3: NEW YORK CITY
4: SUMMER ARMY
5: NASSAU AND JAMAICA
6: RULE BRITANNIA
THE SUMMERS OF '67 AND '68
10: THE NETHERLANDS
11: BACK TO GERMANY
12: FINAL YEAR IN DENTAL
THE SHORT HAIRED PART OF THE STORY
14: BACK TO MONTREAL
15: THE ROAD TO CYPRUS
16 CYPRUS / UN PEACEKEEPING
17: SIDE TRIPS FROM
18: CYPRUS WIND DOWN
21: ROAD HOME FROM CYPRUS
22: MEXICO Y ESPANA
23: AIRBORNE PARATROOPER
25:MOROCCO AND PARIS
26: THE END OF THE
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AIRBORNE PARATROOPER COURSE
In November of 1972 my Commanding Officer ,Lt. Col Brogan, asked me if I would like to earn my Paratrooper wings with the Canadian Airborne Regiment . It was at happy hour in the Officers’ mess on a Friday evening . Even though I had a few beer under my belt I was keen on the idea. Two of my fellow Captains had “wings” as did Lt Col Brogan. And the Royal Canadian Dental Corps School commandant, Col Craigie was very enthused about having his officers attain such military accolades. That Monday Lt Col Brogan called me into his office and handed me the phone. My career Manager was on the line and I was “loaded “ on a course in February ‘73. I was pretty fit so that aspect of the course was not a problem. In January I passed the pre-course physical test with no problems. In fact , as I recall, the phys-ed tester seemed impressed that a dentist would be so fit J and I was 30 . I also requested leave after the course so that I could fulfill a life long dream of visiting Australia. Lt Col Brogan agreed and I set out on the most adventuresome two months of my life.
Towards the end of January I went to Toronto to renew my, about to expire, Passport. I was told it would take a month or more. Despite my pleas that I was on duty etc on the Airborne course , this did not move the folks in the passport office to do anything for me. I figured I would take a chance, which I will elaborate on later.
I arrived in Edmonton to take the course at Canadian Forces Base Namao Alberta, which is an Edmonton suburb. I was immediately impressed by the air of no nonsense, which I encountered. These were elite troops with a long history of service in war and peace. I met a few of my fellow course officers , in the quarters assigned to us. I was a Captain at the time and the senior member of the course. This was an interesting concept as I had to show real leadership to the rest of the course members. It was something I actually looked forward to rather than perceive it as a negative challenge.
After breakfast we were introduced to our instructors. As with basic training they had a strong air about them. And as the senior member of the course I seemed to come in for special; but, not unwelcome attention. To be honest I was more than a tad nervous. After all jumping from a perfectly safe plane is not really a natural reaction. The course was very physical. The first week we started the day with a “nice” wake up run in the morning. To be honest, I really hated physical activity before 10 AM J . So at 6:30 as the February sun was coming up, we were well on our way to a pleasant 30-45 minute jog…you know shake out the cob webs J
Every day after we had our morning repaste :) , we would form up in rank and jog to the training halls or “hangers” , where we went through seemingly endless drills. On entering the hall we were expected to do at least 7 chin ups..with more expected as the weeks progressed. Our instructors were all professional and well trained. I was particularly impressed with the psychologically positive point of beginning our training by having them show us how the chutes were inspected, prepared and packed. The Sergeant took one chute and showed us a small imperfection and made of point of demonstrating that , “This is not acceptable for this regiment” . No argument from me, if I jump from 1500 feet ( 500 meters) I tend to like the chutes to be strong ,durable and open .
We were separated into three sections. One was a French speaking group, I was in an English speaking group; but, I occasionally acted as a translator. The first week was inside the hanger and consisted of various lessons in how to adjust to the feeling of hanging in space , as it were. We learned the various aspects of a parachute . The straps we wore were around the shoulders and through the legs. In the hanger they were in fact , not very comfortable; but, later when we practiced jumping from towers and in the actual jump zone they were not too bad.
