A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle
During my third summer at the USAF Academy, I had the opportunity to attend the U.S. Army’s Parachute Training Jump School at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Georgia. It was a challenging three-week course. Ground Week taught us to properly put on our 50 pounds of equipment and how to do a tumbling roll to absorb the impact of hitting the ground. During Tower Week we were hoisted up on towers high enough to allow us to experience descending underneath an actual open parachute. Then came week three: Jump Week. During Jump Week we would jump five times out of perfectly good airplanes.
Three different weeks, three different skill sets to master, on our way to earning our Parachutist Badge, or “Jump Wings.”
It would be an important omission though, if any description of Jump School did not emphasize that the syllabus consisted more than anything else of physical conditioning. It’s certainly true that when descending beneath an open parachute one comes down more slowly than if one didn’t have a parachute. Even so, one can still hit the ground pretty hard, and injuries are not uncommon. The best way to keep from getting hurt is to be in the best possible shape. So a large part of the training involved getting us in good enough condition to endure a parachute landing without injury. We did a lot of push ups under that Georgia sun. And more than a few sit ups in the wet heat.
No surprise, then, when we showed up for training in the middle of the second week and were told that we were going on a one-mile run. We formed up in a platoon and off we went. And the Jumpmasters set what we might call a “brisk” pace. And then they got faster. And faster again. As we approached the end of the course we were at a lung-searing sprint.
We came down to the final hundred yards. At that point the Jumpmasters began taunting us, telling us that we’d be going another full mile before being allowed to stop!
Soon as they said that a bunch of trainees dropped out of the platoon. They felt like they couldn’t go another step, much less another mile. So they gave up on the spot.
Then came the lesson of the day. Those of us who stayed in formation ran maybe another hundred yards before the Jumpmasters called us to a halt and let us rest. As we walked back to join our friends who’d given up only a few yards short of the end, the instructors said nothing, allowing the lesson to become self-evident…