Two days ago, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, from Vicenza, Italy, made a combat jump into northern Iraq. These troops live in the same barracks and have the same mission, that previously belonged to the 1/509th Abn. Infantry. This story is a tribute to both groups of men for the courageous service that they have given to their country. Airborne, All the Way, Sir!
The C-130 lumbered noisily along as night burst into morning over the Adriatic Sea. The plane was the tenth in a staggered trail of fifteen and this far back it was definitely bumpy and hot.
The flight had been long, as we slowly flew south from the staging area in Aviano, Italy. We were bound for Iraq, northern Iraq, to be precise, on a mission that had been somewhat ill-described from the first, and thought to be ill-advised by those who had voiced an opinion. But then again, we were paratroopers, American paratroopers, and hooah, we could get the job done, thank you very much.
The CENTCOM commander had decided to make a show of force. The plan was created in the image and likeness of combat insurgencies during World War II and it had been a like amount of time since such an operation had been attempted. But we are the 173rd, formerly the First Battalion 509th Airborne Infantry from Vicenza, Italy, and sir, we’ll get the job done - just let us get our knees in the breeze!
Under normal circumstances, our mission would have been to jump in and hold the drop zone for twenty-four hours until the 82nd Airborne could get there, but not tonight. We were to jump into Kurdish-held territory, and we, with our one thousand man force, would open up the Northern Front. Reinforcements would come sometime, or so we had been told.
Sgt. Curt Pifer peered airily out of an aft porthole. The clouds were lofty and majestic, although these were words that Sgt. Pifer would never have used. He thought ahead to the jump and what lay waiting for him on the ground. He had no fear of open conflict. That was beyond thought, even with the volatile Iraqis. But he was uneasy, and knowing that sensation well, he told himself to beware.
We were all here; Prugger, Mick, Asher, Sweet Frankie, DeKay, Iverson, the Bush Man, Jerry Fred, Norris, Newsome, Millie, and Easton, a group of guys whose fates had been tied together in history. The drudgery that had been garrison duty was over, and the time to prove our mettle had come. For our troubles, we would be awarded the coveted “mustard stain” for our jump wings - the mark of an airborne assault under real combat conditions.
Pifer was a twenty-four year old from Yukon, Oklahoma. He spoke rarely and his silence was often mistaken for arrogance. He wasn’t arrogant, and in his own mind, he wasn’t even particularly quiet. He just saved his words for when he had something important to say. He had already been heavily decorated, and twice wounded in previous operations, and this allowed him to keep his perspective, as he was once again placing himself in harm’s way.
We were given the order to start rigging up. The heat inside the aircraft was stifling. Seventy grown men dripped sweat as they jostled over one another. Parachutes were placed on backs and rigged tightly in place. The rigging was adorned with a reserve parachute in front and an M-16 strapped to the side. One hundred pound rucksacks were placed in kit bags and fastened below the reserve chutes. The unfortunate reality was, however, that at the low altitude of four hundred feet, the reserve chutes would probably prove to be of little value - especially at night.
Finally, everyone was seated again. The heavy humidity hung in the air as the planes began their nosedives to reach jump altitude. It was replaced by that familiar pre-jump uneasiness. The turbulence caused by the other nine planes in front was frightening, and must surely be worse for the planes to our rear. The craft lurched, pitched, and at times seemed to fall unrestrained from the sky.
Uneasiness gave way to fear and rosy cheeks turned pale. Nobody cared what awaited us on the ground - we only hoped that we would arrive there safely.
Just as a falcon pulls out of a dive, so did the aircraft, testing the fortitude of stomachs already weakened by the heat. Near the rear doors, the doors marked emergency exit only, two small jump lights flashed red. The jumpmasters stood and faced forward, toward the rest of the troops, and the jump commands began like clockwork. They were accompanied by hand and arm signals, but everybody knew their job and when to do it.
“Get ready. Stand up!” screamed the jumpmasters, over the roar of the powerful prop engines.
Confusion was apparent, due to the confined quarters, but knowing that we would soon be out of these crates, and into the night sky, showed as smiles on faces that were still a bit green. As always, the excitement was electric. We would have one thousand men in parachutes in the air at the same time.
Jump doors opened as the red lights turned amber. The blast of the cool fresh air brought instant relief. Like lemmings going over the cliff, nothing could stop us. It was as if we had all been born to jump.
