30 Seconds: Searchers for the Truest Grit

“All battles are fought by scared men who’d rather be someplace else.”

– Mr. John Wayne (In Harm’s Way)

w heels up…

And yes I am a gambling man–I must be to have my crazy ass aboard this C-130; for at this moment we are moments away from Afghanistan; and we fully intend on jumping down onto Kandahar, securing some old-left over airport abandoned by the Russians, after their failure to defeat who we intended to destroy.

Sixty-four of us are in the back of this large airplane. Sixty-four of us have parachutes strapped to our backs and guns by our sides.  But something told me sixty-four of us were not coming back home on this plane–as my stomach sinks deeply into the depths of my balls…

Those of lesser rank searched for answers, those of greater scanned above our helmets avoiding those questions; for they owned no real answers.  None of us do.

My great mistake was volunteering:  “You never volunteer for anything, private.”  This was my Drill Sergeant’s quality advice and right about now I was realizing its power.  But not all soldiers were paratroopers you see.  Supposedly this honor is reserved for the elite—or the very stupid if anyone was to ask me right now.  Those heeding my Drill Sergeant’s words were driving underneath our path of flight, safe and soundly surrounded by bullet resistant materials along with the comfort that constant contact with the ground brings.  Oh I am envious of the pansies.

Put that hand in a pocket quickly!  You are better than that, man!  Imagine if one of these privates caught a glimpse of my fingers dancing with fear.  I am above that display, or at least my rank advertises so—even if my gut holds insufficient funds.  Newby troops seated across from me need strength.  I do too, and so now is the time for acting—If only for the good of those around me.  No soldier benefits from the timidity that anxiety unfolds.

Even pretending to be a bad-ass has its positive merits.

The metal bird swayed, diving down, back up, and then down again.  This has been the trip so far.  For me however, it could not continue long enough.  I’m serious.  I would pay any price to continue living in this airplane.  Sooner or later the rocking will halt—handing my body off to the clouds—submitting to gravity’s absolutist law. Retreating from pockets, my hands bolted to the straps containing my life saving silk float still thankfully tightly secured to my shoulders.  Check number ten thousand.  Just to make sure.

“Just to make sure” and hope is all that I have right now.  Hope in my country, my army, my friends, and my parachute, which was packed out of my sight and by a faceless Joe.  I had met many of these joes before, and hope was about the last thing I left a conversation with.  Will it open…? I sure as fuck hope so.

Even assured with one hundred percent accuracy, I still had the task of falling safely—all the while dodging the many bullets fired from the enemy I did not know underneath me.  These guys hate me.  Who shoots a guy gliding slowly and without opportunity to fire back?  Afghanistan soldiers or more specifically Al-Queda—that’s who asshole, just as I would do to them, right?  Besides these are not proper thoughts for my current situation.  Anger was needed.  Any possible malice was now being fogged by fear.

Years of training attempted to mold me into a soldier.  A soldier does not fear—a soldier fights.  And to fight, or to fight successfully that is, one must find inner hatred.  None of the wide eyes around me help either.  In fact the exact opposite: those white eyeballs all look awfully  frightened.  All I can hope is that my acting skills are superior to theirs.  My eyebrows scrunched every piece of forehead skin tightly together, forming the meanest, angriest, baddest look my boyish face could produce.

Sixty four soldiers sit in this plane.  And I’m just a nameless number among them… This is no way to go.  Of course the brain-trust residing on Earth’s safety had thrown synonyms of the word valor at me to describe such a death…

Easy for them to say—they understood the mission.  They knew where this bird was heading.  I only know of my part: to jump into the night sky parachuting into the unknown.

Perhaps there is no one below.  Hopefully we caught the Al-Queda at dinner time, or prayer, or something–God–something other than ready–ready for us, ready for me.  My knowledge of the enemy is slim, but I get the impression these guys don’t chill too often…Shit.

Don’t look at them Jason, you idiot! They will see what you are really thinking—they will know your dark secret you fucking fraud—they will snatch that fear right out of your heart and swallow it whole for themselves without knowing. Fear sometimes appears like a disease and I could see it spreading faster than herpes through our unit with HIV like lethality.

This can’t happen though; really it can’t, as the mighty 82nd Airborne Division was the pride of America’s Army.  The “All Americans” as we are so patriotically called, have jumped into every major American battle and dominated all it landed on. So why do I feel so helpless?  Why do I feel so small compared to the faceless enemy awaiting our arrival?  So why do I feel like the guy going up against Rocky?

