though, I have to say that I truly was not nervous. I had been praying all morning for courage to do my duty, and when the time was drawing near, I really and truly knew that I would do it – no question. At about this time, the jumpmaster opened the jump doors. Many of the men started whooping and hollering; there were excited smiles on some, and horrified looks on others. I must admit that things felt very strange to me at that point. It just seemed to go against all the laws of the universe, to be flying 1250 feet off the ground, at around 130 MPH, and have the doors opened! It was awe-inspiring though to look back to the doors and see the jumpmasters standing there with perfect nonchalance, staring out the doors as if they were in their cars, rolling down the highway. Again, this was another affirming moment for me. It felt right; like something I had been longing for my whole life, but didn’t quite know what it was that I was looking for.
The next command came: “Hook up!” This command is repeated by all the jumpers standing up, as they turn their heads toward the skin of the aircraft. They then take the hook end of the static line and connect it to the anchor cable which runs the length of the fuselage. Next, the jumper takes what they call a “bite” of the static line by doubling a section approximately four inches long back on itself and hanging on to that. Then it’s “check static lines!” This is the command to double check your static line hook up and follow the line down and over your shoulder. You then check the guy in front of you, to make sure his static line is not wrapped around his arm or neck. If that is the case, it can cause very serious injury or death when the guy jumps out. If he is ok, you tap him on the helmet and shout “safe!” Then the jumpmaster shouts “check equipment!” To check equipment, you run your hand along the brim of your helmet, then down over your chin strap, check the nape pad at the back of your head, then touch your chest strap buckle to make sure it is fastened, then check both your left and right leg straps to make sure they are also buckled. The jumpmaster then shouts “sound off for equipment check!” At this command, the last guy in line slaps the back side of the guy in front of him, and shouts “OK!” This is repeated by each jumper in sequence until the OK gets to the first man. He then raises his hand up, points in the jumpmaster’s face and shouts “All OK jumpmaster!” Next, comes the command “one minute!” again repeated by the jumpers with the index finger extended. Then you hear “30 seconds” repeated with the index finger and thumb about an inch apart over your shoulder.
I think that once we heard the 30 seconds command you, could have collected adrenaline by the gallon on that airplane. Shortly after the 30 seconds command, the jumpmaster takes the first guy in line, pushes his static line hook all the way to the end of the cable and turns him to face out the door, waiting for the green light which is controlled by the air crew.
On this first jump, this is the point we were at when all of a sudden SGT XXXX screamed “reserve, reserve, reserve!!!” As we had been trained to do, we all repeated the command and began looking frantically to see whose reserve chute had been activated inside the plane. As you can imagine, this is an extremely dangerous situation. If the person is close enough to the open door, the suction created by the wind rushing by will pull the chute and the unfortunate jumper out the door at 130+ MPH. Our instructors told us that if this happens, there is basically little to no chance of survival for that jumper. Not only that, but anyone who is in front of that jumper becomes padding for them, or gets sucked out the door too. The proper procedure for this scenario is for all jumpers in front of the open reserve to sprint toward the rear of the airplane, up onto the retracted ramp and just get out of the way of the jumper getting dragged out the door. The jumper whose reserve is open is supposed to sprint as fast as they can to try to beat the chute out the door. This is the only slim chance they have of surviving this situation.
It turned out in this case that there was a female soldier who had somehow pulled her reserve inside the plane, but had not quite pulled the handle all the way out. The whole assembly was being held together by one last restraining band. The jumpmasters shut both jump doors. Then, one of them came back, and grabbed her, unhooked her static line and sat her down on the strap bench. He then unhooked her reserve, loaded her up with another one and put her back in line. While this was going on, the pilot had pulled up and began circling the DZ, awaiting the ok from the jumpmaster.
Once she was back on line, double checked, and ready to go, the jumpmaster repeated the ready sequence from “hook up.” As we approached the DZ again, with the doors open and everyone ready to try again, SSG XXXX started yelling at the reserve-puller, telling her to get a bite on her static line and stand up straight. Next thing we knew she slumped down and fainted right there on the floor of the aircraft. The doors were closed again, and she was taken off the line, and sat down. This time the jumpmaster was really getting mad, and asked her if she was going to jump or not. She said “no” which immediately classified her as a jump refusal. A jump refusal is another word for a ticket out of the course, never to return. She was taken to the ramp, told to sit down on her hands and not touch her equipment. That was the last time I saw her.
