Student: “Sergeant, how long do I have to deploy my reserve parachute if my main fails to open?”
Sergeant: “The rest of your life, son… the rest of your life.”
There is no argument that Tier-1 units routinely engage in dangerous training: climbing skyscraper structures, engaging in gunfights in close quarters and confined spaces, hunkering down next to explosive breaching charges that are barely an arm’s reach away as they ignite. A cringe-worthy component to that list that hooks every seasoned operator’s attention is airborne operations because many things that go wrong during them can be fatal.
The featured image, Toad Jumper, is a wordplay on the term “towed jumper”, an airborne term used to describe a malady rendered by an errant static line, the 15-foot nylon cord that pulls the jumper’s parachute out and open. On the rare occasion that the parachute pack fails to break free from the static line anchored to the jump aircraft, the paratroop will be towed behind the aircraft at ~120 MPH spinning and slamming against the side of the airplane. It is an awesome and deadly event.
My best friend and renowned firearms trainer Patrick Arther “Mac” McNamara was a towed jumper on his very first training jump with the Army’s Airborne School in Ft. Benning, GA. His static line had unfortunately looped under his arm, cushioning the tug of the line and preventing it from effectively pull loose his parachute.
Upon exit, Mac spun wildly and bounced off of the skin of the aircraft. Very fortunately his static line was able to pull his parachute pack away and deploy his parachute canopy correctly. The violent tug of the static line ripped his biceps muscle from his humerus bone and pulled it down to his forearm. He was in severe pain and unable to use his damaged arm.
When it rains it pours, and since Mac was not able to use his arm he could not steer his parachute for a safe up-wind landing. Rather than facing into the wind to slow down, a parachute defaults to running down (with) wind at a higher speed. Mac braced himself, cringing before the impending impact with the ground.
He hit with great speed tumbling and flipping in excruciating pain.
Landing is the most critical step in a jump that the jumper can have the most control over. The jumper must correctly assess the wind direction and turn himself to face into the wind by maneuvering the lines that suspend him from his canopy.
A paratroop must perform a proper Parachute Landing Fall (PLF) to preclude broken bones and other injuries. Finally, a jumper must be able to quickly recover himself and his parachute to prevent being dragged across the ground resulting in potential injury or death. Mac was not able to perform any of these safety maneuvers for himself that day.
Now, the instructors on the Drop Zone, the Black Hats not knowing of Mac’s injury, saw his cartwheel landing and began to harass at him through an electrically amplified megaphone:
“HEY LEG! WHO THE HELL TAUGHT YOU TO DO A DOWN-WIND LANDING, LEG!”
A “leg” was a term used to refer to a soldier who was not airborne qualified. By military doctrine, soldiers can be referred to as regular straight-leg infantry, and airborne infantry. Leg is a mildly derogatory term, yet a moniker of pride used by airborne forces.
Now Mac was being dragged by the wind across the ground further contributing to his anguish, as he could not release his parachute releases on his chest. That further infuriated the Black Hats:
“GODDAMNIT LEG, PULL YOUR CANOPY RELEASES, LEG… YOU STINKING LEG!!!”
A fellow student ran in front of Mac’s inflated parachute and collapsed it. Mac now had to stow his parachute into a kitbag and carry his gear to an assembly zone where students were gathered — all with just one good arm and the other in immense pain.
Mac stumbled to the assembly point. His assessment of the event sums up what an amazing warrior Pat Mac is and why I regard him with such esteem to this day (words to the effect): “I didn’t really know what to think at the time; I mean, it was my first time and I really had no idea what to expect. To me, that was just what jumping was like — what every jump would be like — and I was willing to accept that.”
Pulling open his BDU shirt he saw that his biceps had been anatomically reassigned south of his shoulder toward his forearm. The skin was stretched so tight that it had taken on a transparent state revealing the color of the sinew and blood vessels thereunder. He showed it to a couple of other students to see if their arms all looked the same way; none did. Only then did Mac realize his demise.
Mac had to have surgery to pull his bicep back up to the north end of his Humerus bone to re-attach it, leaving him a gnarly scarred reminder. One of my team brothers in Delta also suffered the same fate as Mac in jump school. His static line looped under his arm. When he jumped he was momentarily towed; his biceps torn and pulled down to his forearm.
His biceps never really recovered to its impromptu torn position, rather remained low on his humerus toward his elbow. It really looked funny when he flexed his biceps. He intentionally flexed it often in the gym with accompanying remarks such as: “(flexing) Just came in to pump up ol’ Betsy here… I know she looks pretty buff now, but you should have seen how “ripped” she was in jump school!”
The trauma associated with a towed jumper scenario would easily be “quittin’ time” for most folks, with zero fault assigned or explanation warranted. For Pat McNamara, it was just one entry in a long line of threats that tried to beat him down and prevent him from obtaining his warrior goal. He went on to be arguably the best physically fit and top-performing Delta Operators of our era, and continues today to even exceed the standards that we maintained in the Unit.
By Almighty God and with honor,