Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I'm gonna try something new here and see what I can drum up: Jump stories.

Every time a group of paratroopers go up in an airplane there's always the potential for something to happen that makes for a story. You know, "There I was, knee-deep in grenade pins, nothing between me and the Mongol horde but a can opener..."

There used to be a place called Ft. Devens. It was a nice place, but it's now Devens Industrial Park. It was pretty small by Army standards and so the drop zone, called Turner Drop Zone, was necessarily challenged for space. I forget how many guys we could put out per pass, but it wasn't many and you couldn't fool around. When the jumpmaster said "Go", you'd better be hauling butt to get out.

I was on a jump, second in line to go. The guy in front of me was jumpmaster qualified and should have known better (we'll get to that in a moment). The wind was blowing right to left, so the aircraft (a C-130) was actually tracking over the trees to the right of the drop zone, so that the wind would blow us onto the DZ. We were going out of the right hand door, so looking out of the door you couldn't see anything but trees. Here's how it went:

Jumpmaster: "Go!"
Guy in door: "What?"
JM: "GO!"
GID: "Now?"
JM: "Yes, #$%* now, GO, Godd*mmit"
GID: "Ok" and jumps

By this time we had passed the drop zone, but out he went and I followed as did everyone behind me. We came down in a wooded area that served as an impact area for rifle grenades. Impact areas aren't regarded as the safest places in the world since there's always the chance that unexploded ordnance could be lurking there. To make things worse, trees aren't always the best place to land.

I came in and saw a clearing just in front of me. I dumped all of the air from the parachute and dropped into the clearing like a ton of bricks. It took me a few seconds to see straight again, but my vision cleared just in time to see a team leader slam directly into a tree. Remember those old wooden toys where you would put a sailor figure at the top of a mast and it would fall down bouncing off of pegs as it fell? That's what the team leader did. He dropped down and bounced off of every branch in the tree. It probably broke his fall, but I remember him pulling his shirt up and it looked like someone had beat him with a a baseball bat.

Fortunately nobody got blown up and nobody was really hurt, but honest, I'll never forget that guy saying "Now?" and watching the captain bounce off of every branch in that tree.


Anonymous said...

Turner DZ, the words "stand in the door" written on the road west of Turner for JM's. Turner DZ got bigger every time SIgnal Company jumped it.

Somehow when I was a young paratrooper all I wanted were HALO wings. I got them, SL JM and HALO JM wings, but in all my 23 years as a paratrooper, my best story involves a night combat equipment drop into Germany during Reforger 90.

My team ODA-025, didn't have to participate but another team in the Company didn't have a commo guy so I, as I remember, was "volunteered" to give these guys a hand in the field. We Isolated out of a recently decommissioned GLCM (nuclear tipped Ground Launched Cruise Missile) base in England. In ISO we were told that the Auxiliary Forces would set up the DZ and give us a ride from the DZ a considerable distance to our objective. Awesome! No death march carrying my 80lb commo rucksack would be required. The link-up on the DZ was supposed to happen like this. We would infil via a blacked out Combat Talon,MC-130, and jump blind onto the DZ. This means no markings,no lights, and pray to God the Airforce doesn't fuck this up. The Auxiliary guys would wait until we landed and then flash their car lights twice as a bona-fides that all was clear and to give their exact location. The plan was for them to have their car about 100meters from our assembly area on the edge of the DZ. Now the only thing worse than carrying a 80lb commo ruck was getting all your parachute crap, main, reserve, and weapon off of the DZ while also carrying the ruck. The jump was off of the ramp of the Talon. The first guy off on a ramp jump is the Jumpmaster. I wasn't the jumpmaster but my brain was working a 100MPH to make this jump as easy as possible for me. The jump was from south to north on a small rectangular DZ. The assembly area was to the south east so I figured that if I was the 2nd guy out I would land closest to the assembly area, thus giving me the shortest walk. I made some lame excuse about having the heaviest ruck and needing to go 2nd so I wouldn't trip and fall and to slow things up. No one was the wiser. Muhahahahah. It was a dark and stormy night on infil night, well it was dark and cold at least. Snow covered the ground, thankfully providing a little illumination on this moonless night. I remember making a perfect exit off the ramp (I fell out like a ton of shit) had no twists and as I quickly got my bearings I saw to my relief that I was dead on target to the assembly area. In the few remaining seconds I steered to the AA, faced into the apparent wind and made a text book PLF (balls of the feet, ass, head). Just as the stars in my head abated, I saw a series of white flashes waaaaaaay to the north. WHAT!!!! Oh fuck no, that can't be true. I planned this so well. I glanced at the mere 50 meters remaining to the assembly. Again lights flashed about a klick to the north. Pissed off I put my trusty M-16 into action listened for any enemy activity. Plan the dive, dive the plan, that's the mantra. FUck the lights I'm going to the assemble area. I got my gear in the kit bag and then walked less than 50meters to the woodline and our planed primary assembly area. First guy. I sat there contemplating the inevitable long march to were I saw the flashes of light. About five minutes later here comes our medic, Zoltan Prokay(native Hungarian). "Zoly did you see were the light flashes were?" "Yeah those guys are in the wrong spot." Like me he had a very heavy ruck and also dreaded the long walk with the extra gear. Just then we heard some rustling in the woods. Alone figure approached. Zoly and I both trained our deadly blank adapter equipped M-16's at the sound. "Hey is this the assembly area" the voice called out from the dark. We recognized the voice as a guy from backside support and in our sister company. "What the fuck dude" Zoly barked,"you guys were supposed to park the car here not to the north." "We did" came his reply. "Then whose flashing the car lights to the north of us" I asked. He didn't have an answer. We all scratched out heads for a while and went from tactical to sitting on our rucks waiting for the rest of the team to show up. 30 minutes passed, no more team guys. Now a standard SF plan for infiltrations usually means that you only wait for around 15-20 minutes at the primary and then move to the secondary. But the vehicle ride to our objective was calling our our names so we both pretended that our finely crafted plan with Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency link-up sites didn't exist. At the 40 minute mark we couldn't ignore the fact that something was wrong. We hadn't heard any gun fire so we could only assume guys were lost or a hell of a lot of guys were hurt. Just as we decided to go Admin and white light the DZ for injured guys a mass of bodies appeared from the dark. It was the rest of the team. Known to the backside support but not to us, powerlines ran on the north side of the DZ. CW-2 Gunner Gilpin had landed in the wires and the flashing lights we saw was his chute sparking. The rest of the team had landed long and had seen the incident and rushed to his aid. Zoly quickly checked out Gunner but all appeared to be alright. Gunner said he was okay. Now me I would have taken the free trip off the exercise and if I had been in charge there is no way I wouldn't have sent his ass to the rear to get thoroughly checked out but Gunner refused to leave the team. Gunner was a one of the last Vietnam veterans in 10th group at this time. Even in 89 he was a crusty old guy but he could hold his own with us young guys. We got that ride off of the DZ and since it was almost daylight the guy driving had pity on us and drove us right to our objective(a standard watch the road and report Soviet vehicles mission). The funniest thing about the incident was that Gunner had the DMDG in his ruck when he jumped. It was a 10 day mission and I swear I didn't have to recharge the batteries the entire ten days.

