Saturday, May 8, 2010

Summary of my Para course

1. Portuguese paras. They are doing free fall - the chute hasn't been pulled yet. The dog is also a paratrooper...
2. German paras
3, The wings

I'm back in Holsworthy barracks, after 3 weeks of Para course down in Nowra.
the first 2 weeks were ground training - intensive days of fall training, flight training hanging from the ceiling in harnesses, learning to maneuver the chute and emergency procedures, and aircraft drills in mock aircraft.

the fall training involved practicing falling feet together, sideways on judo mats: bend, fall, roll over feet together. So that the calf hits the ground, followed by thigh, then shoulder - ideally you turn away the shoulder a bit so that the meaty part of the shoulder hits the ground. We also used a trapeze type of swing to get a bit of momentum. On the last day, we spent the whole day outside, on the "fall Tower" and the "exit tower". On the first , you get hauled up diagonally on a wire up to 30m. you do your parachute manoevers, then you are lowered fairly fast, but not as fast as a real fall. You need to land feet together and ideally, roll .
the other tower was like a flying fox - we queued in groups of 3 and jumped out, just like in the plsane, we then did out drills as we went down the wire , almost horizontally. Good practice for the aircraft exit, which is mentally the hardest part...

On our first jump, some guys' legs were trembling as they waited to exit, but they still did it --- that's good courage. I was more zen than many, as I'm used to working at heights - running flying foxes for kids from a tiny platform on a tree, etc.
Still, we were all pretty silent and concentrated for the first jump. subsequent jumps were easier, but there is always some trepidation. chute malfunctions have been known to occur - in which case you have a few seconds to pull the reserve and deploy it.

last week, we did 6 jumps over 4 days. with 1 day of bad weather . 2 jumps per day.

Hercules Jump

the last day, we did 2 jumps from a Hercules transport plane. A big noisy powerful thing, like being in a cathedral inside. we jumped out of a side door this time. And as soon as you're out, you get whipped sideways by the slipstream . You see the aircraft go past , feel yourself rotating a bit, then the chute deploys and you enjoy the glide, which is always a great experience.

the first jump was with CE (combat equipment) we had a big pack hooked onto our front, under the reserve. 25 kg or so. As well as webbing around the waist, and the rifle in a pouch strapped to one's side so it won't move when you land.
When you get to 60m off the ground, you pull a strap and the whole thing releases and hangs on a 5 m nylon cord. Later, the pack lands and soon after, you land. This way, you have all the gear you need close at hand. You hobble along with all this gear and are relieved to jump , so that you don't have to stand up against the weight...

The second jump was at night, cleanskin (just the chute on yr back). It went well, and it was an experience to land on a field illuminated with glowsticks. I did good manoevers to slow down drift and did my best landing so far, with a good roll. At the end of the course, about 5 people were limping, some on crutches. Landings are the tricky bit.. as you come in at 4.5 to 6m/second, and must have feet together or breaks/strains are likely.

We had a small ceremony and were given our "wings". Very proud to be part of the Para community.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Women in the armed forces, global

1. Pakistani special forces/ female - guarding a girls school against attacks by the Taliban... a living challenge to PO-MO university types everywhere.. you tell her the Taliban are misunderstood, and watch her reaction...
2. Peruvian armed forces
3. Italian female jet pilot
4 Onwards: Israeli Defence Force... Yikes. they all look so brave, healthy and pioneering. Not to mention hmmm, Beautiful...

I was browsing for images of paratroopers and I came across some great pictures of women in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF)... oh my GOD.
Define beauty combined with strength....

I think I may consider a transfer to the IDF!!
I've met a few female Israeli soldiers who were backpacking, and they were charming and kind individuals. Much less self-centered than your average western girl...

Those who know me will know I am a bit of feminist. In the sense that I love and respect women of all types... My feminism is certainly not of the PC "there are no differences between men and women" type. I think men and women share a common humanity, but are as different as 2 different species. I don't believe in forced quotas - it would actually do women harm.

And I do believe that overall, men and women do not have the same priorities or interest-centers., and generally speaking, men and women go into occupations that are suited to their mental and physical attributes and interests, and that this does NOT imply equality of outcomes. Basically, I believe anyone should be given a fair go achieving whatever they wish, but we should not expect equal outcomes or numbers.

I do believe that women can be warriors, if they wish. witness Joan of Arc, queen Boadiccea in scotland, Thatcher, Jessica Watson round the world solo sailor.
and the women of the Israeli defence Force.... Sigh.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Follmi the photographer

Olivier Follmi from France has got to be the best photographer of extremely hard to get to places like Zanskar valleys, and of ethnic people, particularly in the Himalayas. He captures the awe-inspiring beauty of the himalayas, and the hard-working peoples who manage to survive there, and their beautiful monasteries.

his websites are in French, but easy to navigate even if you don't read French.
his photography website:

his general website:

Photos of Paratroopers

1. Poster for "Band of Brothers" HBO series - WW2 US airborne troops
2. Female Pakistani paratroopers.
3. Israeli paratrooper. I think I'm in love....
4. French Foreign Legion jump
5- various.

Also, tell Richard I saw all the pictures that he sent for that feature on the female paratroopers and they're all so deeply unattractive. ...

(from the "Devil wears Prada" movie, with Meryll Streep as the Uber-Dragon lady).


Paratrooper Experience

We move along on this grey and slightly misty day, seated in a very small but wide plane – the “CASA”. We are seated in 2 rows, facing each other. 10m from one end of the passenger area to the ramp, which is partially open , allowing us to see the ground below and the mist swirling past.

