Senior Editor-Cedric Nettles
Never question the price a person paid unless you are willing to duplicate the method of payment.
I am kicking off my series in May discussing some principles I’ve learned and grew from in my military journey.
Behold the toughest thing I had to earn. My parachutist badge. I celebrate this time of year when I graduated from Airborne School at Fort Benning, GA many moons ago. I have quite the lengthy back story in this article of how this happened so please get comfortable as I paint the picture of how it went down. So here goes. I REALLY don’t like to go on and on about Ced so I hope you like my story.
Growing up I was picked on a lot and bullied because I was so quiet and shy. I was often a target for bullies and I did not have the best self image. I just kept feeling this pull in high school to go into the military. I enrolled in my high school’s Army JROTC program so I would get a jump start. I felt good about myself. I became Honor Guard Commander and nearly made Battalion Commander for the high school but was happy for my best friend that deservingly got the honor. I finished ranked as Cadet Major, figured I topped out and left. I graduated basic training at Fort Jackson after high school , my Advanced Individual Training for Communications was at Fort Gordon, GA, and was assigned to the arctic circle called Fort Drum NY of the 10th Mountain Division.
I felt so accomplished as I arrived , and I was desperately trying to find out who I was inside, I mean to my depths. I still had the low self image issues going deep down, but I was like a dire wolf. I remember saying this prayer as I awaited my assigned unit at Fort Drum at the new arrival holding facility…I said “God, thank you for all you did getting me through basic and such, please place me in the unit you feel I would grow the most.” Ladies and gentleman you can’t script this stuff better. 3 DAYS LATER this suave latino gentleman pops up who later became my First Sergeant for the most elite unit in the 10th Mountain Division. (I dug this picture up, hope you don’t mind big guy) I have no doubt God exists and answers us. If I would have arrived 3 days later or too soon odds are I never would have met him.
He was the tipping point, he convinced me I would take a lot of regret to the grave by not acting on what he saw in me.
He stated where he was from and he got wind of 3 communications personnel that just arrived and needed us for those roles in that unit. He stated that we would have to jump out of airplanes and get Airborne qualified. I was thinking “You must think I am a new fool, I ain’t jumping out of any plane for anybody.” He saw our hesitant demeanor. I never forgotten he looked me in the eye and said “PFC Nettles” I was like “Yes First Sergeant?” He just glared at me and said “You are already a PFC, you don’t seem to like to run from opportunity.” Then he just smirked a bit at me in that swagger I grew to know and love. They sent two other sergeants to speak to us the next couple of days . I felt like a college football recruit. I really was so young and so hungry…Not to mention gullible. He knew I would regret it if I said no. I thought even if I was going to have to find out whom I was by risking my life, I was so extreme I was willing to do it. He was the tipping point, he convinced me I would take a lot of regret to the grave by not acting on what he saw in me.
Good ole Fort Drum, the career killer everyone called it. This was because most never re-enlist after being there for a couple of years. Fort Drum is the poor man’s arctic circle where the inside joke speaks about the four seasons there; June, July, August and WINTER. This place is as brutal as it gets and people from Alaska’s post go there for cold weather training, yes that is a fact.
I am not a super athlete by any means. I never played organized sports because I grew up with asthma that seemed to go away around that time…Hmmmm…So joining an elite paratrooper unit was quite the adjustment. I remember the death runs in sub zero temperatures, seeing sweat and spit freeze on people’s faces. I thought I was going to die on one run. We ran 7 minute per mile paces for 4 miles straight in these conditions, and yes I struggled mightily. But as my body and what I call core physical and mental toughness improved, my thresholds of pain improved. They do these runs for that reason.
I remember when the gentleman in the picture called me and my young counterparts in on a meeting and told us before he goes off on us for our attitudes about this arrangement, he wanted us to tell him why we were not performing in those runs. I told him I was stressed out. He looked me in the eye with that glare and said ‘No you are not, you are too young to be stressed out.” I was expecting understanding, compassion, and mercy…He gave me an icy stare and tough love instead.He understood this is not the Groupon Sky Diving thing you pay for, this is preparation for combat. I was not the typical 19 year-old, I had lots of responsibilities and could not be in my feelings all day. So I had to suck it up and get stronger.
I did not see my ankle bone for a year because I still had to train.
In the spring , this happens. This is not my pic, but my severely sprained ankle looked just like this after a pick up game. I remember the First Sergeant being the only one to come see me at the hospital. I was sitting there…He was with his drop dead gorgeous girlfriend who smiled at me as well. He kneeled down and acted like he was trying to lay hands on my foot and he chuckled and told me to take care of it. I saw the lighter side of him, and a kind of love when it is needed for the moment. I saw true leadership on display of checking on your troops and placing their needs before yours.This has always been my mantra to this day with any team I put together. I healed but the swelling looked like this for a while. I did not see my ankle bone for a year because I still had to train. It was tough, I lost my conditioning and had to get it back with a shaky ankle that was more prone to re-injure.
I went from never even thinking about jumping out of planes to a year later leading people out of one. God says you asked what was inside you, I am showing you.
