Master your craft – lessons from a Jumpmaster

This week our country celebrated the 73rd anniversary of D-Day. Despite many challenges the invasion was successful and turned the tide of WWII. Many brave men participated in this operation to include multiple US Army Airborne Divisions. Paratroopers actually jumped into France the day before D-day to secure critical roads, bridges, and other strategic objectives. Their bravery, valor, and courage contributed greatly to the success of the invasion.

My first duty assignment as a brand new Army Infantry Officer was with the 82 Airborne Division. My job title was rifle platoon leader, and one of my roles was serving as a Jumpmaster. A Jumpmaster’s job is to make sure all the paratroopers aboard the planes exit the aircraft safely so that they can land and complete their assigned mission. Jumpasters play a critical role in every airborne operation. It is expected that all leaders in the 82d complete Jumpmaster training, and serve in that role. I learned a lot as a Jumpmaster. Below are the top three lessons.

Master your craft

The title Jumpmaster says it all. You are expected to become a master parachutist. Jumpmasters are required to complete intense special training to earn the title. The training includes multiple hands-on tests during which you have to clearly demonstrate you know your stuff. I remember being extremely nervous before one of my exams because so many students did not pass it. Once you complete that training, you are required to serve as a Jumpmaster on a regular basis so that your skills stay current. Over time, Jumpmasters earn special awards (senior parachutist badge, and master parachutist badge) to recognize their expert skills and experience. I think it is important that you master your craft over time. Become the best that you can at whatever it is you decide to do. Don’t be satisfied with just getting by.

Student completing JMPI test while blackhat instructor grades.
A student completing JMPI test while blackhat instructor grades. This test is difficult.

Realistic rehearsals enhance execution

Before every airborne operation Jumpmasters walk everyone that is jumping that day through several realistic rehearsals. The first rehearsal takes the paratroopers through the steps involved when jumping. As the Jumpmaster talks the paratroopers simulate exactly what will happen to them during the jump. The rehearsal also covers things that could happen such as your parachute does not open, or you have to land in the trees. In case you are wondering – tree landings are scary. Next, everyone practices landing…BTW it usually hurts when you land. After that, all jumpers practice “actions in the aircraft” as a group. During this step, you literally rehearse everything that happens in the air on the ground. The reality is that everyone has jumped before, so you are not teaching anything new. Rather, you are practicing as a group so that every jumper knows exactly what they are supposed to do once you get in the air. No one wants any surprises in the aircraft.

Members of the 82 Airborne Division conduct pre-jump rehearsals.
Members of the 82 Airborne Division conduct pre-jump rehearsals.

I have jumped over 50 times, and I can tell you that all these rehearsals work well to enhance execution. On more than one occasion something went wrong in the aircraft, or during the jump. For one operation the Air Force pilots flew along the edge of the drop zone thinking that the wind would blow us over the target. It didn’t. In fact, the opposite happened. Every jumper was forced to land in the trees. After exiting the aircraft, I gave the pilots a middle finger salute thanking them for their incompetence and then executed all the steps required for a successful tree landing. I recommend that you use realistic rehearsals to enhance execution in your own life. Practice every step as realistically as you can. It will pay dividends. I know from my own experience that rehearsing before any presentation is a really good idea. It prevents gremlins from showing up.

Confidence calms fears

JumpmastersĀ are trained to be calm at all times in the aircraft. Your job is to set the example for the jumpers to follow. Jumping out of a perfectly good plane at 800 feet with over 50 pounds of equipment, many times at night, is not a natural act. In case that does not scare you – every piece of equipment used in the operation, to include the plane, was built by the lowest bidder. It makes perfect sense for every jumper to have fear and/or anxiety as you prepare to jump. I know that I was nervous during every jump I ever made.

Jumpmaster giving commands to paratroopers before the door is opened.
Jumpmaster giving commands to paratroopers before the door is opened.

To counter this fear, the Jumpmasters guide the paratroopers through a series of steps using loud and clear commands. The way it works is that the Jumpmaster yells the commands to all the jumpers along with a visual signal. The paratroopers all echo back the command indicating they heard it and then perform the action. These steps are completed so that everyone is ready to jump when the doors open. Once the doors open, the Jumpmaster inspects it and gets the first jumper ready. The pilot will turn on the green light and everyone exits the aircraft. It sounds simple, but it can be scary. Reality definitely hits you when the doors open and the light turns green. No time for fear at that point.

Control your fear

The final lesson to learn from this old Jumpmaster is that it is okay to have fear. What you do with that fear is important. If you master your craft and conduct realistic rehearsals, then you will have the confidence needed to overcome any fear. You will be able to jump when the time comes.

For anyone who is not familiar with airborne operations – this video is a nice summary. All the Way, Airborne!!

If you only have a minute, try this one. It is about Jumpmasters.

Hit the reset button – New York blunder

As you know, this past weekend Gavin and I visited New York City. It was a great trip, and everything was going really well until we arrived at the airport for our trip back home. Once at the airport I noticed that our flight was not listed on the arrival board which seemed strange. I should have stopped there, but we went through security and on to the departure gate. At this point, I could tell something was wrong. Our flight was not listed at the gate, so I checked my ticket. Crap – our flight did not depart at 9 AM…but 9 PM. I made a huge blunder, a really big error. We were at the airport twelve hours early with nothing to do, and no other flights available.

We went to the Top of the Rock. It actually has the best views of Manhattan.
We went to the Top of the Rock. It actually has the best views of Manhattan.

Recovering from a big mistake

What to do next? Gavin and I pondered the situation and we decided to hit the reset button on the day. We trekked back to NYC, found a place to store our luggage, and spent another day exploring NYC. The weather was not great, but we had a good time being tourists. We went to the top of the rock, hung out in Times Square, visited the wax museum, explored Ripley’s, and an array of other attractions. The day was topped off with New York cheesecake at a diner. Not a bad day considering we had not planned any of it beforehand.

Found a great diner which is known for its cheesecake. Delicious.
Found a great diner which is known for its cheesecake. Delicious.

We all need a redo sometimes

As this experience shows – sometimes you have to hit the reset button on a day. The bottom line is that I messed up big time. But, we could recover from it. Rather than spending the day beating myself up over my mistake (Gavin did a nice job reminding me about it), I decided to get on with it and make the most of what was left of the day. The ability to “hit the reset button” is an important skill in life. Many times, you will make stupid mistakes, or have things not go your way. It is easy to get really upset about the situation, and even pout about it. But, a more mature response, is to get over it, and then get on with it. You will be amazed at what will happen when you hit the reset button – you will meet new people, see new places, and gain new experiences.

Gavin in Washington Square Park with the Empire State Building in the background.
Gavin in Washington Square Park with the Empire State Building in the background.

Keep this lesson in mind the next time you travel, and things take a turn for the worse. I have traveled a fair bit, and trust me, these kind of things happen. Flights are delayed, and your plans will need to change. Hopefully, I will avoid making this kind of big blunder again. But, if it does, I know what I will do. Hit the reset button, and start all over again.

Standing in the middle of nowhere,
Wondering how to begin.
Lost between tomorrow and yesterday,
Between now and then.

And now we’re back where we started,
Here we go round again.
Day after day I get up and I say
I better do it again
– Do It Again by the Kinks