Ein Parachute Problem Numer Zwei!
In light of the response I got from Ein Parachute Problem I thought another story involving airborne mishaps would be appropriate. However, since this one happened to me in 2000 and I was in Germany in 2001, the stories aren’t going to be chronological. Send all hate mail to [email protected]
My first international deployment found me heading to exotic, amazing, and bitterly cold Wainwright, Alberta Canada, which is about three hours or so north of Edmonton, in October of 2000. As anyone who’s ever been to Canada knows, it’s freaking cold up there in late October. It’s also rather windy, which is never a good thing when you’re preparing to jump out of an airplane.
The battalion was gearing up to conduct a wing exchange with the Canadian Army’s Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry (Airborne). High winds or not, our battalion commander (BC) was dead set that this wing exchange was going to happen. Throughout the whole process of getting into our parachutes, getting them inspected, and waiting on the aircraft to start flying the wind was a howling. Multiple times, staff officers and the Canadian weather personnel came up to him and told him that the winds were consistently above 12 knots. According to American Army regulations you can’t jump if the winds are higher than 12 knots at the 30-second call inside the plane for a non-combat jump. If they are, you have to either circle the drop zone in a racetrack and try again, or abort the jump. If the jump was aborted it would mean the wing exchange would die with it. The BC was having none of that. So despite questions from some of the people on the ground, onto the birds and up into the air we went.
Hmmm…why do all the older veterans look pissed?
Murphy had worked it out that I was on the same plane as the BC for the day’s festivities. This naturally meant we were the first aircraft of the three to take off and get ready to jump – normally a pretty good deal. Normally.
At take off the first wind call was given to us: 15 knots. Undeterred we stood up, hooked up, and got ready to go. At one minute the winds hadn’t changed, at thirty seconds the winds had died down to 13 knots and the jumpmaster waived us off. The 2nd aircraft did the same. The 3rd bird in the formation, however, sent their first stick of jumpers out the door. The rest of us remained standing as the plane circled around to try it again.
If getting rigged to jump is the worst thing about jumping, having to racetrack around a drop zone is a close second. Rather than sitting back down and starting the process over again you get to stay standing there with your parachute hooked up like a doofus, trying not to fall over as the aircraft dips and dives. Your parachute straps dig in and your grossly unbalanced gear threatens to send you sprawling, all while having to deal with 35 other guys in the same situation.
The Plot Thickens…
Even worse, I had to pee something fierce. Fluid management is a critical, though underrated component of jumping. Once you get rigged you can’t go piss because to do so means that you would have to undo your chute, thereby screwing all the checks up and forcing the jumpmaster to check it all out again. If you’re a cherry private on his first out of country deployment and you are already rigged and certified good, the only way that parachute is coming off your back is after you land on the drop zone. If I didn’t get out of that plane soon I was going to have a situation all over my B.D.U. bottoms.
The planes finished the racetrack and came in for another attempt. The first wind call: 21 knots. Oh, good – it was getting faster. The one-minute was also too high, so was 30 seconds. Again the jump was waived off, this time for all three aircraft. We had one pass left. If we didn’t get out the door, we were going all the way back to the airfield, landing, and derigging. I started to pray to the mighty Gods of War that we’d jump. The pressure on my painfully swollen bladder told me I wasn’t going to make it back to the airfield.
Good call, sir…
Even with the agony raging in my loins I couldn’t help but notice the fierce and animated discussion taking place between the BC and the jumpmaster. The BC was yelling and pointing down at the ground. Gesturing to the jumpmaster in a way that clearly said he wanted to exit the plane when we got over the drop zone. The jumpmaster was equally animated and pointing to the cockpit while shrugging as if to say it wasn’t his fault the BC wasn’t getting his way. The debate raged until the jumpmaster called out the familiar command of one minute. This time, unlike the previous ones, he indicated the wind speed to be zero knots. I smiled as my prayers were answered. I would soon be on the ground enjoying sweet relief. The veteran members of the chalk acknowledged they understood what was about to happen with their middle finger. Wind or no wind, we were going out the plane. At the thirty-second call I started staring intently at the red light; trying to will it change to green so I could get the hell out of my parachute. Finally, the light changed from red to green and we all made a mad dash to the door, handing off our static lines as fast as we could and tumbling out the door.
Problems presented themselves from opening shock; I was twisted up something horrific. Sometimes you might find a twist or two in your canopy suspension lines and a couple of kicks later you’re free. This jump I was kicking and flailing around like a five year old with tourettes in the middle of a temper tantrum. The situation only got worse once I finally got my parachute sorted out and could look around me and down at the drop zone. The situation was totally FUBAR.
The sky was alive with guys trying to get control of their parachutes. It looked like the other two birds also had their sticks jump. It was pure chaos with jumpers getting blown every which way and guys stealing each other’s air because they couldn’t control their parachutes. It was pure madness. Surviving to an estimated 100ft above ground level I judged the wind and pull a forward slip since I was moving backwards toward the ground. A “slip” is a way to slow the speed at which you are falling down so the landing is not as painful as it could be. Despite pulling the correct slip I wasn’t slowing down. Worse, the closer I got to the ground the faster I seemed to be moving.
