“It’s not a parachuting holiday. It’s a mix of adrenaline & terror, shaken not stirred...!”

Slovakia was a great success & worth every substantial penny despite the absence (at short notice!) of the Ukrainian & Russian JM’s. Foreign jumpers included Germany, USA, UK, France, Sweden & SA & we’ll be inviting all of them to join us when we finally get a Boogie of our own together somewhere here. Jumpmaster’s & Instructors were collectively from Slovakia, Poland & the USA.

A couple of us unfortunately were only able to get 8 jumps in instead of the promised 10 but think that was largely due to some participants arriving sometime after the others & having to be put through hangar-training. Also because of the ban that was placed on SL jumps from the LET 410 after Jordan (one of the US JM’s) had a line-over through the centre of his canopy on his 2nd square jump after exiting from the LET 410. He cut-away successfully & it was decided to can SL on the LET & only allow FF jumps from it.

Apart from that everybody had a great time. All participants formed a strong bond & the camaraderie between the various international jumpers was 1st class. Christophe - aka Frenchy was one of the 2 French jumpers. Frenchy has a sense of humour second to none & gave us cause for great mirth. Not least of which was that he bunked with Garth & Andrew in their basha. The result was that for a couple of days neither Garth nor Andrew had any sleep as they were constantly on guard against a short range reconnaissance & rapid insertion by Frenchy! This threat was reduced to a comfortable level after the Frog disappeared on a mission one night & returned in a daze having completed a successful insertion in the nearby town of Trencin...

John put to good use a dilapidated army tent conveniently situated far enough from the centre of operations so as not to hear the screams as he conducted intense debriefings of various personnel. The tent collapsed after what we assumed to have been a particularly rough interrogation but which could also have been as a result of the stormy weather that night...

Alan recounted stories from his childhood: “I always wanted to be a soldier,” Alan told us, “We visited my uncle, and we could see parachutists jumping at the nearby airfield. After that I practised jumping off the garage roof, and I would get the other boys in the neighbourhood to come and join in. I could never understand why the local mothers would say; “No, Boetie, you're not allowed to go and play with Alan!” Alan introduced the foreign jumpers to the 3 second delay (clearly being well-practised!) & much fun was had by both observers & participants in this ceremony. Frenchy modified the count to “One Crocodile, Two Crocodiles, Three Crocodiles” - something some of us chanted thereafter on our way out the door - & the UK chicks all wanted to “do Jordan”. That being said, Jordan eagerly volunteered his services as Master of Ceremonies after Alan & Garth were awarded the Slovakian FF Wings & Certificate. Gold Wings, similar to the original but looks very smart indeed! From what we gathered this is the 1st time that they have awarded those wings to foreign jumpers.

Alan developed what can only be described as “The Look”, & believe me, even the Hounds of the Baskerville would have galloped home howling madly. Alan applied this fearsome scowl to anybody who he thought didn’t want to do anything parachuty-like.

One of a previous set of jumpers (not of our course) took a long while to come back to the airfield, having landed far, far away. “Make sure you take money with you for the taxi,” Frenchy croaked.

There were a series of little marker poles, about a metre high in various rows along the runway, & demarcating various areas. John suggested that people could be hurt landing on them, before realising that they were made of a rigid but flexible foam. Frenchy examined them, & suggested that the problem would be solved if we just applied cream to all of them.

Heiko aka Minime had a cat which he stroked absently from time to time. At least we think it was a cat. We couldn’t see anything at all so have to take his word on this.... By the way, "Heiko’s drinking team has a parachuting problem".

Arne & Jonas, both having reached their 20-jump milestone, were subjected to an initiation rite involving much pain (them) & much enjoyment (us). Tradition called for them to bend over & touch their toes, have ice-cold water poured down their trousers & enjoy a well earned spanking from each (lots of us, the more the merrier) of their vastly amused comrades. Apparently the German Paratroopers require that this display of patriotic affection be repeated every 20 jumps... OW!!

Katie had her first Tandem Freefall jump with Andrzej from 14000 feet & if the shrieks of wonderment (or were they horror?) were anything to go by, she enjoyed it tremendously! Chip, who volunteered his services as “drinker” on behalf of his daughter Katie at her ceremonial 3 second delay & who was subsequently embroiled in his own 3 second delay never wants to see another beer again! Everything was a romp a minute interspersed with training, kitting up & jumping.

On one of the last runs using the round parachutes there was some problem about when to get one of the later sticks to jump. They all jumped & landed after a fashion – gravity saw to that! Michael got it together with a tall & buxom tree – by no means a small feat & which was much envied by Frenchy who had to travel 17 miles to (nearby?) Trencin to get it together with anything & David found the only bramble-thicket for 20 miles in any direction & proceeded to burrow into it. Those waiting on the ground set off to look for them, Frenchy observing the irony of us looking for people wearing green camo & tangled up in green camo parachutes that blended into the green-camo landscape. Chris was the US jumpmaster & having a second JM in the Antonov with him, had changed the rules a bit & suggested that his troops follow him out of the plane – Jordan could dispatch. We think that Chris must have timed it very carefully so as to avoid the tangled webs beneath as he had a happy landing on a convenient bit of grass .... Unlike his trashed troops...

As was evident from the photographs, Alan lured Jonas the Swede to pose next to him for a photo & in a sudden demonstration of affection attacked him mercilessly. Jonas, although at first taken aback by this comradely action soon got into the swing of things & the two of them wrestled lovingly for a while. Clearly they were both playing hard to get but suddenly & with a masterful stroke, Alan got on top & Jonas surrendered to his embrace....

Saturday morning brought with it some retraining for those that felt a need to brush up their skills & also a new adventure in the shape of a Brigadir. A latecomer to the proceedings – a Spanish “Paratrooper” & his better-half – refused to get in the aircraft. Apparently he could see out the windows & he didn’t want to do that ‘cos it gave him the heebie-jeebies. To cut a long story short, he retired unnoticed back to Spain...

“Who wants to jump the Brigadir?” was the question raised by Andrzej the Slovakian JM.

“Is she pretty?” quipped someone. “Will she still respect me in the morning?”

The finale to this parachuting exercise was the Mi-8 helicopter jump in Zilina on Saturday evening, approximately an hour’s bus-drive away. It would have been shorter had the driver elected to take the freeway & well anyway, that hour was by far one of the most exhilarating (or frightening, depending largely on one’s alcohol intake - & their seat on the bus for that matter, the guys at the back being oblivious to the antics of a clearly insane driver) experiences anybody could have had anywhere! The consensus amongst the South Africans & for that matter, anybody else who had experienced the Eskom induced darkness down-South, was that SA’s taxi-drivers were highly trained F1 champions...

The Mi-8 which was so totally different to the AN-2 was definitely the highlight of the jumps. The helicopter was moving not hovering when we jumped in groups of 3 (3 freefallers followed by 3 SL jumpers) & with a complete lack of noticeable prop-wash the SL canopies opened in a different manner to that usually experienced from an aircraft jump. The result on several ‘chutes was a delayed opening & also in a different position to that from a ‘plane. The canopy appeared to deploy at approximately the 10h00 position & the jumper dangling at approximately 16h00 instead of the canopy opening above at the 12h00 position. The delayed opening caused several jumpers to think “Oh Crap, a malfunction!” & reach for the cut-away only for the canopy to fully deploy just before the message was relayed by the brain to the fingers. The DZ in Zilina was very narrow & was mostly a long concrete landing-strip with a bit of hard & very dodgy grassland dotted here & there. There was a river on one side & a busy highway on the other side but everybody managed to avoid both & landed on the “grass”.

Chris was on the exit ramp of the helicopter waiting to jump – “Jump” one of the instructors said. “No,” said the other. “Jump,” said the first, “No” said the second instructor. Chris was concerned that he might have been seen to hesitate before jumping, which wouldn’t look good on his record....

The Polish JM awarded the Wings of the 6th Airborne Brigade after the helicopter jump & jolly sexy they are too!

The only casualty was one of the US Army jumpers (Jose) who did a very comfortable 3-point landing (feet & bum) & after sliding along the ground for a short distance managed to catch a foot in a tuft of grass & promptly fractured his lower-leg/ankle in 3 places. Fortunately it was his last jump!

After a few hours with the Medics the injured Jose arrived back at the basha. Garth was busy moving Jose’s material from the top bunk on to the bunk left by the now absent Frenchy when Andrew arrived back from the shower wearing only his towel & attitude. “You guys are bastards,” he said. “Let him sleep on the lower bunk!”

Of course Garth couldn’t let this go & immediately suggested that Jose wasn’t going to let a trivial thing like a broken leg make him compromise his standards.

He’s Airborne, after all!

I would have absolutely no hesitation in recommending anybody who asked to jump with Stefan Eicker if he were able to afford the cost.

As Alan said after the exercise was concluded:

“I never saw a glum-face, sometimes a serious one, & that moment was fleeting. Believe me, jumping those round 'chutes was no child's play, those were real testers. I couldn't have wished to have a more professional team than the one we had. Brothers in Arms, I would say, Brothers in Arms.”

Andrew McDonald
South African Special Forces League

PS: If anybody wishes, photographs of this event can be seen by following the links below:

Album 1

Album 2

Album 3

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