Sergeant Major Bill Keely turned to face to the front of the aircraft, looking towards the cockpit, holding one hand spread open in front of him under the dull red glow of the MC-130’s interior lights.
With oxygen masks over their faces to counter the effects of the thin air at altitude, they relied on hand and arm signals alone. Not that it mattered. His men would never hear him over the roar of four Allison turboprop engines in addition to the wind rushing in through the open ramp. The free-fall jumpers held out five fingers, mimicking his movements to acknowledge their understanding.
Four operators plus himself made for a relatively simple jump. Four of them had mustard stains on their HALO wings, indicating multiple combat jumps, but of course that was only on citations locked away in a file cabinet somewhere.
Delta operators were known for keeping a low profile, and none of them wore their combat badges in garrison.
Keely faced back around, easily hefting the hundred plus pound rucksack snapped onto his harness. Looking out into the black void below, it was impossible to judge altitude, wind speed, or where they were in relation to the ground. They’d be dropping from 30,000 feet, locating their drop zone under night vision after they pulled their ripcords at 4,000 feet.
The Delta troops lined up like ducks in a row for an equipment check. Behind him was Pat, the other old timer on the team with twenty three years in the Army, ten with Delta, leaving him with an open disdain for the entire Army command structure. Pat flipped open the top flap on Keely’s reserve chute.
The Fucking New Guy, Alex, was behind Pat checking his MC-5 parachute, and so on all the way down the line. The first thing Pat looked at was the CYPRES display. The small console under the reserve flap displayed a four digit number, barely visible in the poor lighting. That number was programmed into the unit on the ground by each jumper at the direction of the jump master, based on the barometric pressure. If a jumper was knocked unconscious in mid air the Cypress would detonate a small charge releasing the reserve parachute at 2,000 feet.
If your CYPRES fired and you ended up riding in on your reserve you were having a bad fucking day, to say the least.
Next Pat moved on to the cotter pins holding the reserve parachute in place, making sure they were properly stowed through the nylon loops. Slapping the reserve flap down on its Velcro fasteners, he unsnapped the main chute below it and conducted same check on the single cotter pin holding the spring loaded pilot chute in place under the green flaps.
Finally he checked the small oxygen tank strapped on the Sergeant Major’s left side. At this altitude you would get a serious case of hypoxia from lack of oxygen, requiring them all to strap bottles of O2 and breathe off a mask for the trip down. All good, he snapped the flap down then pounded his Sergeant Major on the shoulder.
Keely pivoted around, the side of his helmet emblazoned with the words, Shut Up and Squat. A few months prior, Pat had wrote it with a Sharpy marker during a training jump. The boys joked that it was the Team Leader’s motto in the gym because he had legs thick enough to resemble the pine trees surrounding Ft. Bragg.
Pat gave him a thumbs up to let him know his chute was good to go.
Behind Pat the new guy, Alex, was holding his rucksack with one hand while conducting his checks with the other; the weight of the ruck was clearly a little too much for him. Finally he gave Pat a thumbs up.
Keely lowered his free fall goggles over his eyes and checked the dual tube night vision goggles mounted on his helmet a final time before moving to the edge of the ramp. Feeling the wind whip at his legs and knowing there was 30,000 feet of nothing below him, the Sergeant Major motioned for the rest of the team to follow him to the lip of the ramp.
Two minutes flew by as they waited, taking shallow breaths and waiting for the light mounted on the fuselage to turn from red to green, letting the jump master know that they were over their drop zone.
Waiting for the green light, Pat looked over his shoulder at the New Guy. Alex had just completed selection last year and the Operators Training Course a few months ago. He’d only had a few jumps with the team, which led to a heated argument between Pat and Keely about Alex and whether he had any business being on this mission.
Keely told him that the guy completed HALO school and had the required jumps with the team; he was a career Special Forces soldier; what more did he expect? Eventually Pat had to accept Keely’s decision or go look for another job.
Alex, strained by the weight of the rucksack, finally let it hang by the harness to shake out his tired arm. Behind him he heard something pop. Looking down, his stomach suddenly flip flopped. In a rush he had attached the rucksack’s metal fastener to his rip chord grip rather then the metal ring on his parachute harness where it belonged. The weight of his rucksack had pulled his ripcord once he let it hang. The metal cable that ran from the ripcord to the cotter pin holding the pilot chute in had been released.
Glancing over his shoulder, he saw his pilot chute whipping around the metal floor of the aircraft.
The two operators behind him, Mark and J-Rod, lunged towards the pilot chute a moment too late as it was sucked out of the ramp of the aircraft.
Before the rest of the team knew what was going on, the pilot chute did its job. Catching in the wind outside the aircraft, it yanked Alex’s main parachute out of its deployment bag. As he was sucked out of the back of the high performance aircraft, he toppled over Pat and Keely, sending them end over end flying off the ramp and into the darkness.
Suddenly alone in the back of the aircraft over enemy territory, Mark and J-Rod looked at each other as the green light flashed.
Turning toward the ramp, they followed their team out into the night.