Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My View... From 13,000 Feet

Boarding the helicopter. Here we go!

Prepping for the jump in the helicopter

And we are out!

Turning a few somersaults after we leave the helicopter

Rangers jumping out of the helicopter after we have jumped

In space

Soaring through the sky

Notice the Rangers that are flying behind us

Our landing zone is the runway area on the right

The view was amazing

Deploying the chute

Coming in for a landing after a great jump

A happy jumper

Being congratulated by Col. Andrew Poppas, the base commander at Ft. Campbell

The Jumpers and the support team

I was privileged to spend the day at Ft. Campbell, the home of the 101st Airborne, the famed Screaming Eagles, to participate in my first parachute jump. We were hosted by Colonel Andrew Poppas, the base commander, and several of his officers. This was my first parachute jump, and if it was going to be my first, I might as well jump with the best.

These young men and women were some of the most impressive individuals that I have ever met. Eager, professional, and very well trained, they made all of the novice jumpers feel secure and at ease. Our jump master, Captain Jerry Lancaster, was a confident 25 year old Captain that had already recorded 2300 jumps. His commitment to us was to bring us down safely, and his confidence made us feel that there was no other possible outcome.

Captain Lancaster was the jumper that would jump in tandem with us. There were five other members of the Air Assault squadron that jumped with us. They were jumping solo to get some jumps in before they deployed to Afghanistan, which was to occur in the coming week. All were ready to go and serve. Truly amazing young men.

We were to jump from a CH-60 helicopter from 13,000 feet. Quick math tells you that is approximately 2.5 miles up. Quite a jump for the first time.

Once aboard the helicopter, it took approximately 15 minutes to climb to altitude. 15 long minutes to think about leaving the tangible steel of the helicopter and stepping out in to space. Suited up and strapped in, we began our ascent. When the Captain called out "one minute", the doors were opened and we were greeted by the rush of the wind, the sound of the motor, and a 30 degree temperature change (65 degrees on the ground, 35 degrees at altitude). When I was hooked in the harness to Captain Lancaster, he told me to sit in the door and hang my feet out of the helicopter (you want me to do WHAT!!). A member of the jump team equipped with a camera went out, and a tap on the shoulder to signal go, and we were out of the helicopter.

Frankly, I could not have done that except for the faith I had in Captain Lancaster to fulfill his word and bring me down safely. Sitting in that door way at 13,000 feet violated every tenet of common sense I had, and yes, I had butterflies. The size of elephants. Surprisingly, once I rolled out of the helicopter and was in free fall, I got very relaxed. I knew that everything that was going to happen was out of my control, and I had to rely on Captain Lancaster.

The free fall was absolutely exhilarating. We turned a couple of lazy somersaults and then deployed the drogue chute, which stops you from spinning. Getting in to the dive position you have time to observe the scenery. From that perspective, the view is awesome. Falling at 120 miles an hour, we covered 8,000 feet in about a minute. Captain Lancaster deployed the main parachute at 5,000, and then we began to fly. He allowed me to fly the chute for while, then took the controls and brought us in for a smooth and, yes, safe landing. This has to be as close to being a bird as a person can experience, and it was indescribable.

While I had a great experience, I left with the utmost respect for the young men and women that serve our country and stand in harm's way on our behalf. They are brave and unhesitant to do their duty. They deserve our sincere gratitude and respect for all they sacrifice and do on our behalf. They deserve our prayers for their safety.

I never thought I would enjoy jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft. I am ready to go again. My sincere thanks to Colonel Poppas, Captain Lancaster, and all the men and women that made this possible.

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