We circled around again, went through the ready sequence again, and this time, I sat and watched as all of a sudden the line of jumpers started to disappear one by one out the gaping maw that was the jump door. It was now official: we were jumping out of an aircraft in flight. Once the initial group jumped it was my group’s turn to stand up and get ready. SGT XXXX was first, I was second, and there were eight more jumpers behind me. I really don’t remember much about how the pre-jump check sequence went. All I really recall is standing there, hanging on to the grab rail, once it was done with SGT XXXX standing in the door. I was perfectly calm and just sort of gazing out the door, fascinated by watching the ground whiz by below us. As I said before, I have always been afraid of heights, but for some reason, standing there looking out the door of that C-130 it didn’t even occur to me that there was anything scary about this situation. I really can’t explain why.
Next thing I knew, the green light came on. There was about a five second pause, then the jumpmaster slapped SGT XXXX on the behind and shouted “GO!” He disappeared and I rushed forward, static line in hand. I handed it to the jumpmaster, turned my body toward the open door and jumped head-long into utter chaos. It was a third affirming moment of that day. I can’t explain how it felt to surrender all control of my world to fate; and that’s exactly what you do when you jump out like that. When you throw your body into a 130+ MPH wind, which is boosted by propeller wash, you have at that instant lost all control over what happens to you for several seconds. My mind and body reverted entirely to Pavlovian conditioning, just like it had at other chaotic times in my life. My feet and knees welded themselves together and I began to count at the top of my lungs “ONE THOUSAND, TWO THOUSAND, THREE THOUSAND, FOUR THOUSAND!” At that instant, the entire world came to a screeching halt as my chute opened. The noise of the plane was gone. I couldn’t hear the wind. Everything had gone from utterly violent, chaotic and noisy, to the calmest and most serene moment you could imagine in literally an instant. I was hanging there 1000 feet off the ground with my feet dangling in thin air. Once again, for some reason, it didn’t even occur to me that I should be afraid of that situation. I simply hung there and took in the view and the moment. I looked around and noticed that everyone else in my chalk was way below me. I guess I must have hit a thermal or something, because I got to stay in the air for a lot longer than anyone else. I could see the assembly area where the bleachers are, and the cars and trucks in the parking lot. I was trying to pick out our minivan because I knew XXXX and the kids would be coming out to the drop zone to watch.
During this first jump, I was so mesmerized by the whole experience, that it didn’t even occur to me to steer the chute. I just enjoyed drifting on the wind and the feeling of complete freedom and calm. Unfortunately this turned out to be to my detriment. I ended up drifting off to the far reaches of the drop zone, and had to make about a 1300 yard run through shin-deep mud while carrying all that equipment. But all that didn’t matter while I was descending. I ended up drifting from my right to my left, so as I approached the ground, I pulled a right slip and set down in some grass, executing a near perfect PLF. I didn’t hit the ground nearly as hard as I had expected. To tell you the truth, as long as you keep your feet and knees together like you are taught, the PLF just sort of happens on its own.
On the ground, I lay on my back and unhooked all the straps and buckles that held me in the harness. I got up, stuffed the harness into the aviator’s kit bag, and began to gather up the parachute. This proved to be the most vexing part of the whole experience. Those parachutes are quite large and ungainly when the wind is blowing. I ended up with suspension lines and risers wrapped around my legs, neck, torso and head. I must have really looked like a dork fighting all that material out there in the wind. Thankfully, I had drifted so far away from everyone else, that I don’t think anyone saw my little battle. It wasn’t pretty, but I eventually got everything in the bag, snapped it up and threw it over my shoulders.
As mentioned, I had landed in grass. It was a little damp from the day before, but not bad. However, once I stepped back onto the drop zone proper, it was a different story. They keep it ploughed year-round, and it is a vast expanse of soft, deep sand. After four or five inches of torrential rains the day before though, it had turned into a quagmire. It’s enough of a workout running 1300 yards with a 30 pound parachute through deep sand, but add water and it’s pretty much like I would imagine running through mashed potatoes. By the time I got back to the assembly area, my boots were entirely encrusted in goopy, smelly mud. Thank goodness they are made of Gortex, so at least my feet stayed dry! Back at the assembly area, we threw our parachutes on a great big trailer, then sat under a large open-sided shed and ate MRE’s. As you might expect, everyone had a story to tell. It was a great experience to stand there comparing notes with a bunch of guys who had just experienced the same thing I had. The more experienced guys pretty much took up a reflective sort of attitude, and talked about how thankful we were to finally get this opportunity. The younger guys were excitedly thumping their chests and bragging about how easy it was, etc… This is always a great balance that makes the Army run in spite of itself.