Based on previous experience I made it a habit of looking up into my canopy just before I knew I was going to land. If you don’t know exactly when you are going to land you can’t tense up. You’re generally fine when you land if you’re relaxed, but when you’re tense you get hurt. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but think that the guys who came up with the guidelines for wind speed on a drop zone might have known what they were doing. I stared up into my canopy, tenser than I’d ever been on a jump. Then the world went black.
“Are you ok? Hey, hey you ok man?” Was what I woke up to. My head was spinning and my ears were ringing. Yet, somehow my body had been nice enough to not relax my bladder and piss myself when I was knocked unconscious upon landing. Groggy and disoriented I started to look around, noticing a large path of grass had been beaten down, my face and hands were scratched, and my entire body felt like I’d just gone a round with Anderson Silva. I managed a feeble “Huh? Waaah?” as I tried to orient myself.
“Hey hit your canopy release assembly – hit your fucking canopy release assembly!” I heard a voice behind me say. I mechanically complied. The two Rangers on the drop zone helped me out of my chute as I, as wobbly as I have ever been, got down on a knee to piss. Looking behind me I saw one of them take the chute and throw it into the back of a five ton truck. I’d been out long enough that I’d been drug across the drop zone all the way to the chute turn in point. At least that explained the scratches and head to toe soreness.
“You ok?” I heard from behind me and turned to see one of the medics behind me.
“Yeah man, I’m good, just hit my head a little bit, but I’m fine,” I told him despite feeling a little woozy. There are certain things you just don’t do the military. Admit you’re hurt if you think you can drive on is far and away the largest.
“Well I’m going to check you out anyway; you were out for awhile…”
“Seriously Doc, I’m fine,” I said standing up. The last thing I wanted to do was go the aid station and possibly be put on profile. As I tried to come up with something to get me out of being checked out Murphy and his sick sense of humor decided to step in and “save” me.
“DOC! You have to get to the other side of the drop zone ASAP! A-Co’s 1st Sgt is fucked up, bad!” With that the seemingly assured trip to the aid station and 24 hours of rest was out the window and the way was clear for me to do something dumb.
Drinking in America’s Hat
Following a semi-formal wing exchange ceremony our Canadian hosts invited us all out for a night of revelry. Team leader and below went to one club, squad leader and above another. Coinciding with our trip up north had been the release of South Park Bigger, Longer, and Uncut on DVD. The movie had been an instant hit in the Ranger barracks and had led to an intense debate in the days before we left and the first couple of day we were in Canada. Should we mention it? Did the Canadian Army guys think the movie was funny? Would it piss them off if we did mention it? With such questions the unofficial platoon policy had been set to simply not make mention of the movie. Just train for a couple of weeks, and once we left the land of our neighbors to the North we could resume our discussions of Saddam giving it to the devil and just how funny Terrance and Phillip really were. This policy already established and a concussion fresh on my brain’s frontal lobe, we headed to the bar.
The Canadians greeted us in a way that was universally recognized as friendly, bottles of beer and shots of whisky. Before long I had a concussed head full of Canadian Rye and Molson chasers. In fairness to my attention whore nature and smart-ass personality, it’s entirely possible I’d have done what I did even if I didn’t have a concussion. However, the combination of having one and being piss drunk from free Canadian booze assured that what little brain to mouth filter I possess was outside the bar in the cold rather than inside my head where it belonged.
Tommy Batboy: Where Dumbassery and Awesomeness Meet
“So lemme ask you somethin’,” I slurred at my Canadian host sitting across the table from me. “Sure mate, what are you thinking aboot?” He asked me as I started giggling. Few things are funnier than a Canadian speaking their version of English when you’re wasted.
“You ever heard of the movie South Park? Waddaya think of it?” The faces of my fellow platoon members hardened. Glares were directed my way as I, the FNG, had just broken the unofficial policy. Our Canadian host, on the other hand, started cracking up.
“We bloody love that movie!” He said slapping the table as he did so. “It’s hilarious.” I’d heard enough.
“Times have changed!” I thundered out. Despite having mountains of evidence that I can’t sing a note I still maintain, because of the temporary damage done to my head, that night I sounded like a rock star.
“Our kids are getting worse!” A guy in my platoon, John, belted out. Apparently, he’d decided that if you can’t beat em’ join.
“They don’t want to obey their parents they just want to fart and curse!” The Canadians at the table joined in the singing.
“Should we blame the government, or blame society,” I sang, standing up as I did so. “Or should we blame the images on TV?”
“HECK NO!” The whole table sang in unison. “Blame Canada, blame Canada with their beady little eyes and their heads all-full of lies,” by now the tables around us also started singing. “Blame Canada, blame Canada”
“It’s not even a real country any WAY!” I screamed out, screwing up the order of the song and not caring. Our table, and the couple around us, all started laughing.
“Let’s sing it again mate. Cheers!” One of the Canadians called out with a drink in his hand. With that the song started anew, frequently being stopped and started as shots or beers were downed or wording messed up due to increasing levels of intoxication by Canadian and American alike.
I don’t remember how I got back to the barracks that night, and a lot of those next couple of weeks are hazy. There is, however, no doubt that everything’s gone wrong since Canada came along. Blame Canada, or the Blue Falcon BC who had us jump into those damn winds…nah, Blame Canada!
Copyright of Tommy