Little Green Soldiers
by Chris de Serres
I didn’t sleep much. It seemed each part of my body was clenching like a heartbeat. My head was pounding. I tried to eat some eggs at the chow hall, but it all came out 10 minutes later.
We huddled on a cold concrete step, helping each other put on our heavy harnesses. Double and triple checking each connection. My body curled up under the pressure of the body harness. I looked down at my reserve and rest my hand on it.
We were all anxious, and there was a buzz in the air. We waited in the hangar for what seemed like a week. I could hear the sounds of the large carrier planes taxi’ing around the runway outside the doors.
I wondered if I would die today. If I would land in a river or on a tree. I had no control. The jumpmaster ushered us into formation and marched us onto the tarmac and lined us up. We were all really happy. We trained hard for this opportunity. On this day, we all felt like real soldiers.
I was the last person in my line.
The C-130 was cycling it’s engines. We could barely hear each other. The jumpmaster slammed his palm onto my helmet, shaking me out of my reverie. We shuttled to the open door like a line of crabs, rucksacks hanging between our legs.
It was at that moment I realized they loaded the C-130 backwards, which put me in the dreaded position of the first to go.
We sat on the long benches and went into our own inner worlds. The sounds were deafening. The huge beast lumbered down the runway and up into the air. We jostled against each other in the huge cargo bay, waiting.
I closed my eyes and remembered to breathe. Long, drawn out exhales. The jumpmasters were walking up and down the lines making sure everyone was ready. We had about 60 seconds to discharge 80 jumpers from the door. It all had to go down quickly and efficiently. No time to kiss crosses or your ass goodbye.
I looked up at the door. Above it was a red light.
The jumpmaster hooked himself in with a safety line and pushed open the door with some effort. The air rushed in with great force. I could see out the door at the terrain far below. My stomach convulsed but I had nothing left in my stomach to discharge. I felt so weak, like I had the flu. I wasn’t sure if I could even stand.
I panicked. I couldn’t recall what I was supposed to do. Was I supposed to put my static line in when I stood or wait for the jumpmaster to say something? My ears filled with the sound of my heart beating out of my chest.
The jumpmaster gestured to me, and yelled something unintelligible. I stood up and now everyone was on their feet. I looked behind me. The guy behind me grabbed my helmet and pulled it toward his. He looked me right in the eyes.
“This is it! I’m right behind you bro!”
The jumpmaster yelled again. I grabbed my static line and hooked it into the wire running down the length of the cargo plane. We were all hooked in and ready to jump.
“Stand in the door!!”
I urged myself slowly toward the door. I extended my arms toward each side of the doorway, latching onto the outside of the plane with my hands. I bent my knees and looked out into the abyss. The wind was pushing me sideways.
I didn’t even see the green light. A hand struck down hard on my shoulder and I heard…
My body hurtled into open space. I tucked my body into a fetal position. It was 4 seconds of total chaos. Then an incredible jerk yanked me backwards toward the plane as my parachute deployed.
I held my reserve chute in a deathgrip, hoping that everything would be okay.
It happened so fast. The chute shot out of my pack and filled with air. Then complete silence. A silence I can’t even begin to describe. The type of quiet that will always be remembered. Emphasized by the total chaos that preceded it.
I was floating in the air. Like a surreal skyward meditation. Unexpected. Below me flew chirping birds. I was above the birds and the trees, like a Christian god.
I almost fell to the earth this way. The jumpmasters yelled up at us from below, like tiny ants with megaphones. I had completely forgot about the landing. I just wanted to be here, forever.
“You’re gonna land like a sack of shit!! Get your body into position soldier!!”
Then I hit earth violently at about 30-40 miles per hour. I didn’t get up right away. I lay there for a while. Trying to process this experience. I looked up. The sky was filled with green parachutes attached to tiny little toy soldiers floating toward me. Just like I remembered it as a child.