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.

1. 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.

2. 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.

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.

3. Confidence calms fears. Jumpmaster are trained to be calm at all times in the aircraft. You 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.

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.

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.

Start off by making your bed

Today marks the first year anniversary of writing this blog. It has been a great experience, and hopefully both of you have learned something from the blog posts. Several people have provided positive feedback about the blog, and indicated they enjoy reading the weekly posts. I plan to keep on blogging, to keep looking for wisdom to pass on, and to discover new topics worthy of discussion. I learn a lot from others, so I will pass along their wisdom to you, rather than just fill the page with my own thoughts. With that in mind, I am going to start the new year off sharing some simple advice from one of America’s great warriors. Admiral William McRaven.

This time of year is graduation season. Celebrities, politicians, scholars, and many others take the graduation stage to dispense advice to high school and college students as they end one chapter of their life, and start a new one. Many graduation speeches are dull – full of cliches and dumb jokes. Occasionally, you will hear one that is excellent. In 2014, Admiral McRaven gave the commencement speech at the University of Texas. It was called 10 Lessons from my Years as a Navy Seal. It is a brilliant speech full of wisdom and insight. Below is a short excerpt from his speech. It is a simple idea, but a powerful one.

Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—rack—that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task—mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs—but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

It may sound trivial, but the act of making your bed every morning helps get the day off on the right foot. I recommend you take up this habit. In case you want to hear the rest of Admiral McRaven’s speech, here is the link to the Youtube video. It is well worth watching.

Each day has its challenges – grind them out

The reality we all face is that each day is full of many different parts, events, activities, and emotions. Some things may go well, others not so well, and some may be horrible. For example, you may do really well on a test in school, but end up with a tough homework assignment that you cannot figure out. It is very rare that I have a day that is either all good, or all difficult. Even days off, and vacation days can have their ups and downs.

Dealing with the good stuff is not hard. Sorting through the crappy stuff can be much more difficult. In fact, it can wear you down. I recommend that you learn how to “grind it out” when faced with something you have to do, and you know may not go well. For example, I . have run many races. It is a rare occurrence that I feel good and run well the entire race. Many times it is not going well at some point in the race and doubt starts to creep in. Questions come to mind like why am I doing this…I should have stayed in bed.

Many times I seriously consider quitting, but then remind myself that I have faced bigger challenges and that I just need to grind out the last few miles. One foot in front of the other, until I reached the finish line. It may result in a horrible finish time, but at least I made it. You know that I play to win, and always want to do my best…but sometimes, just making it to the finish line is the best you can do. That effort alone will pay dividends at a future time. I believe overcoming these small obstacles is critical to achieving big things.

Adversity can strengthen you if you have the will to grind it out.
– Ray Kroc, Founder of McDonalds

Work hard – do not be lazy

I am convinced that hard works pays off.  I have seen some people become successful based solely on their natural talent, or a gift from others- but it doesn’t last.  First, the most rewarding part of the success journey is “the struggle”.  I have learned most of life’s lessons during the tough times when I have struggled towards achieving a goal.  Second, if something is handed to me, it doesn’t mean as much to me as the things I have earned.  Nobody can take these victories away from me.  Lastly, natural talent only gets you so far.  I do not have much natural ability in many things, so I have tried to make up the difference by working harder and smarter than the other guy.  To date, this approach has worked well for me, and I believe will make all the difference for me in the long run.

Proverbs 6: 6-8: Take a lesson from the ant, you who love leisure and ease. Observe how it works, and dare to be just as wise.
It has no boss, no one laying down the law or telling it what to do,
Yet it gathers its food through summer
and takes what it needs from the harvest