The body harness was attached to nylon straps called risers. The practice risers were in turn attached to the chords from the high ceiling and later from the practice “clothesline" . These simulated the risers from actual parachutes. But they were not too flexible so the comfort level was a bit low J We would practice moves that would allow us to “slip” to the right and left and forward and backward. A slip is an in air slide as it were. A military parachute is not like the one we see skydivers use. They are really designed to get a paratrooper into battle. There is room for some minor movement. But, it was a physical challenge to get it all together. Slipping to the right , left etc was a bit hard on my hands.
As a dentist I washed my hands up to a dozen times a day so the straps and exercises had a wearing effect on my “delicate” hands J . In fact on the second week our instructor, Cpl Holland , took me aside and told me he was assessed me as having weak arms the first week as I seemed to be having problems; but, he said I seem to have strengthened up a bit. I told him about my dental situation and he told me that this made sense.
As the week progressed we carried on from slipping to the right and left etc to having the instructors lower us as we were swung about, this was a training maneuver in how to land. It was theoretically from the tips of the balls of the feet toward the toes, then a flat foot, a roll along the leg and then the body would follow through. Compared to skydivers who often landed on their feet ,we were expected to do a roll. It all seemed quite easy but in the actual jumps I never quite made a smooth jump. I was never so thankful for snow as we had on the jump zones, which were deep in February snow . My landings were the balls of the feet, and a face plant in the snow .
The training began to remind me of my basic training. A mistake was met with pushups. I was pretty keen in fact, as I was fit and enjoyed the physical challenge. And as part of my “leadership” role I feel being up to however they challenged me ,was good for morale. On one occasion a corporal from the unit asked if I was a dentist. “Royal Canadian Dental Corps, Corporal” I replied with gusto and a grin . He told me he had been to the dentist that morning and he had hurt him, “That will cost you 50 pushups”…”Of course Corporal “ and I set out to do 50 of the best. He asked my instructor if I had cheated, as I had not counted out loud. Cpl Holland said, “No dentists are too stupid to cheat “ Laughter all around including from me. So ten for being stupid, again I forgot to count so ten more. At 65 I collapsed and Cpl Holland told me to get up as I was making a fool of myself. All in good fun. That day I did 650 push ups. By the end of the course I was in as good a shape as I had been since my rugby days.
During the first week four or five in the course dropped out. We started with 46 and only 29 of us graduated ,in fact. I often wonder if I should have been more forceful and spoke to a few of the candidates ; but, an instructor told me it is harder to quit than it is to continue. As an officer I had no choice, I had to continue. It was in fact an exhilarating feeling in an unusual way.
The second week we went to the “mock tower”. It looked much like a forest ranger tower and was about three stories high. Apparently it was at a height that had a psychological effect. From the tower there was a long cable that went 100 meters to a rise in the ground. There were risers attached to the cable. We would attach them to the chute straps on our bodies. It was in fact a simulated jump. We would assume the jump position at the door of the tower and on the command we would leap out in a “jab” position. The “Jab” was similar to folding over as if clutching a package at the abdomen. It was a bit nerve wracking the first time; but, I knew it was safe. Sadly I was in the tower when three before me could not jump. I recall whispering “just jump”; but ,as an instructor had told us, it is easier to jump than quit. In all 15 quit before noon that first day on the tower and a couple more in the next few days. By the end of the week we were the 29 who graduated.
