Tree Landing

18 June 91 – I have been trying to sleep, blocking out the pain of my body constricted within the over-tightened parachute harness and burdened with heavy kit. All together, I have about two hundred pounds of equipment strapped to me in preparation for the early morning raid on a small airstrip. The noise of the engines is nearly deafening, so loud I can barely hear the commands the jump master has begun to yell out. Instead I watch his hands for the signals he gives. We undo our seatbelts then respond to the “GET READY,” inching forward on our seats preparing to stand, thankful we can finally get on with the jump. We are all that much closer to ridding ourselves of some of the unbearable load strapped to us.

The JM yells “STAND UP” lifting his hands, palm up, past his head. In unison we repeat the command and stand, raising the red nylon webbing seats as we do. Static lines are removed from the tops of reserves and held above our heads, next to the cable, ready for the next command, “HOOK UP.”

The JM shouts out the command, making a hooking motion with his hand and we all clip our snap fasteners onto the anchor line cable. “CHECK STATIC LINES,” and we slide our hand behind us on the line and simultaneously check the snap fastener and static line of the man in front. We are still contour flying toward our objective before the plane rises to our jump altitude of 850 feet. As the plane climbs and dives, hugging the treetops we become weightless then slam back down onto the floor repeatedly. The cabin is oppressively hot and smells of the vomit of the unfortunate few who have given in to their weak stomachs.

Then comes “CHECK YOUR EQUIPMENT.” It starts with a tug on the snap fastener to make sure it is secured to the cable, then proceeds through all of our equipment, ending with our balls. Would hate to loose them if they are positioned wrong. Meanwhile, the two JM’s are walking up each stick checking every man in turn and slapping each on his back saying “Your Okay, have a good one.”

Once they are done their checks we hear, “SOUND OFF EQUIPMENT CHECK.” Starting at the rear of each stick, each man hits the one in front in succession, yelling “OKAY” till the check gets to the first man who yells, pointing at the JM, “NUMBER ONE OKAY.”

We stand, bent under the weight, watching the red light, seconds dragging out into an eternity. One of the loadies puts his hand to his ear listening to the headset in his helmet. He then leans over to the JM signaling and yelling the message at him. The JM looks up, spreading four fingers up and yells out “ONE MINUTE, WINDS FOUR.” Each load master goes for his door, turning the handles breaking the seal. There is a sudden rush of noise and wind as the doors are opened and the platforms stamped down.

The sound of the wind howling past the open doors sends a sinking feeling down into my stomach. It happens every time, only this time a little worse because I am number one, in the door. I swallow hard and concentrate on the mission, focusing on what I am doing, not what I am feeling.

The two JM’s check their respective doors to make sure they are properly locked open then lean out to ensure the wind deflectors are properly deployed. Past him, out the door the sun is just breaking up over the horizon, glowing brilliant red in the new morning sky. The JM’s step back from their doors and I watch the ground blurring past, trees unrealistically small, like in a model or photo.

“STAND-BY,” reflex causes me to throw my static line forward and step, pivoting into the door. My eyes are fixed on the red light by the door. My whole concentration and consciousness are contained within that glowing light . . . waiting . . .

In an instant the light is green, the word “GO” echoes through my mind and I’m gone. A sudden blast, I’m tumbling, falling, the world ceases to exist for a flash of an instant and yet an eternity. Visions of sky, plane, ground, other jumpers, then a gentle tug. Looking up I see the green silk blossoming above me.

I check around me for other jumpers and for once find no-one threatening entanglement in my lines. I search the ground, orienting myself in the early morning twilight, picking out reference points memorized from my maps. I gain my sense of direction and spot the rendezvous point.

I undo my waistband, preparing to lower my kit, but looking below my heart sinks. We have been dropped too early and I am drifting over the trees with the wind pushing me further in. I have no hope of slipping clear.

All the horrors and injuries from tree landings that I’ve seen and heard about flash through my mind and I prepare myself for the worst. I leave my kit on for protection, cross my ankles locking them together against the branches, tuck my head into my arms crossed on my chest and relax, content that it is now fate and I have no choice left.

With a cry of “AIRBORNE” I crash through the treetops, branches breaking and tearing at me, silk ripping, my body being jolted about by the impact then suddenly I stop. Once again the fates have been kind to me, I hang caught up with my feet just above the ground and have only cuts and bruises to show for my ordeal.

I drop my kit to the ground and pop my QRB (quick release buckle) , releasing me from the harness. I retrieve and load my rifle, gather my kit and set off through the bush to find my platoon and the R.V. My chute, hopelessly entangled in the trees, is left behind after having done its job for the last time.

Later, after everything is over, I scratch another little mark on my helmet band. Each a reminder of the entire experience, each with its pain, its exhilaration and its stories. One after another, all blurred together, combining to make me what I am, Airborne.

2 Responses to “Tree Landing”

  1. on 23 Oct 2011 at 12:49 pmLeonard

    You where lucky that day, Jesus was with you, I prayed each time before I jumped. I have thundered before in Texas with 2 Commando, I was first on the stick,first out the door port side. Right away my helmet was gone,my glasses where gone and my parachute was tangled and twisted so badly my head was pinned to my chest,time slows down when you get close to death,other jumpers where screaming slip away jumper. I thank god I was falling faster then they where I screamed back I can,t do nothing, then the ground came up,eternity in seconds I,am going to land in that big trench running down the DZ farmers put it there I think,well last thoughts this is going to hurt like hell. I,am one inch shorter today and have a deformed ribcage. Airborne is about Dyeing,I will put my life on the line for you,and if your airborne you will do the same for me that,s Airborne.

  2. on 30 Oct 2011 at 1:39 amLen

    I respect the author because your Airborne,200lbs of equipment that,s a heavy load. Did you have to jump that old General purpose machine gun strapped to your leg those guys where so heavy. the load master and jump master would stand him up and push him out the door. If you landed with all that gear your screwed. Jumped the radio with all the batteries, it,s not I,am complaining, we always shared the load , I jumped with mortar bombs strapped to my body, and packing ammo for the gun,we shared the load because what we jumped in with,is all we had. Were Airborne I wish somebody would also give a reply to my comments or say something, the man who created this site put a lot of work into this site. Start sharing the load we always did with each other.

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