Those beards.  Those giant wisdom containing beards.  They had huge triumphant, bushy bastards compared to our clean shaven Army-regulation faces.

But now is not the time to let the enemy’s image enter my young mind.  Strength must be found.  Looking around, it was not easy, and this was noticed in the reflection of protective goggles not nearly dark enough.  No one was talking.  The conversation halted immediately once the Jumpmaster made his announcement about ten very fast minutes ago: “fifteen minutes til the drop zone fellas!”  He would be the one to open the hatch, pushing out sixty four of us into the Qandahar night sky.  How could that asshole remain so calm at a bastard time like this?

Vomit was being swallowed back down throats like we were still back at the chow hall.   I could tell by the exaggerated Adam’s apple movement not to mention—the meal I was not enjoying myself.  The metallic bird’s rocking through the clouds only helped us to seconds of the unwanted meals.  Surely death row inmates had it better than us.  My regurgitated meal wasn’t even of real food.  It was an MRE.  An MRE as my last meal—I must have been a real bastard for this.  [Please Google MRE to grasp this concept fully]

“Five minutes!”

Private Jackson could no longer continue the charade.  He unloaded his mouth, spewing brown fluid at his feet.  Two others joined in.  Now I only thought of one thing above all else: how to stay alive.  And the only certain way of reaching such a lofty goal was simple: stay on board, and stay alive.

Sure they could Court Martial me.  Court Martial my ass, I don’t care—at least they serve food, to which I will be alive to eat.  Devising such a strategy did not come readily.  Jumpmasters had two jobs.  One was to quarterback this parachute operation.   The other job ensured all troopers exited the plane—every trooper–by any means necessary.

This is in direct conflict with my plans, and my body’s desperate and natural urge to keep itself filled with blood, powered by a still beating heart.

I have jumped many times before.  This was nothing new, but the added element of Al-Queda solders that violently hate my guts is.  Brand new, man.  Jumping in practice commanded every ounce of strength and courage I could muster, all made exceedingly more difficult by my crippling (and embarrassing)  fear of heights.  The feeling of suddenly dropping, all the while my stomach rising, has haunted me since my younger days of attempted roller coaster riding.

To show this phobia who was in charge, I signed up to jump.  And surely leap after leap into the sky would cure me of this…but…  I was very wrong.  I could never correct this obvious DNA blunder and now I was more likely to die than most populations will ever understand, all while feeling the strong urge to crap my pants.  Jesus.  Not like this, man.

“Two minutes 82nd!”

For the ten thousand and one time my arms led my fingers to the straps securing my parachute to my back.  Just checking again.  I was not the lone obsessive compulsive on board either, I assure you—they are all checking, over and over and over.  I continued to go over everything my training was supposed to have taught me.

Step by step.  My M-16 Alpha 1 rifle was strapped by my side, and I wondered if I could wield it during descent onto the enemy.  I tugged at the straps to loosen their hold. You know, just in case I needed to fire a few off.  This was not allowed as our weapon could fall out our hands, but rules will not ensure my health right now.  I slowly pictured the action in my mind.  One hand on the chute riser, the other on the trigger—John Wayne style.

Old John Wayne!  The Duke.  That image.  It didn’t produce fear.  This picture almost made me smile which has been quite impossible for some time now.  My lips crept up at their respective corners as I watched in my mind –The Duke dive headfirst into battle and rakishly make it out the other side.  He did it with American cool.  He did it with American muscle, and all without the need of a beard.  John Wayne was no bitch at all—he was strength incarnate personified.


“Get ready!”

My knees joined the party.  I can’t control them.  They shake back and forth knocking into each other.  The twisted mind of the Jumpmaster sent his gloved hands to the door—the door leading into the heavens, or possibly hell in this case.  A flurry of wind entered once the door cracked open, jabbing into my face, my knees, and my heart.  Darkness flooded the hull welcomed by the Jumpmaster and his fucking door.  One of the rookies seated across from me added to the MRE after party on the ground.  I feared my disease would not allow me to stand, or without bringing my own stomach fluids to the show. Jesus…God–

“Outboard personnel stand up!”

Joes directly in front of me sharply shot up to their feet.  They stood, but still contained the same glaze inside their eyes.  My heart began to pound with furry because it knew all too well the next command the Jumpmaster would bark.

