Category Archives: Paratroopers

Barry Sadler

BarrySadler

Michael Lochs Archive / Getty Images 

 

Interesting background of the man who wrote what became the theme song for the U.S. Army Special Forces, and how it affected him. 

” “The Ballad of the Green Berets” is very much alive today, more than 50 years after its sensational birth. It’s the theme song for the U.S. Army Special Forces, is played for Special Forces trainees at Fort Bragg and is heard at every Special Forces reunion and at more than one Green Beret’s funeral. “The Ballad” also was the only notable and popular pro-military song to come out of the entire Vietnam War. It made Sadler one of the most famous Americans who served in that controversial war. And yet “The Ballad of the Green Berets” all but destroyed the man who created it.” 

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We Few, We happy Few….

I recently posted a comment or two on the last post of OldAFSarge (“Where do we go from here?”) where I made reference to a new acquaintance I made yesterday, Clive Stevens, a local amateur historian with special knowledge of the acclaimed work of the eminent American author, Dr Stephen E Ambrose.

Clive Stevens grew up in Wiltshire, England. As a senior at college, he embarked upon detailed research into the history of the American military who were based in England during World War 2. He started with the American Parachute Infantry Regiments for no better reason than so many people in his community had first hand knowledge of the `friendly occupation` as it was sometimes known. For Clive grew up near the village of Aldbourne, which Lexicans may recall was where the men of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, United Staes Army were based for their advanced tactical training in preparation for the invasion of Normandy on June 6th 1944. Easy Company is now immortalised in the TV mini series, “Band of Brothers”.

I thought it would be interesting to add a little of Clive’s work by posting an extract from a 2004 publication of his entitled `The Gathering of Eagles`

`In June 1991, as a prelude to the publication [of band of Brothers] Dr Ambrose led a trans Atlantic tour made up of three Easy Company veterans and a group of historians from the University of New Orleans; the object of the trip being to trace the path of Easy company from their beginnings in Toccoa, GA, through to their capture of Hitler’s `Eagles Nest` in Berchtesgaden.

Sadly the tour was not scheduled to include Aldbourne, but following a meeting in London between Marlborough amateur historian Neil Stevens [Clive’s brother] and the three veterans of Easy Company, a detour was hastily arranged. Therefore, the following day the tour group made a fleeting visit to the village en route from Aldershot to Portsmouth for the cross channel ferry to Normandy. During the brief visit that followed, the group toured the village on foot, visited the last remaining stable block at High Town [a troops billet] and partook in the church fete on the village green. Neil then gave the three VIP veterans, namely Dick Winters, Don Malarkey and Carwood Lipton, a whistlestop tour of their old haunts in a WW2 Willy’s Jeep, before posing for photographs in the jeep in front of the stable block. The date was Saturday June 29th 1991 and for Dick Winters it was his first return to the village since WW2. Upon his return home Dick wrote the following to Neil:

“It was very nice of you, your parents and friends to go to the trouble of making an extra effort to make our visit to Aldbourne a very special and emotional day. I have never seen Aldbourne in such a festive mood. It was wonderful to see all the children having a good time at the puppet show on the village green, the happy faces at the flea market tables and a regular crowd of people in every direction you turned. The jeep ride you gave us to the surrounding hillsides and the view down onto the village, all bringing back good memories. All of these factors are the same reasons why, as we were returning to Aldbourne after the Normandy campaign, we all felt as if we were returning to our home”

By the end of 1991 Ambrose’s book was finished and upon publication in 1992 it sold extensively throughout the world. Despite this international exposure it would be almost 10 years before Stephen Spielberg, captivated by Ambrose’s work, set about creating the most expensive dramatisation ever made for television.`

Of course, what followed Mr Speilberg’s HBO tv series made the aforementioned veterans something approaching Hollywood- style celebrities. It must have been a massive shock after so many years. So, fellow Lexicans and others, I hope you enjoyed this little peep behind, or perhaps that should be ahead of the `Band of Brothers` at a time before the book was published and when comparatively few people had ever heard of them.  It is stories like this that make me passionate about how our history was shaped and the importance of remembrance of those who shaped it.

