The first place I went after West Point was Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. This was a three week course. The first week was mostly the mechanics of something called “parachute landing falls” done over and over and over from a two foot platform. These were interspersed with group exercises and a daily run of two miles or more. The second week was Tower Week. First was a thirty four foot tower done innumerable times. Late in the week a two hundred and fifty foot tower was employed three times. The third week was Jump Week. There were five jumps in all. Four were from a C-130 aircraft, which is a propeller driven plane. One of those jumps, the fourth overall, was to be done in full field gear including a rifle. The fifth jump was from a jet—in my case a C-141. All of these jumps were from one thousand two hundred and fifty feet.
The whole idea of the course is that everything should be done without thinking. I recall one of the sergeants running the course saying “the trouble with legs (non-airborne troops) is that they think.” I thought to myself, what is wrong with thinking. What indeed.
At the first command, “Stand Up,” the sequence should start. Hook Up, Shuffle to the Door, Assume the Ready Position, Hit It, Leap into the air assuming a tight body position with the chin down, hands on the reserve parachute, feet and knees together should all be automatic. At the count of four, see that your canopy was fully deployed. Just before landing pull up on the parachute and execute a parachute landing fall, landing on the five points of contact. Again, all this should be done without thinking.
Each side of a plane had a door, through which static lines were attached. These lines were about thirty feet long, and these made the parachutes deploy. We didn’t pull ripcords. Each plane then had two sticks (A group of parachutists jumping from the same exit door of an aircraft on the same drop zone.) of troops, half the planeload.
When your stick was complete, that group was dismissed and could go to the ice cream truck. That is, when everyone had landed, furled the parachute in the aviator’s kit bag that he brought with him, ran to the assembly area, unpacked the parachute, put it on a long pole and then very carefully folded it back up, moved to that stick’s area, put the aviator’s kit bag down with the reserve parachute on top of it, and stood at parade rest, then your group could be dismissed.
For the first jump, the day arrived hot and muggy. We were up early, it was a long wait for our plane to arrive and the reserve parachute made a comfortable pillow, so most of us dozed on the tarmac waiting for our plane. Finally, we loaded up. Away we went, and then came the command “Stand Up.” I was first out on one side of the plane. So I hooked up, shuffled to the door, and stood at the ready position, the jump master at my side. But for some reason the plane made a circle of the area and then came around for a second time. Meanwhile, the jump master kept pushing me out the side and then pulling me back.
Finally he said “Hit It” and away I went. At three seconds the canopy fully opened. Before I looked up I had to adjust my helmet, because it had slid down to cover my eyes. But there it was.
Moving through the air was one of the most peaceful feelings I have ever experienced. There was no sound, and no feeling of falling through the air. The ground stretched below me like a painting. Then there was an almost imperceptible feeling that I was creeping ever so slowly towards that ground.
Or was I? It didn’t take long before I wasn’t so sure that I was going down. For a few seconds, I thought that I wasn’t going down or up. But then, very definitely, I was going up.
And then the next plane came. I was maybe one hundred feet below it as it roared by, and then paratroopers jumped out, and soon were all around me. One of them collided with the side of my parachute and then went on by me.
By this time, I thought again, what was wrong with thinking? I was caught in an updraft. Others had no problem, but I was the lightest person there, and I was moving away from the Drop Zone, too. In fact, I was in danger of landing in Alabama instead of Georgia. It might even be that I would land in the Chattahoochee River, the boundary between them. I had visions of snapping the quick release buttons on the parachute just before entering the water.
What I did do was to pull on one of the risers that extend down from the parachute. I saw quickly that I had gone too far, as part of the parachute collapsed. I quickly let go, and up I went again. I tried a second time, with the same result. But the third time, I got the hang of it, and even came a little closer to the Drop Zone, although I was still a long way away.
By this time, the other stick of troops from my plane was long since gone. Two other plane loads of troops were also down. But the other troops from my stick had to wait for me. As I got to maybe two hundred and fifty feet from the ground, a chorus of people started yelling at me, “Get down here, Jannarone.”
I had a Fudgsicle.
There were supposed to be two jumps in Ranger School, but one was canceled because of high winds. The other one should have been, too, but wasn’t, and everyone landed in or very close to a stand of pine trees. We jumped after dusk, and couldn’t see the drop zone well, anyway, but I was also turned around compared to where I was going. I tried to turn my chute, but didn’t figure out how to do that. Every time I used the risers to turn my body, the chute didn’t turn as well, and I kept going backwards. So I kept turning my head to see what was ahead. When I landed, my chute was stuck in a pine tree, and only my feet had touched the ground. It took a good half hour to climb up the tree and untangle the chute from the branches.
Six jumps in all, that’s my experience with jumping out of airplanes.