Fort Benning Georgia is the home of the
United States Army Airborne School
It's the place that we get the wings. Some of us lovingly call it Airborne Land.
The author of the following account is an Airborne Ranger that worked in 1/75 and later in aviation support in Central America.
I did jump school in winter of 1980. About one squad from my infantry training company went on to jump school. Only two of us were going on from there to the 1st of the 75th. I actually liked jump school. I had been in Harmony Church living in the old temporary WWII barracks up to this point. We had one over night pass and a short Christmas leave before returning to training so were still in really good shape. This was January so the weather was cold and damp as it usually is. All of this led up to a great time in jump school.
Unfortunately, many people showing up were not quite ready for the all the fun. Ground week started with the Golden Knights jumping in and then all of us hitting the ground for a couple of hours of push ups while being told how worthless we were. This would have been just another day in infantry school. The only difference was people could quit here and they did.
Ground week is really just PT week. Running, running, and more running, the airborne shuffle is easy on the knees but is a little slow. However, our platoon must have all drank Jack last night as that’s what we sweated on our morning runs. Nobody puked on me so I was good to go. I was surprised to find out that other MOS’s only did pushups in sets of 10 and that was only occasionally. We had been doing pushups in sets of 25 for 4 months at least four or five times a day depending on how stupid our stupidest platoon member was that day. Pull ups were also a new experience for the REMFs. I am glad I was an 11B and not a 91B. I was much better prepared for all of this. The running was long and slow, but people still dropped out.
Running, running, and even more running when not doing push ups. I met my stick leader this morning. The butter bar was a woman and trying really hard. It was very entertaining to watch. We also had two black hats, jump school cadre, that were women. One was a corpral and the other was a sergeant. In ground week, some of us figured out that the remedial PT section was run by one of these two females. In order to get into remedial PT section, you need to be a complete dirt ball. If one of these lovely ladies was in charge then a quick scuff of the boots and roll in the sawdust got us front row seats. This went well for three days until the other black hats saw the remedial PT group getting really large and figured out the reason. It was a long day.
At the time, ground week seemed relatively easy and not so important just a lot of shuffling around, jumping up and down getting into a good exit position. Later with the addition of an M16 and a rucksack strapped to you this would be a little more challenging depending on how heavily loaded your ruck was.
After a long weekend of drinking and exploring the other side of Columbus, we are in the sheds learning how to land. The chin on the chest thing is the first step in not getting your bell rang. Even in the sawdust, you can get a pretty good headache from not following directions. I cannot seem to get this part of the training. I fall like a sack of potatoes, but don’t have any sprains or a headache on Friday.
Finally, tower week is here. You do some jumps out of a short 38 foot tower to get you used to exiting and jumping. It does seem a little close to the ground. However, you can see these huge towers from all over Ft. Benning. I had not an idea how this worked. It just looked like the best ride I would have experienced up to this point.
I must note that most of the people left were adrenalin junkies. Guys that had signed up for bonus money by going infantry were buying motorcycles or hotrods. In spite of the weather being cold, wet, and generally nasty I was completely warm and happy. I had chanted "hit the hole poleman" so many times as we cycled through the sticks and it was finally my turn. I could not hear anything yelled at me from the ground that was supposed to help guide me but still managed to land and not get hurt .We could tell from our stick leader that she was totally disgusted with all of us so I deemed it a successful day.
Rigging, rigging and more rigging. I never really thought of jump school as a team sport but rigging definitely changed my mind. If you don’t get rigged correctly, besides doing more pushups, both you and your partner will be doing more push ups. The upside of all of this is that we are inside of a building.
Our first jump was just out of reflex. I had done all of the pieces of this action so many times that I didn’t even think about what was going on. I had lot of twists but bicycled like a mad man and they did indeed come out. The hard part is landing this thing. I guess to keep it safe, they use the old parachutes with no openings in the back. They are solid silk with a net around the base. You pull on the riser in the direction you want to go, easy. But, judging how much to pull the opposite riser to stop the swinging of the parachute is a judgement call that I failed on. I didn’t know how bad I was swinging until very close to the ground. I got woke up on the ground belly up by a Blackhat smacking both sides of my helmet telling me to get off my ass and get my chute in its bag. I thought I had a headache from landing wrong in the sawdust in the sheds this one was really bad. A six pack and six asprin put me to bed that night.
Jump number two was frightening. A number of people had failed to either keep their feet and knees together or watch the ground come up and flinched breaking their leg or legs. These guys would be legs forever. I made a plan not to fly the parachute like a plane this time and settle for holding position with as little movement over the ground as possible. It worked! I jumped, bicycled out half as many twists and landed with out knocking myself out! I was getting the hang of this!
Next was the equipment jump. This was a bummer since having a rucksack strapped to your (parachute harness) really put a kink in the fun. I now understood what they meant by our initial jumps being "Hollywood" jumps. I also saw my first case of "sharking" where one parachutist lands on top of an others parachute. I now understood why the Blackhats were constantly screaming at us to slip away, slip away, slip away other wise you and your brother could end up in body bags. Today, nobody died but I understood how easy it could happen.
Our last jump was the "night" jump. It was really a late sunset jump which was good or half us would have died from stupidity. Once again the REMFs were not used to the dark. This led to some very stressed out soldiers. I just slipped away from the crowd, held my position and watch the horizon until I hit the ground. It was a little rough but not near as bad as some of the DZs I’d jump in the future.
Here's one of the Army's videos on Airborne School