Saturday, November 13, 2010

Airborne School

This past week I received my airborne wings. Two weeks ago my entire company picked up and went to airborne school. On arrival we were in processed and splint into “sticks” of about ten soldiers each. Each “stick” had an instructor assigned to it. The first thing that struck us was the level of discipline in the course. The IDF is famous for its lack of discipline within its ranks, and the pinnacle of this the Golani Brigade (my brigade). I am not sure the course was ready for the shock it was about to get. We were instantly upset over the requirement for us to polish our boots both in the morning, and in the afternoon. Walking in formation, we were simply incapable; keeping quite …that was a joke. But we trained anyways.

We stated with how to perform a proper roll, first left and right then forwards and backwards. This involved us falling on our ass a lot in a large sand box. It was quite painful, especially when we missed our shoulder muscles and fell on our sides. From there we moved on to the harness, how to get in it and how to jump out of the plane its self. We also covered what happens while we are in the plane. While the instructors demonstrated we were dying of laughter from the tune all our instructors used. They use high pitched, almost shrill sing song tune for all the commands and we just could not keep from laughing. But when we got to the towers this began to change.

This first tower is nothing it’s a meter off the ground and used simply to practice exiting the plane, and drills done while in the air. The next tower we used was less fun, it is 4.5 meters tall or 14 feet tall. Here we strap into our harness climb up on to the walkway and up top attach the towers straps to our harness. The idea is the tower acts like our parachute when we jump and then will hold us off the ground in a swinging motion so we can also practice the landing. This tower in Hebrew is called the “"מאמן (mamen – meaning trainer), but we all affectionately referred to it as the "מאשיך" (mashech- puller) because when hooked up to the straps it attempts to yank one clean off the tower. Now jumping off this tower is far harder to do than jumping of a real plane, as you spend a good ten minutes up top just contemplating the height, and when you are finally hooked in you feel like any second the straps are going to pull you off the tower and throw you spinning off into thin air. The worst part really is when they drop us right on our ass. They leave you swinging in the landing position for several long seconds, as we try and predict when they are going to drop us so we can try and roll properly. What always happens though is they drop you and you fall right on your butt or sides in the most painful way possible, and are then yelled at on how we are a total failure at life and are going to die when we jump. The last tower thee is 9 meters or 30 feet tall. Here one practices exiting a plane, and also deploying reserve chutes. This tower works by having you jump from the tower and then your straps are attached to a zip line which keeps you in the air like a chute will.

After a week of training on all these towers we finally finished up and were off to the real thing! We traveled to the air force base where we were to take off from. There we lined up by doors, and laid out our parachutes and sat down waiting to get the order to put them on. We were all nervous though as we were the last plane, and the day was fast fading. Finally the order came down to put on our harnesses, and we began to strap up and get checked off. Finally our plane came back and as it touched down and rolled towards us, we got lined up and were marched to the back door and in we were loaded. I was in the first stick set to jump out of the right door and within ten minutes we were over the drop zone, which was at Palmach, a beach. The door we were set to jump from would have me at jumping towards the ocean. So as we came in we got the order to stand up, and got a final check off. Then came the red light, and the first soldier entered the door and got ready. Then came the green light, and the first soldier got the order “קפוץ!” (kfotz – meaning jump!) and as he jumped, then next soldier already threw his strap to the instructor and was in the door and out then, all in 1.5 seconds. Real quickly it was my turn and I too threw my strap, the instructor grabbed it, checked by stance in the door, and tapped my soldier and yelled “קפוץ!!! and I hesitated for a moment so they shouted at me again, and what happened next I am not sure. I remember wanting to jump, and the next thing I remember I was outside the plane. When you exit the plane you experience three seconds of absolute thrilling, free fall. When you leave the plane the first thing that happens is your legs kick up from the propeller back blast. Then as you keep your hands on you reserve shoot and count to three you keep falling. At three you feel a sharp tug as the chute opens and deploys, and when I looked up I saw the most beautiful sight of my life a full canopy over my head. Then I looked around me and saw the view, and it was stunning! A setting sun, a string of other paratroopers before me, and absolute silence around me; I just had to let out a shout of absolute thrill. Then as the ground got closer, I got into the landing position and kept trying to guess when I would land, and then bam! It was a slight shock, but I still succeeded to do something similar to a roll. We were lucky with our jump we really jumped at the last possible second.

The next day we were scheduled to jump first, and we were pumped. We spent far less time sitting around, and got strapped in. In no time we were marching to the plane and getting onto the runway. As we were coming over the drop zone our plane began to sing songs from our unit, which really helped to release the tension a bit. This time I was last in my stick and was the middle stick. So as we came back over the jump zone for the second time I was standing with the rest of the guys and ready to go. As I got to the door I got my order “קפוץ!!!” and out I went. This time jumping from the left door and looking out at Israel I got a great view, again. I actually had a few twists in my chords for my chute, but I quickly straightened them out with a few kicks. This time the landing was easier as I could judge the approaching ground far better. As I folded my chute up and placed it on my back I knew I would have to do this again, the thrill, the adrenaline, the view was simply too much to pass up on; and when I finally went home at the end of the week I felt as if my chest was sticking out 2 feet farther with the pin on my chest.