The whining piercing sound of hydraulics introduce you to the sounds of a military MC-130 cargo aircraft. Inside the aircraft, a red light illuminates leaving you to squint to get acclimated to the darkness. A highly skilled team of aviators flies this plane into a predetermined mission somewhere classified.
The letter M in MC-130 means modified C-130. The Air Force literally tore everything out of this aircraft and replaced with after market equipment to include powerful radar enabling the plane to fly low to the ground throughout bad weather and complex terrain.
When flying this aggressively and filled with military special operations warriors, at the last-minute the plane will rise upwards towards the night sky. At a slow ascent, the aircraft interior is filled with bottles of pure oxygen. These heavy green steel and aluminum bottles allow everyone on board to get acclimated to the lack of oxygen. For much of the flight so low to the ground, you feel violence from the plane hitting turbulence. No different from flying on an airliner as it hits bad weather. The entire flight will be like this until the aircraft climbs to more stable air. For at least thirty minutes until the plane reaches 30,000 feet, the team of military free fall parachutists takes in the oxygen.
Each man weighs on average 170 lbs. They carry over 120 lbs of weapons, ammunition, radios, survival gear and miniature oxygen bottles with approximately five minutes of oxygen. Appearing like Darth Vader, each man wears a full oxygen mask that fills with moisture fogging the lenses until the cold air cools down the body eventually clearing up. Oxygen jumps in the middle of the night while you carry full equipment is the most stressful parachute jump. It’s bad enough one is jumping throwing themselves out of an aircraft to fall for two minutes in free fall and ten minutes under a parachute canopy. To add extra variables like oxygen equipment, weapons and ammunition makes for a more challenging and stressful task. No matter how well trained, do not believe anyone who says it is not stressful. Like anything else special operations do, dangerous operations never lose the anxiety. The more you train, the more numb you become until you learn how to manage stress. After each powerful event like night military free fall, one’s body fills with so much adrenaline, they feel more alive and aware. This is why people become addicted to the action.
When the aircraft arrives minutes from the release point and green light (Go signal), the ramp opens and lowers. This action sucks out all remaining oxygen forcing a rush of chilling cold air back into the plane. The cold air forces your body to shutter as your temperature shifts from sweat and heat to freezing. This is why you wear layers of clothes. The Jump master (Team leader) orders all jumpers to disconnect from the oxygen bottles and stand up. All twelve men rise at the same time, yank the oxygen tubes off their bodies and start breathing off miniature bottles with three to five minutes of oxygen. Proceeding to check each other’s equipment, the team is two minutes from release. At this point, the jump master orders everyone to walk towards the rear ramp.
The mission is to get the team into hostile territory avoiding any anti-aircraft threats. Inside the aircraft sits a radar operator and other professionals. The radar operator monitors the aircraft’s position relative to threats on the ground. The “magician” uses innovative tools to perform magic that will protect your team.
The entire team are a group of professional warriors trained on average for six to eight years in the art of warfare (2 yrs of selection and initial training – 4 to six years of team time). The team’s mission is to arrive at a specific point in the sky over a target area. At 30,000 feet well above the earth free from noise on the earth. As seen from the ground up, the team silently jumps from this aircraft and fall at over 125 mph for 25,000 feet or two minutes of free fall.
The very action of standing on the ramp, looking at the ground below is an unnatural action. You can tell by the subtle hesitation where every man slightly pulls back contemplating the action. Deciding, he makes his choice to commit finally stepping forward saying the words “Fuck it.” As a team, each jumper proceeds to jump off the ramp disappearing below into the black darkness. Shifting from the safety of the aircraft transitioning into free fall towards the earth finds yourself overcome by a constant rushing noise overwhelming you.
At this point, if you ever see or anyone ever tells you that people can talk to each other in free fall, they have no clue what they are talking about. They are either lying to you or they are posers or wannabees wishing they could jump. Just ignore them, they are compensating for not having the guts. Or, we could be the idiots for jumping and they are sane, sound even logical.
Together the team will fly in mid free fall. Falling at such a fierce rate, you nearly float on a bubble of air. The air flies by your body so fast, the smallest movement of hands or feet will force your body to shoot backwards or forwards away from the team. Falling so fast, the team are trained to move their hands, arms and feet as if they were rudders on an aircraft. Together they maneuver in the pitch black darkness heading downwards towards their objective. At 5,500 feet each member of the team twists their hands to force the bodies to turn 180 degrees away from the team. At the same time, the team breaks apart in free fall to separate from each other. At 4,500 feet each man waves his hands as a safety signal to those above them that they are about to rip open their parachutes.
At 3,500 each man reaches towards his chest and pulls the rip cord unleashing a powerful explosion of action. The moment the parachute releases a spring ignites the parachute where the air fills the canopy until it fully forms and pops. Simultaneously, the body violently jerks forcing your head to flip downwards. Instantly the parachute is fully inflated shifting the body from 125 mph to falling at 20 feet per second. The most feared event is performing this action while your balls pinch inside your parachute harness. That jerking motion can instantly pinch your privates forcing you to cry out loud like a child hitting their fingers with a hammer.
Leaving you to float at 2,500 feet, the parachute becomes like a vehicle flying in the air leading you towards the objective. Below you see the earth spread all around you for miles and miles. Every feature appears like a painted picture too surreal to comprehend. The earth spreads so wide there is no sense of falling. While under the parachute canopy, the wind blows against your face and body peacefully relaxing you. Your heart rate still pounds until your head and ears take the brunt of the action.
You remove the oxygen mask to find pure fresh air to breathe. The oxygen floods in throughout your body forcing your vision to change where your eyes change to dilate. This enables you to see farther with clarity. Flapping in the wind, the parachute performs its duty lowering the jumpers to the ground. You search all around for the rest of the team. If performed correctly and as trained, the entire team fly at the same altitude +/- 1200 feet above the earth. You search for the low man below you and follow him. That jumper proceeds to lead the team falling towards the objective. Making sure there are no teammates below you, you reach your hand down near your knees and find the rip cord for the 75lb ruck sack (back pack) held between your knees. Pulling the rip cord, the ruck, attached to a 15 foot nylon rope falls towards the ground until it catches and holds below you. This action releases more tension enabling you to concentrate.
Navigating in the darkness of night is extremely challenging. The priority in this case is to keep the team together. Flying in a wide circle each man descends heading towards the target. Watching the low man hit the ground, you sense you too are approaching earth. Keeping your eyes forward you notice the terrain and figures of trees and buildings giving you the sense of falling. A signal you are about to hit the ground. At the last second you pull down on the toggles forcing the parachute to squeeze inward collecting more air. This action results in the parachute pulling the jumper upwards slowing the fall enabling the jumper to slowly hit the ground. That’s the moment you thank God. Thanking him that you survived. The mission has only just begun.