The Braden Files
Curiosities of mathematics, history, parachuting, etc……

With the Sons of the Bondwoman

“And where is the prince who can so afford to cover his country with troops for its defense, as that ten thousand men descending from the clouds might not in many places do an infinite deal of mischief before a force could be brought together to repel them?”

-Benjamin Franklin

Harsh arc lights splashed their yellow ellipses onto the asphalt, cutting into the desert night. It was going on 0430 hours with what I privately think of as a Turkish Moon, i.e. a moon perhaps a couple of days past a new one, hanging in the sky just abeam the planet Venus. Hurry up and wait time once again. A busload of Jordanian paratroopers pulls through the gate; they will be jumping with us this morning. It is late in August yet chilly, as are all true deserts at this time of night. At Wadi Rum, where we will be camping tomorrow and where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed, we can expect 120 degrees in the shade.

We, the Airborne Operations Group, consisting of Americans, Brits, Canadians, Israelis and an Indian from New Delhi, are in the last phases of drawing our equipment from the parachute loft at Al Zaqar, headquarters for Jordan’s Special Forces.

Last-minute reminders from a Jordanian captain: Currently three knots of wind from the northwest blowing on the DZ (drop zone). Avoid the high power lines to the north (good advice, that) and the highway to Aqaba on the south. Especially avoid the boulders to the west. In case of a total parachute malfunction, you should…In case of a partial malfunction, you should…In case of getting hung up behind the airplane you should…etc. etc. We wish the captain would shut the hell up. We have all mentally rehearsed these scenarios a thousand times before over the years. The longer he talks, the more we wonder why we are doing this. (Actually, to honor the late, great King Hussein of Jordan, with an international, mass parachute jump).

The Crown Price arrives, along with a brigadier general and his bodyguards, all armed with submachine guns. His Highness will be jumping with us today. In front of me, my jumping partner Jerry (once an Army major, in real life a college professor from New York) is being given the once-over by the captain as well as by the first sergeant. Good. No buckle, harness connection, capewell, or snap of any description escapes the probing eye of their flashlights or their prodding fingers. My turn. Arms to be held held at ninety degrees, no mean feat for me since screwing up my right arm in Brooklyn last month, an old parachute injury from decades ago coming home to roost. Jumping off the parachute tower the day before plus a lot of PT and PLF training at the parachute school has not done it a bit of good, that’s for sure.

Nearby the obligatory Call to Prayer suddenly bursts forth from a minaret as it does at 0430 everywhere in the world of the Prophet Mohammed. Well, I didn’t need to be reminded! Half a mile away we hear the unmistakable keening sound of our C-130’s engines lighting off and slowly gathering power as the pilots and flight engineer start to go through their checklists. The plane slowly growls its way through the gloom and the engineer drops the rear ramp for boarding. We march the last hundred yards (straight in from Devizes, all shapes and all sizes, like beads on a string?) in two columns and into the maw of the aluminum monster, in exactly the reverse order of our stick positions. Even at idle speed the eight-thousand horsepower turbine blades kick up a gale, reeking with JP-4. A relief to get inside. Everything from this point will have to be done by well-rehearsed hand signals, since auditory communication will be all but impossible.

The artificially-lit inside of a C-130 is like a cave, seemingly too big to house puny cargo such as homo sapiens. In the tail section the Jordanians start screaming some sort of chant (their version of “Blood on the Risers”?) and they keep it up all the way to the DZ.

There was blood upon the risers,
there were brains upon the chute,
Intestines were a-dangling from
his paratrooper suit,
He was a mess; they picked him up
and poured him from his boots,
And he ain’t going to jump no more!

Jordan. Until recently, Trans-Jordan, an artificial country delineated after the Great War by Winston Churchill and a straightedge (look at the map). Moses walked here. As did his brother Aaron, who is buried nearby, on top of a mountain overlooking Petra. Five minutes to the north (as the C-130 flies) lie the rolling hills of Gilead. Cleopatra cajoled her besotted lover Marc Antony to turn on his old friend Herod and award her Herod’s balsam groves. He did. (At that time the “balm of Gilead” was going at three times the rate of pure silver, by weight.) Faithful Ruth was born and raised here. Lot loved it here all too much; his wife, more so.