We had two platoon instructors, Corporal Hardy was a Newfoundlander who was our fitness instructor and he was fit. At the end of each day he would give us a good “wind down “ work out. One day he told me he had run 2 miles, had a 90 minute weights work out and was feeling great . I smiled and said sardonically, “Oh are we ever lucky” J One day we had a competition between the platoons, climbing ropes from the ceiling. I had gone to a High School that had no such facilities and this included no gym, so I had never climbed gym ropes. I didn’t know the right technique. I was first for our team and just hung and lifted my full weight by my arms. A full two stories up and down. I noticed the other team were sailing along. When I got down Corporal Hardy asked if I had ever done this, I said “No” . He had someone show me and I learned a new trick, in fact every time we did the rope climb I think I was one of the faster ones J By the end of the second week I was pretty fit. In fact on one after “class” jog at the end of the day one of the fellows was dragging. I put an arm around him and carried him on for a while In the officers’ mess on Friday a Major remarked on this to me. Nice to be appreciated.
When we were double timing it, in our runs, the instructors had us do the usual chants . I was told it kept our minds off any pains and added to morale. One was “Airborne, Airborne all the way. If I die on the old drop zone just wrap me up and send me home” . Like the military action movies J .
On the following Monday we took the bus to the air terminal to board for our first of eight jumps. The fellow I shared a seat with looked at me and said “If I die on the old drop zone”. Dark humour but funny at the time .
To say I was a tad nervous would be a major understatement. I had great confidence in the equipment. When we first arrived we were shown how the chutes were packed. There were long tables about 20 meters long, on which the chute lay. There were five “critical” checks as it was packed , the packer did the work while a “rigger” checked the stages. And we were told that twice a month, the packing crew would pick a chute at random and jump. Best quality control I have ever seen J
At the military airport we picked out a chute. And walked to the Buffalo Aircraft. We were divided into two sides called “sticks“ . Ours was the first stick out . In fact I was “chosen” to be first out. I was told this was just a coincidence; but, I think it was a tactic based on the fact that an officer was never expected to quit. As bad luck would have it on our first jump the aircraft came to a halt before we took off. It was a laboured halt..it seems there was an engine problem. Not quite what we needed as far as nerves were concerned. We taxied back to the hanger and changed planes. We again get seated ; but this time we took off and as we approached the drop zone I must admit were I to fall and break a leg I would not have cried .
There was a drill we followed. ‘Stand up, hook up, check your equipment, stand by for equipment check‘. We were not in a free fall mode, when we stood up we hooked our “rip chord” to a static line. When we jumped the rip chord reached the door end of the static line and as we jumped it pulled the chute open. So up we stood, hooked up, we did a 4 or 5 part check of our gear and we also checked the person in front of us. This just ensured all was in place. Then we sounded off from back to front in numerical order. 13, 12, 11 etc. The idea being that we could hear the person behind us. If there was a pause the instructor would come by. We had no problems this way. Then we advanced as the rear ramp opened. . As the first out, I got to stand a meter from the side and end of the ramp. The ground below at 500+ meters seemed far away. A green red warning light came on telling us we were a minute or so from the drop zone. By this time my legs were shaking uncontrollably, so I would lift one leg at a time to not show the shaking. Ah pride .
As we waited to jump the instructor shouted :
“What are you ?”
”How far ?”
..”All the way”….
“Are you happy ?
To which the reply was “Yes”
He turned to me and said, “You’re not smiling” I told him my face was so frozen up I couldn’t smile “ J But, as I stood there I gave myself the inspiration and incentive by thinking of the many who had jumped into a real war situation. I thought particularly of D-Day when Canadian paratroopers attained all their first day objectives. The image of this in my mind made any concerns I had , seem somewhat less onerous. I was literally following in great footsteps…literally one footstep to be exact as I exited the plane.
Then on the green light , off I went. I vowed to not close my eyes even if I thundered in…I would see it all . THEN THE CHUTE OPENED. What an exhilarating feeling. It was as if I had been injected with a strong relaxant. What had been the depth of fear became total relaxation. We shouted back and forth at each other…and from the ground we could hear instructors telling us to concentrate and forget the chatter .
