Sunday, December 1, 2002
REV. DR. KNOX HERNDON
The psalmist David wrote, "Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble." (Psalm 119:165)
I was serving as a Chaplain with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C. Nikki had just been born almost a year earlier. It was just the three of us and a 97-pound Black Lab named General.
The hours were very long serving in the Airborne and to add to our long days, the new division commander ordered all jumps to be at night. The theory behind this thinking was that if we were inserted somewhere, it could very possibly be at night. Jumping out of airplanes has a certain amount of built-in terror, and when you add "night" to the equation, the word "terror" takes on a whole new meaning.
As the Chaplain for the unit, men and women would want to sit next to you or to just touch you while getting into the aircraft. Men and women handle fear in different ways. Some would keep their eyes closed the entire time while strapped in. Some were in prayer, some would attempt to think of far away places and events to occupy their minds, others would get sick and have to use their airsick bags, which was always popular with the rest of us.
Another terror we experienced was a new technique called "nape of the earth" flying. This technique was to fly under the radar, which meant that we would fly right above the treetops. This would throw us all around in the aircraft due to the air pockets that existed that low to the ground.
At a designated point the pilot would pull back on the stick and we would go straight up to jump altitude of 1,250 feet. The jumpmasters would then scream to us, "6 minutes." At this moment we were to jab our elbows into the paratrooper next to us to alert him or her that the jump sequence had started. Next we got the command, "Get ready."
The next command would be, "Outboard personnel, stand up." Then, "Inboard personnel, stand up." Then, "Hook up." This is when you hook your static line on the overhead anchor line cable which will hopefully open your chute when you exited the aircraft. The next command is, "Check static lines." This is extremely important because if it is under your arm, it will take your arm off as you exit the aircraft.
The next command is, "Check your equipment." This is the last check you will make before going out the dark door. The jumpmaster then gives the command, "Sound off for equipment check." Here is where the last paratrooper in the aircraft starts the "OK" sequence as he taps the paratrooper in front of him or her. The "OK" finally reaches the jumpmaster with a loud "All OK, jumpmaster." Then the real terror begins as the loadmaster unlocks the jump door and slides it into its open locked position.
In the Normandy invasion of World War II, they flew with the doors off the aircraft across the English Channel. When that door was opened I always thought of the pits of Hell and the opening of the door of a blast furnace. It made me happy to be a Christian!
The roar of the engines and the blast of an open door of an aircraft traveling at 190 knots were unlike any sound I had ever heard. Then the pilot was supposed to slow the aircraft down to 90 knots.
During the Normandy invasion in 1944, several of the pilots got so scared because of enemy ground fire that they put their paratroopers out at such excessive speeds that it tore their equipment off their harnesses when they exited the aircraft.
Then the jumpmaster would lean out of the door to visually look for the drop zone. As you watched his face, the blast would push his nose around to where his ear was supposed to be. When the jumpmaster would return inside the aircraft, his face would strangely go back to its original configuration.
At night, all the jumpmaster would see were small signal lights marking the drop zone that the pathfinders had jumped in earlier and put there to guide us in. My personal fear was always that they would see the wrong set of lights and we would be put out over the trees at night. The paratroopers would then hear the sound that separated them from all other soldiers: "Stand in the door." At this time the first paratrooper would wheel into the door and put his or her hands outside of the aircraft staring straight ahead into the darkness awaiting the slap on the back of your parachute from the jumpmaster and a verbal command to "GO!!"
There was a set of two lights (red and green) that we had all been staring at right at the jump door. At a specified moment the pilot would hit a switch in the cockpit that would activate the green light. Upon the green light, the jumpmaster would scream, "Go," which would start the paratroopers out the door. I can almost promise that every man and woman who jumped into that dark blast furnace at 90 knots (aprox 90 miles and hour) at 1,250 feet above the ground was a praying man or woman.
Then the sequence of counting "1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 4,000" begins. If at the 4,000 count you don't feel that life giving jerk which almost crosses your shoulder blades, you go through the 2nd life giving sequence of putting your feet and knees together and pulling your reserve chute handle. If this doesn't work, then the real praying starts and you can expect a heck of a ride in.
Why am I telling you all this on this Thanksgiving weekend? Because in times like those mentioned above, a believer in Christ can have the "perfect peace" that the Psalmist David was talking about in Psalms 119:161-168.
I can't tell you that I wasn't scared each week when I had a jump to make. In fact, at Fort Benning when I was the Jump School Chaplain, I jumped twice a week with every class for two years and then three more years at Fort Bragg. Whatever crisis you are facing, "perfect peace" can be yours through the terrors of life.
I read somewhere that if we could talk face to face with Jesus and we could ask Him, "How much do you love me?" He would stretch out his nail scarred hands as wide as possible and say, "This much." And He said, "The peace I give is not of this world!"
The Rev. Dr. Knox Herndon is pastor of His House Community Church (SBC). The Rev. Greg Mausz is senior associate pastor. The Rev. Dr. Lydia Herndon is the Sunday School superintendent, Bible study coordinator and teacher. The church is just below Fayetteville, on Ga. Highway 85, a mile south of Ga. Highway 16, just below the fire station. Visitors welcome. Church office and prayer line 770-719-2365; e-mail KHERN2365@aol.com. The church's new Web site is www.hishousecommunitychurch.com.