Ein Parachute Problem…

Updated: February 14, 2008

parachute1Of all the things that I did in my five years on active duty, all the shooting and running around, the drinking, the “extracurricular activities”, and even that thing with the goat, jumping out of an airplane was absolutely my favorite thing to do. For those few seconds of freefall, time stopped, the world slowed down and I felt completely free.

In sharp contrast, getting rigged up in my parachute, on the other hand, was my least favorite thing about the Army.

I can still hear that first command of “place your hands on your head” as I flexed my knees and stuck my ass out while looking up at the ceiling or the sky. This statement, of course, was the universal cue to start the arduous process of getting jerked, poked, and prodded as the jumpmaster in question inspected every square millimeter of the 66lbs of parachute on my back, the reserve on my stomach, and my weapons case secured to my side. All of these joyful moments climaxed with the jumpmaster securing my 65-120lb rucksack, after it’d been carefully inspected of course, in between my legs for my trip into the great blue yonder.

Getting inspected drove me nuts. I hated every second of it. Not just because I was getting poked and prodded by a pissed off jumpmaster, but because it seemed so pointless to me. All of this is done, of course, in the name of safety. While many of us who are airborne qualified do not like to dwell on it for any length of time, jumping is essentially flipping death the bird while walking out the back door of an airplane flying at 120 knots. I tried to never think about it. I mean, if the luster of my big brass Ranger balls couldn’t get me through, or Murphy decided it was time to ride the lightning for ol’ Tommy that was that. Why worry? It wasn’t like the jumpmaster had X-ray vision and can see into my parachute. So even if there was something wrong with it the odds of him feeling around the sides and catching it seemed about par with the odds I had of scoring with Jessica Biel.

No shit, there I was…

Two weeks before 9/11 found 2nd Ranger Battalion (of which I was a member) and soldiers from 5 other NATO countries getting ready to hang a hard right or left out the bird, hopefully with a good exit procedure, and ending with a soft parachute landing fall. This was all being done in the name of fostering unity amongst the various NATO units and much more importantly, exchanging various sets of cool guy jump wings.

Snuggling into my parachute that morning I was feeling cocky. Unlike most of the jumps in my jump log we were jumping in the middle of the day for the wing exchange. If it wasn’t sweet enough that I would actually be able to see where I was going to land we were also jumping the rarest of all jumps: The Hollywood. For those of you not in the know, the Hollywood earned that moniker because it never occurs in combat, and barely occurs in training after your first couple of jumps at Airborne School. It’s pretty – just like in an absurd movie – no rucksack, no weapon; just a parachute and helmet. All I had to do that day was walk out of the plane, land, and stand in formation for half an hour as the commanders all prattled on about how we were fostering a “stronger NATO alliance.”

The only catch to this day of seemingly carefree use of governmental resources was that in order to qualify for a set of foreign jump wings you either had to use the other military’s planes, parachutes, or have the equipment inspected by the one of the other nations’ jumpmasters. Since we were the only ones to bring planes to the party and there was so many countries represented, it meant that the Germans were going to be checking out my chute that day.


I’d barely gotten into my harness when the German jumpmaster who’d be ushering out of the aircraft that day walked over to me.

“Good Yaaaa?” he asked me; I didn’t even have my helmet on yet.

“Uhh, yeah. Sure.” I said, quickly putting it on. Staring at the sky in that goofy squatting position like I’d done twenty or so times before.

Click. Click. My canopy release assemblies, the most vulnerable spots on the exterior of a parachute, clicked in their typical fashion. I looked at the German confused, that wasn’t how American jumpmasters started our checks.

“Hmph.” The German muttered as he grabbed a hold of the main section of my harness webbing, shaking me firmly once. Then he walked away.

He. Walked. A. Way.

What the hell? This isn’t right. I couldn’t help but think with a feeling of unease that I’d never had before when jumping suddenly making its way down to where my balls should have been. Dude what if there’s something wrong with my chute!?!

For the first time in my military career it dawned on me exactly what I was doing when I was jumping out of a plane. Attempting to cheat death out of what’s rightfully his – every one of us testosterone whores turning into a puddle of goo on the drop zone after a sickening thunk. It occurred to me that a piece of silk and some bits of string were the only things standing in the way between my inevitable demise…I always knew this of course…but…awww shit…

And I gave my heart to know wisdom…

I had just been thrust into a brave new world. One where getting jerked around by a pissed off jumpmaster didn’t seem so bad. For the first time I was very concerned with just how safe my parachute was. Suddenly, I couldn’t help but wonder if the German jumpmaster, who by now had checked just about everyone, would have noticed a deformity in my rig if he’d only run his hand around the outside of it. I started to panic a little. All the annoyance and seeming stupidity of the American rigging system had just been wiped away in a single shake of my parachute. I started looking around for anyone I knew to be jumpmaster qualified. Forget the foreign jump wings, I was wondering if I’d make it through the jump in one piece.

“Hey SFC ____, can you check me out?” I called out spying my Platoon Sergeant, sitting thirty feet away from me.

“Sure Buddy.” He told me shaking his head as he walked over. “Place your hands on your head and look up.” he ordered me with a smile on his face. I was more than happy to be poked, prodded and jerked around.

Until I had to jump back into the US four weeks later, of course…

Copyright of Tommy



One Comment

  1. Randy Hillcrest

    October 16, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    My unit was jumping in Italy (with the Italians, belive it or not) who perform NO type of JMPI. One of our guys got upset about being solely and personally responsible for his own safety and asked one of the Italian JMs for an inspection. The Italian NCO walked up to him, slapped the reserve and then the main, shouted: “One in front, one in back, good to go!”, and gave him an enthusiatic thumbs up. He never lived that one down.

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