Page 2 After getting blown up by the one guy in the group who knows how to aim an M-4, the Bragg tour moved to a simpler task demanding only a huge set of guts.
"This tower is 34 feet tall, and they say it might as well be 134 feet tall because it feels the same when you jump out of it," Staff Sgt. Marshall explained as the group watched a poor teenager from nearby Fayetteville nearly soil himself (Swindle-style) as he inched toward the edge of the tower. Designed to build the suicidal courage required to jump out of an airplane, the tower has cables to which every jumper is connected and a pulley that slides jumpers to safety.
Or at least, that's the idea. When a few members of the group expressed concern about the structure's stability, they were met with military-grade comfort from Marshall.
"It's sturdy. The cables haven't broken in a long time and when they did, the guy didn't die," she explained, obviously easing any possible concerns and definitely not making matters worse.
Half the group jumped and the other half wished they were on Pope, listening to a breakdown of the capabilities of a C-130 a four-engine turboprop aircraft that can land just about anywhere and do just about anything.
The two groups crossed paths at the John F. Kennedy Special Forces Museum, where they were given a tour by Master Sergeant Denny Langford, an active duty member of the force who had returned from Africa two weeks earlier.
The value on secrecy in the Special Forces means most of the stories that come out of the branch are fascinating, but intentionally dated. Langford told a quick story about the retaking of a U.S. facility in Iraq in the 1990s. "We came in sliding down and ropes from helicopters and stormed the building," Langford said. "But that was all for the cameras. We had covertly taken it over two weeks earlier."
The Bragg tour was finishing its walk through the museum when the Pope tour (now on Bragg) entered with their eyes bugging out like a Georgia largemouth's. They excitedly explained in their museum voice that they had just learned how to float in mid-air. The Bragg tour rushed to the van.
It was true. Winds up to 180 mph held the anglers off the ground as they floated around a small room with guys who spend as much time floating as walking and a group of paratroopers who were there to keep the rookies in the airstream, pushing them back into the middle of the room like they were in a bar fight. Powered by a 3,600-horsepower engine, the air tunnel can provide a paratrooper the experience of more than 100 jumps in a day or two of training. Not that the anglers much cared about that. They just enjoyed playing Superman.
"That was just a rush, it was a real rush," DeLong said of the last stop on the tour. "Just like sitting there gliding, it was awesome."
The anglers jammed into the van a final time, and tried to process their day. Their breeze through some of the highlights of being a soldier didn't obscure the larger picture.
"This makes my third tour on base, and every time I get to see something different and see something new," said Stone, who was instrumental in getting the professionals involved with WOW. Stone is friends with the brains behind the operation, Hal Abshire, Bob Cunningham and Greg Lahr, and was able to join the process in its early stages.
Two months earlier, Stone stood in front of his peers in a meeting before the Elite Series event on Clarks Hill Lake and invited all the anglers to give back. For DeLong, it wasn't much of a decision.
"When they said that these soldiers were injured or that they just got back, I just told myself that's something that I want to do," the Elite Series rookie said. DeLong has two cousins serving overseas and has "shared moments and heard a lot of stories" from the battlefield.
"They don't have it easy," he said. "It's a rough deal over there."
Phillips said he was impressed with the way the soldiers, no matter their age, handled themselves.
"What stood out to me was seeing 18- and 19-year-old men walking around," he said. "I'm accustomed to seeing kids from that age group with their britches down by their ankles. You get on that base and see a bunch of kids that aren't really kids. They are more of a man than we are."
And with one more day left in the Warriors on the Water experience a tournament with the soldiers Phillips said he'll cherish time on the water over the number of fish he catches (which would turn out to be a good thing).
"They are put in a position to fight for us and let us do what we do for a living," Phillips said, looking forward to a 0700 takeoff, that's 7 a.m. to you and me. "It seems like such a different world on base. We just want to get their mind of what they're doing and help them have a good time."
Warriors on the Water: Go back to Page One