Fort Benning Georgia, November 19th 1976, three days before my 19th birthday, I was “Chuted up” and sitting on board a C123 Provider Aircraft as it taxied out of the loading area for takeoff. I was the 2nd man in a “stick” of ten jumpers who were embarking on their first jump at the U.S. Army Parachute School. The 123 lifted off and the pilots swung the aircraft wide of the drop zone then came about and lined up with the Target area (DZ) for the Drop.
I had been watching the open Jump door as we took off and was waiting for the red light to come on above the door which indicated that we were approaching the Drop zone, suddenly the light flashed Red and a split second later, using hand and arm signals and a loud and thunderous voice, I heard the Jump Master shout “six minutes” and throw up six fingers, followed almost immediately by “Get ready”, with that, all of us student jumpers unbuckled our safety belts and waited for the next command.
“Outboard personnel stand up!”, I watched my fellow students and comrades in arms stagger to their feet under the awkward weight of the parachutes and harness, then brace themselves. “Inboard personnel stand up!” with that command my good buddy Richard I. Parker slapped me on the arm, gave me a sideways look, and we stood up, as I said earlier that I was to be the 2nd man in the stick out the door buy Richard was to be the first.
I don’t know how it worked but Richard and I went through Basic training, Infantry school and Jump school together. If we had wanted to do it the Army would have said no. I first met Him at the Military processing center in Chicago and like Forest Gump both of us just followed orders and that seemed to work out pretty good.
After a brief moment the Jump Master yelled and signaled “Hook Up!”, with that command we attached our static lines to the anchor line cable that runs the entire length of the aircraft, snapped it shut and placed the safety wire in the proper receptacle.
“Check static lines” we all checked our own static line and glanced at our buddies to make sure all was correct. “Check equipment” I did a quick check of my gear as I had been taught by the “Black hats” , canopy release assemblies, reserve chute, harness release, etc. then made a check of Richards gear , static line, parachute pack then, we all looked at the jump Master and waited for the next command.
“Sound off for equipment check” with that command the last man pushing the stick shouted 10 OK!, followed by all of the others down the line 9 OK!, 8 OK!, 7 OK!, 6 OK!, 5 OK!, 4 OK!, 3 OK!, Then Me, 2 OK!, followed by Richard, All OK!
“Stand in the Door”, Parker slid his static line out to the jump Master and took up a perfect door position as we had been taught over the past three weeks of this course. I watched with anticipation for the green light above the jump door to come on, signaling that we were over the DZ. Even after 35 years I can still vividly see the ground 1,250 feet below as it flew by and the sight of my then best buddy standing in the door waiting to execute his first ever parachute jump.
In a flash the green light came on and I heard the jump master shout “GO!”, and watched him slap Parker on the leg, my friend exited the 123 and I saw him tuck into a perfect body position and he seemed to hang there for a second, then he was gone!
I cannot remember sliding my static line down the cable or handing it to the Jump master but I do remember taking up a door position and leaping out of my first war bird in flight after I felt the slap on my leg and heard the “GO!”
Being a bit of a smartass for most of my life up to that point, I had made up my mind to shout Geronimo!!! As I made my first jump, I did in fact shout the name of that famous Apace warrior but it was drowned out by the sound of the rushing wind, and the Aircraft.
I tucked into a perfect body position and counted “One thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four thousand” and waited for the opening of my T10 parachute canopy. In the 4 seconds it takes your ‘Chute to open you fall approximately 250 feet through the air. Once open you need to check your canopy for malfunctions, tears, holes, twists (Mae West) etc.
After my T10 opened I had around 1000 feet of air and the rest of my fellow Airborne students to negotiate, Even in my excitement, I remembered to “pull a slip” on my risers in the opposite direction of drift to minimize my landing shock, I saw the ground rapidly approaching and got ready to perform a parachute landing fall (PLF) using my 4 points of contact, balls of the feet, calf muscles, thigh, and back muscles. I hit the ground in a near perfect PLF, rolled, got up and ran into then around my canopy to collapse it.
Woohoo! Airborne!, Private Tom Moore AKA “Tomahawk”, roster number 62 had just completed his first parachute jump from a military aircraft in flight and survived. I pulled the release pin on the harness release assemble and shed that burden then, rolled up my canopy and packed it into the aviators kit bag along with the harness. Next as instructed, I attached my reserve ‘Chute to the handles of the Kit bag, threw it over my head and then took off at a double time to the rally point.
I looked for my buddy at the rally point and saw him standing in line at the parachute turn in point, grinning like the Cheshire cat of Alice in Wonderland fame. After I turned in my gear, I jogged over to see my buddy, we shook hands and slapped each other on the back for a job well done, followed by some good natured ribbing by our fellow students and comrades in arms.
And so it went for 4 more jumps to earn the Silver Wings of a U. S. Army paratrooper, It was a fine day for this young soldier as one of my instructors pinned the wings on my chest, as I’m sure it was for all of the others.
My Army career next took me to Fort Bragg, North Carolina where I was a member of Scout platoon 2/505th Infantry before going to Germany where I served in the 11th Aviation group pathfinder Platoon. During my time in the Army I had the opportunity to earn parachute wings from France, Germany, and Holland and to attend the U.S Army parachute riggers school at Fort Lee, Virginia. In total I made 49 parachute jumps from planes and helicopters.
I never really liked making jumps and would never do it as a sport like the sky divers do. It was the extra money and the adventure which drew me to it.