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.
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.