Prior to going to Fort Sam Houston, TX for my medical training, I made my sixth jump, the first one after Jump School, in order to stay on “jump status” and collect my hazardous duty pay (an extra $55/month for enlisted men or $110/month for officers).
That first jump with the 101st Airborne Division occurred at night and started out like any other jump. We loaded onto the cattle trucks and were driven to the airport. Once in the situational tent, we were updated about the weather and jump conditions, assigned to our Drop Zone, learned about the plane (its specs and what speed we’d be jumping at), and went through some pre-jump drills (looking at mock-ups to reacquaint ourselves with the body positions and exits).
Now, ordinarily, the next step is an equipment check by the Jump Master prior to boarding the plane. Each jumper waits in line and then stands in front of the Jump Master with his hands behind his head. The Jump Master thoroughly checks the equipment and clears the trooper to board the plane. I knew from Jump School not to adjust my equipment after it had been checked. That’s when I knew that this particular jump would be anything but ordinary because some of the more experienced jumpers started readjusting and loosening their equipment once on the plane.
I and the other cherries were sitting there quiet and rigid with our equipment still undisturbed as the plane took off. After hearing the first jump command, “Get ready”, the experienced jumpers re-secured their loosened equipment and waited for the next command, “stand up”. I could feel the tension mounting. Upon the next command, “hook up”, the men attached themselves to the anchor line cable and became rowdy, yelling “Yo, Cherry! You’re gonna die on this jump!” At that point, I was pretty scared; this was nothing like the regimentation of Jump School.
We all heard the “check equipment” command and, for a brief moment, everyone was serious again. After the “sound off for equipment check” command, the word was passed down to the Jump Master that everyone’s equipment was okay and ready to go. When the doors to the plane were finally opened, the real commotion started.
Several troopers started jumping up and down and moving the anchor line cable, teasing us about our equipment and telling us our chutes wouldn’t open. As I shuffled forward towards the door, I grew increasingly convinced that hazardous duty pay wasn’t worth this hassle. However, once I exited the plane and descended into the quiet darkness, a familiar euphoria came over me which made it all worthwhile. Safely back on ground, the thought of terminating my jump status was a distant memory.