The opportunity I was awaiting came 5 months later. I found myself eating saw dust in pit week where they teach you how to fall. Later we were doing the tower thing for about a week learning the commands and what you need to do. Then came jump week and let me tell you I was thrown for a loop with God’s sense of humor.
It takes 5 jumps to earn the wings and God made sure I was the first to go out and lead 25 to 40 other people behind me. Lots of pressure, you have to go when they tap you on your hip.I had the door position my first 5 jumps. I went from never even thinking about jumping out of planes to a year later leading people out of one. God says you asked what was inside you, I am showing you.
I won’t give you play by play on all of those 5 jumps but I will tell you I had a parachute malfunction on jump number 3 that I got kind of a warning of in my head.
I won’t give you play by play on all of those 5 jumps but I will tell you I had a parachute malfunction on jump number 3 that I got kind of a warning of in my head. I will tell you about sweet number 5 later. I will also tell you about my second malfunction later on in the series. I finished my career at 13 total jumps, from 3 different aircraft, and you read it right I had some kind of equipment failure twice!
Jump 3 was something else. I had the fairly rare Mae West parachute malfunction.That thought flashed in my mind before we boarded about something was about happen.. I mean you can’t write this stuff down. This pic is a more severe form, but my chute looked kind of like this. I remembered looking up as they train you and was like “No that is not what that is, can’t be.” and it was. I heard the voice again in my head say don’t pull your reserve. I was 1000 feet in the air debating it. So I heeded the voice and did not pull. I did not know how much trouble I was in until about 200 feet, I was like “Uh Oh” and I landed correctly…BUT HARD.
Jump 5 was like Golden State or the Cavs being up in a 3-0 series, it was the clincher jump. I was not getting a ring, but I was getting wings. My easiest jump.
An instructor ran to where I was on the drop zone and I was thinking not only did I almost die, I am about to be dropped for push ups. But he didn’t discipline me, he shockingly asked me was I ok. I was like ‘Yes Sgt Airborne.” He looked baffled to how I am able to stand up. Then it hit me. There was a female officer that was at least 30 jumpers behind me, and she was already walking back which means SHE BEAT ME TO THE GROUND. How in the world someone 50 pounds lighter than me and in that jump order beat me to the ground? It was nothing but the grace of God.You have to remember I was first going out, that just seemed too odd with a partially opened parachute.
I received a standing ovation by my fellow classmates of 200 people as I exited the drop zone and my main instructor looked at me and said “You are lucky you are not broken.” I never forgotten that and the lesson God was trying to tell me. “If you can trust Me with a bad parachute in mid air, you can trust ME with everything else.”
Jump 5 was like Golden State or the Cavs being up in a 3-0 series, it was the clincher jump. I was not getting a ring, but I was getting wings.My easiest jump. Long story short I landed. I remember getting on one knee praising God in front of the instructors and my classmates on the drop zone immediately after detaching my harness for the last time there. I did not care who was watching…I just won the Super Bowl. I was so grateful and as I was kneeling I heard a quiet voice say ‘Just believe Me.’ I felt that and heard it.
The best part I cherished was flying back to Fort Drum, seeing that proud look on the man that help make this possible. I tear up sometimes when I think about that fatherly grin. He was so proud.By a thin thread I met him, and he saw something I was not seeing. And he may or may not know God was using him to teach me. I knew I would meet other key people in my life and would be moving faster in certain situations in my career.It was a definitive feeling after jump 5. I would know who they were when I met them. It appears that time has come as well. I want to see that grin again in them. (More in the series)
Never question the price a person paid unless you are willing to duplicate the method of payment.
After facing the possibility of dying , sleeping on ice and snow,smelling rotting flesh from corpses when waking up in third world countries , and being emotionally and physically broken, I grew. I don’t walk around with my chest poke out. I stay ‘grounded’ knowing what I went through and understand I will be exactly where I am supposed to be. You see when you are stripped down from titles, and being placed in positions where you have money in an account you can’t even access, your world view changes. When all you can think about is getting home to your family, you learn what is important in this wiff of time called life. Status and profiles are simply not a priority.
I don’t want kids to feel so desperate for an identity that they have to do the things I did just to feel like they belonged.
If a flat footed country boy with no athletic background can have God do this for Him, anything can happen. That’s why I make it a point to never question the price a person paid to become whom he or she is unless I am willing to duplicate the method of payment. Sure there are thousands of kids going through that same program, I don’t lay claim on being the only paratrooper in the world, but I saw God’s power at work when he gave me what I needed to be numbered amongst them. I earn everything I obtain, and accept God’s favor on my life like the precious gift it is. I don’t underestimate anyone, because when someone gave a very shy person like me a chance I stay grateful.
In this series in May I will talk about the principles I’ve learned that were the best thing that happened to me…Emotional scars and all. I don’t want kids to feel so desperate for an identity that they have to do the things I did just to feel like they belonged. So when I get in front of your kids to speak…I speak power, belief, and endurance in their lives…I promise these set of articles won’t be as long as this article. (smile)