Do we really need airborne forces?


When I was still in high school an Army recruiter visited and gave a short presentation to a bunch of disinterested, super-cynical New York Public School students. The recruiter, in his sharply pressed BDUs and shiny black boots paced back and forth in front of us. He spoke about the Montgomery GI Bill and the opportunity to travel abroad. When those carrots didn’t pique anyone’s interest, he spoke about the opportunity to jump out airplanes for a living. I shot my hand up and reminded him that this was 1999, and asked him if the concept of airborne forces weren’t outdated, because, you know, missiles. Like a true professional, he fielded my question and spoke at length of the esprit de corps of the airborne community and he explained the importance of maintaining the airborne “forced entry” capability. I felt smug, having bested the poor recruiter.

A couple of years later I would be jumping out of airplanes.

When Failure Thrives, which explores the concept of airborne forces in the Soviet Union, the UK, and the US, is the inaugural publication of The Army Press, which just recently popped up. As their mission states:

The Army Press is a single organization that serves as the Army’s focal point for identifying, encouraging, and coaching prospective authors to publish original contributions on history, policy, doctrine, training, organization, leader development, and the Army Profession. The Press’ programs and products enable scholarship, facilitate professional dialogue, and promote a fuller understanding of the Profession of Arms for uniformed and civilian members of the DoD and JIIM communities.

It’s a fascinating examination, and it captures a lot of the barracks banter that will be familiar to anyone who served in the airborne, only, it’s backed up with facts. In the case of the American airborne community, its ability to exist is in large part due to the initial investment of talent and resources during World War II, the ongoing redefining of the airborne’s mission (The Pentomic Division, lol), and the strong patronage of current and former paratroopers.

What I found really interesting is just how unsuccessful airborne forces have been over the past century (more failures than successes) and even when measured by historians aiming to gauge combat efficiency, airborne forces don’t perform any better than their conventional counterparts. For all the shit-talking that goes on, there just really isn’t a lot of data to back it up.

And as a friend and mentor once said to me, the hurdle to get into your traditional airborne units isn’t very challenging  – it’s 3-weeks of airborne school and you’re in.


army myths

Army Myths: Unhook your chest strap and you get 10% more inflation


Before a jump, paratroopers spend a lot of time waiting around. The airborne timeline is notorious for having you show up at 0300 for a 2359 time on target, and most of the time inbetween is spent bullshitting with the guys next to you.

Invariably, talk will turn to how much jumping sucks, and how to make it suck less.

A myth that I heard over and over from “senior” E4s and junior NCOs was that if you unhooked the chest buckle of the T-10D parachute during your descent, your canopy would get a little extra inflation. On more than one occasion I heard that it would give you 10% “more lift.”

I remember being skeptical upon hearing this at first. I understood the theory, that by unhooking the chest buckle it would theoretically allow the risers to expand out more, thus allowing the canopy to also expand, letting in more air and slowing the descent.

I dismissed their claims, and they dismissed my dismissals as naive.

The only way I’d know for sure, they said, was to try it out myself.

New paratroopers are unlikely to risk touching any of their equipment during descent out of fear – better to just ride it all in than to touch something you shouldn’t touch and risk a gory way to die.

After making a certain number of jumps and feeling confident that I kind of knew what I was doing, I decided to finally test the claim for myself. During a “hollywood” (no equipment, day time) jump on a pleasant day, I unhooked my chest strap during my descent to see if it would do anything.

It didn’t.

I fell to Earth, at more or less the same speed as I was before I unhooked the buckle.



video games

#8BitSalute Update: Stand up, hook up, shuffle to the door!



That is, ‘H minus 16.’ It’s airborne parlance for when we are going to jump, and in sixteen hours, I’ll start my 24 hour gaming marathon to support Operation Supply Drop – a charity that sends video games to deployed troops.

3rd Annual 8-Bit Salute-1I started fundraising on Monday and thanks to your help, I’m number 3 on the leaderboard.

While I think taking the top spot may be a bridge to far, I’m gunning hard for the number two spot. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m asking that you donate if you can and spread the word. Tomorrow, you can track my progress on Twitter.

When you donate, please leave a request for a shoutout or to play a certain video game and I will do my very best to make it happen over the twenty four hours. I’ll also entertain odd-ball requests.

Do your worst.


top search of the week

173rd Airborne Jump Iraq

Dietz print 173rd

Week ending December 15, 2013

The top search of the week was ‘173rd airborne jump iraq.’ Those searchers were surely looking for information on the March 26, 2003 combat jump into northern Iraq by elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. I wrote about that event from the point of view of a disgruntled All American, waking up on a stale cot in Kuwait to hear the news.

For a paratrooper, earning a combat jump device, or “mustard stain” is the pinnacle of airborne service. You have to be at the right place at the right time – in history. Combat jumps happen infrequently – they are cosmic events, one every 20 years or so. Recently I met someone in my unit who jumped with the 173rd in Iraq, and I couldn’t help but get giddy and ask “What was it like?”


middle east

French paratroopers earn their mustard stains in Mali

Lots of action going on in Mali. Here’s the story behind the jump.

The ‘combat jump device‘ is one of the rarest awards in the US military. Right place, right time. I almost got one (not really).

I’m not sure if there is an equivalent award for the French. If anyone knows if they get any special recognition for participating in a combat jump, I’d love to know about it.