“If you ain’t Airborne, You ain’t shit!”, that’s what I told the Command Sergeants Major. There were seven of them in front of me and one behind me. I was responding to the question, “why did you want to be Airborne?”
I was in the middle of the Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year board for the 82nd Airborne Division. I had just spent the week proving my skills against the best of the best. Out of 15,000 paratroopers in the division, there were 9 of us left. We had spent the week doing Physical Fitness tests, Land navigation during the day and night, weapons qualification, first aid and other skills testing. We were the best of the best. The best Non-Commission Officers in the the 82nd Airborne Division. We had all face multiple tests and boards to get here. This was the major league of leadership competitions.
They laughed! They laughed with me. Sweet!
You see, I was standing out by the side door at the Tampa, FL Military Entrance Processing Station. MEPS for short. That’s where you go to sign up and also to ship out when you join the military. I was there with my buddy Scott McDade. We had just met would but eventually become great friends. I had chosen to be a Vulcan gunner. It was a 6 barreled electric Gatling gun that fired 3000 bullets every minute. Scott liked idea and was going to sign up for that too. We would be leave on the same date. We had just decided. We were smoking a cigarette to celebrate.
As we were basking in our new decision, we had a visitor. He was a seasoned Soldier. I didn’t know what his rank was at the time, but now I know it was a Sergeant First Class. There were plenty of stripes and chevrons. He did have, what I now know is a, Master Parachutist badge. It was prominent. Was on top, it had starry, leafy things all around it.
He heard us talking as we made our big plans but he was quiet. He smoked quietly off to the side but we watched his every move. He was a real live Army man. His confident stride and the sharpness of his uniform.
As he was going inside, he came over there by us. We were the only ones around. By the ashtray. He looked at us, sizing us up. I weighed 140 lbs. Scott weighed about the same. We were 18 years old in 1987. Both of us rough and tough holding our little smoking sticks. He spoke to us as he neared the receptacle with its mix of sand and butts. It looked like a little graveyard. Little Marlboro headstones everywhere. “Whose here is going Airborne?” he said. We both shifted our weight on our feet, looked at each other wondering how to respond. We didn’t even really know what he was talking about. He was looking right at me. I think I kinda shrugged. I for sure didn’t say anything out loud.
As he took that butt and smashed it into that cigarette graveyard, he looked at us, at me, and said, “if you ain’t Airborne, you ain’t shit.”
That’s why I’m Airborne Sergeant Major!
BTW, I won. My shooting and common skills is actually what won it. I shot 39 out of 40 and had zero no go’s on the common skills. Of course, I got fired later, but that’s another story.