Going out the aircraft door at a thousand feet over the farmland of central Poland, strapped to a parachute and 130 pounds of combat gear, turns out to be the easy part.
A relief, in fact, after a 10-hour flight from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, strapped into fold-down seats along the edges of the C-17 cargo jet’s immense hold and dozing until a few hours out from the drop zone. Then struggling to your feet, shrugging on the 55-pound parachute and balancing in mild turbulence to strap the rucksack between your legs, weapons case by your left leg and auxiliary chute on your chest. An Army rigger checking each paratrooper, fussing like a medieval squire helping his knight into a suit of armor. The riggers running a finger along each strap to trace out any kinks or loose ends, tugging on each steel snap link and shackle, smoothing knots — nothing here to snag on your way out. Recoiling the 15 feet of static line that you’ll clip onto the overhead steel cable so that as you drop, your chute is yanked out. Until then, the loops of that yellow web strap are held in place by rubber bands, which will snap as you go.
And you go at one-second intervals — waddling up to the doorway, pushing off and immediately tucking into an L shape, knowing pretty quickly if there’s a problem or you’re good.
The first seconds of the exit from the aircraft are the tricky part. Any number of things can go wrong. The worst is probably “a tow”: You get out the door OK, but some piece of equipment gets caught and you’re still attached to the airplane, helplessly flailing along at 150 miles an hour behind the jet engines.