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A night at the ballet

I’d like to say that it was a dark and stormy night, but then we wouldn’t have been jumping. It was dark though and that was enough. It was back in the hoary mists of time, spring of 1978 specifically and I was in Denmark for my first overseas deployment. As a young, motor-vated paratrooper assigned to a Special Forces unit (though not SF qualified yet) I was thrilled to be deployed overseas for the first time. Especially Denmark! Exotic for a young lad who only the year before had discovered that they listened to the same music on the east coast of the States as they did on the West coast. Imagine!

So, yeah. Young. ‘Ya gotta start somewhere.

We were providing specialized communications support to the SF teams who were there to do their part for the exercise, Flintlock ’78. We had set up our communications gear, run the wire for the field phone network, got the radio teletype vans set up and connected via HF (high frequencies in the 2 – 30 MHz band, aka short wave), and   receiving A team communications from the field once they had infiltrated into their area of operations (AO).

The teams go into what is called the isolation area where they remain once they enter. There is no contact with the outside except via their liaison contact, no phone calls, no visits, nada.

1978. No InnerWebs, no email, no Skype nor chat.

The idea is that once they received their mission they would be unable to accidentally let any details out if there was no external contact. No contact with their family, girlfriend, etc. Not even any contact with any of the other teams in isolation for the same reason.

My team chief came looking for a volunteer to go in with a team. Said volunteer would go into isolation with the team for their last day of isolation then conduct infiltration with the team. My team chief knew me, he knew that going along like this would be irresistible to me. And I like to jump.

Remember that, I like to jump. We’ll revisit this later.

Here in Denmark, the exercise was to test our ability to sneak into the country, aka infiltrate, make contact with the Underground, and conduct guerrilla operations in the enemy’s rear areas without getting caught. This was a graded exercise for us, our raison d’etre.

The mission of the Danish Home Guard was to protect Denmark from invasion by the Godless Communist Hordes foreigners attempting to sneak into their country. They needed to show that they were capable of protecting Denmark from invaders of this type. For them, this was also a graded exercise.

By the time that I was volunteering we had already had a number of teams compromised. As in, the Danes were scooping the teams up right on the Drop Zone (DZ) by surrounding the DZ with vehicles then switching on the headlights while the team was performing the admin task of turning in their parachutes before heading out. Between following the DZ party when they left and some Danish liaison officers spilling the beans to their buddies, the teams were being compromised on the DZ.  While on the DZ the teams were safe, but watching them turn in the parachutes the Danes could see the team as it moved and wait for them at the edge of the DZ. For the Home Guard it was a win. For us, the teams were administratively declared “back in play” so that some training value was gained, but it was chalked up as a “fail” for us.

S2 ID’d the Dane that was spilling the beans and he was kept away, but allowed to “outfox us” and discover the DZ location. So, a plan was hatched to send a team in on the DZ with an administrative jumper (ghost jumper – for the purposes of the exercise he did not exist) whose job it would be to jump in, go with the team a short way off of the DZ where the ‘chutes would be stashed. The ghost jumper would stay with the ‘chutes, wait a half an hour then break a chemlite to mark his position so that the DZ party could find him and recover the parachutes. This would give the team time to get away yet allow for the turn in of the ‘cutes, ’cause they’re not cheap and you can’t go destroying them every time you have an exercise. If for no other reason than you can only sell so many cupcakes and brownies to the same military base before they’re tired of buying them just so you can buy more of the same equipment.

On the night designated we are loaded up in the back of a truck and the sides are all pulled down so that no one can tell what, or who, is inside. We then drive around for awhile to throw off any suspicion before going to the airfield. Once at the airfield the truck is backed up to the tail gate of an awaiting, running, C-130 and we all hustle across, trying not to look suspicious in case someone were to notice.

Masters of stealth are we when the need is upon us.

Then off into the air we go, riding in the back of a Combat Talon, a special breed of C-130 manned by a special breed of AF warrior.

Noble and proud are they. Let’s come back to this point later, shall we?

Off into the dark night we roar with red lights on inside and the curtains down so that we see not the wonders and secrets in the front of the plane and magic thereof. The magic that let’s us infiltrate into denied airspace.

Denied airspace – that portion of the air above a country that said country has decided that people hostile to them shall not fly in. Said country having numerous ways to pull in the Welcome mat like ground to air missiles, air-to-air fighters, anti-aircraft guns, you know, Go Away!

