This past summer, I attended Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning, Ga. BAC is a three-week course where service members from all branches attend to become qualified in successfully exiting an aircraft and landing on the ground, minimizing any injuries. The first two weeks are a training phase where BAC students learn how to properly exit an aircraft, conduct a parachute landing fall, use the main and reserve parachutes and prepare for emergency landings. Jump week is the culminating week where students must successfully conduct five jumps from an aircraft. From my five jumps, I was able to remind myself of key takeaways that have affected my career at the University of Michigan.
Jumping into the unknown — When you’re inside the aircraft, be it a C-130 or C-17, you typically aren’t the first person to jump out of it. The advantage of being the first person to jump out of the aircraft is that you can observe the drop zone prior to jumping out of the door and thus has a clear view of what you are jumping into. In my experience, I was typically placed in the middle or the rear of the line in performing mass-exit jumps. Here you can only see the people in front and behind you. Once the jumpmaster signals “Green light, GO,” you have no choice but to move forward and jump without hesitation into the abyss.
Tying this in with my experience at the University, I’ve encountered brief moments of turbulence, and I was unsure about the decisions I ought to make because the consequences were unforeseeable. Personally, I’ve had better experience jumping right into actions than second-guessing myself, because even though I may not have the most ideal patch of grass to land on, at least I can enjoy the ride on the way down.
Hard Landings — After exiting the aircraft, you experience a brief gust of air that blows your body parallel to and away from the aircraft, prior to the deployment of your main parachute. After your main parachute deploys, you inspect the canopy for any rips or tears and gain canopy control. During your descent, you maintain situational awareness of your position relative to your fellow jumpers to prevent any accidental collisions.
At 200 feet, you pull down and hold onto your risers in the opposite direction of your drift to ease your descent prior to landing on the ground. For my first jump, I hit the ground HARD. Contrary to executing a proper PLF on all five points of contact, I landed on the balls of my feet, glutes and upper back on a hard dirt road. Even though I acted on the training I received to the best of my ability, I still managed to eat dirt.
Likewise, at the University there’s going to be that one problem set, quiz or exam that you spent hours preparing for. You frequently attended office hours and study group sessions and reviewed every past assignment, but your best still wasn’t good enough to do well on that exam. This happened to me after receiving terrible marks for my first midterm in NERS 311. Nevertheless, I picked myself up, reflected on what went wrong, and readjusted my method of action which eventually improved my performance in NERS 311 and my PLFs in further jumps.
Pulling your Reserve – During my last jump, I pulled my reserve parachute when I was about 200 feet above the ground because my main parachute had some serious twists and I thought I was falling at a rate faster than my fellow jumpers. I was attempting to undo the twists in my parachute by trying to separate the risers while doing bicycle kicks in the air. Due to my limited depth perception, I believed myself to be falling at a faster rate than usual, so I panicked and pulled my reserve parachute to prepare for the worst. After I pulled my reserve, my main parachute untwisted and reflated so my reserve parachute flew up and wrapped around me during my descent to the ground.
The reserve parachute’s failure to inflate was an indication that I did not need it to land safely. By the time I landed, I was berated for using the reserve in a non-life-threatening situation. However, I did what I was trained to do in pulling my reserve when I felt that my life was at risk.
So, at the University, don’t be afraid to use the resources available to you to ask for help. This can be tied to almost anything at the University — be it academics, social life, mental health, etc. If you don’t understand what your professor went over in class, address and resolve the situation as soon as you can instead of putting it off until the last moment. Even if the situation doesn't exhibit any present treachery at the moment, it is better to deploy your reserve parachute 200 feet above ground than 70 feet if and when your main parachute fails.
Kevin Liu is a senior majoring in nuclear engineering and radiological sciences and an ROTC cadet.