Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Soldier's Bird's Eye View from Outside the Plane

Yom chamishi, 23 Shevat 5772.

This is a long post, but worth the read if you've ever wondered what it feels like to fall from the sky.  Yeshiva Bochur (aka "Sage," aka Exiled Warrior) writes beautifully, from the heart.  Share his adventure.

"The more fears one overcomes, the more alive he becomes." - Sage 
I have recently had the unique opportunity to parachute from a plane at 400 meters as part of my military service in the Israeli Airborne Division (חטיבת הצנחנים). 

At the request of my mother, and for the sake of not losing those precious moments beneath the sands of time, I will attempt to describe the indescribable.

The hour is 12:00 noon when you arrive at the runway. They have already canceled so many jumps that you don’t even feel any anticipation. You strap on the large parachute, close the clips and tighten the straps. You now wait to be checked by one of the instructors. A few minutes go by; he checks you; you sit and wait for the plane.

Pre-flight confidence:  "Everyone's brave while he's on the ground."

12:45 – Still nothing. You start to wonder what it will be like. People around you are guessing and telling rumors of what they have heard. Some are afraid, some are excited. You start to pray. Not out of fear, but out realization of how much we depend on His protection.

13:30 – You start to doze off. The soldier next to you is already saying how he is positive they've canceled another jump. By this point you just want to do something.

13:45 – Suddenly, the first plane appears, and with it, a large wave of reality. You are set to be on the next plane. Is this really going to happen? You watch the first group march into the unknown, and your heart starts to beat a little faster. The plane takes off; and it is quiet again on the runway. But everyone is awake. Preparing himself.

14:00 – The plane – your plane –- arrives. The instructor, with a smirk on his face, tells everyone to rise and begin to march. You start to walk slowly, staring at the helmet of the soldier in front of you. Someone puts a hand on your shoulder. You turn around, it’s your friend from your barracks. He smiles at you, and you both raise your eyebrows as if to say: "What the hell, let’s do this." Just seeing him comforts you.

Before you know it, you’re entering the plane. Your eyes dart from place to place. It looks the same as the one on the video; but in a way it looks completely different. Time stops. 

Your mind is focused. The thought of what you are about to do, the danger, the fear, the uncertainty, stay concreted in your brain.

You sit. Another person sits across from you. You have never seen him before; but suddenly, he is your best friend. You look at each other. You see he is sweating. You tell him, uncertainly, that it'll all be fine. He mumbles something; it doesn’t matter what, and you smile at him. You are in this together and you can feel it. You pull out the תפילת הדרך לצניחה (the Wayfarer’s Prayer for a safe jump). You recite it. You look up at your new friend, and hand it to him. The prayer is handed from soldier to soldier, each connecting in his own way. It’s the last time you see that little piece of paper.

The plane starts down the runway. You feel the wheels churning and the powerful engine working, kicking into full gear. Guys begin to sing and shout. You join in. It helps.

The plane lifts off. You have left the security of the ground. Higher, higher, higher... You are given the command to stand. You are the third in line. By this point, you have to stop worrying: there is no time for that now. You focus. You know what you have to do. You trained for a week for this very moment.

The doors open. The wind rushes in. You can see the ground below. You close your eyes, but then almost immediately reopen them. This is it. You’re going to jump. The red light is on. The first guy in line steps up to the door. He is stricken with fear. Everyone waits for the green light, giving us the go ahead. You stare at the red light. It stares back at you as if with an evil grin.

Green light. You hear the instructor tell the first one to jump, and he is gone. The second is at the door; and then he, too, vanishes. It’s your turn. You were told that by this point your brain would shut off. It hasn't. You move quickly to the door, pushing away fear.

"Jump!" You feel the slap on your back. As if in a dream, you are transported into open space. You don’t remember jumping; it’s more like you just appeared there. The world is flying around you. Your body is being hurled about at the will of the wind. You count: "Twenty one, twenty two, twenty three." You feel a jerk, and everything stops.

You look up. Your parachute has caught wind and hangs above you peacefully. You laugh. Not a simple laugh. A deep-rooted laughter comes pouring forth from your very soul. Laughter of salvation. From darkness to light, chaos to redemption.

You are now alone. You can hear your heartbeat in the silence of this eternal moment. Your friends fill the sky around you. You feel like you are on top of the universe. Everything is still.

You look down. You see now the direction you are being carried. This is an important fact you will need in order to execute a perfect landing. You now can feel the sensation of falling. The ground begins closing in.

Thirty meters above ground, as you were trained, your prepare your body for the ground’s impact. You begin now to see the speed at which you are falling. The ground is getting ever closer. You glance down at your feet to make sure they are straight. Your knees are bent. Your hands tighten around the parachutes straps. You are ready. The ground now looks as though you are looking at it from within a moving car. Your body tenses. You are very close. The ground is only a meter away.

Impact. Your body slams into the ground. Your eyes are shut. A second passes. You open your eyes. You feel a jerk on your shoulders as the parachute tugs at you, as the air leaves its massive belly. You stand up. You’re fine. Thank God! Soldiers are falling all around you. You see one guy not press his legs together. He'll probably hurt a little; but he'll be fine. Happiness is all you feel. You pack up the chute, brush off the twigs and sand that you landed on, and start heading for the meeting point. You see the soldier who sat across from you in the plane. Without a signal or a word of any kind, you both embrace, full of joy. You ask him how it went; he tells you his story; you tell him your adventure. And you part. Maybe for good – but the moment is cherished.

As you're piecing together all that has just occurred, the images rush through your mind. You feel just a bit taller. Like a new man. You have crossed over a border, a limit you used to have. Fear bows his head before you, conquered. You are freer now. The next limitation, the next dread awaits you, and you are ready for it.
Ready for any new challenge

Most aerial shots taken by the proud father of the Tzanchan.
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