We jink, we twist, we hang on while the aircrew do that voodoo that they do so well. Eh, something like that. In the back it is indistinguishable from the aircrew wildly trying to see how long it will take those dumb Army guys in back to spew. But, it’s our job and we’re being paid to do this, we suck it up and get on with it. So, under these conditions we start the pre-jump drill.

The jumpmaster stands up, hooks up his static line, turns to face us and gives us the first jump command.

“Twenty minutes!” Both arms come up to shoulder level and he flashes his hands and fingers twice so that twenty fingers are flashed at us. Just in case you can’t hear him shouting over the noise. Hey, it happens. Obviously, this is a time warning. Wake up, pull your head out of wherever it’s been so far and start down your own internal checklist.

“Six minutes!” Both arms come up to shoulder level again while all five fingers on one hand are extended and only the forefinger on the other hand is extended. Six fingers. Another time warning, but this one also means time to start the choreographed follies.

“Get ready!” Both hands come up to shoulder level again and then the arms are extended in a pushing like motion towards us. In the dim, red light and noise that is the inside of a tube hanging from a high lift wing with four, strong, turboprop engines, you see people shift and touch those things that are for some reason most important to them. For guys that have lost a helmet, it’s their helmet straps. For guys that have lost a piece of equipment that blew off on a jump, it’s that piece of equipment. For those that have suffered a misrouted leg strap, heh.

Let me put it this way. Misrouted leg strap issues are a guy thing. It’s not a problem for female paratroopers, though they know what the issue is. Ask the paratrooper sitting next to you to explain.

“Outboard personnel, stand up!” Both arms are extended, palms up, pointed down at the ground and away from his body, towards the outside row of seats, then brought up to shoulder level. In this case, there is no one sitting on the outer row of seats against the skin of the aircraft. Had there been, they would have stood up then secured the fold up seats against the wall of the aircraft.

“Inboard personnel, stand up!” Both arms are again extended, palms up, pointed down at the ground and away from his body, this time toward the inner row of seats, then brought up to shoulder level. We stand up and get one behind the other. Two lines, one on each side of the aircraft, matching up with the two doors on the back of the aircraft, one on each side.

“Hook up!” Both of his hands come up with the forefingers of each hand in a hook shape, he moves them up and down several times. We detach the static line of our ‘chutes from the top handle of the reserve where it was snapped when we were safety checked (jumpmaster personnel inspection, JMPI, for you purists out there) on the ground, and attach it to the steel cable above our heads. Once attached we run a wire through it to ensure that it will not come undone on us.

“Check static lines!” Thumb and forefinger on each hand come up to head height and move toward  and away from us in the air. Check your your static line  to make sure it is snapped on the cable, follow it over your back, then trace the static line of the guy in front of you from his shoulder to where it attaches to his parachute. The goal here is to make sure that it is not running under a piece of green webbing or anything else that might hinder it from pulling out the parachute when he exits the aircraft.

“Check equipment!”. Arms out to the side at shoulder height, palms facing us, fingers closed, moves arms to his chest and back out again. He repeats this several times for the benefit of all. It’s noisy, it’s dim, there’s a lot happening, we want to make sure you see the command. You start at your head and check your helmet straps, then move down checking various parts of your harness including the routing of the leg straps.

This is critical for a guy. Make one jump with a misrouted leg strap and two things will happen. If you don’t wear jockey shorts, you’ll change that. Like I did. Second thing is, you’ll never let that happen again.

Never.

Get it yet? No? Stay after class and we’ll talk about it.

“Sound off with equipment check!”. Both hands come up with the hands wide open, cupping the ears. Starting at the end of each row, the last man slaps the ass of the man in front of him, if all of his checks were okay, and says “Okay!”. This ripples up to the first man in each line who points at the jumpmaster and says “All okay jumpmaster!”

At this point, the loadmaster on the aircraft has prepped the doors and has opened them. Once the jumpmaster receives the all okay from the jumpers, he turns to the loadmaster who tells him that “the doors are yours”. The jumpmast checks the door pin, which is placed to ensure that the doors don’t come down if a bad bounce or jolt causes the normal latch to release. Then he kicks on the small platform that is in each door. This ensures that it is fully down and latched in place.

You don’t want to slip and fall out of the plane before you jump out do you? (actually, there’s logic to that statement, but let’s just enjoy the moment for now).

