Jumping from planes

A friend of mine recently went skydiving back in the States.  She excitedly posted it on Facebook and received a comment, “why would anyone want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?”  That’s a fair question--for someone doing it for sport and thrills.  Then there are those of us who do it because it is our job, because we decided to come to Israel, sign up for the IDF, and get into Tzanchanim, the Paratroopers.
When I was accepted into Tzanchanim in March, my parents asked me, given my fear of heights, why I would join the paratrooping unit?  My brother was jealous: “it’s not fair that I have to pay to go skydiving while Daniel gets to jump five times for free!”  My sister, the daredevil among us, applauded my decision.  I wrote off the two-week jump course as so far in the future that I would figure out a way to get through it when the time came.
And the past two weeks was that time.  I’ve paratrooped three times, with two more jumps to go.  Five jumps, and we get the ‘confats’, the trooper wings.  So, what’s it like to paratroop?  Allow me to paint a picture and let you decide.
After donning over forty kilograms of harness, main parachute and reserve chute, you walk onto the plane.  Somehow this flight is different than every other plane ride.  I enter through the rear ramp of the plane and sit on cargo net meshing facing the inside of the cargo hold. Sitting there, with our helmets and equipment, I’m starting to think the stewardesses and peanuts weren’t going to come.
The plane lumbers off the runway and into the air.  A few windows allow those sitting in the center to see us gain altitude and enjoy the view during the half hour flight.  We near the drop zone and our commanders pull the yellow cords running from our packs and clipping them onto a cable running the length of the plane.  Soon the doors open and the already loud flight becomes a deafening roar, but at least the sweltering heat subsides slightly as a breeze fills the plane.
Our commanders tell us to stand up and walk towards the rear of the flight.  We hold onto our yellow cords and check the paratrooper in front to make sure his equipment is set: “one ok!” “two ok!” “three ok!” “four ok...” and so on to the guy at the door.  Then we wait for the red light to turn green.  And in no time, it does.
I was near the end of the line and felt the pull of the cable as the first guy disappears into the sky.  Then the next guy’s gone, and the next and the next.  They tell us to jump when the commander slaps us on the shoulder.  From my vantage point, it looked like they were pushing guys out the door.  I look at the signs in English on the wall of the hull as I inch with trepidation towards the open door, trying to find comfort in something familiar.  My friend in front of me is in the doorway, then disappears out into the blue sky.
I can now see the ground below the plane.  I can see a few white clouds.  I can see a city in the....I feel a shove out the door and I’m outside the plane.  I pull my head in and see the ground give way to the sky as my feet pull even with my head, then a tug as the yellow cord runs out and pulls open my parachute.  I grab the straps and stare up at the most beautiful sight in the world: an open parachute, holding air and without any problems.
I look around and take in the beautiful view, with the sea to my right, cities behind me, an open field and forest below me, and a sunny, blue sky all around.  I couldn’t believe what I was doing: paratrooping in the Israeli army!  
Jumping at night is a different experience altogether.  The inside of the plane was lit by red lights, amplifying the military feel of the whole operation.  In the doorway, you can’t see the ground and jump into the darkness.  The full moon lights up the parachute canopy and shines the sand below me white.  The lights of the cities in the distance remind me that I am off the ground, but not that high up.  The stars are around me, but rising fast as the ground gets closer.  
Suddenly, my feet hit the ground and I fall backwards onto the sand dune.  I stare up at my parachute falling gracefully around me, its last, slow dance after such a violent beginning.  The soft fabric glides down and envelops me.  My heart and mind race, but the peaceful stillness of the night is absolute and complete.  I take a few moments before standing up and refolding my parachute.