Screengrab from https://twitter.com/82ndABNDiv/status/1030141313990189056

 

Today is National Airborne Day.

Attending US Army Airborne School was a formative experience for me as a young infantry officer. Unless you’ve been there it is kind of hard to explain exactly what its like. Five and six hours at a stretch during Ground Week spent in the sawdust pit practicing PLFs, parachute landing falls in all their permutations–front, back, left side, and right side. Learning the “five points of contact”: ball of the foot, side of the calf, side of the thigh, the buttock (hence the often heard chastisement, “Airborne, get your head out of your fourth point of contact”), and the latissimus dorsi, which the instructors persisted in calling “your push-up muscle”.

If you pass everything…and don’t fall out of any of the graded runs…you make it to Tower Week where you experience the 34-foot tower and the #$%%&* called the Swing Landing Trainer and the big event, the 250-foot tower.

All of this is combined with a big dose of psych leading you to Jump Week. Not sure what it is now but it used to be a total of five jumps. Four “Hollywood” and one with combat equipment. And one “night jump during the hours of darkness” (a “night jump” being slang for jumping with your eyes closed).

If you were of a mind, you could attend services at the Airborne Chapel on the Sunday before your first jump. If the right chaplain was leading the service, this could be the recessional, the old Airborne spiritual, “Blood on the Risers,” risers being the heavy-duty canvas straps that connected the suspension lines to the parachute pack tray. Skip to 3:20 for the punch line.

The jumping was the easy part. You have so much adrenalin flowing that once the jump sequence starts there is no power on Earth keeping you inside that aircraft. Because the first initial of my last name governed when I loaded the aircraft, I was always up near the bulkhead that separated the cockpit from the cargo area and got to watch the line in front of shrink…fast…as my comrades exited the aircraft.

I don’t know that the airborne forces have much future left. Advances like the V-22 Osprey really call into question whether “hitting the silk,” “putting your knees in the breeze,” is really a good way of delivering combat power. And when the paratroopers go, the Army is going to lose a helluva tradition and helluva fighting man.