Although a lot of time was spent on proper landing I must admit that none of the 8 jumps ended in a great landing for me. In fact I learned the meaning of the term “Ground rush”. It seemed the descent went on forever. Then at about 100 feet ( 30 meters) the ground seemed to come up awfully quickly. Ground rush indeed. As we landed our chutes ,still attached , blew around us. We gathered up our chutes and filled them into the back packs to carry them to the bus. The air was alive with laughter and excitement. We were a proud group. We went to lunch and I think most of us had built up a pretty hardy appetite. Our instructors were proud of their work, as they should be. The afternoon jump was not as nerve-racking and most of us looked forward to it.
The next day we boarded a CF-130 Hercules transport aircraft. As we boarded the pilot greeted us. By chance he was a fellow I knew from an instructors’ course I had attended…”Mike are you nuts ? This is a perfectly safe aircraft you will jumping from “ We all had a bit of nerves again, not quite as strong as on our first jump; but, we again questioned what we were doing here .J Again we jumped out the back of the plane off a ramp. I was now near the end of the group.. hey let’s spread the treats around I imagine. The Hercules is a large transport whereas the Buffalo from the first day is much smaller. For some reason it all seemed to add up to a new experience. All of course went well and we had lunch , and we looked forward to the afternoon jump. This time we were given a few little extras. At the first jumps we carried our chutes and an emergency chute . This time we were given a rifle and a back pack. The idea was to prepare us for what would have been a real tactical landing. As well we were given snow shoes. All were strapped to our body harness and were connected together by a tether rope that we would release 30 meters above the ground. I figure I had 120 pounds of extra gear. About 55 kilograms or more. The heavier we were the greater the weight.
As we prepared for the jump I barely was able to stand up as the plane went into a turn causing a gravity shift. We went through the hook up, sound off etc drill and waited the green light. When we jumped the weight of all the gear seemed to lighten. And about 30 meters above ground we pulled the release strap on the tether holding our gear. We landed a few meters from the gear at the end of the rope tether. Again I saw in my mind soldiers Para trooping into battle . They would have to scramble to get their gear, avoid being wounded and seek shelter.
The following day we exited from the side doors of the “Herc”. I was again honored with being the first to jump. It was an interesting view this time. I was able to stick my head out the door a bit as there was a wind shield. Looking at the wings and engines of a plane from the vantage point of an open door is a bit unusual J . This time both sticks exited at the same time. It was interesting to see the plane go off into the distance and see the air filled with 29 jumpers. In the afternoon we again did side door exits. This time we had a bit of a problem. On most jumps the sticks were far enough apart to separate us. This time a fellow from the other stick came close to me and the jumper was actually above me inside my chute. We had prepared for such a situation. He was a French speaking fellow, and as good fortune would have it I speak French so that was not a problem. We looked at each other and he said he would pull on his raisers and slip to his front while I said I would then slip to the right as he did this. On three we went through this exercise and he slid out from under my chute, he fell about 50 meters; but ,his chute opened and all went well. The exercise had not given me sufficient time to release my tether with the gear. So as I released it and it fell and hit the ground before it had reached the length of the cord. We both landed safely about 20 meters apart. Such was the good training that we both laughed out loud. We were confident in our training and this showed in how we handled this challenge. Our instructors had seen this and were free with their kind remarks.
All was going well. We had a nice supper in preparation for the night jump. We did not have to carry the extra gear. It was a ramp jump with both sticks jumping at the same time. I had a few problems estimating the distance to the ground despite the fact they had set flares up to guide us. When we landed it was a great feeling. I was proud of myself and proud for my Corps, the Royal Canadian Dental Corps.
That evening we had the traditional “Prop Blast Party”. Lots of smiles, and well deserved. Toasts to our great instructors and well..lots of beer. The drill was one could take a military helmet , put a few beer in it and chug a lug it. After the hard work of the previous three weeks it was well received. I was challenged to take a few extra sips as I was the “senior” officer. Hey who am I to turn down a few beer . As the evening wore on I asked about a tattoo parlor. A few of us hired a cab and drove to Edmonton. Sadly the parlor was closed. I never did get an Airborne Tattoo as I felt , and still feel the moment to have had it was the night of my last jump.
