In the Winter of 1983 I was a “five jump chump”, having recently graduated from
Airborne School at . After a two week leave back home, I checked into the 82nd Replacement Detachment, the “repple depple” on Ft. Benning, Ga Ardennes St Ft. Bragg, NC. Upon my arrival I was immediately immersed in the airborne culture. I learned that all non-airborne qualified personnel ie…those that had never jumped out of a perfectly good airplane were known as “legs.” This was a pejorative term taken from the longer phrase of “straight leg infantry” as opposed to the airborne infantry. Being a new guy and never having jumped with “Division” I was now known as a “Cherry”. You can figure out what that means. Legs were to be hated and reviled; Cherries were to be messed with and made to do stupid things for the amusement of Sergeants. “Hey Private, go to the motor pool and get me a box of grid squares” or “Private, I need batteries for my canopy lights, make it happen.”
At the replacement detachment I endured numerous formations, inspections etc.. while I in processed the unit. All TA-50 was issued and accounted for; berets were shaved and properly formed so as not to look like a pizza delivery man. Brass was shined and so were jump boots. In the evenings I got my first taste of freedom since before I had joined the Army. Once we checked out with the charge of quarters we were allowed to go anywhere we wanted, we just had to be back for the 2200 hours curfew. Being 19 and new in town I of course explored all the wonders of
Hay Street and its surrounding area. At the time Hay Street probably had more per capita strip clubs and Korean hooch bars than anywhere on the east coast. It boasted Rick’s Lounge that was legendary amongst the airborne and special operations community for its entertainment and beer specials. Quite the eye opener for a not yet jaded young man from Iowa.
After about 2 weeks I received my permanent orders, I was to report to the 1st Battalion 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment for further reassignment. The 325th AIR had the unique distinction of having been straight leg infantry in WWI then glider infantry in WWII. When gliders become obsolete the 325th was converted to parachute infantry. What was unique was that due to its heritage this regiment retained the moniker “airborne infantry” as opposed to the two other regiments in division that were designated parachute infantry regiments.
So I reported to the 1/325 personnel administration center or PAC and was handed over to a company representative. As an 11C or indirect fire infantry man I was to be assigned to Weapons Platoon B Company 1/325. At the time the Weapons Platoon employed the 81mm mortar and consisted of three gun squads and a headquarters section/Fire Direction Center. I was to learn all this stuff later, currently my entire company was out on a field exercise and they would be returning in a week. Meanwhile I was introduced to the rear detachment non commissioned officer in charge who promptly put me and the two other cherries to work painting the barracks hallways. So I spent my first week as a United States Paratrooper scrubbing walls and stirring paint buckets.
Eventually my new platoon mates returned from wherever they had been and they pressed me into service cleaning gear and squaring away the platoon area. I was in a sensory overload situation trying to learn all the new names and seeing where I was in the platoon pecking order. My new squad leader let me know that right away. “You’re my ammo bearer, so shut up and carry ammo.” Roger that Sergeant!!!!
After everything was squared away we were given the warning order that we would be returning to the field the following Monday to participate in a joint field exercise with the armor battalion. After all the troops were released for the weekend I spent a sleepless two days of nervous energy getting together the gear I thought I would need for my first training exercise and my first jump in division. My squad leader gave me some advice but I was mostly left to my own devices. Monday morning dawned bright and early. At 0200 the members of my platoon were outside in the company formation area participating in pre-jump training in anticipation of our parachute infiltration into the training area. Parachute landing falls were completed,malfunction procedures were repeated and actions in the aircraft were rehearsed in a drill that would become very familiar to me over the next 22 years. This time however, I listened in a high state of alertness in nervous anticipation of the jump ahead.
Eventually the deuce and a half trucks arrived to shuttle us to “Green Ramp” on Pope Air Force Base. Upon arrival we were issued our T-10 parachutes complete with the infamous “dial of death.” Surprisingly this was something familiar. This was the same equipment I had been trained on in jump school. I donned my parachute and a jumpmaster inspected my equipment then instructing me to sit down in chalk order. For what seemed like hours I dozed in and out of consciousness smelling the fumes from the constantly taxing C130 aircraft. Finally the command “ON YOUR FEET!!!” was heard and we shuffled in a ragged line like so many ants up the tailgate and into the red web seating of our designated aircraft. As would become my habit in the future I once again dozed off in an adrenaline induced coma while the aircraft took off. The crew chief and jumpmaster walked up and down the aisle or rather used our legs and rucksacks as stepping stones as they moved from one end of the aircraft to the other. “Twenty Minutes!!!... 10 Minutes!!! …Get Ready!!! …Outboard Personnel Standup!!! …Inboard Personnel Standup!!!...Hookup!!!..Check Static Lines!!!!...Check Equipment!!!.. Sound Off for Equipment Check!!!...All OK Jumpmaster!!!!...Stand in the Door!!!
Jump commands complete the door was opened and the roar of the rushing air filled the aircraft. I nervously hung on my static line as my shoulders were slowly crushed by the weight of my parachute and my rucksack with its attached 81mm mortar base plate and 3 rounds of simulated ammunition. Due to being vertically challenged and being somewhere in the middle of the stick I could barely see the glow of the jump lights as they turned from red to green. Suddenly I was being pushed violently from behind as the paratroopers at the rear started pushing the rest of us towards the door so as not to miss the drop zone. My vision was a blur as I moved rapidly to the door and my body position was anything but textbook as I literally fell out of the C130 and counted “One Thousand, Two Thousand, Three Thousand, Four Thousand..Check Canopy!!” Luckily I had a full canopy although due to my poor exit I had line twists all the way up to the bottom of the material. I bicycled vigorously until the twists worked them selves out. I then was able to look around and I was in awe at the sheer number of troopers in the air. It was only a battalion size operation employing 5 aircraft however we had jumped from a single aircraft in school which held jumpers. There were hundreds of jumpers in the air on this jump, all trying to land safely in the same patch of
North Carolina wilderness.
As I was taught I lowered my rucksack and prepared to land by putting my feet and knees together and pulling the risers of my parachute so I could “slip” into the wind. I landed like a ton of bricks, gathered my wits, removed my weapon form the M1950 weapons case and put it into operation. I then gathered my parachute into its kitbag, grabbed my equipment and started a short but intensive death march to the rally point. Once we were all accounted for I moved out with my mortar section to the link up with the armor elements.
The rest of the week I rode on the back of a tank just like in the movies, occasionally dismounting to clear obstacles and do some patrolling in advance of the armor movement. Being a private I had no idea why we were doing this or where we were at. I rode when they told me to, ate what they gave me and sleep where they pointed. My biggest memories from my first field exercise where surprise at how cold it got in North Carolina in February and awe that my Platoon Sergeant ate Milkbone dog biscuits as a between meal snack.
At the end of the week we once again boarded some trucks and made the long dusty trip back to garrison and the company area. I was dispatched to the motorpool to help wash and PMCS vehicles. I cleaned my weapon and put my gear on my bed. Finally in the wee hours of a Saturday morning we were released and told we would be doing it all over again bright and early Monday morning. However this weekend would be different, I would not be wondering about the unknown but thinking about how I could pack my gear better. I was still a cherry but my first evolution was behind me and I was a US PARATROOPER!!