Summary: This sermon encourages people not to be desensitized to even the smallest deviant steps.
INTRODUCTION: It is rare that bad times fall on us without some indication they are approaching. The medical profession uses the term ‘acute’ to describe an illness that attacks suddenly and without apparent warning. Acute situations are rare, but because they come while we are not prepared the consequences often seem worse than had we been warned.
Too often we suffer the consequences of bad decisions, choices or intentions with this same dynamic. We simple don’t see it coming. But in most cases, if we look objectively at the situation, we can see signs that things are developing poorly.
In 1985 the National Guard unit I was serving in college experienced one of these acute attacks of stupidity. Now before I tell this I want you to know the difference between a war story and a fairy tale. A fairy tale starts off once upon a time, and a war story starts off now, this aint no lie.’’ Anyway this is how I remember the downward spiral we experienced that weekend.
“We weren’t originally scheduled to jump that weekend, but two C-130s from another state’s reserve wing were at our airbase with 3 hours of free time. Fixed wing air time is as hard to get as extra parachutes, but some how our headquarters had managed to get both that weekend. So we scratched our training plans for the drill and scrambled out to the airfield to climb aboard the planes to practice an inflight rigging and day jump. Let me explain just how good that sounds to a paratrooper. Normally you get up at 3am to go to a jump briefing, manifest call and prejump training so you can chute up as much as three hours before getting on the plane. Nothing about process is comfortable or enjoyable. By the time they open the aircraft door you’ll do anything to get out of the harness. Going out the door at 1500 feet is no deterrent after being in the harness so long.
That’s what made this jump sound so appealing, we were going to load the aircraft late morning, put our chutes on about 30 minutes before drop time and be done and back at the hangar before night fall. Man, that sounded too good to be true … and it was.
1) The were was a good reason those planes were in for maintenance checks. Their unit had lost three planes in the last year and they were at our hangar to determine why. They didn’t find anything wrong and scheduled them to return early, giving us an opportunity to get some air time. I think if any of us had known why this unscheduled air time was so easy to get we wouldn’t have been so quick to sign up for the jump.
2) Special Forces supply sergeants are notorious for coming up with the best stuff at the last minute so it didn’t surprise any of us when they were able locate chutes from another unit whose jump had been canceled. They drove all night to get the chutes, and got their just in time to load them on the plane before we were scheduled to take off. The only thing is, they weren’t the standard chute. They were post WWII chutes we called dinosaur skins. You can’t steer those chutes, the best you can do is turn into the wind and slow down your forward momentum. You should have seen the look on my Team Leader’s face when they loaded those old chutes on the plane.
3) Everyone starts getting real nervous about the jump now. We called it “bad ju ju”… after the old black and white Tarzan series. Scrambling around changing things at the last minute puts you at edge anyway and most of us had figured out their was something fishy about how fast we got loaded on the planes. They loaded the chutes, shut the doors and powered up for take off. (pause) Then someone says it. You know what I mean. Someone finally says what everyone is thinking. “Man, I got a bad feeling about this.” It’s ok think stuff like when things get risky, but you can’t actually say it. If you say it, its makes it come true. Its like the people your Mother doesn’t want to talk to in the restaurant. “quit pointing, its rude … and don’t look at them” “but mom that‘s …!” “shh” pow
Anyway, after its said you can’t take it back … and wouldn‘t you know it, the engines powered down real fast and spooky like. I’m telling you guys were popping up like daisies, unbuckling, and standing up and heading for the door.
To fast forward a little. They scratched the planes and we headed back for the hangar thinking the jump was canceled. But no, the Operations Shed had found a helicopter to jump from. But that meant only 8 could jump and they would have to use the very small field between the Armory and the run way, because we could no longer have the airspace over the big drop zone we were planning to use.