MonkeyPope Archives: Airborne: Week Two, 29 Oct 05

[I have a friend who is an amazing writer but he tends to abandon his writing projects often. I wanted to save his writings for posterity and make them more widely available.  The MonkeyPope Archives contain his collected works.]

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Airborne: Week Two

Guinness and Vitamin C. If I finish Airborne School in the allotted three weeks, then Guinness and massive doses of vitamin C will be my recommended cure-all for all ailments.

Last night, my lungs (or my bronchial tubes) were so full of phlegm and crap that I could hardly breathe. I couldn’t lay down because my lungs would clog up too much. I’m much better this morning and I have the rest of today and all of Sunday to recuperate completely.

You see, if I go to the doctor’s, if I go on sick call, I’ll get rolled back at least a week, if not more. I’d have to stay in Fort Benning for an extra week, live in the crap-ass barracks for another week, pull crappy indoor duties for a week, deal with all this bullshit for another week, and I’d rather develop pneumonia and be bedridden in Colorado for a month then be here for another week.

But please, there are so many other ailments to mention before I consider my deluge of self-pity complete. After lunch yesterday (Friday, final day of tower week), I was running back to the barracks, per dictum and ad nauseam, with my fellow soldiers. I glanced over at the parents and the stand hawking airborne-emblazoned wear set up for that week’s graduation when my right ankle rolled violently and suddenly inward. If it weren’t for the fact that it’s already been surgically repaired and now has all the resiliency of silly putty, I imagine it would be a pretty bad sprain. As it is, it’s just a very inconvenient and painful sprain. When I jump next week, I intend to always attempt to land on my left side, if the wind is decent enough to cooperate.

The open blisters on my left palm are finally healing nicely. Funny that on Thursday of this past week, I was walking over to put my harness away after jumping from the 34 ft tower when my ankle braces somehow hooked together and caused me to fall face-first into the gravel. My left hand took the brunt of the impact and gave me a nice torn-up black-and-blue bruise on my palm. My right ankle brace broke (somehow. I really have no understanding how they hook together or how it broke) but even worse, I fell right in front of two Sergeant Airbornes. Military personnel do not abide by the common courtesies seen in the civilian world, i.e., they did not ask if I was alright, instead Sergeant Airborne Payne immediately said, “You on cocaine, crazy?” (If there were a Sergeant Airborne Payne pull-cord doll, its only expression would be “You on cocaine, crazy?”…well, and maybe, “Let me introduce myself. My name is Sergeant Payne,” and then the doll would do 200 or so side-straddle hops or push-ups or knee-benders or little circles to the front or what have you).

Pain is easy enough to deal with; humiliation, mmm, that’s another beast.

Anyway, enough of my lamentations. Disregarding my various and copious injuries and illnesses, this week was much easier and less stressful than the first. First of all, the routine and what was expected of us was understood. Second of all, most of the weeding-out process was complete. Third of all, there was less training to be done in week two than in week one.

The highlights of the training include the swing landing trainer, the 250 ft tower, mass exits from the 34 ft tower, and the malfunctions class. The swing landing trainer was the most brutal block of instruction. We’re hooked up to a harness, then step off a 12 foot platform. Our momentum swings us back and forth. We assume the proper landing position, then a Sergeant Airborne drops us (from about a height anywhere from 5 to 3 feet) to the gravel pit. The swinging momentum is supposed to replicate our motion blowing in the wind when landing with a parachute, but the sudden and unexpected release by the SA replicates nothing but pain. Almost everyone’s fist fall was a painful-sounding and -looking crunch in the gravel pit. On my first drop, I did not have my chin properly tucked to my chest. My head whipped back and pounded into the gravel so hard that I pulled my front neck muscles. For the rest of the week, I couldn’t lift my head up when lying down without sliding a hand under my noggin. Needless to say, I learned my lesson and finished up the rest of my falls as quickly and as properly as possible.

We lost two on this exercise. One person broke his finger in a bad fall. Another messed up his ankle.

On Wednesday, we did the 250 foot tower. Imagine a 250 foot high tower with four arms at its top. From each arm hangs a loop suspended from a center point (remember the game Mousetrap? The device looks like the mousetrap) attached to a wire. A parachute is attached to this loop while it’s on the ground then it is hoisted 250 ft into the air, with you attached to the parachute. Once at the top, the parachute is dropped, i.e., you are dropped. Sergeant Airbornes on the ground yell at you with bullhorns indicating the proper direction to slip and fall. You comply.

Before I went, I wasn’t so nervous about falling from 250 ft as I was about screwing up and having a Sergeant Airborne yell at me with a bullhorn. Once I was hooked up in a harness, I got extremely nervous. And when I began to get hoisted up into the air and watch the people beneath my feet get smaller and smaller, I started to shake. And once at the very top and the view confirmed my height, I think I was hyper-ventilating. I was instructed to disconnect my safety line and I really wished it wasn’t called that. I didn’t want to connect my safety line — it’s safe! But I did as instructed. Then I was released and began to fall, looking like a deformed tentacle of an airborne jellyfish. And it was relaxing, exhilarating and beautiful. I instinctively and incorrectly tensed up before landing, but the landing was soft, easy, gentle, so simple that I looked up at the Sergeant Airborne and said, “That’s it?” with a smile. He let out a small chuckle, turned away and announced to the graders, “169, satisfactory.”

