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SEAL Blog. The Night Stalker.

Tuesday February 19th 2008 - 5:31 PM EST
Added by: Don Shipley



In 1985 Richard Ramirez, the "Night Stalker" had been terrorizing Los Angles raping and killing women after killing their husbands in bed. It was all the news, everyone was scared. He began moving South toward San Diego and was hitting beige houses near major Freeways.

I lived in a beige house near a major Freeway in San Diego.

He wasn’t going to get my wife and I. Each night as we went to bed I’d string a Booby Trap Simulator across the stair case. We used the simulators in training. Complete with a trip wire, when set off this particular kind made and incredibly loud, long whistle complete with sparks and smoke.

At the Team for the past week I’d been training for my first Skydive. The course was two weeks long with the first week spent learning to pack chutes and body position during exit and in free fall as well as the all important landing and emergency procedures.

There was a lot to remember.

On Monday morning I would throw myself out of an airplane at 13,000 ft. We were jumping the Para Commander, a round parachute we were told it had an inherent malfunction rate meaning if you jumped it enough, something bad was bound to happen and you needed to be able to deal with it.

Monday morning I awoke. This was it, my big day. What would happen? I knew I’d jump without hesitation but I was very apprehensive and jumpy as I knocked the snot out of my eyes and descended the stairs consumed with jump day.

I felt the trip wire hit my shin but my momentum was forward and I could not stop. This screaming, shrieking, shrill whistle began at 0500 and smoke filled the area setting off the smoke detectors and the stair case caught on fire.

All the neighbors and my wife were up bright and early that morning that’s for sure. As my wife screamed obscenities at me while I was dousing the fire all I was thinking was "I would have caught that raping Prick."

The jumps went great and I was hooked on skydiving, I just hated the Para Commander as the opening of the chute was so violent that it cleared my sinuses all over the front of me each time I opened up at 120 mph. It was a neck breaker...

My Platoon Commander and Chief were X-Jump Team Guys and our Platoon was designated a Free Fall Platoon and we jumped a lot. We were jumping one day and my Chief came swooping down on the drop zone. We called guys like him "Sky Gods" as they had so many jumps and were proficient as Hell.

Proficient and cocky as there was a bus on the drop zone and he would show off a bit that day. As he approaches the bus with all of us watching him in awe he lifts his legs going to skim over the top. He missed and smashed into the bus and was pulled over the side. Ohhh we laughed.

We jumped one night in Guam with a bunch of Thai SEALs. On the drop zone we were taking a head count and discovered we were missing a Thai. Just as we began to worry, a huge explosion and fire ball erupted and all the lights went out in the city.

As we ran to the explosion site the Thai was standing there holding his parachute in his arms and laughing excitedly. It was a scared laugh as he had just cheated death hitting power lines and he knew it.

I’ve seen this laugh before.

We were jumping in the Philippines and me and two buddies were pulling formations of the ramp and just having a good time holding on and smiling at each other as we plummeted through the humid air. We do the same thing on our third and final jump that day. As we approached 3000 feet, we broke off the formation, turned from each other flying away for a few seconds giving us some distance, turned back and all looked at each other as we’d pull our ripcords at the same time.

Two of us opened, Steve continued to fall.

No biggie, we were trained, he’d get it in a second I thought, as I checked my chute for problems and released the steering brakes. Willie was fine and as I looked for Steve I could see him still falling out of control flipping through the air. He had a "Hard Pull" but finally got the ripcord out.

Nothing happened as he now had a "Pack Closure" and the chute would not come out. The procedure for this was to elbow the pack hard a couple times to get out the silk. It didn’t work and he got unstable and began tumbling out of control and seconds away from impact I screamed his name. Steveeeeeeee!

From altitude I could tell he was "going in" as he was very low when his main chute snapped opened and I blew out a deep breath. Problem was Steve did not know it was opening and as soon as he had a full canopy, he cut it away and was back in Freefall out of control. I winced up my face as I knew he was dead when his reserve chute opened and immediately closed as he hit the ground. Open, close, he was dead and I spiraled down to him fast.

He was holding his chute just like the Thai, ghost white and laughing like a loon. The guy on the drop zone in charge that day said everyone was watching him come in and turned their backs as death was eminent. All except him, who said Steve had a full canopy at telephone pole level high and creamed in a millisecond before being killed.

The luckiest SEAL in the Navy!!!!!!!

