In this jump, I was not only climbing out of the aircraft, but pulling myself far enough up on the strut – away from the fuselage right where the strut connects to the wing – that my feet had to leave the wheel cover.
In other words, I was hanging onto the airplane with my bare hands while my legs where flying behind me: I know it sounds almost like a stuntman move (harkening back to the days of barnstorming and flying circuses), but it was a jump-technique I learned that we would be required to make – with some nervous amusement – about an hour before take-off.
Increasing this sensory overload was the fact that Alley – a former U.S. Army Special Forces operator and current contract-soldier with at least 5,000 military and sport jumps under his belt and literally more bullet holes in his body than one might count on two hands – expected me to now look back into the aircraft where he would either give me a green light to let go of the strut, or a red light to try and make my way back into the plane if he saw something wrong with my rig. [...]
"Royal Laotian Airborne wings are among the many foreign jump wings earned and worn by U.S. military forces ..."
Despite being on a first-name basis with my USAF commander (he called me Chris and I called him Colonel), my repeated requests to attend jump school did not succeed. The Air Force for some reason is a bit stingy with their jump school slots and he informed me that there was no benefit having Airborne-qualified firefighters. I disagreed. Perhaps I should have talked to the Laotians. Though make no mistake - as W. Thomas Smith Jr. tells me - there's big difference between paratrooper (one who goes through three weeks of Airborne training and carries a rifle) and parachutist (one who might not).
NOTE: Smith also tells me - in a phone conversation - that Maj. Gen. Khambang Sibounheuang, a former Laotian Army commando officer who today serves as pres. of the Royal Laotian Airborne corps, is now an honorary member of the new U.S. Counterterrorism Advisory Team.