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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My First Jump

This is Steven Petrick writing.

I graduated the Airborne Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, in August of 1978.

I remember that first jump pretty well (I remember all five of my School jumps, if not the specific incidents in each one in order).

There are two stories I tell about it, one is the complete truth, the other is somewhat embellished.

I talk about how I had decided NOT to jump. The Airborne instructors having told the cadets (of which I was one) that if we could not bring ourselves to jump from a plane some 1,250 to 1,500 feet above ground level, all we had to do was go to the door, tell the jump master we could not do it, and they would move us to the side.

So as I climbed into the plane, I decided that I would not jump.

This calmed me down and I was able to joke with the other guys, although I did not tell them that I was not going to jump.

When we approached the drop zone, the Jump master started giving the jump commands.

We had done these a hundred or so times on the ground, and all of knew them by heart by this time (I still do).

When the light turned green and the first jumper got the tap and went, the line started to shuffle forward, and I did the same.

I was focused on the man in front of me.

Suddenly, he pivoted and stepped to the side, and as I had done a hundred or so times before, I stepped into his place, released my hold on my snap ring and pivoted, dropping and swinging my left arm so that my hand slapped the outside of the aircraft, while simultaneously reaching out with my right to accomplish the same thing and thus taking a "good door position".

As my brain desperately tried to kick start, the Jump master tapped my thigh and called out "go" (first jump was individual tap out, you do not jump until the Jump master tells you to).

Instantly, my reflexes (from more than 100 previous executions of this maneuver on the ground)snapped my hands to either side of the reserve parachute on my chest, my elbows in tight to my sides, while my legs propelled my six inches skyward, and thirty inches outward of the aircraft cabin, before snapping together (heel to heel) with my torso bent into an "L" shape.

As my body, locked in the jump attitude, hurtled earthward, my reality was consumed with mentally cursing myself for having been this stupid.

I cursed for a long time.

A real long time.

Longer, it seemed, than the five seconds in which my main parachute was supposed to deploy.

The realization hit that I had had a "total malfunction", my chute had failed to deploy and I was heading for impact with drop zone.

My right arm went into spasms, trying grip and pull the D-ring to deploy the reserve, while a part of my overrode it with the thought that the Jump Instructors had warned us not to pull our reserve chutes unless we "had a very good reason" to do so.

As I continued hurtling towards the earth, with gravity in full control, my right arm in spasms, that cold, ruthless, and utterly without pity part of my brain calmly recited "3,000", and forced my lips to part and express the number.

Then it made my lips say "4,000", and while it was making them say "5,000", I felt the opening shock as my main chute deployed.

However long I imagined the time between my exiting the plane and the Chute opening, it had been less than five seconds.

With the opening shock, training immediately took hold again and I automatically reached up and grabbed my risers and examined my chute for any flaws (none), then began looking around for "fellow jumpers".

There was a incident with my "fellow jumpers", but I will leave that as a tale for another time.

Oh. The Complete truth? I stood up, hooked up, shuffled to the door, and jumped as I had been trained, but there was a moment of panic right after I jumped, but there was never really a point where I had decided to not jump. I was committed to that the moment the ramp at the back of the plane closed.