The jumpmaster (JM) runs his hand around the opening from one side to the other ensuring that there are no jagged edges to catch on or that could cut a static line and cause an injury. He looks outside for other aircraft, just in case, though we’re flying solo on this one. Then he hangs out of the door, hands gripping the inside lip of the doorway, heels hanging off the edge of the platform. Looking all around, he then looks forward and tries to see the DZ. It is a rush to hang outside of an aircraft in flight like that, exposed to the windstream of a powerful combat lift C-130 with all four engines cranking. At first it’s unnerving. You get used to it. My favorite part of being the JM.

You look out ahead of the aircraft while hanging out, looking for the DZ. Some of my vertically challenged JMs cannot see over the wind shield that extends away from the aircraft while rigged for jumping. This panel is like a flap that comes out from the side of the aircraft and helps to shield the jumpers from some of the prop blast for a more stable exit. It’s about six feet or so tall. Those of us that used our milk money for milk when we were kids can look over it. Those that did not, squat down to look under it. Just sayin’.

At about one minute out the JM should see the DZ and he’ll come back in to give us “One mintue!”. One hand up with the forefinger pointing up. He may bring the jumpers a little closer to the door. Depending on what he sees, or doesn’t see from one side of the bird, he will move across and look out the other door. In this case, he goes back and forth several times looking for the DZ.

We’re going out the door on a Computed Airborne Release Point (CARP). The proud and accomplished air crew, using the latest in technological wizardry and inertial navigation systems has computed our release point. There is a DZ party on the ground and they mark the DZ with angled lights or flares, including the release point. The bird lines up on the flares and the JM releases us when the flanker panel comes up. For us, the CARP is a check in case you are unable to see the DZ for some reason.

Even at night.

With flares.

I maintain that the system is really CRAP – Computed Release of Army Personnel. For reasons that will soon be clear.

The JM steps to the center of the bird, facing us and says, “Stand in the door!” Both hands are raised to his chest, just the forefingers pointing out, then brought out towards the doors, one towards each door. The first jumper on each side steps to the door, the foot closest to the front of the bird on the platform with the toes just over the edge, body slightly lowered, head looking over his shoulder at the JM awaiting the final jump command. There is someone called the safety, in this case two of them, in the back of the aircraft. They are static safeties, they don’t jump, but they take the static line from the first jumper then take and control the static line of each subsequent jumper once the train leaves the station and they all start heading out.

“GO!” The green light has come on and the JM gives the final jump command. The line of paratroopers starts moving towards the doors as each man stands in the door then springs out – up six, out thirty-six, head down on his chest, both hands on the left and right ends of the reserves, the right hand over the reserve ripchord handle to ensure it doesn’t get pulled if it’s not needed, feet and knees together and extended, the whole man slightly bent forward from the waist.

Out into the darkness we spring! Into the roar of the four, fire breathing horses that power this chariot firmly through the dark skies. Out into the blast of their fiery breath which beats at you and roars in your ears, leaving you hanging quietly in the sky and the dark and the silence.

ONE THOUSAND

TWO THOUSAND

THREE THOUSAND

And I feel the jerk of the ‘chute opening. Once it’s open I look around, all is dark below. It’s quiet now and looking down there is no DZ under my feet. I look over my left shoulder and see flares burning on the horizon. Nowhere near us. We’re not even on the same map sheet. We are nowhere near our DZ. Effing Air Force.

I look down and see forest. Nothing but forest at first. Then I see a road, it’s not preferable, but it’s an opening in the trees. I really don’t want to land in a tree if I can help it. I do manage to maneuver myself to the road. Splash! Hit, roll, ow! Shit, my left leg/ankle hurts like hell and I’m soaking wet now too. Not a road, a stream. With rocks and water.

Remember earlier? I like to jump.

Soon we have accounted for everyone but the team leader. We hear gurgling and thrashing in the trees. It’s the team leader, dangling from his equipment which is caught on the parachute harness and now lodged firmly up under his chin. He’s desperately pulling up and trying to get our attention. He’s safely breathing, but has no breath beyond that available to him. They get him down and laugh. For some reason it takes him awhile to see the humor.

