In less than two years I plan to retire – I think after 50 years of work in high stress jobs it’s time to move on to something less stressful and, hopefully, towards a calmer life.
Stress is relative…the first 24 years (well to be truthful, 23.7) were in the military, including 27 months in Vietnam, a number of years in “strategic” jobs doing analytical work, then the last seven to eight years being assigned to airborne units jumping out of
“perfectly good airplanes”.
Of the 65 jumps I made (really, not a lot, take my word for it), I had three that were problem jumps, one of which put me on “profile” (no PT, not even a lot of walking, period) for almost 15 months. That jump was a “three point landing’ – heels, butt, and helmet in, as they say in the military, “rapid order” as I slammed in against a small embankment at probably 20 + knots. It was a bad exit, bad fall through the air ( my risers were twisted all the way to my neck so I had literally no control over the parachute), and a really bad landing. By the time the heels on both of my feel were sufficiently healed (the doc said the impact of the landing literally smashed all the fat cells on both heels) I was one doctor visit away from being medically discharged if I could not be returned to duty “medically fit”.
That jump was in Fort Devens, MA. The next “really could have been bad but luckily due to the weather” it turned out OK parachute jump was in Bad Tolz, Germany. I was carrying a rucksack which is held close under your reserve parachute by two quick release straps. You pull the two straps when you’re within a few hundred feet of landing.
On this particular jump, the unit was trying out a different release system by adding an auxiliary release strap as sometimes the “normal” release straps wouldn’t release. As soon as I pulled the auxiliary release strap connected to the two quick release straps holding my 50 plus pound ruck under my reserve parachute, I knew I was in trouble. The rucksack should have dropped free to the end of the rope so it would be free of me when I landed. The ruck dropped as far as my left ankle, began spinning, tightened around my ankle and, in spite of my most, very zealous efforts, it wasn’t going to come off and I knew it.
I had released the ruck between two hundred to two hundred and fifty feet above the ground. Normal protocol. Release it too high and you can start oscillating in the air – not a good thing when you want as stable a landing as you can possible have. Release it too low and, well, you get the picture, it may cause problems when you land.
I don’t know how much time had passed and how far I had dropped before I realized the ruck was now a permanent part of my left ankle and I was going to ride it in. I do clearly, very clearly, remember it seemed a very long time from the realization I was going to ride it in until I landed. During that period of time, my mind ran through all the possibilities of what was going to happen, what bones would break, and how much it was going to hurt when it happened. I also clearly remember that I knew there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. As soon as I realized this, I became perfectly calm and simply accepted whatever fate had it store for me. It was the strangest, most surreal feeling I ever had.
I relaxed and began watching the ground get closer and closer, something you’re NEVER supposed to do when landing. It’s drilled into you, get in the landing position, watch the horizon and NEVER anticipate the landing…if you do, you can tense up and that’s when people get hurt when they land.
By now the ground was approaching fast, very, very fast, and just before I landed, I lifted up my legs as far as I could to minimize the impact and then, boom, I was on the ground, flat on my back, and before I could move, other paratroopers surrounded me, collapsed the parachute, the medics were there working to free my ankle from the rucksack and then I heard one of them say, “I be dammed, nothing broke!”. They helped up and as I put my full weight on my feet, nothing hurt. I was absolutely amazed.
So, all this melodrama for something that didn’t happen. Believe me, I wasn’t complaining at that point. It turns out the weather was on my side that day. It was spring and the weather couldn’t make up it’s mind whether to snow, freeze, thaw, and repeat the cycle that week. As a result, when I landed, my feet hit the snow which was on top of a semi frozen layer of mud which was on top of frozen ground beneath the two layers. When I landed, my boots acted as mini sleds and I simply slid from my feet to my butt to my back. I was a wet, muddy, happy camper.
Then the month before I left Bad Toelz, the third mishap occurred – I had my “air stolen”, something you never want to happen when you coming down by parachute. When your air is stolen, your own parachute collapses and you literally fall through the sky. If it happens high enough, hopefully the main chute will re-inflate; it it happens too close to the ground, it’s not a pleasant landing.
