This year the 82nd Airborne Division is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The 82nd is a great unit, and I learned a lot while serving there. Lessons that have served me well over the years. For a three week period, I plan to share the top three life lessons I learned while serving as an All-American paratrooper in the 82d Airborne Division. Last week I wrote about the first lesson – leaders go out the door first. Below you will find the second lesson.
Lesson two – train until it hurts. The mission of the 82nd Airborne Division is to, within 18 hours of notification, strategically deploy, conduct forcible entry parachute assault and secure key objectives for follow-on military operations in support of U.S. national interests. In other words, the division goes wherever it is needed to deal with the enemies of our country. Simply put – you have to be prepared to deploy anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. You are constantly preparing for war. It is what you do day in, and day out. This short video shows what the 82d does.
I mentioned in my last blog post that my father served in the 82d as an Infantry Lieutenant. When I arrived at Fort Bragg, I did know what I was supposed to do. I was school trained but lacked experience. I had completed the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Ranger School, and Airborne School at Fort Benning and was Jumpmaster certified. I was as prepared as you could be as a young officer but lacked confidence, so I called my dad seeking advice about how to be successful at Fort Bragg. My father emphasized above all else that “if you take care of your troops they will take care of you”. I asked him what is the best thing you can do to take care of troops. His answer was clear – don’t coddle them. Train them hard so that they are prepared for war. You must learn to train until it hurts, and then keep going.
Training became a major emphasis for me. First, I increased my physical training. Paratroopers have to be in shape. Jumping from an airplane can be physically demanding. You must be able to jump with your equipment (which weighs well over 50 pounds with a full combat load) and carry it with you wherever you go after landing. My unit conducted physical training every single morning. We did lots of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, other calisthenics and ran. We ran a lot – miles and miles every week. I worked for one company commander who had the officers perform physical training separate from our troops. At first, I thought it was odd. Shouldn’t we train with our platoons to make sure they were in top physical condition? He said the NCOs would take care of that – he was right. What I learned is that he trained us even harder than the troops. Many mornings we would start a run without knowing how far we would go. He didn’t know either. We simply ran until he got tired…which felt like never. All this physical training worked. I ended up being in the best shape of my life, fully prepared for the physical demands of airborne operations. I did not enjoy the pain of all that physical training, but it was necessary. As this video shows, running is a tradition for everyone in the 82d Airborne Division.
Next, I focused on operational training. We spent a lot of time in the field and performed many airborne operations. It is difficult to simulate what it is like to jump out of a plane fully loaded with equipment, so we practiced on a regular basis. When I served as the Division Assault CP Commo Platoon Leader my platoon jumped a lot – much more than most units. And when we jumped – it was almost always with our combat equipment. Sometimes a unit will jump with only their parachutes, not their field gear. These jumps are referred to as “Hollywood” jumps. They are worthwhile since you are still performing an airborne operation. But, as you would imagine, they are much easier than combat equipment jumps. My platoon jumped with our equipment because I wanted to make sure they could handle the heavy loads we had to carry. The more practice the better was my approach. Occasionally I would hear grumbles from my platoon, but all that training paid big dividends when we performed full-scale airborne operations. My platoon was always prepared and performed magnificently when it counted. As an added bonus I was able to earn my master parachutist wings in less than four years.
I also pushed the envelope when it came to the equipment we used. We would experiment with our gear to try and get the best performance possible. Once I remember that we were having trouble getting a strong connection with our satellite radios on the drop zone, so we decided to jump in a much larger antenna than normal. The larger antenna would not fit into a normal rucksack or equipment bag. We had to pack it inside a Dragon Missile Jump Pack (DMJP). That meant somebody had to jump the DMJP, so several of us went through the special training required to jump this piece of equipment. In case you are not familiar with what the DMJP looks like – there is a pictures below. It is a big piece of equipment, and awkward to jump.
Well, it came time for our next airborne operation and it was decided we would jump the larger antenna. I volunteered to jump the DMJP since leaders go out the door first. Man was that jump an adventure. I immediately went into a rapid spin after exiting the aircraft door. My risers were twisted all the way down to my neck. I bicycle kicked and pulled at my risers to clear the twists. That step seemed to take forever. It was hard for me to tell how high off the ground I was. I decided to go ahead and lower my ruck and then the DMJP to avoid landing with it which would have been painful. When the DMJP reached the end of my lowering line I started oscillating more than normal. Swinging back and forth like a pendulum – not good for landing. I heard my equipment hit the ground and I hit next. Ugly landing – hit like a ton of bricks. Damn that hurt. I stowed my chute, and then humped my way over to our assembly point. The antenna worked well and the operation was successful.
Afterwards several of my troops asked me about the jump. How did it go? I lied and told them that it went fine and the landing did not hurt much. Why would I stretch the truth…because I had been taught to train until it hurts, and then keep going. What can you learn from this lesson? Training counts and makes a big difference. Figure out what kind of training you need to be successful, and then get after it. One final thought – don’t jump the DMJP. It sucks – trust me. All the Way!