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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

My Journey: Seconds From Death

By Chaplain Eddie W. Cook
Nov. 13, 2011

The airborne operation began in normal fashion, and I anticipated getting several jumps in during our jump week. Serving as chaplain of the 173d Airborne Brigade combat team, jumping affords incredible ministry opportunities with our paratroopers.

I was about to make my 87th jump, and looked forward to making some progress toward number 100. We finished pre-jump operations and manifest call at Camp Ederle in Vicenza, Italy. Then we bussed two hours north to Aviano Air Force Base, where we would conduct the airborne operation on our drop zone.

We were a bit delayed due to the Secretary of the Air Force being on site, which shut down all air traffic until late in the afternoon. This gave me ample time for prayers and ministry to our task force waiting for clearance to load the aircraft. We were jumping a C-17 aircraft, with two C-130s in trail.

It was hot and we were jumping combat equipment with full gear. There was a lot of anxiety on the plane, as this was the first combat equipment jump with follow-on mission that our unit had conducted in almost two years.

We were just now getting the aircraft and training opportunities to regain airborne proficiency. There were also many jumpers on my plane fresh out of airborne school.

I felt a true sense of peace as we took off. I like to convey this to the other jumpers, whether I feel this way or not. We had a rather short route to the drop zone since we were delayed by the Secretary’s visit. The jumpmaster’s commands went as normal: “20 minutes … 10 minutes ... Get ready ... Stand up ... Hook up ... Check static lines ... Check equipment ... Sound off for equipment check … Stand by ... Go!”

I handed off my static line, then stepped out of the door and off the jump platform as I had done many times before. I counted the normal four-second count and felt my parachute open as it should. Then, as I looked up to check my canopy, I saw another paratrooper drifting through my suspension lines. I yelled at him to weave his way back out, but he became hopelessly entangled. I will call him Private Cane, which is not his real name. He was from 1st Battalion, 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment, and it was his first jump in the unit and his sixth from airborne school.

I yelled at him to climb down to me so we could control the parachutes from our main lift webs. Unfortunately, his inexperience left him stuck in my suspension lines and collapsing the right side of my parachute.

I had to make a quick decision whether to pull my reserve or try to get my parachute out from under Private Cane’s chute. I chose the latter, and pulled what is called a hard one-riser slip. (A “riser” refers to one of four straps used in controlling the motion of the parachute.) This procedure is done in order to move oneself in a particular direction.

The T-10C parachutes we were using are referred to as “ground darts” because their intent is to get paratroopers to the ground quickly so as to lessen the time in the air — and therefore the chances of getting shot. They are not very maneuverable or responsive. We jumped at 750 feet, which does not afford much time to recover from malfunctions.

My parachute began to move in the opposite direction, but Private Cane’s parachute began to collapse as mine was “stealing” his air. We were falling fast. I had to react quickly. I also prayed quickly: “God help us get our chutes open.”

I still had some time and I did not want to open my reserve. If the reserve wrapped around our suspension lines, we could die. So, I continued pulling the one riser slip. I was reaching up far past my riser into the suspension lines connecting my front left riser to the left lobe of my parachute. This action was closing the left side of my parachute, even as the ground was getting closer.

Finally, Private Cane popped out of my risers, although our parachutes were still tangled together. My parachute moved far enough for his to open and I began to let out my one-riser slip. At this point I looked down and we slammed into the ground. We were alive.

Private Cane fared better than I, bouncing off the ground like a football. I, however, had injured my back on a previous jump. This landing reinjured my hip and back, but I praise God that we survived.

As I later thought about the collision, I asked God why it happened and why I was hurt again. I felt in my spirit that if Cane had collided with someone else, the outcome could have been much more dire.

Our God is a healing God, and He saved both our lives on Drop Zone Juliet. Cane actually made another jump the following day, in between his chaplain and chaplain assistant. His jump went well that day. The guys still joke with him about trying to kill the brigade chaplain.

God is good, all the time, and by His grace we live to jump another day.

Chaplain Eddie W. Cook is an ordained Assemblies of God minister.

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