Near the end of infantry training, we emerged from our tents one morning to find our drill sergeants still inside the cadre building. We milled outside for an hour before a lone drill sergeant opened the door and asked, “Who has family in New York City?” A handful of privates raised their hands. “Do any of you have family members who work in the World Trade Center?” All hands went down except one. “Come with me,” the drill sergeant said.
“Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor.”
I was now in my element, working with like-minded people who chose to go into harm’s way. In Afghanistan, I discovered that I was good in a gunfight. I didn’t get scared. Sudden enemy fire, raids into desolate compounds, long patrols through mountainous valleys—all of it had given me a laser-like focus that could last for hours. The first time Remy and I were almost killed by a Taliban rocket soaring a few feet over our heads and exploding nearby, we had laughed like children even as the blast’s concussion knocked the wind from our lungs.
“RANGERS LEAD THE WAY!”
Beside their respective doors, the jumpmasters gave a final nod to one another before squaring off to face the jumpers. My thoughts returned to more immediate concerns. Once I had been rigged with parachute equipment, urination became impossible.
That was now over four hours ago.
“TEN… MINUTES.” In anticipation of the next command, we unclipped the safety line from the aircraft floor and stuffed the webbing and carabiner into an accessible pocket.
“ALL PERSONNEL… STAND… UP.”
Commotion ensued as we struggled to our feet to begin the ten excruciating minutes of standing before the lights beside each jump door would change from red to green.
We unclipped the static line hook from our reserve parachute’s carrying strap and snapped it onto the steel cable stretched over our heads.
I ran my hand around my chin strap to ensure that I would not lose my helmet on exit, snapped my leg and chest straps to check that they were connected, and felt the lace holding the top of the weapon case on my side. My bladder felt like it was going to explode.
“CHECK… STATIC… LINES.”
After inspecting the yellow length of my static line for tears from the hook-up point to where it disappeared over my shoulder, I proceeded to check Remington’s line. The webbing snaked a predetermined distance back and forth behind his chute, which would automatically deploy once stretched taut as he dropped from the plane. Finding no issues, I tapped him on the helmet to let him know he was good.
“SOUND OFF FOR EQUIPMENT CHECK.”
The signal started at the rear of the plane and passed like dominoes via a slap on the body and the word, “OKAY.” I listened to Rangers yelling in succession from rear to front until I felt a hand smack my ribs, which I then relayed to Remington. The first jumper gave a final signal to the jumpmaster, who turned and slid his jump door upward and open. As the plane filled with the deafening roar of wind and turboprops, clouds of pale sand rolled inside. Rangers cheered as the jumpmasters began checking the jump doors. The familiar pain of standing uncomfortably with my parachute and full equipment began to grow.
“I have to pee so fucking bad,” Remington shouted over his shoulder as we stood under the crushing weight of our gear.
The jumpmasters yelled something.
Remington asked, “Did they just say one minute?”
“I think so.”
“See you on the ground, Remy.”
“Have a good jump, Slick.”
I never saw the green light turn on or heard the command to “GO.” Instead, the line of jumpers on the opposite side of the plane surged forward a moment before my row headed for the door. We shuffled forward, the noise of the engines and the shriek of the wind growing louder with each step. Deep, rhythmic whooshing noises accompanied each jumper’s exit. Remington vanished out of the porthole and into the darkness. I handed my line to the safety, turned right to face the howl of the open door, and jumped into the black sky over Iraq.
Jason Kasper is the author of Jais. Read more and contact him at base1178.com.
* base1178.com: http://www.base1178.com
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