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Re: Five Jump Chump!

Post by RRDTm3 »

Good post, maybe try separating some of the info with bold. I flunked creative writing but can tell you got a lot words crammed together!
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Re: Five Jump Chump!

Post by hit_it »

I liked the part about the poncho. You'll have a great time in infantry land, where the poncho doing anything but providing shade for your hooch is a sign of complete weakness and an instant loss of confidence from your men. I actually saw my CSM yank one off a LT who thought it would be cool to wander into the TOC where everyone in the staff sat completely soaked after a nice rain shower at Bragg. The COL just rolled his eyes at the LT, who got the hint.
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Re: Five Jump Chump!

Post by boscounderfoot »

Damn he can talk! :lol:

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Re: Five Jump Chump!

Post by Baseplate »

This has a tendency to weigh heavily on your shoulder muscles as if you are carrying a heavy ruck sack.
You just wait and see how bad a pre jump can hurt
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Re: Five Jump Chump!

Post by Griffin175 »

Just wait till you have a ruck sack pack to the gills and a weapons case, it gets even better. Especially if your in some type of weapons squad. Mortars?...AT?....testify.
And if you get into a game of "Leap Frog", just make sure your not the last one to leap. :lol:
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Re: Five Jump Chump!

Post by dbmtrman »

In 1984 we deployed down in Hondo, rotating each company for a couple weeks at a time. We flew down in C130's and had to rig on the tarmac at Hunter. We sat on the concrete for about 2 hours rigged up, waiting for the planes to show up. Then it was about an 8 hour flight down to Hondo. It sucked royally, having that shit on for that long. We had a full plane and no room move at all. We were all dying to get off that plane. About 30 minutes out, we all had to stand up, and hook up our rucks. You had to stand on the seat so that the JM or safety could get the ruck hooked under the reserve. I was snapping pictures, and one of the other guys from the commo shop was getting his ruck connected, when the static line on the back of his chute, caught onto a hook on the seat support pole. Then when he stepped off the seat, it deployed his chute.

The guy was so pissed that he had to airland after going through all the pain and suffering, of those 10 hours all rigged up. I was going through some old pics the other day and you can see the static line, just as it got hooked up. Poor bastard, no Hondo jump wings for him.
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Re: Five Jump Chump!

Post by rehevam »

Thanks for the input Rangers. Yeah, I was reading up quite a bit about Panama and thinking, "how in the hell do you stand being rigged up and riding for that long?" Jump school definitely gave me an appreciation for what our guys (and some on this forum I believe) did on that mission.

Years ago in BCT our DS told us that if BCT was the hardest Army school we ever went to, we would be lucky. I guess there's a parallel in the Airborne world too. Jump school is surely a piece of cake compared to a combat jump, or even full scale peacetime Airborne ops...

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Re: Five Jump Chump!

Post by panthersix »

I'm really glad you explained what JMPI means......
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