Being a cop & solider are very different, but the camaraderie remainsBy John Patston | Jul 11, 2019
“Stand up, hook up, shuffle to the door/Jump right out and count to four!”
It’s really just as easy as the words in this cadence make it seem. Although I must say, before each one of my jumps, my heart was sprinting and my body was hurting. I just wanted to get out of the plane so I could get that parachute off my back, and my dangling rucksack off and out from the front of my legs.
Jumping all those years ago in the dark skies over humid North Carolina are days I sometimes think of. To be a soldier as a kid out of high school, serving in our armed forces, seemed to seal my love of country. These were important years in my early adult life. So now, years later, with my family, I wanted to take them to where I had run in formation in the mornings, where I had jumped out of C-17s over the expansive and austere drop zone, where I had marched (slogged) miles across sandy terrain surrounded by towering pines, where I had been with people who wore the same uniform …
A Different Uniform
May was All-American Week, a time that brings back veterans of WWII to the War on Terrorism, to celebrate and honor the might and history of the 82nd Airborne Division. It had been 13 years since I had last been to Fort Bragg, and the post looked a bit different. Where my infantry battalion had been, there was now an artillery brigade. In fact, the old WWII-style, gray cement barracks that I reported to each morning were now long gone.
My family and I went to a couple of museums, jumped out of a 34-foot tower, attended a memorial service, and punctuated the week by witnessing simulated combat exercises, a mass tactical jump, and a division review—all happening on Sicily Drop Zone in front of thousands of onlookers.
As I watched this magnificent spectacle, I had a slew of emotions. Even having been around it when I was in the Army, I still found myself quite impressed by the sheer awesomeness of the Apache and Blackhawk helicopters, or the two F-18s that decided to get in on some of the fun that morning. I remembered that good people are behind those machines, for the good of the country. In short, I was grateful to be an American, still and forever more. I was thankful that my 13-year-old son was seeing this, a boy who always has his face buried in military history books.
But then came the “birds,” those hulking yet lithe cargo planes, carrying paratroopers. The separation of the planes, the staggered formation, the altitude—it all seemed right. There I was a civilian onlooker. I could see the doors at the rear of the planes opened, and for a moment felt as if I were in that plane, staring at that red light that I knew was going to flash to green, and with it, a flurry of madness and precision all at once.
And then the paratroopers started appearing, first as specks in the sky being hurled every which way as they plunged into the air, and then as something more permanent: a motivated soldier being suspended by a canopy over his head, floating to the ground. I knew, from having been there, that the landing would be far from gentle. But they made it look easy. Dozens upon dozens of paratroopers descending to the ground, seemingly so calmly and carefree. There was intent to all they did, despite the ease. For a moment, I imagined being the enemy looking at my American foe coming for me. No, thanks!
I’m glad to have worn my Army fatigues. As a police officer now, I know the two professions aren’t the same. But there are many likenesses. I wear the patch of my department on my left shoulder, not the famed “AA” anymore. But behind each is a love of country and a deep respect for others wearing the same uniform, facing the same trials, experiencing the same achievements.
Bottom line: Whether soldier or cop, we are called to jump out into the dark night from time to time. But we need not look too far to find a nearby friend floating near us to the ground, with the same determination and skills to win.