I made my first jump today. I dreamed of adventure, honor, and prestige. I wanted to experience the thrill of other paratroopers before me. I was a young man then. But not now; I’m pushing 30!
I volunteered, applied, begged, and threatened but was relegated to be a leg on a rope. Air assaults were not the same as airborne. No! Denied! I had given up my immature fantasy. But then they decided I must learn at once. There was no time to waste. It became important when it became important to them.
I spent yesterday and the day before learning to fall down. They called them parachute landing falls. I was not good at PLF’s. I understood the theory but still couldn’t master the technique while wrapped in a harness.
They blindfolded me and took me to the desert. They said it would be a good place to make my first jumps.
At the safety briefing they pointed out tree, water, and wire hazards way off the edge of the drop zone. They told me all three were dangerous obstacles for a paratrooper and to avoid them.
We ascended 1500 meters into the clear blue desert sky. The pond, the trees, and the wires became even smaller. They looked like an oasis in the middle of a featureless desert. I focused on the water. I did not want to drown, electrocute myself, or get tangled in the trees.
There was no stand up, hook up, shuffle to the door, instead some guy in Ray-Bans screamed get ready and go! I went.
Leaving the noise, heat, and cramped compartment of the helicopter behind felt great. I practiced a couple turns and never took my eyes off the dangerous obstacles. I locked my focus on the trees, water, and wires and tried to keep the rally point in sight.
The oasis got bigger. The wires came into view. The water gleamed. The trees waved. I was headed straight for them. I tried to turn but it was too late. I lifted my feet to clear the wires and crashed near the water by the trees.
I was on my feet by the time the ambulance arrived.
“What were you looking at Mack?!” Walt the medic asked me in disbelief. He said “You went straight for the only danger zone! The wind-dummy is smarter than you!”
“I was focusing on the obstacles to avoid them!” I said in my defense.
“Get in the ambulance,” Walt said. “Grab another chute and get back into the helicopter.”
Never focus on the obstacles. Focus on the rally point, the target, and the mission.
I was glad no one was close enough to see how hard I landed. My PLF’s still sucked.