Editor’s Note: Geo’s memoir, “Brothers of the Cloth,” a true account of special mission unit soldiers, has sold out in hardcover and will soon be coming out in paperback! You can keep an eye out for it here.
I feel quite certain that nothing in my mind will top the story of the errant para drop I made into the burning pine forest on Fort Bragg, NC — though there are still those stories that warrant an honorable mention. As good fortune bestows, none of the parachute mishaps I have ever been involved in resulted in fatalities, thereby lending way to the potentially humorous aspects of the events.
Conducting a High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) jump into the Delta compound was a thing in the day. The landing zone we used was just an open field we had named Falcon Landing Zone that was otherwise used for landing helicopter armadas. I don’t know that it was even a legally surveyed and certified Parachute Drop Zone by the USAF, but then who cared?
On my first, and thankfully only drop, into the Unit compound I was short of thrilled about the prospect by about a statute mile. The day before the drop I cruised around the massive compound assessing it for my top ten least desirable spots to land by parachute. A huge RF antenna was my top pick. Spires on the main cantonment building were high on the list and a pile of automobile wrecks by the engineer’s shed was a staunch contender.
My own pouting about jumping used to get under my skin — aha — and I would get mad at myself for letting para drops mess with my spirit so much. There was a quintessential need to Ranger-up and grow a pair. I was reminded of how my penchant for poor steering had righted itself on the burning forest drop: I would just have to get jiggy and steer my canopy as if my life depended on it… because it DID!
Since Yin deserves Yang I will say in my defense that clinical fear of heights is not a choice, and to be so afflicted is unfortunate when in the line of work that I was in.
“It is what it is,” became my mantra toward my fear of heights, an ironically empty aphorism that can just as easily be confused as a pearl of wisdom or a vapid waste of breath — much like: “We do what we have to do, and that’s what makes us who we are,” a snippet used in an attempt to explain a phenomenon with an explanation that contains absolutely no explanative component whatsoever.
And so the jump went well and I landed within the same zip code as the rest of the troop. I shrugged it off completely like it was no big deal that I had landed with any accuracy, as if I did it all the time — yeah, the sky is blue, the grass is green, and geo landed on target:
“Woah, stranger… look what the cat dragged in,” one of the brothers teased at me.
“He must have had his parachute set on autopilot this time,” and there was much laughter glee. I deserved it all.
“Very funny — everyone, very funny… how’d yooz like to get shot in the face with a B-52?”
Jumping onto the compound at night was yet another flavor of pucker and not for the feeble-hearted. We knuckle-draggers pretty much left that to the Long-Gunners with all the more HALO experience.
But you know as the Japanese say: “Even monkeys fall from trees (猿も木から落ちる, sara mo ki kara ochimasu)” as the next incident demonstrates:
On this particular jump, a confusing view of the night landscape below had resulted in the jumpmaster putting the Long Gunners out essentially over the “wrong cluster of lights” below. Rather than aiming at the Unit compound, he had mistakenly aimed at a small residential area some miles from the compound… and put them out.
Each man had his own separate adventure coming down in unfamiliar territory that was mostly pine woods. Landing in trees is a dangerous affair. Emergency procedures for a tree landing contingency are rehearsed prior to each jump. Most of the men fared well — other than our squadron Executive Officer (XO) who had a particularly brutal landing.
Unfortunately, he was carrying combat equipment, primarily a rucksack which is required to be lowered away from the body on a 15-foot tether at approximately 100 feet above the ground. The XO did, in fact, lower his ruck per doctrine.
Since it was very dark it was therefore difficult to judge the distance to, say, tops of trees and the ground proper.
Fortunately, he could see a road ahead and below him that he was confident he could make it to, precluding him from having to risk a tree landing. Yessirree, it looked like he was going to make it to the road!
Unfortunately, his rucksack dangling below him at some 15′ or so did not manage to clear the treetops. It snagged a tree just as his feet cleared the trees to land on the linear open area. The now static rucksack and tether yanked the XO causing his canopy to go into a sudden and very sharp dive, augering the XO hard into the road.
The road was hard asphalt and the good XO sustained some heinous injuries the worst of which was a matter-of-factly shattered wrist. It was so bad his hand was surgically placed into what amounted to a stainless steel sort of basket that supported all of the broken bones in his hand and wrist.
The featured cartoon for this essay is really provoking hard on a really weak subject, trying to make a mountain from a molehill. The reason is that the recipient of the cartoon subject is a legendary badass that was voted early on to be the Operator least likely to ever make a mistake. When he did, I had to spring into action to capitalize on an opportunity that would most certainly never present itself again.
Randy C. was tasked to perform jumpmaster’s duty for a low-level static-line parachute operation, a thing that almost NEVER happens in Delta. In my 10 years there, we only ever did one. The exit procedures are a bit different for a static-line jump and poor Randy technically allowed a jumper to get by him early while the red “No-Jump” light was still illuminated.
News of Randy’s faux pas was raced back to me by the flight crew across the satellite communications network, the one used before iPhones, so I could start work on the cartoon — STAT — perhaps even have it posted on the squadron publishing wall before Red Light Randy returned from the airborne operation.
I managed to do it… because I got that kinda speed:
By Almighty God and with honor,
This article was originally published in June 2020.