We approach the landing area (Nowra military airfield area, grass) and the ramp is let down, so that it sits at 30 degrees down towards the ground…

First, the guys in the seats opposite get up, put up their seats against the side of the plane, and clip their static lines to the cable that runs above them.

When they launch themselves out , they will drop until the static line pulls the chute system out of the pack, The parachute then deploys autonomously. And the static line stays attached to the cable.

Then its our turn ,we get up, hook onto the cable and check our equipment. “1 Minute” is called by the jumpmasters and we check each other’s static lines. “Action Stations” and we all shuffle forwards so that the first person is close to the top of the ramp - To a cadence we say out loud. “Stand By” and we each jump out, with the people behind shuffling forwards and saying the cadence out loud, until they themselves jump.

It all happens quickly, and it is my turn to take 2 strides down the ramp diagonally outwards , turn parallel to the plane and launch myself into the air. And into the hands of fate….

I do so without hesitation and before I know it, I am hurtling through the air and pretty disoriented, my mind saying “FUUUUUCK this!!! “ until I know the canopy is open and start calming down:

I follow the drills we have been rehearsing ad nauseam, hold onto my reserve chute with both hands so that it doesn’t get deployed accidentally, trying to keep looking straight ahead , so as not to start rotating in mind-air.

I listen to voice and notice it is edged with anxiety:


“Nnnnggggguuuuuuuh!” I’m flying thru the air, disoriented but feeling the rush of the air, I see my legs above me and realise I am flying almost upside down – I have been rotating slowly



I now permit myself to look up above myself to see if the canopy is open –It is, thank God. (Otherwise I would have to apply the drill we learnt , pull the handle on my reserve chute which is fixed to my chest and help it deploy. )

I bring my legs back down and thank my lucky stars that I am now gliding gently down under a gossamer-thin green chute.

I go thru more drills: “all round observation”: where one actually flips upside down by holding onto the rises to the chute and looks behind oneself, to see if a collision with another paratrooper is imminent. And I then “pull away” to show the acessors on the ground that I can steer the chute in any of 4 directions by pulling down on a rise.

Once this is done, I relax and marvel at the experience of gliding in perfect silence with the ground still 200m off, I have some time to enjoy the view and experience. In front and slightly below me is a procession of green chutes, gliding down as well. It’s beautiful.

I access my drift, determine I am moving forwards relative to the ground. So I look up and transfer my hands to the rear rises, which will slow the drift a bit.

As I estimate I am approaching 30m off the ground, I ensure my feet and knees are locked tight, my feet are parallel to the ground. And I slowly pull down on the rises until my elbows are under my armpits (which slows the rate of fall) , and put my chin on my chest so I wont get whiplash when I land.

I see the ground come up, slower than I thought it would (good). But nevertheless my breathing increases in frequency as I prepare with knees slightly bent, to land without hopefully breaking a leg or an ankle…

Coming, coming, NOW. And I land with a thump on the wet grass. My knees bend am absorb some of the shock. I then land on my ass , and then come to a stop, relieved I have landed feet together (breaks etc can happen if the feet are not together) and without hurting myself.

The assessors come along and congratulate me for my good drills. As I approached the ground, my feet tilted down a bit (reaching) which was the reason I didn’t roll sideways (as we have practiced 100 times). But as my feet were together, I get a tick in the box.

I walk away with the chute packed in a bag, elated at having done my first jump without hurting myself.

45 minutes later, we are up again for a 2nd jump, and it also goes well. This time, we are less nervous as we know what to expect. But the initial “whoomp” of hurtling thru the air under with no control, when we jump out of the plane is still a bit unnerving.

Back in our accommodation, I feel different – I realise I have changed in some way:

I am not quite the same, but it’s difficult to say exactly what has changed. I have danced with death and fear and come out alive. It reminds me of the feeling mountaineering gave me. Dancing with death in a controlled fashion should be part of any high school education, for both sexes… (16 yr old Jessica Watson in her round the world solo yacht tour shows that women can be warriors too).

As it is for men, anyway in Rites of Initiation in tribes around the world. These have been substituted with poor and half-hearted non-directed experiences – hooning in fast cars, taking drugs, vandalism, provoking the police, etc…

Male Teens know instinctively they need rites of initiation, but without direction by tribal Elders, they end up with animalistic nonsense and are nothing more than overgrown and destructive boys, not men connected to their Masculine Archetype, working for the benefit of their tribe.

We are Men, we are brothers in arms.

And if later, I die in action, I will look death in the eye and smile, knowing I have lived a full life and have given myself to the greater good: to protect what is Good and Pure and Alive against all that is Evil and Corrupt and Deathly. To defend our Free nations with all their diverse human creation against the smothering zombie conformity of radical islam and other totalitarian ideologies.


We Happy few,

We Band of Brothers

(Shakespeare and the “Band of Brothers” series about 101st airborne division in WW2)

When I finish the course in a few days, I will be part of an international brotherhood of “Paratroopers” – from France to Brazil to the USA, we wear the wings and the Red beret and nod knowingly when we pass each other.

I get the feeling one needs to have one foot in the “other world” (life after death) to really live fully without false restraint in this life and also with some detachment: a kind of a sense of humor and acceptance of whatever life throws at us. Cause we know that ultimately, “don’t worry because, death is not the end” as Nick Cave sings….

“We are spirits in a material world” – Sting.