Thursday, November 25, 2010

Twenty Seconds

Twenty seconds doesn’t seem like a long time. Think about it, what do you do that takes 20 seconds? Microwave some leftovers, read some junk mail, or many other small insignificant things come to mind. During my time as a Military Freefall Instructor twenty seconds was the time it took me to exit an aircraft, target, and chase down another jumper that was unstable and out of control. This was commonly known as the “twenty second drill.” It was a defining test for Military Freefall Instructor candidates and a must pass. Most Special Forces schools I attended had a test like this. These were tests that were tough, difficult, and required you to use all your collective skills. In the 18 Bravo Special Forces Weapons Sergeant Course it was the “pile test” where they would detailed disassemble 5 weapons, one from each sub group (pistol, submachinegun, light machinegun, heavy machinegun and rifle) pile them together and tell you to put them back together and perform a functions check in a specified time period. In the Special Operations Target Interdictions Course it was the final stalk and shot at the sniper range. During the Special Forces Operations and Intelligence Sergeant Course it was the Order of Battle test, I could go on and on but suffice to say that these tests all had an immense amount of stress attached.
The twenty second drill was run like this, a candidate instructor would exit the aircraft using a poised exit (backwards) and as he exited he would click the stopwatch he held in his hand. The instructor candidate (me) would have to slow count to four thousand-one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, and four one thousand. Then it was permissible to exit the aircraft yourself with the intent of getting within arms reach and touch the instructor within twenty seconds on his stopwatch, sound easy right?
Unfortunately by the time we were allowed to exit the instructor literally looked like a microscopic black speck that was continuing to fall away from our fast moving Air Force aircraft. To intersect this small speck within twenty seconds the instructor candidate had to exit the aircraft and immediately put himself in a head down dive. Normal freefall speeds reach 120 mph, I have been told that jumpers in a head down dive reach speeds approaching 180 mph. To achieve the head down dive a jumper must be perfectly aligned and symmetrical. Immediately upon exiting the aircraft you need to bend sharply at the waist pointing the top of your helmet towards the ground, at the same time you need to bring your lower torso and legs up so they are inline with the top half of your body and point your toes, arms are tightly at your sides. When done correctly your body becomes a speeding dart hurtling head first towards terra firma, when done incorrectly the jumper is violently spun across the sky flapping and flopping like a fish out of water.
Once the correct body position is achieved and the head down dive is underway a problem develops, you can’t friggin see the target because you are looking away from it!! Many candidates tried many techniques to overcome this obstacle, some flipped around so that they were facing the target with their back to the aircraft; most employed the technique I used which was to count. I would count to 12 and raise my head to look; the very act of slightly raising the head would terminate your dive and put you in a steep “swoop.” If done correctly this swoop would intersect you directly with your target within the twenty second window. Unfortunately most times everything did not go correctly, my body position was wrong causing me to flip and flop, or I pulled up too early causing an incorrect tangent to my target. I don’t know how many times I touched the instructor at 21,22, or 25 seconds. One time I touched his arm at 20.5!!! However on my 75th attempt (yes, 75 jumps on this drill, don’t judge) I executed it perfect and pulled a time of 18 seconds, mission complete.
So why all this effort on one drill and why so much emphasis? Because learning this technique saves lives. Later on after I had been a Military Freefall Instructor for a year I had occasion to use this technique to save the life of another soldier. This is how it happened. It was during the one on one jump phase in the initial part of the first jump week, this student jumper had progressed past the instructor assisted exits and was doing his first solo exit of the aircraft. I had instructed him to employ a poised exit because it was a more stable exit for the novice and I had told him to give himself a count of “up,down,out.” On his internal “out” he was to jump out of the aircraft. 

What happened in reality was when he attempted to exit it was very weak and he hit his face on the ramp of the aircraft, this disoriented him and flipped on his back, putting  him in a violent spin. During the exit I had been positioned at his right side or ripcord side as was our SOP, however when he started spinning he kicked me in the face and spun me away from my position. When I regained my composure and located him he was 1500-2000 feet below me on his back and still spinning. I immediately employed the head down dive technique which had become instinctive; counting silently to myself I raised my head and once again located him. Looking at my altimeter I saw we were about 8000 feet AGL, I had to close the distance fast!!! I continued to swoop towards the student and due to my haste I slammed into his side a little rougher than I had intended nevertheless I flipped him belly to earth and stopped his spin. I glanced at my altimeter again and saw we were about to go through the designated pull altitude of 4000 feet AGL, I gave him the pull signal once but he either didn’t see it or was still disoriented. Seeing we were now approaching 3500 feet I grasped his ripcord myself and gave it a vigorous tug. As his pilot chute was deployed it pulled his canopy and suspension lines out of his pack tray. When it caught wind and started to inflate he was pulled violently from my grasp. Now it was time for me to save myself, I tracked away a few seconds so as not to be directly under him and I threw my own pilot chute, my canopy deployed and I breathed a sigh of relief. Looking at my altimeter once again I saw that I had a good canopy at 1500 feet AGL, not much room to spare.
Later after we landed I asked him what had happened, he said he thought when he jumped up the plane would just fly out from under him, another rocket scientist. I told him in my best instructor voice that he was a moron and he better pull his head out of his fourth point of contact. He did end up graduating however becoming a pretty good jumper.
As a side note later on when I was a candidate instructor myself and was conducting the twenty second drill those guys barreling towards me like human missiles used to scare the piss out of me, never knew if they would be able to stop or not. Good times

Sunday, November 21, 2010

There Is a Little Nerd In All Of Us

I was teasing my oldest son earlier today about the fact he likes Japanese Anime ( I mean really likes it) and how that makes him nerd. He attends conventions, costumes,videos you get the picture. He countered with the fact that I plan my weekend around any new Doctor Who episode and how I used to do the same thing about LOST or Star Trek. This is all true, I am a sucker for Science Fiction always have been. The point I got out of the whole conversation was that everyone has a little nerd in them.

This nerdiness is exhibited whenever anyone talks excitedly about any subject while everyone else kind of looks at them and nods their head. My family does this when I talk about any number of subjects such as football,wrestling,baseball,shooting, Doctor Who, skydiving, running, or the Red Green Show. My eyes glaze over when my kids talk about Twilight, Anime, Harry Potter (Ok not Harry Potter).

We need a little nerdiness in our life, every person is the sum of their parts and without the balance of nerddom to keep us Former Action Guys on the straight and narrow our heads would swell. Being a nerd is like eating your favorite candy bar, so good but you feel a little guilty about it. Well nerd on my friends as I get older the nerdier I get.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Return of the Turkey Trot 8K 2010

So this morning I ran in the Return of the Turkey Trot. This race is the closest thing we have to a Thanksgiving run in the immediate area but I wish they actually had it on Thanksgiving or at least that weekend before. I had been meaning to run this race every year but something always came up mostly work related so I haven't actually run in this race since 2005. I had planned to use it as part of a training run for my upcoming ultramarathon by running 10 miles from my house to the start running the race then getting picked up . The logistics for that went to hell ( no one could pick me up)so I started off the morning by getting up and just driving to the race site. I picked up my race packet then decided to go on a short run before the race started to make up for at least some of those missed miles and to warmup. So I probably ran about a mile before I ended up back at the start line 5 minutes before race time.

I read this race had over 1000 entries but it really has a small race feel to it ( more on this later), The local Mayor gave the starting speech and after the Star Spangled Banner and the Invocation he told us to ready set go. The street we started on was really narrow so it felt like I was in the starting pen of some of the larger marathons I have participated in. Unless you were in the front, which I never am, you were running shoulder to shoulder for the first mile to mile and a half. To make it worse they started everyone at once with no segregation so you had little kids doing the fun run, walkers, 4K runners and 8K runners all mixed up together. This caused me a lot of problems with my pace at the beginning. The first 2 miles of the course were hilly and I passed a lot of people on the up hills. Shortly after the 2 mile point was the first water stop and I grabbed a cup and took a few swigs. Glad I did because there wouldn't be a water stop until almost the end.

