Military Women in Fiction- A Sample Including an Airborne Jump

I began a book last summer about a girl leaving the military and going on to civilian life. One of my biggest complaints for romance and urban fantasy is a lack of military/veteran females. Part of me thought I could do it.  In fact, I got about 38,000 words into it before realizing the story touched too close to my own experiences to go on. Not the stuff that happened here in the US, but portraying a female veteran who served in Iraq.  Making that part of her real meant delving into my own memories and emotions from a combat environment. Maybe someday I will finish it, but it’s still a difficult topic for me right now.

Anyway, I did want to share this first chapter with anyone interested.  It highlights one of the last things the character, Amber, did before being discharged. Something very few women in the entire world can claim. In fact, the United States is one of the only countries that allows women to jump from planes. You will not even find them in Europe. They make up a very small percentage due to lack of female volunteers, positions for women in units that jump, and a high failure rate for them in Airborne school. Having jumped thirty-seven times myself, I wanted to use that with the character and show what it is like for a woman. I pulled through my memories to ensure the opening scene of the book could be as realistic as possible. I hope anyone that takes the time to read this enjoys it.

Chapter One
“Ten Minutes!”
The jumpmaster shouted his warning above the loud aircraft’s noise and I felt myself tense. This would be the last time for me. Thirty one jumps and this one scared me the most. I prayed my luck would hold.
“Outboard personnel stand up.” The soldiers across from me struggled to their feet under the heavy equipment weighing them down.
“Inboard personnel stand up.” Now the guys beside me and I lifted ourselves up as the C-130 aircraft pitched under our feet.
The low lighting in the plane gave it a sinister feel. This was a night jump with full combat gear. The least favorite type for us.
“Hook up!” The jump master continued to yell his commands. We repeated them down the line of the aircraft.
I grabbed my static line which had been carefully secured to my reserve until now. It clicked securely onto the anchor line cable which ran the length of the plane. The safety-pin wiggled into place and I bent it down to make sure it would not come loose. When I exited the aircraft, it would ensure my parachute opened within seconds. At least, that is what it should do. I prayed it would one more time for me.
“Check static lines!”
I double checked my work and saw all was in order. The nerves inside me continued to grow. The faces of men near me clearly showed their own serious looks.
“Check equipment!”
Now I did an inspection of the rest of my gear. My helmet felt secure. The reserve parachute in front of me felt firmly in place. My rucksack hung below the reserve and my weapon’s case stretched along my left side. I was literally loaded down with over one hundred pounds of equipment.  A rather heavy burden for a 120-pound girl, but I had done it many times before.
“Sound off for equipment check!”
I heard the guys behind me begin sounding off and braced for what was coming. As expected, the guy behind me slapped the side of my ass while yelling, “Okay!” Some guys never missed an opportunity, and in the Airborne community it was an accepted practice.  Just in case you couldn’t hear the “Okay” over all the aircraft noise, you couldn’t miss being slapped on the ass.
I was in the more conservative school of thought so I slapped the guys arm in front of me and passed on my “okay.” It would continue to the front before the first jumper in line passed on the message, “All okay jumpmaster!” This check was your last opportunity to report any problems before it would be too late. Rarely did anyone report a problem. Our equipment had been checked over well before boarding.
The plane dipped and some of us nearly fell. I braced one hand against the side of the aircraft while keeping a firm grip of my static line in the other hand. If one soldier fell back, it could create a domino effect. We tried to avoid that.
My back began to ache under the load. A perfectly normal side-effect for “training” combat jumps. It actually provided me incentive to get out of the plane. I could only stand like this for so long despite my firm belief that women can be as tough as men.
“One minute!”
That was my cue to tense up more and watch the lights near the door. The red one showed clearly from my position. I knew once it turned green, the show would be on. The doors had been opened earlier and the wind roared inside. I tried not to think about the possible ramifications of jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft.
“Thirty seconds”
I planted my feet into a position which would make it easier to go forward when the command came. After a few moments, the light turned green and I took a deep breath.
“Go!” the jumpmaster yelled. The line moved forward as the five jumpers ahead of me disappeared out the door one at a time.
When I reached the exit, I put one foot out and pushed off with the other as hard as I could. If a jumper didn’t put some distance between themselves and the plane, bad things could happen. People had been caught against the plane before and got stuck. The survival rate wasn’t too high if that happened.
My body sailed out and away into the inky blackness and roaring wind. I kept myself in a tight position to prevent tangles as the parachute jerked open after a two and a half second count. My neck jerked as I swung into a vertical position. More often than I cared for, mild whip-lash resulted from slowing down from a 120-knot speed.
I looked up and used the pale moonlight to check that my parachute had fully opened. All looked fine as I grabbed my toggles to take control. Military parachutes aren’t like the civilian sky diving types. Ours are round and this particular one had an opening in the back to aid in maneuverability. I looked around to get my bearings.