Snakeeater said...

I definitely remember where they wrote "Stand in the door" on the road. Can't remember the name of the road, but it crossed over Route 2 and I was told that one of the jumpmaster classes went out and wrote it one night.

As I recall, the aircraft always tracked so that they passed over that road on the way to the drop zone, regardless of wind direction. I can't remember ever jumping on Turner that the aircraft didn't track in exactly the same direction.

Incredibly, I remember the name Zoltan Prokay, and I think I remember Gunner Gilpin.

Speaking of native Hungarians, we did a Gabriel Demo one time at Devens--one of those things where you say "I'm the team radio operator, I ensure constant secure communications for the team and I speak German and Spanish". We had an old E-8 who was originally from an eastern block country and he proceeded to announce that he spoke German, Russian, Serbo-Croation and broken English. It cracked people up. As the radio guy I had a brand new satellite radio. I can't remember what the damn thing was called, but it had this little antenna that opened up like an umbrella. I actually ended up arguing with a Japanese gentleman who insisted it wasn't an antenna.

A guy named John C. and I took that radio to an Air Force base near Springfield, MA to report on aircraft departures for REFORGER or some such and ended up setting off some sort of alarms with it. We had a bit of a discussion with the Air Force security guys.

Anonymous said...

Lunenburg RD, I had to go to Google maps to remember.,-71.673088&z=15&t=h&hl=en

As I look at the imagery I now remember that every jump I made on that DZ I always seemed to land on or near the creek that ran down the middle.

Snakeeater said...

Damn, You're good. Honestly, I can't even remember the creek and I didn't remember Lunenburg until you mentioned it.

Remember the Broken Spoke (I think it was the Wagon Wheel), the Mohawk and the Rotary Club?

Mark Libby said...

Actually, I believe it was Lancaster Road in Lunenburg, but in any case Route 70, right in a dip in the road. Drove over it many times. And I remember the creek all too well. I have a picture of me with my face scratched up and my wing in a sling because I landed on the gravel road one windy day and, hitting very hard, was a little slow on the quick release and went off the road at the culvert, thusly dropping straight down. I seem to recall it being about 6-8 feet deep, but you know how time seems to make these war stories more dramatic. Anyway, final score was Rock 1; Paratrooper 0.

Hey, the reason I came across this post was because I was trying to recall what year they outlawed double-door exits at Turner DZ. I was in 10th Group from 2/81-4/82 and again 5/83-1/86. I know it was after a fatal accident whereby a jumper came out the left door swung into the orifice of the MC1-1B of the jumper coming out the right door.

I was a Candy-Striper working primarily in Group HQ but did a stint as 3d Bn NBC NCO. I got to work with a bunch of good guys you may know: MOH recipient SFC Jon R. Cavaiani, SFC Joe Beasley, MSG "Leaping Lou" Gutierrez, 1SG Fritz Schiller, SGM Chartrand, to name a few. I think the Group CO was Colonel Potter before I went to Korea in '82 and Colonel Davis when I returned, but I could have that backwards. I remember Flintlock and it seemed every year I was in Group something tragic happened during the exercise. My first year a guy got zapped in a RATT Rig. Another year a STAR Extraction gone bad. Another year someone trying to get out of trees after a night jump underestimated the distance to ground (dropped helmet hit a branch not ground or something?), and one year the LT Commander got killed in a car wreck. Dangerous business, but best years of my life.