QUEST: June 21

Paratroopers

I entered the U.S. Army right after high school.  I made it through boot camp before my 18th birthday.  A few months later, I was an “honor grad” of the Defense Information School (DINFOS), where they trained me to be an Army journalist.  Then I went to jump school to earn my wings as a U.S. paratrooper.

Honestly, I volunteered for airborne duty to avoid having to be stationed in Germany, where the rest of the 300-or-so DINFOS grads were headed.  I had no good reason to resist going to Germany – I had studied the language in high school – but I was really just a scared kid who didn’t want to be that far from home.

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Here I am, Number 75, in my Airborne School “yearbook.” Yes, they produced a yearbook for paratrooper school.

Becoming a paratrooper did one thing for me that I expected: It got me a permanent posting at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  But it did something else for me that might’ve been the last thing I expected.  It made me believe I could do anything I really set my mind to.

Paratroopers are foolish, perhaps – we got sick of the old yarn about “Why would you jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” (sometimes responding that the planes they tossed US out of were far from “perfectly good”)… but paratroopers, generally, are also fearless.  We really do have the tendency to believe we can do just about anything.

I barely made it through jump school.  They let me slide on one requirement, which was to be able to do six pull-ups.  I could do five, and then I would grunt and groan and strain and try to get my chin over the bar a sixth time, and I’d stay at it and keep up my pathetic efforts until the instructor got tired of waiting and passed me through.

Most of what I did in service to my country was write and produce the division newspaper for the 82nd Airborne. But I still had to jump out of planes – sometimes to “get the scoop,” but usually just to keep my jump wings in “active” status and collect my extra $83 per month.

I did get my wings, though.  I think I might still have the faint scars from my “blood wings” ceremony, during which you take the protective tabs off the back of the spikes that attach your wings to your uniform shirt, and then you have a buddy slap your chest HARD and drive those spikes right into your chest.

Ah, the foolishness of youth.

I hated every minute of my military service.  I used to say that all I wanted to get out of the Army was to get out of the Army.  And three-plus years after I got my blood wings, my service ended, and I went back to civilian life as a newspaper editor.

Years later, I now must admit that, while I hated it every day, my military service did me a lot of good.  I learned a lot, about a lot of things.  Not just how paratroopers salute their officers (you sound off with “All The Way, Sir!” as you raise your hand in salute, and the officer responds with “Airborne!” as he returns your salute).  I also got a start on learning who I was as a man, and what was important to me in my life.

Later in my enlistment, I did a feature on a fellow paratrooper (a real one, an infantryman, not a “rear-echelon” guy like me).  This guy had decided to take thirty days’ leave and RUN home.  To western Tennessee.

He was not a loquacious guy, and for the life of me, I can’t remember his name.  But I did get from him that he ran with his military backpack, probably about ten miles a day, and slept either by the side of the road or in churches until he made it home.  I think his folks drove him back to Fort Bragg when his leave was up.

I used to run six miles a day when I was in the 82nd.  My reason for running that far every morning was that it afforded me 42 daily minutes of solitude (yes, I could run six seven-minute miles back in the day, at least at sea level).

But I never conceived of running a great distance, like the subject of my feature story had done.

I did, however, get inspired with the idea that I would get out of the Army, sell or give away everything I owned that wouldn’t fit in my backpack, and take six months to WALK to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, where my plan was to complete bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism.

I didn’t end up undertaking that big adventure, though.  Not because I didn’t think I could or should do it (again, the foolishness of youth)… but because I met Wife Number One just as I was nearing the end of my service term.  My goals changed.  We moved to Colorado, I got an editor job, and we started a family.

But I guess the idea of the long walk never really left me.  I’ve always wanted to do something like I’m about to do in a few days – walk a long distance, over several days, and spend time “alone” with The Lord in retreat from my everyday, screen-watching, wine-sipping, air conditioned comfortable life.

And away from all distractions.

I’m extremely blessed to be able to at least attempt this, and I couldn’t do it without Kathryn, my wife of 32 years, who married me after my union with Wife Number One failed.  (Apparently Kathryn was also not immune to the foolishness of youth.)

She’s going to serve as my support crew, and has volunteered to place our little “teardrop” camper at certain locations along my Quest route where no cheap motel is available.  So my odds of being consumed by a wild carnivore will be diminished.

I hope my odds of gaining something extraordinary, something spiritual, something meaningful, will increase as a result of this Quest.  As I’ve said before, I might get three or four days in and call Kathryn for a ride, in an admission of the foolishness of my old age.

But I might make it ALL THE WAY! to the monastery.

Whether I make it that far or not, I’m sure the attempt will be memorable for both Kathryn and me.  We’ll get something out of it, I’m sure.  As for what that will be, I’ll have to leave that up to God.  I just want to empty myself of all distractions for a few weeks, and see what He might see fit to fill me with.

Thanks for following my Quest.  If you’d like to respond, please send an email to michael@michaelhume.net.  I’ll receive emails until July, and then not again until late August.

“All The Way, Sir!”

Michael, June 21, 2024

Michael D. Hume, M.S.

Michael Hume is a freelance writer, singer, and songwriter, and author of The 95th Christmas. He's an honor graduate of the Defense Information School, and holds an M.S. from the University of Colorado School of Business. Michael is the author of hundreds of online articles, including the popular series Great Leadership Requires Inspiration, The Conscience of a Restorationist, Appreciate Your Adversaries, and Take Care of Your Business.

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