The descent would not take long; we were only jumping at 800 feet tonight. Sometimes we jumped at 1200 feet, but not this time. The Airborne commander for tonight preferred to be as realistic as possible. A real combat jump could be as low as 435 feet, but since this is training, they couldn’t make us go out that low. My other concern was nearby jumpers. One guy sailed by a little close for comfort, but we managed not to collide. It could become like bumper cars in the sky with all of us coming out so close together.
Once I felt confident the way was clear, I dropped my rucksack and weapon down. They hung from a fifteen foot line attached to my harness. It was better not to land with that gear on you, it could cause injuries. I hated jumping with it in the summer, but in the winter you could store extra cold-weather gear which was nice for warmth while waiting to leave the drop zone.
The wind felt soft on my face. A good sign. No wind means you come straight down and rather heavily. It hurts your feet and knees in particular, but you could also land on the aforementioned gear. Too much wind will slam your whole body into the ground. It feels like a freight train hit you. There isn’t much time, but I tried to aim myself close to the parachute turn-in point. No point in carrying all that gear any further than I had to.
Light was minimal tonight, but I managed to make out the ground as it neared quickly. Making sure to keep my feet and knees together, as well as a tight body position, I collapsed to the ground as I landed. Not the worst landing of my career, but not the lightest either.
It’s extremely rare to do a stand up landing with these parachutes. Average rate of descent is 22 to 24 feet per second. You can imagine how pleasant that feels upon landing. A mental check of my body told me there were no apparent injuries. Thank God, I had made it.
It took a few minutes to untangle myself from all the equipment. We had jumped onto Sicily drop zone which had more than enough open space for a safe jump with a C-130.
That plane could only hold sixty-four jumpers. There would be another one coming overhead in the next couple minutes and I didn’t want to waste time. Nothing like the fear of someone landing on you to make you hurry. It’s not a joke, such incidents happen.
I dragged my M-4 rifle out of its case and slung it on my back before beginning the process of rolling up my loose parachute into the aviator’s kit bag. After organizing the rest of my gear I began slinging it onto me. First, the rucksack replaced my rifle on my back. Then I heaved the bag with my parachute onto my front and the reserve connected to it over my head. Rather awkward, but it was a proven method. The weapon and its case came last as they rested on top of the kit bag.
Now came the most strenuous part, walking with all this gear, over uneven terrain, in the dark. It took me about ten minutes to reach my destination. Could have been worse, Sicily is the largest drop zone on Fort Bragg. If you land at its edge, the journey across could be far longer. It’s nearly three miles in length A good air force pilot will drop you in the middle where everyone rallies. Unfortunately, not all pilots are that good. Either that or they are really cruel.
I dumped my parachute and reserve along the neat rows already formed for them. A guy came and asked me for my name.
“Sergeant Dawkins. First name Amber,” I told him.
He found my name readily. Only two women on the whole jump. Our female names stuck out. “Okay, got you.”
He checked my name off a list as I went to locate the other guys from my company. It was nearly two in the morning. Hopefully they would have mercy on us and give a late work call.
In less than a month I would be putting the Army behind me. Six years had been enough. It was time to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Yeah, I should already have a plan. Instead my biggest goal would be to relax for the summer and take time to figure things out. At twenty-six years old, I still didn’t feel the rush.
There are two main ways to live life, with some gray area between. The first one, and most widely accepted, is simple. First you finish school, and then you go to a college or trade school. After that, find steady employment, get married, settle down and have children. Perhaps you do a few wild things in high school and college but eventually, you settle down, as society has dictated is the proper course. I never subscribed to that school of thought. You only live once, right?
I tend to let the other way dictate my life more. Live for the moment and don’t spend too much time looking back. It doesn’t mean you don’t get an education or job. Rather, you do those things while trying a bit of everything. Not only that, you ignore the side that says avoid danger, maintain stability, be respectable. I ignore those people who say you can’t have your cake and eat it too. I’m not talking about relationships. That’s another story. I mean, why do you have to settle on one unbroken path in life? There are so many to choose from. Better to dabble in a bit of everything. Live out the possibilities.
So why don’t more people chose my way? Well, everything has its drawbacks. While my life is full of excitement and spontaneity, it’s a rather lonely existence. Not easy to find someone willing to live such a life with you, or rather, stick with you down all the many paths you traverse.
What does all this mean? There aren’t many people I get close to. With the exception of others like me, no one else understands. Instead everyone wants to preach to me about the error of my ways. I don’t really care for their advice, so I tend not to stick around long to hear it. As for those that do understand, they are so busy bouncing paths themselves that we don’t get too close. Just live in the moment. Like I said, a lonely existence.
Part of me knows I’m looking for something. No idea what it is. Only that until I find it, I’ll continue to be restless. It’s as if I’m searching for something greater than myself. Sure would be nice if I could find it. The military filled that need for a while, but I’ve become restless again. Its time to move on. I took one last look at the darkened drop zone as we rolled out two hours after landing. Maybe I would miss it, just a little.
Written by- Susan A.

