We left Norfolk, in a rusty C-130, definitely Viet Nam era surplus; our orders said Ft. Bragg Jump School. I knew what was ahead for the group of 10 of us. We had been in a campsite near Williamsburg for several weeks with little food, and virtually no sleep. I looked around the belly of the aircraft – besides the pilots and crew; I was the only one awake. The vibration of the plane and rumble of the engines quickly put me into the dozing group. It seemed I had barely closed my eyes when the tailgate of the 130 went down and people started shouting. I moved with the mass, lined up and then double-timed it to a small room in the hanger.
“I heard one of you has had jump training.” A muscular man, holding a clipboard, in the front of the room seemed to be scanning the room.
“You.” He pointed at me. “Where’d you get training?”
“Sir, Ft. Benning, Sir. Sport jumping since.”
A quick comment – one needs their mentality checked to jump out of a perfectly good aircraft 3-4 thousand feet above the ground. But, a young man in his twenties often does not process all of his faculties.
“You pack number one.” He pointed his clipboard at me. “Get out of here and get to work.”
An army sergeant tapped me on the shoulder and nodded toward a door. I followed, figuring I would be scrubbing dishes or something for speaking in the room.
The young sergeant looked at me. “You jump huh?”
“Sport jumping, nothing under 5 thousand feet.”
He laughed, from what I hear you’ll be lucky to get a jump over 3 thousand.” He paused. “I’m not supposed to know that, forget it.”
“No problem. Where’re we going?”
“Packing.” He said nothing more as we walked through the hanger and into an attached building with long rows of high tables. “This is your packing room. This hanger, this room, is your home. No troops come in here. It’s off limits. You need anything, you call on me, the name’s Lee.” He didn’t stick out his hand so I guessed it was more of a formal name label rather than introduction. “Stay here, someone will be in to check you out. Then you get to train the knuckleheads in the other room to pack their own chutes. Question?”
“No Sergeant Lee. Thank you.” I had a zillion questions but I knew he wouldn’t or couldn’t answer.
I stood by the first table for what seemed like an eternity.
Finally, two men in camouflage work outfits stepped into the room. One of them carried an opened parachute. He tossed it on the table, and then stood back. The other man walked to my side of the table and said, “Pack it.” He carried a clipboard.
I started laying out cords and silk. I found four wear errors and pointed them out. The man standing on the other side of the table pointed to a cabinet. “Repairs, make them.”
I got three cords and toggle out of the cabinet and made the necessary repairs. Then, I packed the chute the way I had been trained to do many years ago, by the numbers. I completed and set the pack up on the table.
The man on my side of the table inspected the pack, then held it up. “Get in, you’re doing a demo jump.”
A Enstrom Helicopter was waiting outside of the hanger when I emerged. Seconds later we were at about 3 thousand feet. One of the men from the pack shop was next to me.
“Time to go. This is 2500 feet so judge your time, and there’s no static line.”
“No problem there, I’m pulling in five.” I left the helicopter, counted to four and pulled the cord, the jerk upward is the greatest feeling in the world. I looked for a place to land and spotted a target on the grassy area near the tarmac. I missed the center by twenty feet.
Sergeant Lee drove a jeep to where I landed. “Good jump. I heard the next one will be at eight hundred feet. “
I looked at the sergeant. “You’ve gotta be kidding.”
“I’m not sure I like the things you hear.”
I spent the next ten days teaching packing, and jumping under 1000 feet. A month later I would figure out why.
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