A Second Chance

There's one thing you never forget about a C-130; the noise. There's five Air Force Crew ... two pilots, a navigator, a flight engineer and a loadmaster. The pilots do what pilots do ... in a C-130 they drive. The navigator tells the pilots where to drive, the engineer is supposed to know how to fix whatever breaks and the loadmaster tells the ground crew where things load and sees to the various tie-downs and nets.

The pilots are failed fighter jocks and they resent it. Generally, the navigator didn't do everything right in flight training or he has some defect ... like glasses ... but he's good with spherical trig. The flight engineer isn't a real engineer ... he doesn't build bridges or set up electrical power stations. They won't let him fuck with chemicals or stuff like that. He watches dials and readouts and the very last thing you want to hear from him is 'Oh Fuck!'

The really important guy is the loadmaster. It is one of the major mysteries of life in the Airforce that the guy responsible for the balance of the load is a Sergeant. If it's not right you will never get a second chance.

Our particular C-130has a cave they call the cargo hold: 40 feet of comfortable luxury. It's tall, 9 feet ... in the middle. The important part about this one is the rear ramp ... the rear ramp is where people leave a perfectly good airplane and trust their lives to a scrap of nylon and a few itty bitty pieces of nylon cord. Dumb people ... Airborne! ... Ooorah! No ... wait ... that's Marines ... Airborne! Hooah!

A full load of airborne is 64 of the dumb-asses.

Even though there's only 12 of us about to take the BIG STEP, the C-130 can carry 45 thousand pounds ... we are a very light load.

The noise I mentioned ... yeah ... up there ... at the top ... comes from four Allison T56-A-15 turboprops, with 4 propellers that are 13.5 feet in diameter ... each propeller tip is exceeding the speed of sound and that is a bunch of noise at 366 miles per hour at 20 thousand feet.

Our C-130 is a 'special.' It's painted flat black, has uprated engines, carries a lot more fuel and will fly just a tick shy of 46 thousand feet ... with all the comforts of home ... if your home happens to be a foxhole.

12 out the door and Kelly ... Jump-master. He says GO! and we do.

Since I know no one can hear me when I shout, we all have nifty throat mikes and an earpiece ... but we are in a place we weren't supposed to be so the radios were off.

I checked the man in front ... I picked him up by his harness and shook him ... hard ... the man behind checked me ... I slapped my guy on the shoulder, he turned and I gave him a thumb. The guy behind slapped me on my shoulder and gave me a thumb. All through the C130 checking and slapping and thumbing was going on. The ramp is down now ... and it's really loud ... and breezy.

No static lines ... this was to be my very last jump ... altitude and free fall. Our breathers were cute ... little oxygen containers about the size of a CO2 cartridge that screwed into the sides of a cute little nose mask. Stupid things looked like huge silver boogers.

Master Sergeant Kelly had a chute but he was tethered to the bay. Sarge wasn't going with us ... no matter how badly he wanted to go. Nope ... Master Sergeant Kelly was going straight to the Stockade for thinking he was smarter than the Army. A real waste of thirty years. I couldn't have stopped it if I wanted to. Kelly didn't know he'd been caught. The arrest would happen on landing.

It was me who caught him ... I was highly disappointed with Kelly. The Provost wasn't sure how long he'd been recycling weapons over the back fence, but it had been a long time. Millions of dollars worth of the latest weaponry had gone missing ... all of it over the fence.

Kelly plugged into my personal com, "Wish I was going with you, Colonel. We been together, what? fifteen years?"

"Pretty close, John. You babysat me through some hairy shit. Remember the time..." And so it went. We reminisced about good ones, bad ones and pure disasters. He, a Sergeant, and me, an officer.

I couldn't help but think how wasteful this was. He was a good man ... except when it came to money ... and horses. And that's where it started. Well ... it was over. I was retiring. Colonel was as far as I was going ... too much blood on my hands for the REMF's. I never was a politician ... not even at the Point.

Yup ... my last jump ... middle of the night ... to a country we had no business in ... doing a mission never that never happened ... by personnel who were already listed as dead ... concluded by a withdrawal to a submersible that was never built. No one was married ... but we had had a string of successes that were legend ... and unheralded.

"Yellow light." Not that anybody announced it ... but we can see.

We all huddled near the ramp. Kelly said, "Colonel ... one of your boogers is loose. Hold on." He fumbled with a box of them, jerked the loose one out ... touched it, really. It was that loose. He screwed a new one past the push point ... I just had to slap it for seven good breaths ... between the two 'boogers' I had fourteen good breaths. Plenty for a drop from forty thousand feet. I only needed the extra breaths to eighteen thousand. After that I could drop unaided to our cord altitude of three thousand.

Kelly looked at the light..."Green" He saluted. As I started over the lip he said, "Stupid shit," jerked his com connect free, and pushed. What on earth did he mean by that?

I let out the breath I had going off the ramp and slapped my 'Booger.' At 25 thousand I expelled my last breath and slapped the second 'booger.'

"David!! Hurry up. You're going to be late!" Shit ... Dad died last night and I had to sing in the school choir. Bus trip to Interlochen, Michigan ... sing our four required ... one sight reading ... and our choir directors pick guaranteed to knock their socks off. In my division I had one sight reading and my chosen solo. I was psyched! The bus was leaving in half an hour.

My mother looked at me ... straightened my tie ... checked my shine on my shoes. "Clean underwear?"

"Yes mother."

"You sure you want to do this."

"Yes mother."


"This is my best chance for a One."

"There's next year."

"No ... Mom ... you have hated me since the day I was born. I'm joining the Navy the day after my birthday. I can't live with you ... Dad was the only protection I had and now he's gone."

She slapped me. I was used to it.

"I'm glad he's gone," she said. "I'm going to Lansing today and buy a new coat. My first new coat in 20 years. I will Not bury him wearing the coat I was wearing when I married him."

She started rambling about books for his Law Library and two hundred dollar shoes and custom tailored suits and hobbies and new cars and sexy secretaries. "He made sure you and your brother had new clothes ... new suits ... while my daughters and I settled for things I sewed. I hate sewing on a treadle." And a lot more. I left. Halfway down the block I heard the Mercury leave.

They wouldn't let me on the bus. Last go-round ... LAST Go-Around? What? I've done this before ... it all came flooding in ... the jump ... Kelly's silver booger.

Mr. Konischnicht, the choir director, came up to me, "David ... you can't go. It wouldn't be right. You need to think about your mother's needs. She's lost her husband ... you need to be there for her."

I can't believe this ... last time, they let me go. I took first place in the baritones ... my name was in the paper ... I got to sing for the governor at the Capital ... I have to go ... last time ... last ... time ... last time the choir took first place in all categories ... I have to go ... go ... go ... the governor put me in for the Point!!. I have to...

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