~ by Suzie on May 25, 2011.

7 Responses to “Military Women in Fiction- A Sample Including an Airborne Jump”

  1. Susan, you are a natural story teller. There are a few proofreading issues, of course, but no, honey, you are a writer. I’m serious.

  2. Thank you, David, every time I read it, new mistakes seem to glare out at me! This is only the first part of the story that is completed, but I thought to put it up for fun.

    Very nice of you to take the time to check it out. I appreciate the feedback. Hopefully someday I will release my own book.

  3. Susan, no worries. It reads very well, really nice pace and you resisted the temptation to over-explain some of the technical stuff. You are definitely on the right track and I don’t mind giving you feedback at all since you have been so kind to us poor starving indie writers. 🙂

  4. Wow, Susan, you need to finish that book! Very powerful stuff. I always say it’s best to write about something you know, and it sure shows in your excerpt. I wish my son’s book had had your character in it!!

    • You know, I debated starting it this way, but wanted an intense beginning that really put a first impression of the character. The whole show not tell thing. I figured if the reader saw this as the first thing the character did in the book, it already told them a lot. Its actually a paranormal/urban fantasy with romantic elements, but I wanted things to seem fairly contemporary in the beginning. Kind of lull the reader before introducing the really weird stuff.

      Until I stopped writing, my sister was reading each chapter as I wrote it. I totally threw her off when things took a turn later on. She told me I should hide what direction the book goes in because that was actually a fun surprise for her.

  5. Nice work, Susan. I enjoyed it! You can see a difference in writing style between even the front and back half of the piece. There’s a definite evolution from monologue to dialogue (with the reader), even in these few short paragraphs, and I love the way you’ve quickly woven intrigue into the character outline. I’d agree with David – there’s a natural storyteller on display here… Looking forward to reading more of your stuff. Cheers for sharing! 🙂

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