“Inboard personnel stand up!”

The row I was seated in shot up.  I was amazed to look around finding myself mimicking those next to me.  I had risen too.  Without even thinking; for if I had thought about it, I would still be seated.  All of this was very detrimental to my plan to escape death’s hold.  I can see from where I stand the black of the night sky.  Looking out and down added extreme discomfort to my stomach and sanity—so I stopped.  But beckoned like a child—I had to peak again.  I had to know what was waiting for us below.  The darkness yielded nothing.  Nothing added to my phobia and my head was drunk and dizzy.  Enough of the view for me, my head looked directly up and in front, only to see the eyes of rookie terror waiting to great me.  Jesus, Lord, God.  Please help me through this.  Please scratch this mission.  I will attend every Sunday service with a lifetime subscription, if you can stop this jump from happening.  The blast of air entering our craft covered any possible sound gunfire may be causing on the ground.  I have no clue what is down there, but I know it must be very, very, shitty.  Please Lord.  Hear me.

“Hook up!”

My hands moved themselves, for surely I did not give the order to obey, as they were now fastening my chute to the static line.  The static line was tethered to the plane which pulls out the parachute to be inflated—hopefully.  You never know, especially when holes are littering it from rifles below.  Jesus.  Please.  God.  Help me.  Nothing huh?  No wonder I have never been a believer.  How can I be when every dark hour leaves God speechless.  No one could help me now, except me.  I had to determine my fate—now is the time to complete my plan.  I am not going any-fucking-where man.  I am going to stay alive.

“Check static lines!”

I did.

“Check equipment!”

Now this was getting ridiculous.  The soldier’s line in front of me was hooked properly and I know this because, again without consent from me, my hands found their way to his parachute—to properly inspect his rigging job.  He is–

“Sound off for equipment check!”

–okay!  Every soldier screams out, confirming status to that god-damned Jumpmaster.  “Okay!” Now he was sure to continue.  It seems like this man is really serious about me jumping out of this airplane with a thousand angry ass enemies waiting underneath.   My compliance is only instigating him, I need to stop now!  I am not moving.  Let the politicians buy tickets for this.  General fat cats might lose some of that Army unregulated weight by actually doing some work themselves.  This isn’t for Jones, man.  I’m done.  God please don’t turn that red light green.  Please Jesus don’t turn that damned light green.  Something has to happen right?  It can’t happen like this.  I will be the perfect person if you just let me get out of here.  I promise.

“All okay Jumpmaster!”  The robots surrounding me hollered—as did I.

“One minute!”

We respond by lifting a finger in the air.  My knees buckled.  My heart raced.  Sweat dumped out in vats.  Buckets of fluids swish around inside my skull and belly.  I was both hot and cold, and now questioning how that is even possible.  I extended a finger alright.



“Thirty seconds!”

That army regulation watch on my skinny wrist begged for me to count down.  Only observing the hand’s movements seemed to speed the little bastard’s clockwise turning rotation.  Every second slipped through my futile grip, leaving me forever—never to return.  Tick…Tick…Tick…  God.   Anybody?  Stop this.  Please.

“Stand by!”

The red light affixed to our cabin and next to the Jumpmaster turned a very evil shade of green, or as evil as green can be.

“Green lightGO!”

He screamed with added bass and with a strong palm placed on the parachute of the first trooper.  Out the door the trooper went, helped kindly by the hand of the Jumpmaster.  I had about eight more in front of me which alternated with the other row of soldiers.  Each take about thirty seconds apiece—even without the math skills needed to multiply this, I know it is only a small amount of timing keeping my ass firmly planted inside this airplane.  One after another fell into the night sky.  One after another vanished from my sights and into the enemies’.  Fuck it.  I’m just going to refuse to jump.  They have a name for this kind of thing (a jump refusal, naturally) so I am ready to find out why.  Every single fiber of my soul weighs down my knees to fail, bringing my cowardly conciseness  to the safety of the airplane’s floor.  There I could remain until we land, safely.  Tomorrow I can put up with the results; for today I was going to live—at any cost.  Private Kevins has just exited.  This is very important as I am directly behind private Kevins.  Next in line.  Just then, without notice or invitation a simple thought flooded my brain: what would John-motherfucking-Wayne do?

the end

“Don’t apologize—it’s a sign of weakness.”  – John Wayne (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon)


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