Your air gets stolen when another paratrooper passes under you or runs into you when your chute is higher than his. As soon as that happens, poof, there’s no longer any lift to your parachute, it collapses and down you go. Hopefully you realize what’s going on and immediately deploy your reserve parachute. There’s no time to think, you just have to react.
When you come out of the airplane or helicopter, you immediately scan the area soon as your chute opens – for a couple of reasons. One, to see who’s around you, and two, to see where you’re supposed to land. My chute opened I looked around and saw someone lower coming right at me. I yelled at him to turn right and I would also turn right which would avert the mid air collision as we would be going in opposite directions. He looked at me dumbstruck, frozen, I knew he wasn’t going to turn, and I knew a collision was inevitable. I tried to turn right as fast as I could but quickly realized it was hopeless as I would not get out of the danger zone fast enough. At that point, I spreadeagled my legs and arms as wide as I could, and a second later the parachute fabric enveloped me. It was an amazing feeling as I felt the fabric engulf me, surround me, I felt as if I had stepped into a cloud and then it was gone, just like that, gone, no where near me. I grabbed the emergency parachute handle and just before I pulled it, I felt a gentle tug, looked up and saw 32 feet of parachute fabric fully deployed. A few seconds later I was landed. The folks on the ground said I must have free falled about two to three hundred feet before the main re-deployed. All was OK. Oh, the trooper who froze up on me, he was a man who didn’t like to jump and was only doing it for the $110.00 a month so he jumped as little as he possibly could.
This was military stress. You lived with it, it was part of the job, it kept you on your toes and you never really throughtg about it. That was something one accepted and didn’t question. It was a high stress environment and you didn’t give it second thought.
When I left the military in 1988, I immediately went to work for a large company. The transition wasn’t easy, it was a fast paced, high stress job completely different from the army. Here, it was pressure cooker stress, metrics, performance, government audits, layoffs always in the back of your mind if your performance was up not to par. In addition to the normal daily stress, the economy was in convulsions, so the pressure to do more with less, benefits being cut back or down, and always keeping a very tight grip on personnel. Hire too many, then they would be laid off at some point; hire too few and everyone was overworked and stressed. The trick was to have just the right amount of people so layoffs would be as minimal as possible and the daily stress wouldn’t overload people.
I can’t go into the type of work I do other than say it’s administrative in nature. In my mind, administrative work in a high pressure environment is to me, a very stressful situation. Unlike the military, you worked, trained, and trained some more, alway knowing that training was what would keep you alive in high stress environments such as being a paratrooper in a combat unit. Here you had to cope with the daily stress as best as you could.
As I advanced in my career with my company, my responsibilities increased which also increased the amount of stress I had to deal with. The stress level in my current position is, in my mind, the highest level of stress I’ve worked under in all the years I’ve worked, including being with a line unit in Vietnam for almost two years and the three airborne units I was in the last years of my military career.
Stress is a killer; it makes people old and that’s why I’m going to retire in less than two years. My health is still good and I want to keep it that way!
Retirement in itself can be stressful so my wife and I began the planning process about two months ago and we now have a phased approach to what we need to do and when to take care of it, including how we live, work, play, and generally try to live a stress free life.
The fist step will be gardening. For the past number of years I’ve always talking a good show about gardening but never really took it serious. This year, however, it’s different and we’re off to a very good start. Over the past month, we’ve been getting the garden area ready (really, I should say my wife has as I don’t have time during the week), pruning trees, building raised bed garden boxes (4X8X2 feet), complete with covers, picked out the various vegetables we will
grow this year, put plastic down to warm the soil, built a fence out of recycled materials we had, moved the compost bins, put netting up over the newly planted blueberry and black current bushes, tilled up the garden one more time, weeded, hoed, shoveled, trimmed, and so forth.
We are excited about the garden this year.
Here’s what we’ve done so…this will be a progress in work so stay tuned: