It was about 2 am eastern standard and we were approaching the drop zone at high velocity. The night was pitch black as it always is when we do these types of missions. As the doors opened and we could hear the sky waiting to engulf us all with its' awesome mystery, it hit me. Time and relativity became one as I grew aware of what was about to happen. No matter how many times I would go through this very same procedure, time and time again, the feeling in the pit of my stomach would never go away. We were actually told that if in fact that feeling does stop, it is time to quit and find a new profession. That would mean that we had become a hazard to our co- workers and ourselves. Jumpmasters scream at the top of their lungs "ten minutes". Those words rung like church bells only on a Tuesday instead of on Sunday. It never sounded right at all. This meant that we would be over the drop zone in ten minutes time. "Stand- up, hook- up", were the next commands to be given. As all 120 of us do this, in the well-calibrated pattern that the U.S. Army had thought to be the best method to use for these operations, we stumble over each other and try to help our buddies out in this added confusion that usually goes on. Checking equipment is the next procedure we went through while some of the troops still trying to get up from their seats. This is very important and takes great attention to detail to perform. This is where you, an individual troop, must check your equipment and your buddy's equipment and give the final ok to the jump masters already performed equipment check. Failure to perform this step properly could mean a serious injury or even the ever so fatal death of you or your buddy. Even with the reserve chutes on our bodies, the combined weight of your gear and person with the rate of decent to the height of aircraft at time of departure doesn't always mean that it will open on time if at all. One minute warning is given. The aircraft is silent with the exception of the roaring engines and the wind coming through the open doors. That minute is longer than all of the other 9 minutes used to get to this point. In that minute troops think all different things. Some troops think of the possibility of the jump being a "scratch" or a cancelled event due to various things that can occur at the last minute. Some think of how cool it is going to be or will they hit hard. Some think of where they might land due to wind direction and speed. I never had any of those particular thoughts in my mind except for this one time and I couldn't understand it, until now. "GO", the jumpmaster screams out. "Go, go, go", they yell. All of the adrenaline that your body can produce is flowing through your veins at the moment you go out the door. Counting to 4 in a one- thousand format in order to time the opening of your parachute, then checking and making sure that you have a complete chute with no holes or inversions and no other problems are steps that need to be taken upon exiting the aircraft to ensure safety to each of the 900+ jumpers in the air. This time, I did have a problem.

I was falling faster then my fellow jumpers. My rate of decent was increasing and there was only one thing on my mind, pull the reserve. As I reached for the ripcord grip, the handle to the reserve, I was immediately tangled with jumper below me and I had to handle that first. I went in to the proper procedure and managed to untangle the mess in a matter of seconds. No sooner then I was untangled, I was tangled again with someone else. At this point I think that I am pretty much in for a bruising, maybe some broken bones at the worst. Well, I managed that one too and just in time…I hit ground. What I thought was going to be a brutal end to this particular mission, turned out to be a test of courage. I landed in a swamp, up to my waist in mud. It took me 20 minutes to dig myself out. Once I was out of the mud I carried out the task of policing up my parachute and packing it away. Through my night vision goggles I was able to see fairly well. I took out my ear- plugs and as I did I remembered the safety brief we had received. It included a gator warning on the drop zone. A t the moment that my ear plugs left my ears I had wished they never did, ignorance IS bliss. I heard them all around me, everywhere. I have never been more terrified in all my life. This was a training mission and we were not issued live rounds at all. My only defense would have been the blanks I had been issued and my cleaning rods. My only concern was the set up for such a defense was a precision operation in itself, not to mention the uselessness it would do if I should step on one. I was left no choice but to use my recon training and stealth fully move through the swamp and hope for the best. The mission goes on no matter what.

I obviously am here today, with all of my body parts in tact, to tell this story. Recon paid off, or was it something else. Those of you that read my weekly articles know that there has to be more to it then just that…well you are right. This was a lesson in courage. A lesson given by something greater than us all that would prove useful later in life. It has proven itself time and time again in my life alone.

Courage is a concept of defeat between you and your own fears. Fears can only hold you back. If you let fear stop you from living life then you are going to miss out on a lot of lessons that life has for you. You might even miss out on life's great rewards. If I had let fear get the better of me in that situation, I probably would not be here today to tell you this story. Not saying that I would have died, but it probably would have started a chain of events that would put me somewhere else in life. So remember that you can't let fear stop you from your dreams.

This article is dedicated to all of the men I served with in the 82nd airborne Recon platoon.

Duane Levandowski

About the Author:

I am a Ft. Lauderdale based personal fitness trainer as well as a student to life. I have taken part in building this website because I like to devise new and fun ways to help people achieve their goals in both life and fitness. You can contact me directly via e-mail at


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