Everyone gathers on the bank of the stream and one of the team medics examines my ankle. He deems it likely a bad sprain from landing on a rock with my left foot when I landed in the stream. I’m wet, it’s cool out, I’m hurting, but we try to get them out of here as fast as possible. With the assurance of the team medic that it’s just a sprain, I assure them that they do not need to stay with me, but to get the hell out of there while they can.

I wait half an hour, then break a chemlite. Eventually the DZ party finds me, over an hour later. Driving around they spot the chemlite with their night vision goggles and come to my position. They help me back to a car, then load the parachutes on the truck. The Danes are pissed that they missed the team, which proceeds to raise all kinds of hell. Go us!

I get some crutches, which I get rid of the next day. We’re out having lunch in a Danish cafe (in uniform). When we emerge to leave a car screams up to us, stops, and two guys in uniform jump out and point sub-machine guns at us. This is the first time I’ve had a gun pointed at me like this and I’m all eyes. My partner pulls out his umpire card and lets them know that, no, they did not catch some of the Americans. One of them was inside when we showed up so he went home, got his uniform on, grabbed his gun out of his closet, grabbed his neighbor (also in the Guard), and came to save his country from the ravages of the likes of us.

Me? It turns out that the sprain is worse than I thought. Much worse. But that’s another story.

marcus erroneous

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Night Jump

Here’s a video I saw over on Kerry McCauley’s Dead Reckoning site. It’s a good look at jumping out of a plane over someplace that you’ve never been to before, loaded for bear. You’ll notice that no one is running, but they’re not dragging ass out the door either. Each guy heading out the door weighs in at about 350 to 450 pounds, depending on how big they are and how much gear they are carrying.

They are in good shape and trying to stay together. When putting paratroopers on the ground, you try to put them in one place, unlike what happened in WWII during the D-day drops. The primary way is to keep them from dispersing, or spreading out, in the air. Once into the air, the paratroopers drift away from each other until they hit the ground. One way to limit dispersal is to drop them from a lower altitude, this limits their time in the air, thus limiting dispersal. Another way to limit dispersal is to slow the plane down while the troops are exiting during the jump run over the drop zone. Moving slower will decrease the distance between paratroopers as the plane will have covers less distance between one jumper and the one that follows him. Finally, the jumpers will attempt to stay close to each other while they’re moving to the door so that they come out quicker with less time and distance traveled between each one.

This is learned behavior that requires training, discipline, and repetition. Airborne combat units are comprised of mostly young men who are wont of competitions in every category to the exclusion of good sense. Like who can empty a plane the fastest. Or which side of the plane can empty faster than the other side. Too close together as they head out the door and the chutes collide and entangle while deploying. This leads to things that are Not Good. It leads to things like having to deploy your reserve parachute and the possibility that someone’s family member may win the life insurance lottery.

It also leads to the paratrooper being focused on getting out quickly to the exclusion of getting out correctly. You are to jump out in a specified manner, said manner being for the good order and discipline of the jump.

And the jumpers body.

When you jump you are to try to jump up and out. Six inches up and thirty-six inches out. This gets you out into the wind stream far enough away from the bird so that you don’t reconnect with it again once you’ve exited. Failure to get up 6 and out 36 is known as a weak exit, which is not only considered unmanly (or poorly executed for our female airborne out there) but will cause you to twist while the parachute is deploying as well as hitting the outside of the bird. Bouncing off the outside of the bird will give you some hit points of damage with chance for a saving throw. Like a bloody nose, broken nose, broken arms, etc. Bouncing off the bird gives off a loud thump that your comrades inside will hear, announcing your weakness for one and all. Said performance will haunt you, especially in venues where alcohol is flowing.

Your colleagues won’t remember who won American Idol five years ago, but they will remember your trip down the side of the plane collecting rivet marks on your face as you went.

At every jump. Where they always brief about weak exits.

Twists in the parachute will cause a couple of things to happen. One, the best of such things, is that you will be unable to control your parachute until you untwist your risers and suspension lines. They teach you to bicycle with your legs to get yourself twirling so that the twists will untwist. You drift willy-nilly until that happens, away from your friends. In a hostile situation, do you really want to be the one deer away from the herd? The other likely thing is that with too many twists the parachute will be unable to open. Again, this leads to things that are Not Good. When the parachute deploys but does not open (think inflate), then you are a like a very heavy seed pod falling with only a nylon streamer above you to slow you down. For that reason this type of parachute malfunction is called a streamer. Nothing you ask for at Christmas. Once again, someone that you know may win the life insurance lottery.