Usually, foreign tourists are very visible to the local populace, and feel, well, as foreigners feel. Foreign. Unaccepted. Not belonging. Somehow we didn’t feel that way at all walking in Amman, the capital. (The Apostle Paul knew it as Philadelphia, capital of the Ammonites). A few minutes’ reflection told me why. Of course we were not being regarded as tourists. We weren’t tourists. We were the soldiery. We had always been here. The soldiery of Trajan and Hadrian had fought in the dusty hills of Jordan, aka “Moab” and “Edom”. Soldiery from neighboring Parthia humiliated a legion of Caesar Augustus here, and lived on to humiliate Jimmy Carter and the entire United States. Hittite soldiery, with their chariots of iron. Uriah was a Hittite, murdered by David’s soldiery right here in Amman. We saw one of those iron chariots at the Tank Museum in Latrun, across the river in Israel. A fearsome war machine, that. Light parachute infantry do not fare well against tanks. Bronze-age infantry feared the Hittites and their iron chariots for exactly the same reason a modern rifleman fears tanks.

French soldiery (under Louis XI and Napoleon, to name but two) came to stake claims in the region. Phonecian Soldiery. English soldiery. Viking soldiery. Teutonic soldiery, Polish soldiery and soldiery of the Levant. Crusader soldiery, the most murderous and venal bunch of cutthroats as ever gave “mercenary” a bad name. Hospitaliers, Knights of Malta. In the tenth century S’allah Din’s soldiery stopped them here in Jordan, and erected a castle from which to assault the Crusader infesting nearby Jerusalem. An impregnable castle, at least until the eleventh century, when Ghengis Khaan’s Mongolian soldiery overcame it. The soldiery of the Ottoman Turk, omnipresent in the region in human memory, was finally driven out by Allenby’s British soldiery in 1918. The victorious British got Palestine and Jordan; the French, Syria and Lebanon. Local Arabs, of course, got nothing.

Hydraulics lift the two cavernous doors of our airplane up into the ceiling. Dawn is just breaking, and I catch a glimpse of a thin layer of cloud. Three minutes to the DZ. The wind is up to six knots. Pass it back. Our faithful jumpmaster, the captain, is leaning forward into the 150 mph slipstream, tethered to the fuselage so he can’t get sucked out. Six knots, no big deal. On the other side of the plane I see Mike and Monty, both of whom jumped with the Russian Army onto the north pole in a forty knot wind and lived to tell about it. Ken, my old jumpmaster from over thirty years ago in Hawaii (with over 5,600 jumps) is grinning at me and pointing to his altimeter. No way do we have jump altitude. The US Army does not jump at this altitude. Even the Marines don’t jump at this altitude. We are almost dragging our feet on the ground. Son of a … Hey. This is supposed to be a training exercise, dammit. What is going on? Ken is grinning because he and the Prince are going on up to 13,000 feet for some skydiving after dropping off us grunts.

Lights above the door. Two reds change to one red and one green. One minute to “go”. As my father used to say: “Two reds changing to a red and a green will be the longest minute of your life.” I don’t dare look at the ground, just Ken grinning like a Cheshire cat, curse him. Two greens. GO! Jerry leaps out the door and I am right behind him. Steve, an Army doctor (and lawyer, too, so he can sue himself for malpractice, I suppose), is right behind me. “Allah Akbar!” I yell, just sort of playing all sides of this thing. One thousand! Two thousand!

WHUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUF! Each of us grunt and strain against the G forces. We were traveling at 150 mph and our canopies all but stop dead in the air. Momentarily my body weighs seven hundred pounds and is swung parallel to the ground. I don’t have to look at my canopy to know that it is a good one.

Left turn, right turn, brake, here’s the ground already, get into the wind, wow, this is a quickie, elbows in, get those feet together; I’m going to hit in a plowed field, not the best but certainly not the worst sort of landing spot. Soft landing. No sweat. Lewis, the Harbormaster for the Port of Los Angeles, helps me fieldpack my chute. (We jumped together last year in Mongolia and we watch out for each other.)

Fifty jumpers down; no injuries. None were expected, really. The Jordanians are incredibly professional and meticulous when it comes to parachute rigging.

Back in Amman by 0830, still rather invisible to the populace. But each of us was grinning to himself, at least inwardly. Our battle dress uniforms, aka “BDUs” or “cammies”, more or less indistinguishable no matter what their country of origin, had what no legionnaire of Titus or Augustus or Hadrian could ever have had. No Greek hoplite, no warrior of Saul or David, no Hun or Hittite or Hospitalier, Seleucid or Saracen, Mammeluke or Mesopotamian.

On each chest were the golden parachute wings of the Royal Army of Jordan, presented by the Crown Prince himself.


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