Hard to Break
from Chaplain (Colonel-Retired) Steven L. Berry
Advisory Board, Hardrock Charlie Foundation
On 23 May 2003, I was a newly-promoted Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army, and I was serving as the Deputy Division Chaplain, 82nd Airborne Division, at Fort Bragg, NC. The Division Chaplain was in Afghanistan, and I had the responsibility for ensuring the delivery of pastoral care to the portion of the Division still at Fort Bragg, along with the paratroopers’ families that remained behind, as we continued to load personnel and equipment on C-17 aircraft, now bound for Iraq. The pace and workload for the previous two months had been punishing for all concerned.
But, on this day, 23 May, I was hopeful for something a bit different. Little did I know, however, how different it would be for me. I was scheduled for an afternoon proficiency parachute jump onto Sicily Drop Zone at Fort Bragg. It was going to be a paratrooper’s delight: a beautiful day in broad daylight, a C-130 aircraft, 1000′ drop altitude, no equipment (aside from the parachute, of course), comrades, and colleagues. A daytime “Hollywood” jump was a rare treat at the time, and I was looking forward to it. What could possibly go wrong?
Everything pertaining to the jump went like clockwork. A good, solid Jumpmaster team in the aircraft. A good exit from the aircraft by yours truly. (No, really, it was.) No twists in my suspension lines. Sun blazing in the sky. The winds on the ground were only 2-3 knots. (But, then, weren’t they always?) All good! Then, came the part that I always dreaded; specifically, the landing part. The ground comes up fast, especially the last 100 feet, and it can be hard, (Go outside and jump off the edge of your roof while wearing 100 pounds of kit. That’s about it.) I completed all the “points of performance”, as I had been trained to do, for a proper parachute landing fall (PLF), and I prepared for a left-rear fall. I was all set. But the ground was not so compliant. Later on, I realized that I had heard and felt the bone break.
The human femur is the hardest bone in the body (as hard as concrete, or so I was later told), and it is, by far, the most difficult bone to break. Sometimes, it is a fatal break, given its nearness to the femoral artery. Always, it is a painful break.
I remember thinking that it was surely just a muscle cramp in my left leg and that, if I could just stand up, I could certainly stretch it out. So, it was with much determination and significant discomfort, that I made it to my “foot.” I say “my foot”, because I could NOT stand on my “feet.” My left foot seemed to have a mind of its own! I looked down at my feet to find my right foot pointing in exactly the direction that I was facing. So far, so good. However, my left foot was pointing backward; that is, in the opposite direction.
Hmmm. Not so good. Now, armed with the understanding that this was not simply a muscle cramp, I managed to lower myself to the ground, this time with a double dose of determination and discomfort. Shortly, a fellow jumper summoned the medics, and I was transported to Womack Army Community Hospital for an emergent surgery to repair my femur and hip. (This will be another story for another day.)
How quickly a day can change. How quickly our hopes can be deflated and our spirits defeated. How quickly troubles can come upon us. How quickly we can become downcast and discouraged. How quickly. Call them what you will: circumstances, hard times, bad luck, Karma, etc. While there are a number of ways to describe troubled times, all definitions point toward the same things: suffering, pain, and, perhaps, even despair.
Rangers are tough and resistant. Like the human femur, they, too, are hard to break. But, break, they will. Break, they do. And, though they may be falling apart, they will try, again and again, to rise to their feet, summoning every drop of determination while suffering every probable discomfort. If this sounds like you, then know that there are Brothers around you with arms open and extended to give you a hand up. There is aid for the broken heart, for the wounded soul. Reach out. Don’t put it off for another day.
The Swiss Reformer, John Calvin, said that we are broken actors, who are acting out our roles on a broken stage. What a rich word picture he has painted: broken people living together in a broken world, touched in every way by trials and troubles. This is a good reminder to all of us to support our Brothers, for surely, as it pertains to life, we are in this together.
“I will never leave a fallen comrade . . .” RLTW