Airborne school has a 3rd option

Published 11:00 am Monday, November 19, 2012

Dear Tim Engstrom:

I just wanted to drop a note that I had read your article on earning your jump wings and thoroughly enjoyed it. It brought back a lot of memories, both good and bad, of going through Jump School in Fort Benning as a Marine lance corporal in late 1991.

As you recall how harsh the instructors were on our Army brothers during this school, I’m sure that you can only image how much fun it was to be the only Marine in the class, I was nearly always singled out for “special treatment.”

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You description of the school was spot on, but I can tell you there is a third option between the blood wings and the body bag. I was one of the jump casualties and, of course, being a Marine, I had to do it differently. On my fourth qualifying jump there was a serious malfunction that ended up with my risers snapping my femurs in mid-air. At this point being well-committed to the jump, I just followed my training the best that I could in the situation. I will always remember that few minutes of floating down knowing what was coming ahead.

The next day in the hospital I got a visit from the Army colonel of the training command. He had seen the plight and how I handled it and was there to present me with my wings and an open invitation to come back for my last qualifying jump. Although blood wings were still standard order of the day, mine were applied a bit more cautiously.

This did end my military career, and I was retired from service two years later. I have never regretted the experience. Those two years more than any other as I fought to regain the ability to walk as well as my attempt to remain on active duty I learned what it is to overcome and adapt.

Thanks for the memories.


Bart Wackerbarth

Butte, Mont.