“STAND UP!” Yelled the Parachute Jump Instructor.
We all stood up. There were 30 of us trainee paratroopers in total ready to jump out of a C-130….at night.
I was on my basic parachute course during the reinforcement cycle for the 2nd Commando Regiment. This was my last night jump to qualify as a paratrooper.
This was the last one, I thought, trying to reassure myself.
Now I was no newbie to jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. During my time in Cavalry, while posted to Darwin, I’d spent a number of weekends driving the 2 hours south of Robertson Barracks Army Base learning to skydive.
However, the main difference between those civilian skydiving jumps and the Military basic parachute course was that the civilian parachutes were rectangle in shape and you could flare them when coming into land. It was basically a soft landing.
The Military parachutes on this particular course were called ‘roundies’ as we were conducting static line parachute jumps, and they could not be flared when coming into land. All you could basically do is lock your arms, legs, and feet tightly in and hope that you nailed the correct technique when you body slammed into the ground.
Injuries often occurred with these jumps and to date, two guys had snapped their legs during our course. One of them was the Priest!
So, while I was certainly comfortable and generally excited about conducting skydiving, I was a little apprehensive about jumping ‘roundies’ at night.
“CHECK EQUIPMENT”, came the next order.
We all went through the check equipment procedure and made sure all the parachutes were good to go.
I took a number of large deep breaths and looked around. Although it was June in Nowra, two hours south of Sydney and quite cold, everybody seemed to be sweating profusely.
The air was tense.
The two doors on either side of the C-130 were opened and a rush of cold air filled the plane.
Fear is an interesting beast. It can consume your mind; take over your thoughts, your cognitive abilities, and your physical actions. It can have you obsessing over the worse case scenario, concentrating on the negative and disrupting your mood, your senses, your bowels…
…if you let it.
But I wasn't going to let it. Fuck fear, I said to myself.
I began reasserting that this is what I wanted to do. This is what I needed to do. This was part of becoming a Commando, a stepping-stone, a process, a challenge.
And it needed to be completed, simple as that. Simple, but not easy.
It never is.
I pushed all the negative scenarios from my head and thought about what was going to happen after a successful jump. I made myself think of the positive scenario and the ideal outcome.
I took control of my thoughts and actions. I breathed, checked my equipment, got reassurance from my mates around me who were all dealing with the exact same situation and firmly gripped my static line.
I was ready.
“ACTION STATIONS” came the next command.
1 minute till jump.
I narrowed my focus, thought about my exit drills and my emergency procedures.
30 seconds till jump.
I felt the rush of blood. All my senses were firing and I could smell the aircraft stench of adrenaline, stress, and anticipation.
We all stepped forward as one and the first paratrooper was out the door. I was fifth in line. No time to think anymore, just act.
I reached the door, paused, and jumped into the clear night sky.
“1000, 2000, 3000….”
Snap! My parachute opened.
I looked up...the parachute was fully inflated. Good!
I did a 360-degree check for other paratroopers in the area and was ready to ‘pull away’ if need be.
I was in my own space, but the ground was approaching quickly as we had jumped from only 1000 feet.
I looked down and could see the lights marking the landing zone.
Was I coming down quickly? Was it going to be a hard landing?
I couldn’t tell.
I could just make out other paratroopers hitting the ground now.
I could see the ground fast approaching.
I pulled down on the risers, tucked my elbows in, locked my legs and knees together and turned my feet outwards slightly. I made absolutely sure my feet were directly under my body as failing to do so would result in a compound leg fracture.
There it was, the ground.
3, 2, 1….
More to follow...
Mindset is a choice