Jeff was sitting on the floor with his knees pulled up under his chin, his arms folded across them and his head resting on his arms. He was going through all the usual thoughts and emotions as he sat waiting in anticipation of what was coming. As usual there was some fear, but this time the fear was completely unique.
Normally about this time in the routine he would be worried about screwing up in front of his peers by making a bad maneuver and looking like a fool. Only this time there was no one here to see if he screwed up or not. As a matter of fact there would be few if any maneuvers.
It had been a little less than a year since Sergeant Jeffery Barkil had successfully completed his Ranger training at Fort Benning. That’s when the suits had shown up and said they needed his help in defending God, Country and Mom against the communist aggressor.
When he accepted their invitation, they shipped him to Ft. Sherman in Panama for three weeks of Jungle Warfare School where he earned the Jungle Warfare Expert Badge. When he returned from Panama he was sent for six months of their special training at Ft. Bragg.
This would be his first Special OP and they had him going in alone. They told him it should be “a walk in the park”.
He would be using the Army’s new experimental insertion method, called the HALO jump which was the acronym for High Altitude, Low Opening. This simply meant he was going to fall out of the airplane at around twenty thousand feet and freefall a little over nineteen thousand feet before opening his parachute. It would be a jungle landing, in the dark, just before sun rise.
He would then find and identify the target from the pictures he had memorized. After neutralizing the target, he would walk some thirty miles through the jungle back to the border to the rendezvous point.
Piece of cake, what could possibly go wrong? He had thought sarcastically.
It was the fall of 1958 somewhere over Southeast Asia. The plane was an L20A, the army called them Beavers. The seats had been removed except for the ones used by the Pilot and Navigator.
Jeff was sitting on the floor behind the pilot, leaning against the outer wall of the plane, lost in thought. Damn, I hope this navigator knows what he’s doing. What happens if I freeze when he says, Go? Why didn’t I just say no when the “suits” showed up and stay with the division rifle team? That had been sweet duty.
“Okay, Barkil you signed on…you’re here…do it right…Airborne!” He said to himself.
They had been flying for just over an hour and a half. If they had flown straight in, it would have only taken about forty-five minutes but they had climbed to nearly twenty thousand feet before crossing the border and the Beaver wasn’t the fastest aircraft at gaining altitude.
The three men had been on oxygen since passing twelve thousand feet. Jeff would also jump with a small oxygen bottle taped to his harness that would be good for about five minutes. Less than one of those minutes would be needed to freefall back under twelve thousand feet.
The Copilot got Jeff’s attention and signaled they were about ten minutes out, Jeff began his equipment check again.
He rechecked his chute, put it on and cinched up the harness. He was jumping an old twenty eight foot Navy emergency chute that had been modified to convert it to what was called a seven-gore TU, the same as he used for sport jumping with the Post Skydiving Team. By removing two panels almost entirely and partially removing others in doing the modification it allowed the parachute to be steered. The parachute canopy had been dyed black so it would be less conspicuous in the night sky. He had the standard twenty-four foot reserve chute that he snapped to the harness D rings at his chest.
Jeff checked the altimeter that was fastened to the top of the reserve by the pack opening bands. It registered a hair under twenty thousand feet.
He was good to go.
Jeff tapped the navigator on the back of his helmet and gave him a thumb’s up sign to let him know he was ready, then knelt in the doorway. The door had been removed and left at the airfield.
After a quick glance out the door, he put all of his attention on the navigator who gave him the signal for two minutes…one minute…thirty seconds. Jeff jerked off the planes oxygen mask and slipped on the one from the bottle on his harness and cracked it open.
He felt the plane slow as the pilot cut the engine. The navigator pumped his fist and yelled, “Go!” Jeff literally fell out of the aircraft door, tumbled end over end twice then flared out so he was falling flat, facing the earth. The wind tore at his clothes and brought tears to his eyes even through his goggles. He squinted trying to make out anything in the deep, dark night. He couldn’t believe how black it was, the only light came from the luminous glow of the dial on his altimeter.
All the fear and anticipation were gone, this was the fun part. He was where he loved to be, doing what he loved to do, freefalling.