The next day we had our wing’s parade. It was a solemn moment as we were now a part of an elite group. I told my instructors that I cherished my wings second only to my dental degree. A feeling I still have. It was a combination of physical exertion, exact procedures and the pride of earning something that not all could achieve.
I bid a fond farewell to my jump mates. Over the years I met a few them during my time in the forces. It was always with a fond memory and a pleasant smile. I called my parents back in Montréal and I gave them the news. My mother figured something different must’ve happened as I usually called home every weekend. My dad was particularly impressed. But, I think it was good that I didn’t tell my mother about this course before I left. I had scheduled flight to Vancouver for the following day. So that evening I went to a bar where the airborne Regiment hung out. I was drinking with a friend who had to leave early when an attractive lady came and joined me at my table. We really didn’t discuss anything of great intellectual value; but, I felt the time was right for some nice female companionship. We had a few drinks and a few laughs then she excused herself to the washroom. A fellow came over to me, he was one of the new instructors on the airborne course. He was sort of an assistant as it were. He let me know in no uncertain terms that this attractive blonde was off-limits to me. Even though I was an officer and he was a corporal, he was quite vehement about what he was saying. Of course the old male macho came out in me for a few seconds; but, common sense prevailed when he told me that this bar was full of his buddies and that it might not be too good if I were to strike up a bit more than a conversation with this girl. I did a quick mental calculation and I figured 12 to 1 are not good odds J . So it was cold shower time again. But, even that small experience was a bit of fun.
I flew out of Edmonton airport to Vancouver. There was a couple in their 50s sharing our row by the window. The woman told me they had never flown before and every noise seemed to make her nervous. I explained that all sounded perfect to me. I then told her that this was my ninth takeoff in a week but in Vancouver it would be my first landing. I explained how I had just earned my airborne paratrooper wings. Her eyes got very wide; but, she did smile.
I have arranged to stay with a dentist friend and his wife ,whom I had known in Montréal. Greg had spent a year at McGill in a postgraduate general dentistry residency. He met his wife Pat who was a nursing student at the time in the Montréal General Hospital. I still look back on those days at the Montréal general where are dental clinic was, with fond memories. We mulled over old times and the memories still are deep in my mind. Greg and Pat took me to a new restaurant in North Vancouver called the Keg and Cleaver. It is now a cross-country chain called the Keg. They specialize in roast beef and other beef plates. Over the years I’ve eaten at the Keg from coast-to-coast and with one exception we’ve had excellent meals.
We also just chewed the fat and did what friends do, all with a smile. While we were at the Montréal general Greg and I had some silly bets with each other. One was who would play sports first at an international level. I won that one when I played rugby with the British in Cyprus. Another bet was who would be the first to visit Australia. I won that one also. Hardly something that’ll make headline news; but, a part of our friendship together. I spent two or three nights with them in Vancouver and I still appreciate .
The following day Greg drove me to Vancouver near his dental practice, they lived in Lion’s Bay about a 20 min. ride from the city. I was to take a bus to the airport. As I was waiting for the bus to arrive I saw two of my classmates walking down the street. Both had settled in Vancouver. I turned my back towards him and as they passed I said, ” I have a toothache would you know the dentist in Vancouver?” Two fine fellows and we spent about 10 or 15 min. catching up on four years of our postgraduate days. It was nice to see them both. Sadly Tom has passed away and Don has moved to the South of France from what I’m told. I never saw them again but the memory of their warm days back in dental school and the surprise meeting on the streets of Vancouver are still a nice memories. I bade them a fond farewell and set off to cross the pacific, How Captain Cook of me .
| BOARDING A HERC CF-130
|IT IS ONLY A LONG WAY DOWN IF YOU LOOK
|I AM THE GUY SECOND FROM RIGHT
|AIRBORNE MOCK TRAINING TOWER