Saturday, September 4, 2010

7 Life Lessons from Army Airborne School

7 Life Lessons from Airborne School
From Leg to Wearing Wings 

Silver Wings aka "The flying ice cream cone"
"C-130 rollin' down the strip. Airborne Daddy gonna take a lil trip. Stand up, hook up, shuffle to the door. Jump right out and count to four.", we shouted cadence as we ran at O'dark hundred (so early the sun isn't up and it doesn't even matter what time it is.).  How fortuitous.
Airborne Maroon Beret
Our feet were pounding ground at Ft. Benning Georgia, home of the Airborne Ranger.  My BDU pants were still wet and itchy from sweat and sawdust from the day before in wicked Georgia humidity.  But you just don't care.

The bangs, bruises, achy joints, swollen knees, potential concussions, all fade in the excitement of jump school.  The energy of hundreds of solider's motivation and anticipation permeate the air.  Inspiring shouts of cadence and encouragement echo from the darkness as units do PT.   Such is a morning for an "Leg" in Airborne Paratrooper school.
A "Leg" is a derogatory term, used by airborne soldier whom have earned their "wings", for non-airbrone infantry. NAP=Non airborne personnel.  "Nappy Leg", a reference to their mode of transportation into battle.  Few things are lower to an Airborne Special Forces or Ranger unit.
 The Military taught me many lessons and Airborne school was unique.  It was a study in psychology, a process of getting people to do something completely unnatural and dangerous.  To convince a human being to jump out of a perfectly good airplane is one thing.  To have them excited about doing it as a means to get to a job, while carrying all of your equipment, is another.
 "Motivation, aggressiveness, discipline, and the fortitude to never say die.  That's what it takes to be an Airborne Soldier."
Step by step process:
1. Jumping on the ground (visualization)
2. Mock door (simulation)
3. 34 foot tower (research showed the Army that they could get a soldier to jump at 34', they would likely exit an aircraft)
4. Swing Landing Trainer/Lateral Drift Aparatus (it has a alternate names as earned expletives)
5. "Might Ungawas" 250 foot free Fall towers

I have been attacking my fears for most of my life so this was somewhat a natural fit.  Airborne school was another test, just like Black Belt.  I have always had a fear of heights but I wasn't going to let my mind get in the way of this.  Airborne qualification was required for me to serve in my Special Forces Unit.  Ad that to the facts that my Grandfather was a WWII Paratrooper and my Uncle was Airborne (Vietnam), making me 3rd generation Nottingham to have the coveted Jump Wings.  I wanted to test my mettle.

The Airborne program was one of the best engineered and instructed schools I have ever attended.  From beginning to end, the design was efficient, intense, rewarding and highly focussed.  Some of those lessons I learned from that experience I still use today in my martial arts school.

Airborne School Lessons
1. Motivation leads to determination - kill the "quit bug" while small
2. Get control of your mind and emotions or they get control of you
3. Surround yourself with other motivated people - flee from weakness
4. Great instructors cannot be underrated - pay attention to detail and the experience they share
5. Get over yourself as an individual - don't believe the limitations you or others place on you
6. Make incremental steps but just keep stepping
7. The human mind, body and spirit can go far beyond what you think

Bonus lessons from Airborne School
8. Seeing bicepts riped off the bone and a girl who "bounced" in a wheelchair from the cycle before us is sobering
9. Riding buffers like bulls can entertain young men for hours.
10. Ranger Joes rock!

After three weeks of training, 5 jumps (one with a hole in my chute) I graduated US Army Paratrooper "Jump School".  I was fired up to be able to wear jump wings, a maroon beret and jump boots.  No longer a nasty, nappy leg, it felt great!  Only later would I learn from my SF unit that I was merely a 5 jump chump until I jumped with my team (Blackhawks, HH3, UH1H, lower altitude, night jumps and more).  But that's another blog.

I had the time of my life at Airborne School. A day didn't go by without me laughing and being amazed at the professionalism, edutainment and infectious positive attitudes of the Black Hats (Instructors).

One of the proudest moments of my life was when my Airborne veteran Grandfather (WWII Purple Heart) pinned my wings on my chest at the graduation.  He passed away several years later but I still have that picture displayed next to my maroon and unit green beret.  I also have the lessons I learned from the unforgettable experience to use today.  I hope I made him proud.

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