Chronicles of a Coward
The engines roared with a deep-throated ferocity that vibrated my fillings. The ancient C-7 military aircraft, side doors removed, strained to obtain jump altitude. Exhaust fumes streamed through the passenger compartment. I peeked out the open door; all the huge fighter aircraft hangers of Kirkland AFB were shrinking to the size of miniature model railroad buildings. This made my stomach tighten and my head spin.
I closed my eyes.
Two characters travel with me wherever I go; Mr. Affable and Mr. Sardonic. At that moment, Mr. Sardonic had a lot to say. “Nice going asshole,” he began. “See what your big mouth got you this time?”
“Now, now,” Mr. Affable replied. “We should embrace new ideas and adventures.”
“I’d rather get an enema with Tabasco sauce than jump out of this airplane.”
And so, it went.
It had all started two days prior. I was at “Nuke School” on behalf of the U.S. Navy in New Mexico, and was befriended by a handful of Navy Seals who were also attending classes at NMSU. (What you might ask, are Navy Seals doing in a classroom? Studying garroting 101?) Regardless, we were into our third beers at a local watering hole when I casually mentioned to my new friends that I might enjoy jumping out of an airplane someday.
Two days later, there I was, a cowardly nuclear submarine shift test engineer seated among four Navy Seals, getting ready to jump out of a perfectly good airplane.
Read: Welcome to Big Sky Country
The particularly fearsome seal to my left leaned close to my face, and to be heard over the engines, shouted,
"REMEMBER, KEEP YOUR TEETH CLENCHED WHEN YOU JUMP. IF YOU STICK OUT YOUR TONGUE, THE SNAP WHEN THE CHUTE OPENS WILL CUT IT OFF. ALSO,” he continued, “BEND YOUR KNEES WHEN YOU HIT OR YOU WILL BREAK A LEG OR FRACTURE YOUR SPINE. AND TRY NOT TO LAND ON ANY OF THOSE CACTUS DOWN THERE. IF YOU DO, YOU’LL BE PULLING SPINES OUT OF YOUR ASS FOR A WEEK. ENJOY YOUR JUMP!”
He gave me a thumbs up.
The aircraft banked to the right then leveled off. The din from the engines subsided. The pilot turned his head towards us and shouted, "THIRTY SECONDS."
The seal in charge shouted, “ON YOUR FEET.”
We all stood.
The seal shouted again, “HOOK UP.”
We all took the “D” ring attached to our chute and clipped it to a wire which ran the length of the plane. Well, almost all of us. My hand was shaking too violently to perform the simple task. The seal behind me, reached out and did it for me, then clapped me on the shoulder, shouting, “YOU’LL BE FINE.”
I’m not sure if it was words of encouragement or an order.
Mr. Sardonic pleaded. “You don’t have to do this you know. Just sit back down. They can’t make you jump.”
Mr. Affable spoke up. “Sorry to disagree but I think they can. Take a look at these guys. Do you think they’re going to let you back out? They’ll simply pick you up and throw you out the door.”
Mr. Sardonic said, “As much as it pains me to agree, you’re right.”
When Sardonic and Affable agree, I’m in real trouble.
Read: A Few of My Favorite Things
The light above the door changed from red to green. The first seal jumped.
We shuffled forward.
Again, a hand on my shoulder.
“DON’T HESITATE. DON’T STOP. JUST KEEP MOVING.”
This time I’m sure it was an order. The next guy jumped.
My feet were now moving independently of my brain. I could picture Sardonic and Affable hugging each other with their eyes squeezed shut, awaiting doom.
There was the door, yawning in front of me.
My knees were arguing with my feet. My bowels were protesting vociferously. My brain had put up an ‘Out of Order’ notice.
Then I stepped out.