The Airborne Advantage
Great moments in building history: There are certain advantages to working with a capable paratrooper
You never know when military training might come in handy. Several years ago, I was up on a roof checking out the condition of the shingles when a gust of wind came along and blew my ladder over. I was 15 ft. from the earth, nobody was home, and there was no one on the ground within shouting distance that I could yell to for help. What should a guy do in such a situation?
Fortunately, I wasn’t alone up there. My work partner, Steve Bossard, was with me, and that’s where the military training comes in. Steve was in the U. S. Army, 82nd Airborne Division. Those guys are trained to jump.
I had worked with Steve enough years to know that he was a uniquely qualified carpenter. Uncle Sam had taught him the esoteric craft of blowing up supply bridges and booby-trapping toilet seats, but on a more practical level, the Army had instilled within my friend an attitude best described as gung ho. Before he had joined our work crew, we were a bunch of regular civilian-type construction workers. After a couple of weeks, we were regular Army. We saluted each other briskly, we called each other “sir,” we sang cadences while we worked, and we accomplished more in the day. It was esprit de corps like our boss had never seen before.
If there was a physically challenging or hazardous job to be done, Sergeant Steve quickly volunteered for duty. I had seen him do amazing things. In one instance, he, a concerned homeowner and I were in the front yard of the homeowner’s house, and she was telling us she thought there was a leak around her old brick chimney. It was a long way to the roof and even farther to the chimney, and I remarked that we’d have to come back with a longer ladder to get up there. That was Steve’s cue; he silently slipped away and appeared moments later walking over the top of the roof. The homeowner was astonished. I had seen my buddy climb a house before, but in this instance, I was surprised, too, because I couldn’t figure out the possible route he had taken; there was no back porch to get started on. When I asked him about it later, he said it was top-secret information and that if he told me, he’d have to kill me.
Unfortunately, the roof we found ourselves stranded on offered no easy options, and while I was looking down the deserted road in front for a passing car to wave down, Steve was standing on the edge, knees bent, looking anxiously at the ground. “Hold on,” I yelled, “you can’t jump that far,” and I realized that was the wrong thing to say.
Steve assured me there wasn’t a doubt in his military mind that he could make it. I had no doubt of that either, but I questioned whether, after he jumped, he’d still be physically capable of putting the ladder back up so that I could get down. He admitted the jumping part wasn’t so bad but that the landing could be hard. He told me paratroopers don’t exactly float to earth: They’re falling at 18 ft. per sec. when they hit the ground. I didn’t like the sound of it but remembered a story I had once read about a Green Beret whose parachute didn’t open during a jump and had survived the fall. Steve didn’t seem surprised. “That’s because he was trained to land the right way,” he said.
My curiosity was piqued. If there was some secret technique to jumping from great heights and living to tell it, I wanted to know. Such information could prove helpful if I ever have to jump out of a burning building or off a bridge. I’m serious. If you find this interesting, too, here is what I learned about how best to connect with the earth after taking a giant leap:
First, don’t look at the ground; focus instead on the horizon. Then, with your legs together and knees slightly bent, land on the balls of your feet, and pivot your body to one side into what I would describe as a collapsing roll. The touchdown sequence of body parts is feet, side of calf, side of thigh, butt, tricep, shoulder and back. Steve says this works best if you can land with some forward motion, and it’s much better than the feet-knees-face sequence that he had experienced a couple of times. I am, of course, talking about the motions of landing with a parachute on, mind you, but the technique still works if you don’t happen to have a parachute.
He told me these instructions with such confidence that I considered trying it, but I wasn’t going first. I wanted a demonstration. Although I know Steve was considering it, he instead hugged the concrete-block chimney and slid down. I was still impressed.
If you find yourself stranded on a roof, however, I recommend sitting tight until help shows up—unless, of course, you’re working with a capable paratrooper.
—Herrick Kimball, Moravia, New York
Drawing by: Jackie Rogers