Hang in There by David Macfie
The young man gazed at the sky. He was watching a sky diving team practicing their routine for the upcoming air show.
As they dropped, they changed formation at regular intervals, the movements smooth, flowing and graceful. It seemed as if they had all the time in the world, while they were falling at terminal velocity of 195 kilometers per hour.
“Hang in there, guys,” Jason whispered to himself, his eyes firmly fixed in his head, but his heart and mind falling with the bird-people. “You’re looking good.”
Jason was early at the gate of the drop zone, and the various teams had staked out their territories. He bought a program with his ticket and checked the map showing who was where. As soon as he knew, he made his way to the Red Devils area and approached the first man he saw.
“Is it possible to speak with the commanding officer of the display team?” he asked politely.
“Not a chance right now,” replied the man, tersely. “The team’s getting ready and they’ll be busy until they’re called to perform. It might be possible after the display is done. What’s it about?”
“I want to join the Parachute Regiment and work my way up until I’m good enough to be in the display team. I need to know what would be involved and where to go to join.”
“What’s your name?”
“OK, Jason. Best I can do is leave a message with the CO. Come back after the display and wait by that tent over there. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Thanks for the compliment, but I’m not a sir. I’m just a lowly corporal. I’m here to look after the gear. I’m not in the display team.”
“Oh dear, I’m sorry about that.”
“So am I, but I’m not good enough yet.”
“Is it very hard?”
“Hard enough, but you’ll see when you get in, won’t you?”
“Yes, I guess I will. Thanks for all your help, corporal.”
“When you get back, call me Paddy, unless you’ve joined up. Then you’ll have to refer to me as corporal.”
This line was delivered with a grin and a wave that Jason returned then made his way to the large spectator area.
The show was incredible, and all the teams were superbly trained. As well as the Red Devils, Jason saw two more army teams, the RLC Silver Stars and the REME Lightning Bolts. Next came the Royal Navy Raiders, a team from the London Fire Brigade and the Wild Geese parachute display team from Northern Ireland.
It felt like the best day of his life.
At the end he rushed back to the tent Paddy had pointed out. The corporal was waiting.
“You’re in luck, lad.” He said, grinning from ear to ear. “I told him how keen you are, and he agreed to see you. He’ll be here in about fifteen minutes. Have a seat and try to be patient. I must go and sort out the gear. Good Luck.”
He rushed away and Jason tried to follow his advice. He sat for only a moment then got up and began to pace. He couldn’t keep still. He was so excited his body needed to move. It was the longest fifteen minutes of his life. Then he saw the captain coming towards him. He faced the man and saluted.
“Good afternoon Captain Grove. Thank you for agreeing to see me.”
The captain stopped and eyed the young man.
“You know my name?”
“Yes sir. I know the names of the whole team. I’ve watched many videos of your displays. I’ve watched most of the others here today, but I hadn’t seen the Fire Brigade before.”
“Paddy told me that you want to join up. Did you know that you don’t have to be eighteen? Men as young as sixteen can join.”
“I knew that, sir. But I thought I should complete my ‘A’ level exams first. I’m trying to get straight A’s in my eight subjects.”
“That would be impressive, and it would be an advantage. When do you sit?”
“I start on Monday, sir. And the exams last for two weeks. It’s a bit hectic so I decided to take two weeks off afterwards before joining up.”
“You seem pretty clued up, so what can I do for you?”
“I wanted your opinion about my chances of being accepted for the Parachute regiment and ultimately for the Red Devils team.”
“Are you planning to volunteer?”
“Then the first step will be for you to be invited to a three-day Parachute Regiment Assessment Course at Catterick Garrison. If you give me all your details, I’ll organize the invitation.”
“That would be marvelous, sir,” said Jason, handing over a piece of paper. “I hoped someone might be able to do that, so I wrote my details down. What happens on the course, sir?”
“You’ll have to pass a bunch of physical fitness assessments. If you get through them, you’ll go on a thirty-week training program with Second Infantry Training Battalion at the Infantry Training Centre at Catterick. P company puts all recruits through assessments of stamina, fitness and teamwork skills. There will then be eight pre-parachute selection tests. If you’re successful, you’ll be awarded your maroon beret, and you’ll be assigned to a battalion. After that, you’ll be posted to RAF Brize Norton, for a Basic Parachute Course. You must complete at least five jumps to be qualified as a military parachutist.”
“And how do paratroopers become Red Devils, sir?”
“Only the best candidates are selected, and you must understand that competition is fierce. It’s considered a great honor to be a Red Devil. You can volunteer and if we think you’re suitable you come to an extremely rigorous two-week selection process. There your suitability will be tested. We look at how you interact with the public, how you complete the difficult and complicated technical procedures needed to perform public skydiving displays and, finally, your skill and ability as a skydiver. You will have to work really hard and be as good as you can be to make it.”
“I will be a Red Devil, sir,” replied Jason, stoutly. “It’s my dream, and I will make it happen. Thank you for explaining everything. I have all I need now.”
“You’re very welcome, son. We like people with guts and determination. I’m sure we’ll meet again. Goodbye.”
“You can count on it, sir. Goodbye and thanks again.”
Jason worked hard and achieved his straight A’s. And, as promised, he received an invitation. He passed the three-day assessment and began his basic training.
From time to time he met Paddy who told him to ‘hang in there’ and said he’d heard good things. Jason worked very hard and completed the course as best recruit of that intake. Now he focused on the pre-parachute selection tests. He aced them and, on the proudest day of his life, he was awarded his maroon beret. He was officially now a paratrooper. He was allocated to 2nd battalion then posted to Brize Norton for his Basic Parachute Course.
Here he hit his first real obstacles. The preparation for the first jump was fine, but something went wrong with his main chute and he had to deploy the emergency one. From then on, he packed his own chutes. That didn’t go down too well with the troopers who were supposed to do it, so he apologized and volunteered for that duty with them instead of bypassing them. Now it didn’t matter that he still packed his own as well as many others because he was one of the boys. It was a valuable lesson in teamwork.
His second jump was hard because of a strong wind that tried to blow him away from the drop zone. He struggled hard, with many course changes, to finally land as one of three who managed to come down where they were supposed to. The others missed the mark by some distance. The three got extra recognition for the feat.
The third jump was a dream.
On the fourth, out of a C130 Hercules plane, one of the other paras collided with him and their chutes got tangled so badly that they had to cut them loose and deploy emergency chutes. There was an enquiry after that. Fortunately, there were witnesses that confirmed that the issue was caused by the other guy, so he was exonerated.
The last jump, also from a C130, was perfect and he qualified as a military parachutist.
He went back to his battalion at Colchester Garrison, and immediately volunteered for the Red Devils. He was turned down because the battalion had been rotated to serve with the Special Forces Support Group. This involved a lot more training on additional weapons, communications skills and specialized assault skills.
Afterwards the battalion was sent on assignment to Afghanistan. That was scary and dangerous. There were several contacts with enemy troops, where they took fire. Nobody was injured but there were many close shaves. He came through it with distinction and was promoted to Lance Corporal. These actions delayed his grand plan for the Red Devils, but he knuckled down and did his best.
He met Paddy again.
“Paddy, it’s driving me crazy. I want to join the team, but there’s all this other stuff to deal with,” he complained.
“It’s all part of the deal between you and the army,” replied the corporal. “You must earn the privileges you seek. How can you be the best if you don’t go through the steps you need to improve? From what I hear you’ve made a good start. Don’t blow it all, by getting impatient. Hang in there and concentrate on honing all your skills. It will all happen when you’re good enough.
The advice was disappointing, but it helped him to focus and buckle down once more.
The next time he volunteered, he made the selection cadre, but wasn’t chosen. He was told to work harder on his communication skills with members of the public and to get in more jumps to hone his skydiving skills. He got a bit discouraged but, luckily, he met Captain Grove again.
“Hello Lance Corporal Owen,” he said, recognizing Jason instantly. “How are things going?”
“Good and bad, sir” replied Jason, surprised at the man’s memory. “Good in that I’m a para, bad that I’m not yet a Red Devil.”
“Don’t be discouraged, youngster. It always takes a while. I’ve been keeping an eye on your progress and you’re ahead of the game. Most guys take years to be accepted. You’ve only tried twice, and you got to the cadre the last time. That’s pretty good. Hang in there and concentrate on being the best you can be. In a few more months try again.”
“Thank you, sir. I certainly will.”
Three more attempts were unsuccessful, but Jason didn’t have time to brood. His battalion were sent to Afghanistan twice more and, on both occasions, took casualties from enemy fire. During the second, Jason made several trips, through severe enemy fire, to help wounded colleagues to reach safety. He received a commendation and was promoted to Corporal.
He enjoyed the army but began to feel that the Red Devils were a pipe dream.
“Hang in there,” he whispered to himself, several times every night, before going to bed.
In the end it was three years before he finally succeeded to pass the suitability tests. By then he was a Sergeant and the first person he met, when he arrived at the Red Devils barracks, was Captain Grove.
“So, Sergeant Owen, we meet again. Welcome to the Red Devils. Well done on staying the course and not giving up. We’re pleased to have you here.”
“Thank you, sir. I’m very happy to be here. You were right. I wasn’t ready before and I needed to work hard to become the best. I always remembered to ‘hang in there’ and keep improving. Now it’s paid off.”