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BALLARD: How I became a paratrooper

PAULETTE BALLARD
Guest Columnist

James David Williams told me he will never forget becoming a paratrooper while he was in the Air Force from 1973-1977. He said he did his basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina then trained at Fort Benning in Georgia, where the jump school training was held.
He said his first jump was amazing after he stopped screaming and settled down to enjoy the view and the ride.
The cargo plane he was in consisted of men at various levels of their jump status. The plane would reach about 6,000 feet and the men doing their third or fourth jump went first.
Next came the first-timers and they couldn’t pause or change their minds because the jumpers behind them just pushed them out of the plane. Williams said his parachute automatically opened and after that all he had to do was look around to make sure he wasn’t too close to another jumper, trees or lines.
By holding onto the risers (the cords on the right and left side of the canopy) he could tilt one side to release some of the air in it and he could drift in a different direction if he needed to.
Landing was the worst part for a jumper.
He said he was taught to brace his feet together, slightly bend his knees, crouch, land and roll.
He would then expend the remaining air in the canopy, roll the chute up and wait for the truck that would retrieve the jumpers. He had to complete five successful jumps before his badge was issued. He had to perform approximately two jumps per week. This was a requirement for the seasoned jumpers to keep their certification.
I asked Mr. Williams if he misses the thrill of jumping and he said that sometimes he does.

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