Jumping into a target is NEVER our first choice of insertion methods. Very cool, slipping into enemy territory undetected by parachute but the chances of breaking a leg and losing a man were very real and for a small unit would be disastrous. We even avoided jumping the closer we got to deploying overseas as hurting a man who we had trained with so much and needing a replacement was a bad thing.

We avoided it, but sometimes we had to.

All SEAL Platoons "workup" doing all kinds of training before deployment and each block gives us another check mark in the box for our C-1 ( Combat Ready) rating. The last thing we do is called our Final ORE, "Operational Readiness Exercise." Ours they called Hotel Platoons final exercise "The ORE of the "Future" as we’d fly from Norfolk to Florida, do a water drop and assault a target. . The only "Future" in it looking back was that we’d nearly kill everyone in the process and the future for a few guys were stays in a hospital.

The plan while complex was really kinda simple and straight forward. We’ parachute in with the boats off the Florida coast, navigate to the beach, hump a mile or so, assault a target, place demo, blow it up, go back to the beach, get in the boats, and meet a Ship for extraction in the Ocean.

The "Cool" twist to it was we’d sink the chutes.

During training jumps in the water, we’d swim to the apex of the chute and give it a few twists rolling it up and swim to the boats then load the wet, tangled, heavy mess inside. Back at the Para Loft later we’d wash the salt out of the chutes, hang them to dry and they’d be packed for the next jump.

During combat, all the chutes were sunk and for this exercise we were told to do that.

A hurricane hit Florida as we loaded out, the plan was still a go, we’d just have a better look at the weather when we got there and make a decision. I don’t remember why I did it, just a second sense I had being experienced I guess, but I told the guys to also load out for a land drop if the water was a no-go.

I would wish I hadn’t.

The water jump was cancelled when we got there but we’d do a "Day Combat Equipment Drop" the next morning as I’d brought the gear for it.

The first pass went out of two passes and I’d be in the second pass. I was sitting in a jump seat preparing to drop when a friend of mine, the jumpmaster, came up and yelled in my ear that we had two guys hurt on the drop zone from the first pass.

STOP THE DROP. No one else is jumping I replied, shit.  So close to deployment and two guys hurt. Damn...

We circled the drop zone waiting on more word from the ground. I guess misery loves company and he returned a few minutes later and said "Your Platoon Commander said to drop the next pass." He had dropped on the first pass and was wanting to continue the mission.

I don’t normally argue with Officers but it was my Platoon as well and I knew something was wrong. Tell him NO I replied, were landing the bird.

A few minutes goes by and he returns with "The Captain say’s drop the next pass."

I’ll argue with a Lieutenant a bit, but never a Commanding Officer who was on the drop zone, and I hooked in my static line and we jumped.

In the air, I checked my canopy and all was well. The next thing you do is check your "rate of decent" with other jumpers making sure your not falling much faster than anyone else indicating a problem. I was a big guy and normally fell faster but today I noted nothing different than normal.

Nothing until I got closer to the ground.

When I was at a few hundred feet I realized I was "Hauling the Mail" and was falling way too fast. There was no time to pull my reserve at that altitude and I braced for shock. This was going to be ugly.

There was no wind on the drop zone and I landed straight down. My face went into my knees and I sprung back up like a ball and settled to Mother Earth in a cloud of dust. BOOM.

I was stunned, seeing stars and hurt. As I laid there pulling myself together I could feel the other guys landing around me as the ground shook with their impact and they looked like mortar rounds hitting with clouds of dust.

The medic rushes over and checks me out and told me I sounded like a Buffalo being hit by a train when I landed as all the air was forced from my lungs. I don’t remember.

I got up a short while later and was hurt bad as I compressed my already compressed spine from years of SEAL abuse again and we were just starting the operation.

With two of my guys in the ambulance we began to patrol with what was left of us off the drop zone. Being in the back of the patrol I looked up the line and could see everyone limping or dragging a leg. Everyone was hurt and the one mile, couple hour operation we planned for was about to turn into a three day nightmare. We did the mission and kicked ass, but we paid for it and lost one of the best guys in the platoon with a badly broken leg.

What happened? Simple... We were sinking the chutes because they were old and nearing the end of their usefulness. They were fine for one more water drop, but not a land drop, as being jumped so many times over the years parachutes lose porosity as they get older allowing much more air to bleed through the nylon canopy. You drop like a rock in effect.

The guy that gave the chutes to us never knew we might do a land drop with them and was in Norfolk when it happened. We had a long talk when I got back though. 

I ended my career with close to 700 jumps. Most of them were uneventful.





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