Jump Week, Part 2: In which I do the unthinkable on the way to the drop zone
One thing I remember with clarity about getting suited up in the parachute harness. Once you did, that was it. You weren’t getting out of it until after you walked off the drop zone. What that meant: no quick trips to the latrine once you were all buckled in. I tried not to think about it.
The black hats roamed the equipment shed, checking each of us out carefully. When we were good to go, they slapped us on the rear–generally hard. Some of my fellow female lieutenants were complaining about one black hat in particular who seemed to have it in for women. He was hitting them especially hard, they insisted. I watched him. He even checked out my harness.
And yeah, he slapped, really, really hard. It stung, but it didn’t leave a bruise. And as far as I could tell, it was equal-opportunity slapping. Maybe he just liked hitting people. Frankly, as long as he did his job, made sure I was strapped in correctly and ready to go, I could live with the rest.
Then the black hats went over, again, and again, what horrible things could happen, what sort of malfunctions could occur and interesting ways our chutes might not deploy, and what we were supposed to do when that happened.
A military jump is different from a civilian free-fall type of jump. For one, you’re jumping from 1,200 feet, so there really isn’t any free fall. You’re on the ground in a minute, minute and a half, tops, depending on your weight. The idea is to get there quickly.
You have a static line that you hook up to a long metal cord that is strung the length of the aircraft. The other end of the static line is attached to your chute (or rather, the back of its pack). This is what deploys your chute on the way out of the plane.
The black hats regaled us with tales of what happens if your static line gets looped around your arm by accident (one story about a guy’s bicep ending up around his wrist), about what happens if you don’t keep your chin tucked upon exit (possible asphyxiation, broken neck), what happens if you don’t jump clear and end up hitting the side of the plane.
And so on. There’s some waiting in the shed (don’t think about the latrine, don’t think about the latrine), some waiting on the tarmac (it’s really hot, don’t think about the latrine), then at last, we boarded the plane.
It’s about a twenty minute flight to Fryar Drop Zone, if I remember correctly. But you get to sit. The black hats were still there, but if you were lucky, not close enough to kick you, if you did something quite unthinkable.
Like fall asleep.
Which was what I did. Despite the nerves, despite everything. What with the exhaustion and drone of the plane, I could have slept for days.
But twenty minutes later, the lights flashed. The black hats had us stand up, direct our attention to the jump master. The doors were open and I caught a hint of tall pines and blue sky.
And then it was time to go.
To be continued…