Once the 8K split off from the other races it got better and there was some room to run. I felt pretty strong so I picked my pace up a little and was steadily passing people the entire race, that's why I like starting in the back gives me a psychological boost. As we headed south towards the turn around a good stiff breeze was hitting us in the face which made the 40 degree temperature feel even colder. At the 2.5 mark we turned around and headed back north winding our way through a residential neighborhood. The wind was at our backs now and I picked it up a little more as I could smell the finish line. We made the final turn heading west and I could see the finish line about  3/4 of a mile in the distance. At this point we were catching up with some of the walkers and had to zig zag to avoid them as they didn't really listen to the instructions pre-race that had told them to stay left. I crossed the finish line with plenty of gas in the tank and headed in to get some coffee at the post-race pancake breakfast. All in all a good race although I didn't get the mileage in I wanted today. I do have some suggestions though. This race has got to the point were it is bigger than a little local 5K and needs some professional management and amenities. Adding a few of the things below would make it more enjoyable:

Chip timing
More water stations (there were only 2)
More Porto Potties ( Only 4)
Segregate the start times for the different races and have the routes be somewhat different.

Good day though and I ran a good race in 44:22

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My New "Golf"

OK so this weekend I found my new "golf." It has been a long time since I had a "golf "but now I do and I will obsess over it for as long as it interests me. You are probably wondering what a "golf" is, well "golf" is any hobby in which you compete against others but mostly against yourself, you are also required to have specialized equipment that is fairly expensive. "Golf" will consume your weekends because you will never be quite good enough. You will hang out with your "golf" friends and talk "golf." But mostly you will spend money in a vain attempt to be better at "golf."

Not surprisingly my first "golf" was actually golf, my Father gave me a decent set of clubs which I still have and I started teaching myself the game when I was in my early twenties. That was mistake number one, if you want to be any good you can't teach yourself "golf." Teaching yourself "golf" promotes bad habits that you will spend many weekends trying to overcome. So for a few years and especially when I was stationed in Germany I played a lot of Golf. I actually got pretty decent but then I moved away from my golf friends and it is no fun and too expensive to play golf by yourself, at least for me. I still play about once a year whenever my brothers and Dad can all get together. They are all way better a Golf than I am so the normal result is I swing the club,cuss, and drive the cart. It's good to do stuff with them though.

My second "golf" was bowling. When I lived in Arizona I belonged to two bowling leagues. One was a Men's league in which I was serious, the other was a CoEd league which my wife also bowled in. I really enjoyed bowling as I could compete and drink beer at the same time. Drinking beer was pretty important to me back then. This was also the only hobby which my wife also participated in. It was fun to do something with her and I still have the two patches I got for bowling over 200. The season was eventually over and I never bowled in a league again. I might someday though.

My next "golf" was skydiving. This was also why I was in Arizona but it stretched to other places as well. It reached its peak in Arizona. I haven't jumped out of a perfectly good plane in over 6 years but at one point I ate,slept,and breathed skydiving. I was a skydiving instructor in the military for three years during the week teaching Military Freefall and then I would go out on the weekends and teach it to civilians as a United States Parachute Association Accelerated Freefall Instructor. I have thousands of jumps and a one time I was probably pretty dang good. Once I got out of the military though I lost all my skydiving friends and insurance and paying for jumps is just too expensive as a civilian. I am still a member of USPA however as I may yet jump again. Here is me and some of the fellows doing some training:

So that brings me to this past weekend, my new "golf" is competitive shooting. Specifically USPSA competitive shooting. My friend John has been involved in this for quite awhile and he has been trying to get me out to a match for about 4 years. I always had to work or something came up, but finally last Sunday I made the trip down to the range with him. I wasn't sure what to expect but I brought my pistol (S&W MP 40) some ammo, and my range gear.I followed John and his group of regulars to a little range in southeastern Iowa that looked like every other range I had ever been to. Picture dirt berms and pine trees, where they found pine trees in Iowa I have no idea. When we got there we went in to the range shack, plunked down our entry fee and grabbed out score sheets for each station. There where four stations set up with various obstacles and targets. The shack was so thick with cigarette/cigar smoke I thought it was coming out the chimney. As quick as possible I went back outside and we started shooting the courses of fire. Our group provided our own safety officers and we ran ourselves through going to what ever station was open and keeping score for each other. It was very relaxed and enjoyable. It reminded me of going to the range with my team and just blasting ammo in a relaxed none stressful environment. The courses were challenging with both paper and steel targets, but not overly so. I had a good time and as it turns out even though I don't practice a lot I actually shoot pretty well. I will be going back soon and as often as I can. Good people, good times. Maybe someday I will look like these guys: