By RU Special Guest Dallas Dunn Attending a job fair soon?...
Death Cruises By, But Doesn’t Stop
Life is filled with many joys, both predictable and unpredictable. Life is also filled with many negatives, some brought on by one’s very bad decisions, others by simple fate. Lastly, things will happen in one’s life, and no matter what one does, the inevitable will happen. One of those inevitabilities, because we suck air into our lungs, means that one day, we will exhale one last time. Immediately, Death will pull over, roll down the passenger window and yell, “Get in!” How we get to that point is determined by fate, health, stupidity or any combination of those three. So far, in my fifty years of sucking in oxygen, I’ve came close a few times to taking the ride with Death, but only to see him cruise on past and just wave. Well, he waved once. On another occasion, he just drove by and laughed. I think both times Death felt sorry for me.
It was October, 1985 and I was assigned to Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 3d Ranger Battalion. My Section Leader, Staff Sergeant (SSG) P, was working on his Master Parachutist Badge, and had set up a “proficiency jump” for us, after a line company made their jump. The plan was simple and easy: they would jump out, and the C-130 with us in it, would circle back over Fryar Drop Zone and then our small section would make our jump. This way, SSG P would get credit for being a Jumpmaster for a Combat Equipment, Mass Tactical, Night Jump, and we could each get a nice 2-3 second door position before exiting the aircraft.
The moment until I was at the door was uneventful. The line company exited with no issues. The plane circled back around while SSG P assumed his position at the right, rear door, and started giving the commands. I was #2 in line, behind another soldier. We were hooked up, ready to go, waiting on the green light. I should add here that a proper exit from a C-130 on a static line jump is to hand the static line to the jumpmaster, place your hands outside the door and jump UP and OUT, immediately placing your hands over the reserve, locking the elbows tight to the body and keeping your legs together. In a perfect world, it’s a blast.
I’m not sure what happened after I handed my static line off to SSG P. He later told me it looked like I tripped and fell out the door. Before I even knew what was going on, my parachute was open, and I was hanging upside down, with my feet stuck in the lines, above the risers. My first thought was, “Hale you’re gonna die.” I am floating to earth on an otherwise beautiful night with a full moon, under a T-10 parachute with a rate of descent of 22 feet per second. If you execute a proper Parachute Landing Fall (PLF) with feet & knees together, hitting all the proper points of contact, you still land with a jolt, but get up and walk away. All I knew in those brief moments was that if I landed on my head, I’ll probably die, or end up in a wheelchair for life, holding a pencil in my teeth to write important words like, “I want oatmeal”, and “Change my diaper.”
Not sure what to do, I started kicking my legs and after a couple of seconds, I suddenly swung down and was hanging under the ‘chute the way I should be. I immediately grabbed my reserve handle and looked to off to spot other jumpers and make sure I had the same rate of fall. After that, I looked up and checked the canopy and didn’t see anything wrong with it. The rest of the descent was without incident and I did my PLF. As I released buckles and got out of the harness, the adrenaline wore off and I noticed things were blurry. I reached up with my right hand to check for my glasses. My high-speed birth-control glasses, along with the sports band, were gone, but my helmet and chin straps were intact. Lowering my hand, I noticed a cut on my wrist where my Timex used to be.
I organized my gear and started to fold my ‘chute when I noticed the risers. They were twisted…TWICE. Between falling out of the door and when the parachute fully opened, I had rotated twice through the risers, with my feet catching in the parachute lines when they went tight, at the opening shock of the main canopy. I then realized how close I had come to falling to earth totally entangled in the ‘chute, looking like a mass of dirty laundry flapping in the air, with a muffled scream coming from the inside of the bundle. It wouldn’t have taken but a split-second difference while the main canopy was deploying to end up with a terminal outcome. After I had my gear organized, I “rucked up” and went to the assembly area. SSG P was there and I told him what happened. That’s when he told me it looked like I tripped or just fell out the door. He said that after I handed him my static line, I never had a door position and I certainly didn’t jump up and out. Back at battalion, I felt some soreness on my legs, so I dropped trousers to inspect. Across the back of both legs, near the knees, was a bruise that was the exact width of the risers. My First Sergeant and Company Commander both agreed it was a close call and I needed to jump again soon to get it all out of my head. I did, with no issues, but I knew Death had just cruised past and waved.
It was 1990, sitting in the NCO Club in Giessen, Germany, drinking wine with a First Lieutenant. I was legally separated from my first wife, The Succubus, so I was free to sail the open seas. I was in a tremendous slump, and to use another sea analogy, I was to the point in that classic cliché, “Any port will do in a storm.” Sitting across the table from me was The Drunken Harbor. Maybe that’s why she was there with me, and draining the wine, she could’ve been thinking the same thing I was. She certainly was as drunk as I was. I’m POSITIVE I heard her tell me she was going through a divorce and her estranged husband was in the States. POSITIVE.
The evening and drinking progressed, with no perceivable limit on the drinking and the evening coming to the obvious conclusion, unconsciousness. We decided to leave for her quarters. Outside the club, I used the payphone to call a taxi. There are two kinds of taxis in Germany: taxi cabs and mini-cabs. Taxi cabs are usually Benz’s and Audi’s, operated by Germans, and are the safest due to the German’s respect for the road. Mini-cabs are usually VW Rabbits and other small cars, operated by foreigners, which we claimed were Gypsy’s, who didn’t seem to give a shit about the rules of the road. They are cheaper than cabs, but you take your life in your hands with their driving skills.
I called for a German cab and we staggered out near the road, using each other for crutches. All I knew was I needed to get laid as quickly as possible before I passed out. Google didn’t exist then, but if it did and you Googled Shit-Faced Individual, my picture would have appeared. In the midst of our slurred conversations, I looked over and saw a driver standing outside his VW Rabbit, just standing there and staring at us. It was obviously a mini-cab manned by a Gypsy, ready to steal a fare.
I told him, “That’s okay sir, we’ve already called a cab.” His response made my nuts shrivel. “I’m not a taxi driver…that’s my wife!” I jumped up expecting to have to defend myself from him. To be honest, it’s an ass-whipping I probably should’ve gotten. He just stood there, so I started walking away and looked over my shoulder and said, “Y’all are fucked up.” When left no other option, a good insult is really the only mature thing to do.
Just then a car pulled up and it was an E-7 from my unit, and he hollered, “Hey, Sgt. Hale, you need a ride?” I hopped in to his car and it was one of those extremely rare moments when an E-5 issues a command to an E-7, “Sergeant First Class, get me the fuck out of here NOW!” He told me as we were driving down the road, that when he got in his car, he recognized the 1LT’s husband staring at us and thought, “Shit, Hale’s gonna get his ass jumped”.
I don’t know, maybe the alcohol caused a massive hearing impairment on my part when it came to her explanation on why she was there. It’s possible she just straight-up lied to me about her marital status. I have no idea why he just stood there and didn’t walk up behind me and put his foot up my ass. If I was in his shoes, I would’ve whipped some ass fast, hard and repeatedly. In this day and time, people like me end up in the morgue. So, as I hauled away that night, Death, thankfully, only rode by laughing. He did honk, wave and then called me a dumbass. That’s close enough for me. I’m in no rush to have him pull over and roll down his window to talk.