Later in the week, we practiced mass exits on the ground and from the 34 foot tower. Easy and fun. No longer too afraid of the 34 foot tower, I jumped out every time with extra aplomb and gusto so as to have a more thrilling ride down the wire.

The very last class of the week was malfunctions. And considering the severity and likelihood and of course, the consequences of a bad malfunction, it’s no wonder the class was last.

Do I feel prepared and ready to make a military jump now? Yes, I do, as much as I can say that without having done it yet. My biggest concern is my fellow jumpers. Did they pay attention to every block of instruction? Will they slip away from me or into me because some don’t know their left from right (really, some don’t)? Will they react properly if they get tangled up in my chute? I can only hope so.

And our first jump is on Halloween. How…something.

Before I end this post, I’d like to include some observations.

The authority of the Sergeant Airbornes is as much a construct of rank and position as it is of perception. So when one of our instructors had a nasty herpes outbreak on his lip, well, his authority seemed a little undermined. Especially when a female sergeant airborne in second platoon had an outbreak as well.

I’ve met a number of interesting folk…amongst the mostly mindless horde of 11B’s (infantry). I’ve met a couple college grads, very intelligent, well-educated, who just one day decided to drop everything, join up, and become infantry. When asked why, none can ever say anything more comprehensive or conclusive or comprehensible than, “I wanted to do something different.” But really, I think they mean they wanted to be something different. I’ve met some good young kids who don’t understand discipline or responsibility yet and it pains me to see what lessons are in store for ’em, cuz the Army always makes you learn the hard way. I’ve met some kids who are heading to RIP (Ranger Indoctrination Program) right after Airborne and I’d be shocked if they make it through, same with the 18x kids (an option to enlist and try out for Special Forces right after Airborne. If they fail the qualification course, they serve their enlistment as another 11B. Seeing these kids I begin to think the program is just a ploy to get more infantry). One of my roommates is an 18x and I have to wake him up every morning, remind him of the uniform, remind him to keep the room clean, etc. He’s good kid and in really good shape but if there was no one there, he’d miss every formation and if he did show up, he’d show up in the wrong uniform at the wrong time and his wall locker would be unsecured. If he makes it through the SF Q course, my respect for SF will be diminished. I’ve met one other military intel guy. Not surprisingly, he’s white, skinny, wears glasses, is kinda dorky, and doesn’t really fit in. I met a chaplain named Maracle. I’ve met a number of young officers with whom I have more in common than most of the enlisted here, but they have that patronizing attitude common in young newly-minted officers who never served as enlisted. And I’ve met a whole bunch of shit-for-brain Southern kids. After living in the South, thanks to the military, and serving with Southerners, I’ve come to the conclusion that Southerners are, for the most part, stupid. It’s a fine generalization and a stereotype well-deserved.

The military is very fond of acronyms, creating its own unique vernacular to distinguish itself from the civilian world. But it’s even worse in Airborne School. Non-airborne soldiers are called legs. While in Airborne School non-commissioned officers (whom we usually refer to as NCOs, i.e., sergeants and above) are referred to as novembers. Commissioned officers are called alphas. Soldiers are no longer soldiers, but Airborne. And I’m sure there’s plenty more examples that are so commonplace to me now that I can’t think of them.

Fucking is the most versatile and preferred adjective, adverb and all-purpose interjection amongst soldiers here. And a huge pet peeve of mine. I have no objection to throwing in a fucking this or fucking that into a sentence as long as it’s being used as matter of emphasis. But here, it’s common usage is a matter of course. It is as regular as a period (I mean the grammatical kind, but I guess either kind works). A sentence just isn’t complete without one fucking in it. For instance, “Man, the other fucking day, I was fucking sitting on the fucking couch and this fucking dude came up to me was like, “What the fuck?” and I didn’t fucking know what the fuck he wanted so bleh bleh bleh.” The Queen’s English it is most fuckingly not.

Officer Candidate School is right next to our barracks and they have to wear pretty little ascots while cadets. I watched a formation of them go by their barracks and they looked like they had just gotten back from a field training exercise; they were haggard, tired, and dirty. But that was juxtaposed with a group of clean, sunny cadets sitting about a table decorating cornucopias for some fall festivity. Not an activity you’d see the enlisted partake in.

There’s was too much waiting around this past week. And sometimes while we waited, we’d get smoked just because there was nothing better to do (in the opinion of the Sergeant Airborne). Other times, we’d just sit on our asses. Most days, we finished training early, but we were never released early. We’d sit and wait till we were marched to dinner as if we didn’t have the capacity or wherewithal to feed ourselves (but in truth, I’m sure some of my fellow student don’t).

And finally, to end this post, let me say, men don’t watch chick flicks cuz they know they’d cry like little babies if they did. In my state of convalescence, I awoke in my hotel room and did not stir from my bed but to grab the remote. I watched Message in a Bottle and cried like a girl scout out of thin mints.