We practice for everything in the military. Hours upon hours are spent rehearsing until we get it right. Privates are “motivated” by their fire-breathing team leaders, who enforce nothing short of perfection. Squad Leaders rehearse and backbrief the boys ad nauseum. “Where’s the AA?” “Who are you linking up with?” “How many rounds will you have in your starter belt?” Even the company commander does a sanity check with 1SG and the XO before the Order drops. Think about it. We rehearse everything for the first jump. No, not the daytime, Hollywood, cush-ass Fryar DZ one in airborne school, the real first jump.
It all starts with the manifest call. You rehearse what you’re going to do on the bird, walk through every step as if you have never done it. The senior jumpers are there too, so you know what right looks like. If you fuck something up, a jumpmaster will walk up and offer that sage advice. You move to the buddy rigging, where you have someone to rely on, to help you get ready. Again, someone that has been around and done this a few times is there to inspect, make sure you’re squared away, and bless off.
On the bird, we’re surrounded by other jumpers. We get a warning from our leaders, “Hey, your pass is coming up.” We all stand up, hook to the line and go through the motions in unison. Other jumpers give us a pat on the back. We check ourselves one more time. We listen to the instructions and rehearse in our minds how we think its going to look on the ground, even if we’ve never been there. Whatever happens in the next minute, you have been prepping for hours. You have all the preparation needed to make it work.
The light suddenly turns green. It catches you by surprise. “Wait! Am I ready?” Everyone else is moving. You get tunnel vision. All you can see is your arm and the safety. You hand off your static line and leave what is familiar behind.
We prep for hours for that first jump. Why is it then that one of the most important things we do in the Military, the ONLY thing everyone will do, gets so overlooked? After every word is said, and every deed is done, the day will finally come that we leave the military behind. And, a lot of dudes ain’t ready.
When you hit the ground, it’s dark and disorienting. Some people have twists on the way out, or feel as if they didn’t have enough time to perform all the actions the way they rehearsed. Almost no one PLF’s the way they thought they would, but we all get to the ground somehow. It can feel lonely out there in the dark, but you gather your wits, put your weapon into operation and set out to accomplish your mission. As you move out it’s normal to encounter obstacles. You search through the fuzzy green haze to see a familiar shape. You whisper into the night and hear a familiar voice. You slowly begin to surround yourself with others and push on to your goal with the LGOP you create on the way.
No matter how much or how little you plan, everyone feels alone when they leave the military. You’re disoriented and searching for where to go in a green haze of civilian life. Together with other vets and the people we meet on the outside who have a little more experience we can re-orient and press on. Just because your experience twists on the way out or you land hard doesn’t mean the jump was a failure.
A lot of dudes I meet are intimidated by the thought of leaving the military meritocracy and of feeling like they have to start at square one again. When I got out, my good friend Ron told me that no matter what you choose to do after your time is up, you probably aren’t the first person doing it. Look for other vets. Those are the people that are going to be there for you at the end of the day. Active duty dudes are still out their doing the Lord’s work, and civilians don’t really get what you bring to the table. Use the work ethic and self-reliance the military helped you develop, think outside of the box and don’t ever be afraid to pick up a phone or DM a homie. Never be too proud to say “Yo, I’m having a tough time. What did you do to get this right?”
I’ll see you at the Alpha-Alpha.