Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gettysburg Staff Ride - Day 1

A few months ago, my Army unit decided to conduct a staff ride (think Army leadership field trip) to Gettysburg. This past week was the culmination of all the planning and preparation that went into this trip; it was an amazing trip. This was my fourth staff ride, and without a doubt, the most professional, informative, and overall fun trip I've experienced. I'm going to break the trip up into three separate posts, each covering a day of the trip.
Day 1 was an airborne operation into Pappy Tidwell drop zone near Harrisburg, PA. I'm not going to lie, I totally thought we were jumping into Gettysburg rather than 25 miles to the north. I actually didn't figure that fact out until later, but we'll get to that.
So, yeah, this is my "Happy I get to Jump Today" face (albeit at 6:30 in the morning). We were scheduled to fly to PA around 9:30 am to jump at noon. Anyway, so we board the plane and a l-o-n-g while later we actually take off. I don't know how many of you (I know, there are only two of you out there that read this...) have ever flown on a C-130 aircraft, but this is not a Lear jet. I really don't like flying them, because I always end up getting air sick... which is sad, because I love flying!! Just not in a C-130.

Well, that picture over there to the right is me getting jostled around in the bird as we make the two and a half hour flight... or at least, what I think is going to be a two and a half hour flight. I won't bore you with ALL the details (I know, too late) but between high winds, aircraft malfunctions, and some indecisiveness on the part of some of the jumpmasters, we circled over the drop zone for an additional two hours. By the time I actually got to jump out of the plane, I really didn't care where we were, I just wanted out of the plane!! I spent the last thirty minutes in the bird in the fetal position taking long slow breaths willing myself to not throw up. My only real consolation was everyone else was in the same position.

FINALLY, I get to jump out!!! All I can think about is the fresh air and hitting the ground so I can roll over and pee! (Did I mention I was in the plane for nearly 5 hours??) Then the cross winds hit me, my feet are blown above my head and all I can think about is how in the world am I gonna hit the TINY drop zone below me?? It's so dang small!! I'm now thinking I'm gonna end up on a highway somewhere, when I hear some shouting from behind me. I turn my head to see what's going on and immediately turn back around 'cause I do not want to see what's going on... A parachute is screaming across the drop zone right at me!! I know I'm supposed to turn away from other jumpers, but I have no idea which way to turn or if I even can in time. I yell for him to turn left and I turn right, hoping beyond hope that he does go left... the next thing I feel is what I can only imagine is a parachute canopy sliding across mine... then it was gone. Now, I'm back to trying to hit the ground somewhere near the drop zone and going pee... 'cause now I really have to go! I get all ready to land... hit the ground... (feet, shoulder, head) get my chute collapsed... roll over to take a knee to pee and look up at the female combat camera photographer shooting away!! So much for going pee!!!

By this point, the next pass is jumping out of the plane and I realize things could have been much worse... two of those guys ended up in trees. All told, four jumpers were in the trees and two others missed the drop zone completely! There were no injuries, praise Allah, and by about 3:30 pm everyone, and their chutes, were rescued from the trees.
Anyway, that's the drop zone on the left. It was a beautiful looking place. Actually, every part of PA I saw was beautiful! Rolling green hills, gorgeous fall colors, and breathtaking farm houses and landscapes. After we got everyone gathered up, we took some group photos and loaded up into the vans. Keep mind, up to this point, I think I just jumped into Gettysburg... as we drive away from the drop zone and get on the freeway, I see the sign that says "Gettysburg 25 miles." I was so sad!!! Apparently, you can't actually conduct an airborne operation in Gettysburg National Park... Who knew??!!??

Still, it was a great jump (the jumping part, not so much the getting there part) and definitely not an experience many get to partake in. That night we went to dinner at the Dobbin House Tavern in Gettysburg. Very tasty. Then sleep... I had a very big day the next day!