You should pull the ripcord on your reserve parachute Real Soon Now.

Real Soon.

You may get to watch the abbreviated version of your life starring you. Or not.

For those of you that are plane drivers, this is the paratrooper equivalent of the Martin-Baker option. Except that you don’t initiate this activity by riding a mortar round out of a jet within arms length of a couple hundred pounds of canopy that may or may not have separation anxiety.

It’s a dangerous business when you perform all the steps correctly, more so when you don’t. But I digress.

So, you train said meatsuits of testosterone knuckleheads (been there, done that) to stay close, but not too close.

Back at the ranch, the sky is full of our highly motivated horde of Mom’s finest boys heading to earth with the anticipation of wupping ass on someone. Trying to stay close while in the air, but not too close,  looking to see if anyone on the ground is running your way looking like your prom dates father when he caught you with his pride and joy. Also looking to see how far above the ground you are so you’ll know when to release your rucksack. Your ruck is probably 100 lbs or more of fun and games for your pleasure while you’re busy the next few days. Paratroopers usually jump in behind enemy lines so if you ain’t got it, you must not have needed it, ’cause you ain’t gonna get any more for awhile.

The more plebeian of you may be heard to observe that this means that you deliberately got yourself surrounded by the enemy. That would be one way to look at it. The airborne way to view it is “have those poor bastards surrounded from the inside”. While most of the Big Army folks would not do this sort of thing, this is how the airborne mission starts, de rigeur as it were. This is one of the reasons that paratroopers are so self-confident (I’ve heard the term cocky used by unenlightened non-airborne souls). Their job is to start out surrounded and cut off. After jumping out of a “perfectly good airplane”. It takes a certain type of person to live that as a way of life, and they develop a special camaraderie because of it.

Unlike HALO jumping, this parachute possesses the flight characteristics of an improved rock. It’s not really steerable, you can’t stall it, and you can’t really land softly with it. You hit like a bag full of bricks when you’re 6’3″, 185lbs plus 120lbs of ruck, plus another 40lbs of LBE, plus boots, helmet, and weapons. They liken it to jumping off of a twelve foot wall.

I’ve done it a few times, I want a remeasure of that wall, ’cause the one I’ve always jumped off of was higher than twelve feet.

So, you lower your rucksack so that when you hit, you hit with 120lbs less. You look at the horizon (if you can see it, it may be darker than well diggers ass), bend your knees slightly, relax (that takes some work), then hit, twist, and rotate while rolling your five points of contact across the ground. This distributes the shock and impact of the fall across your body so that you don’t injure yourself. Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work. Sometimes you land on your ruck and break your leg. Sometimes you land on a rock and break your leg (one of the ways that I’ve broken my leg jumping). Sometimes you don’t relax and instead of relaxing you reach for the ground instead and break your leg. And sometimes you land with one foot in a frozen tank rut and . . .

you guessed it, you break your leg (another one of the ways I have broken my leg jumping).

So, the first thing you do is check yourself while laying there, does anything hurt more than it should? Thank God that’s over, time to get moving! If the wind is blowing, get up and collapse your ‘chute (unless there’s shooting, then pop a canopy release to release one side of the parachute so that it cannot inflate and drag you across the ground for the amusement of the others). Release the harness so that you are out of the parachute, release your ruck, then start checking with the others around you to determine where your unit is and/or what needs to be done first.

Finally, here’s a video of the USMA chorus singing a song they teach us while in Jump School. It pretty much captures the spirit of the Airborne and dates from those WWII guys. It still works.

Sometimes something is funny until it’s not. While looking for the right version of this I perused a half a dozen or so. And I remembered the guys who died jumping. Not the ones who died in combat or for other reasons, just the ones that I knew that were supposed to get together with me afterwards for a drink to celebrate being young and airborne. Nothing preps you for a night out on the town like starting it off with a night jump first. Except when you don’t make it.

For my airborne brothers and sisters who didn’t make it to the turn in point and the DZSO, the song we sung and didn’t think it would apply to us, Blood Upon the Risers.

In the refrain, the word is gory, not glory.

marcus erroneous

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