“Visions of Vietnam”: The Agony of Suspense

The second week of Jump School, which is where I was trained to be a paratrooper, was called “Tower Week”. It helped us utilize everything we learned the week before until it became automatic. It included practicing maneuvers in the Suspended Harness, practicing PLFs in the Swing Landing Trainer, and making jumps from a 34-foot tower and a 250-foot tower.

The Suspended Harness (unaffectionately known as the “Suspended Agony” or the “Nutcracker”) is essentially a parachute harness without the parachute, hanging from ropes and pulleys, which leaves the trainee’s full body weight concentrated on the straps of the harness running through his legs. (You get the picture!) The point was to learn how to pull a “slip” with the T-10 parachute. The Suspended Agony had a way of motivating trainees to learn quickly and all of us were sore for days after our encounter with it.

At the culmination of Tower Week, trainees were hauled up and released from a 250-foot tower in order to practice all the chute maneuvers previously learned and prepare for week three, “Jump Week”. On the day I was scheduled for the 250-foot tower, the winds were too high for us to jump. Instead, we were marched over to the bleachers where an instructor conducted a review of what we had learned. He asked if anyone had any questions. When a few questions were answered and it seemed no one had any others, he added, “Okay. Since we have to be here until 4pm and there are no questions, how about we head out to the Suspended Harness for some additional training.” I never saw hands shoot up in the air so fast! Suddenly there were more questions than could ever be answered before 4pm.

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