“Hook up!” called our leader, over the rushing wind and roaring engines.
The clanging noise from seventy static lines hooking to an anchor cable only served to supercharge the excitement. Most of us were old hands at this, and combat or no combat, we were going to enjoy the jump.
I turned around in an effort to find Sgt. Pifer. Immediately, I located his sheepish grin and glowing eyes. He flashed me a thumbs-up for good luck, and I returned the signal to him. Feeling my heart trying to beat out of my chest, I wondered about his, but it couldn’t have been beating any faster than my own.
“Check static lines!” roared the jumpmaster, followed by, “Check equipment!”
After a brief interlude to allow this activity to be completed, the command came, “Sound off for equipment check!”
The count began faintly up near the cockpit, “One okay, two okay, three okay,” and so on, until we had reached ‘thirty-five okay’ on both sides.
The next jump command was issued. “Stand in the door!”
Right foot forward, knees bent, hands clasped on the sides of the door, as I gazed at the darkened desert below, and pondered the lunacy of my next step.
Back in the cabin, the static lines banged furiously again and were accompanied by growls and roars. The leashed hounds were just about to break free when the green light popped on and the jumpmaster yelled “Go!”
Heads went down and were buried into parachutes in front, as we forced each other out of the door.I was struck by the prop blast as I fought for a good jump position, and then I was gone into the night sky.
It was peaceful up here, cool and peaceful. The stars were bright, as I could see the glow of isolated bomb blasts on the horizon. This was the real thing. This was what we had trained for. At twenty years old, I was jumping into conflict - a conflict where people got killed, executed, captured.
The chute popped open with a jarring tug, and I was seemingly pulled higher into the sky, as I was forcefully yanked from my reverie. The line of the horizon was low, and concerning, since we had never jumped from such a low altitude before. Better move quickly and lower the kit bag - this was going to be a short ride.
I could see the outline of hundreds of other chutes in the air. These were my band of brothers, eerily quiet, as we fell upon enemy territory in the dead of night.
I hit hard, as I normally did on night jumps, not knowing exactly where the ground was, or how fast I was moving. As I began to retrieve my parachute, I could see others doing the same. Within three minutes, the parachute had been stowed, the rucksack was on my back, and the M-16 was locked and loaded and at the ready. We proceeded rapidly to the rallying point and insured that we were all there.
Our objective was to secure H-1, an airfield that would allow for the safe entry of re-supply aircraft and reinforcements. Within a very short time, and under the forced pressure of light enemy fire, we had accomplished our mission.The goal had been, rifles on the ground, secure the airfield, stay alive, and accomplish the mission. Everyone knows that if you’re not alive, you can’t accomplish the mission, and if you can’t accomplish the mission, and in the immortal words of Demo Dick Marcinko, “You have failed.” But we had not failed.
In the true spirit of the airborne soldier, we will risk our lives to fight tyranny wherever we find it. We will fight and we may die, but we will do so honorably, courageously, and to the very death!
Airborne, All the Way! We bring to you, special delivery: Death From Above!
To the soldiers and officers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the soldiers and officers of the 1/509th Airborne Infantry,Vicenza, Italy.
Long live the memory of Kapps and Rohr, DeKay and Svetlick!
Reader Reviews for
"The Hand of Fate"
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|Reviewed by Michael Easly (Reader)
|I guess that I need to find this book and finish where this excerpt left off. Been along time since I've heard those names "Brother"it was always nice when they opened those jump doors wasn't it.Keep up the good work Frakie!|
|Reviewed by Carol Chapman
|I almost quit breathing, so absorbed in the flow of your story that I could be subsumed in how good that fresh air felt.
|Reviewed by J.P.
|Rock on, Man! You rule. Drop bombs on that, G.|
|Reviewed by m j hollingshead
|enjoyed the read|
|Reviewed by Jack
|"The blast of the cool fresh air brought instant relief." It always felt so gooood!! You even found a way to fit Dick "doom on you" Marcinko in there. Great writing, Frank!|
|Reviewed by Curt
|Good work man. It's amazing how little life and history change even over long periods of time.|
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|good story; takes you in the thick of military life! felt like i was there (and i was never in the military!)! good plot and imagery in this! love, your friend, karen lynn. (((HUGS))) i salute you, sir! :) god bless our military, active duty and retired!|
Frank P Whyte