(You can read part I here)
We circled Sainte Mère Église Drop Zone (DZ) several times over a near “solid” cloud layer that forded no view of the ground below. In the day it was forbidden by doctrine to put jumpers out if there was no visual identification of the DZ below. Our Jumpmaster elected to land and wait on the ground for improved conditions so as not to burn fuel circling. He had to balance available fuel with time remaining on the schedule for the DZ.
Though forbidden by doctrine to exit jumpers over a solid cloud stratus, MSG Bob S. raised the bar a rung when he poo-pooed jump doctrine with his sniper team and a laptop computer. At altitude (13k feet) he moved to the rear of the aircraft where the ramp was open. He tied/taped/lashed his laptop computer to the side of the aircraft where he could comfortably stand and work on his laptop.
After a number of minutes and communications with the pilot he turned and stood his sniper team up and moved them to the edge of the ramp. The cloud stratum below was as opaque as car windows at Inspiration Point on a Saturday night. He leaned out over the ramp and took a last hard look below. He leaned back to his computer screen for just a few more moments… then vaulted himself off of the ramp in a head-first dive calling out to his team:
“What sorcery is this that Bob harbors in that black box duct-taped to the skin of this aircraft on this day?” I wondered. I learned right away that Bob had used a program called Falcon View, a program used by pilots that leverages Global Position Systems (GPS) to plot a path over a terrain map with a trail of colored “bread crumbs.” I mean, that wasn’t genius but it sure was smart and bold, and that was Bob — smart and bold!
Back at the Unit, I had a chance question to Bob in the chow hall:
“Hey man, how did you talk the Command into letting you put your team out over a solid deck with Falcon View?” To which Bob offered:
“Ask the who, what?” Bob was bold. Bold Bob, we called him.
Back on Ste. Mère, our Jumpmaster still had no breaks in the clouds but decided to get airborne in the last 15 minutes of our station time over the DZ and run some racetracks in the hope of getting a break in the cloud cover. In the last remaining minutes of our schedule, the Jumpmaster excitedly stood us up and posted us to the edge of the ramp with a final “GOOO!”
Out we went.
Over the cloud deck I did see a modest opening and some ground, but not enough ground to be able to orient myself and track in an appropriate direction. So I just fell straight down. Brother Sam Booth Foster flew up to within a couple of feet from the tip of my nose with a puzzled expression and shrugged his arms and shoulders. I shrugged back: “Yeah, IDK WTF we are, Sam!” He turned and flew off to the next brother.
When I broke through the status layer, nothing on the ground below looked familiar. I slowly turned 360 degrees in an effort to spy a familiar feature, but spied none and I was already under 5k feet AGL — time to start my pull sequence. Under canopy again I turned another 360. I recognized nothing and spied none of my brothers. Everyone had gone to “sauve qui peut” mode — every man for himself.
With all the annoying $hit past me, it was time to pick a place to land. It impressed on me that landing would be easy enough; the setting was rural with largely deserted expanses and cultivated fields. My final decision for a touchdown location teetered between two cornfields. I decided to flip a coin, which I immediately fumbled and dropped, hurtling it to the Earth below. Parachuting, as it turns out, is no time for a fine motor neuron operation.
My advanced Delta Force training pointed me to an alternate selection solution. I alternated my pointing finger between the two fields:
“Eeny-meeny, miney-moe… catch a sailor by the toe… if he hollers make him pay…”
Altitude ran out and I was forced to choose my landing point without the aid of mental tools. Sinking toward the cornfield I briefly wondered how many times it had changed hands in battles during the Civil War.
A hard flare and it was over. I stood alone in an empty cornfield:
“…fifty dollars everyday.”
T’was apparent that the Jumpmaster, though meaning quite well, went overly ambitious in his desire to get his jumpers out in time. The result was that he imagined the small sample of terrain below to be more familiar than it was in reality. Standing safely on the ground I quietly forgave him, though I cursed and damned every atom of his being many times on my unfamiliar plunge to Earth.
As I bagged my parachute I heard the crunch of tires on the gravel road at the edge of the field. I looked up to see a tremendous battleship of an early model Chevy, an Impala I think it was, stop just there and a rustic brother-man in his 50s step out:
“I seent-cha a-coming down.” He said switching a toothpick from one corner of his mouth to the other.
“Good day, Sir. Are you the owner of this field? I’m really sorry about this; it was by total accident that we landed here, aha.”
Looking around I realized that I hadn’t seen any of the other brothers since I broke through the clouds.
“Well, Sir… there were eight of us that all jumped together. We lost each other in the clouds. Did you see any other parachutes besides mine? We were trying to land on Sainte Mère Église parachute landing field, Sir.”
“I been livin’ here pritt’n’eer all ma life, and I ain’t NEVER heard a no Saint Mary’s Glee. I reckon you’ll be needing a ride.”
“Oh, hey yeah! I would appreciate a ride to a 7-11 where I can get on a phone back to my people!”
The brother-man even tried to lift my parachute kit bag for me after he popped his trunk. I crowded him and lifted my bag myself profusely thanking him just the same. Not knowing how long the drive would be, I made small talk. I tried to keep it simple, so I talked about… crops:
“Yessirree it’s them danged little-ol’ root worms gets in ma corn and plumb ravages it — I hate them critters.”
“I hear you brother-man, if I had a root worm with me right now, I’d… why I’d punch it in the fuckin’ face!”
So it went.
At some point before the 7-11, I observed a sterile van, which caught my eye, approaching. As it passed I could see several pipehitters staring back at me as the van went into an immediate breaking solution:
“Brother-man, those are my people that just passed. They saw me and are stopping — can you just kick me out right here?”
The van had flipped a bitch and was chugging up just behind us as I yanked my chute from the trunk. I didn’t break away so fast, wanting to seize the moment for some proper thanks to brother-man for interrupting his routine for me. After a genuine handshake and pat on the shoulder, I grabbed my kit and climbed into the van where seven grins waited to hear my fraction of the day’s adventure.
“Ok so, Geo?”
“Landed in that guy’s cornfield, me I did.”
“Yeah, we all pretty much landed in cornfields.”
“Ah, were they Union or Confederate cornfields?”
“Now, why you always feel compelled to make reference to the Waw-ah of Nawthern Aggression like that?
“Ohhh… what we got here is a failure to communicate, Cool Hand Geo!”
“Let me tell you why you yokels lost that war…”
“What do you mean lost that war, and who y’all callin’ a yokel?”
And so it went.
By Almighty God and with honor,