Being a Paratrooper was an experience unlike any other. The chaos of a drop zone at night is hard to explain to someone else and yet it seems normal to someone from the airborne community. I remember telling a friend from a heavy division that we dropped HMMWVs from planes. He completely thought that I was joking. There was no way, he thought, that we could do that. And he never even saw one that burned in.
Through this experience, I learned a lot. There’s no way you could’ve spent time in the airborne community and not learned something valuable. Take a hectic training schedule, add in some brigade-sized airfield seizures, sprinkle in some division reviews, and bake nicely with some of that Fort Bragg gear and you have a recipe for an unmatched soldiering experience.
That experience provided me the opportunity to learn some valuable lessons. Lessons that were forged as a Paratrooper, but carry on to other aspects and chapters of life. So, here they are:
Keep improving your fighting position.
There’s nothing quite as vulnerable as being a dismounted paratrooper. No armor, few anti-armor weapons, and everything you have carried on your body. So when you settle down to defend an airfield, you dig in. But the position isn’t set once you just have a shallow Ranger grave. Then you need to get to nametape-defilade. Add overhead cover. Put grenade sumps in the back. Add obstacles to the engagement area.
It never stops.
There’s a lesson to be learned in this. Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, there’s always something you be doing to improve your situation. From finances to relationships, to your career — there is something you can be doing.
Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, your fighting position can always be improved.
Take ownership of your life.
Your rig is yours. When getting my chute, I would always do a check as soon as I got it. I made sure to pay attention to my buddy as he helped rig me. And later, when I became a Jumpmaster, I would keep an eye on the person doing my JMPI.
The odds were very good that everyone did their job and I would have a safe jump. But that was my chute. No one else was going to rely on it to take them safely to the ground.
And just like with that parachute, I am ultimately responsible for me, myself, and I. No one else is going to advocate for my needs as I will. No one else is going to care about my problems as much as I do. And that’s OK. Because they are mine and they are mine to own.
It’s easy in life to defer responsibility. It’s easy to not take ownership and blame it on someone else. But that’s not the way to a safe jump, and it’s not the way to a successful life.
Don’t mind a little dirt.
Soldiers from non-airborne units don’t get what dirty really means. Until you’ve been in the box for a JRTC or NTC rotation as a Paratrooper, you likely have never fully appreciated a shower to the fullest possibility.
I lived in the dirt and the rain. I was outside in disgusting humidity and soul-crushing heat. I shivered and thought I might never be warm again.
But I lived.
Life has bumps and dips. Things get bad. But as a Paratrooper, I have already lived through some uncomfortable situations.
So what I couldn’t get a shower today? I’ll live. Oh, my coffee was a tad cold? Not a big deal. These are minor inconveniences that I know I don’t need. I can handle more.
Surround yourself with good people.
In one of the interviews shown during Band of Brothers, a member of Easy company remarks that he was inspired to join the Paratroopers after he read an article about them in Life magazine. He decided then and there, if he was going to war, it would be with those men. Those are the men he wanted to his left and right when the bullets started flying: the ones who would volunteer to jump out of planes.
The same stands true today. People from my unit in the 82nd who had been in other units would comment that the 82nd Paratrooper was just a higher caliber of a soldier. There wasn’t always a reason why, but they felt confident in saying that there was just something in the water that made them better.
If you want to pursue happiness and success in life, you have to have good people around you. These need to be the people who are going to challenge you and test you and push you to places you thought you couldn’t go. Whatever you are doing, find these people, and keep them close. Military service has a way of amplifying human experiences. Things are just harder. Your boss has more control over you.
Deployments are something that can be hard even to put into words for someone who never experienced it. And through this intensity of experiences, we were granted the opportunity to learn about life through that amplified lens. There we were able to take lessons, feelings, and emotions and turn the volume up to 10.
Serving in the 82nd was an experience like none other. It was craziness. Madness. Just drove me bonkers sometimes. But damn if I didn’t learn from it.