I was a TURD. Rob Maggott told me that’s what I would be called. Trainee Under Rigorous Development. You see, the Army loves ACRONYMS. I found myself trying out for one of the most prestigious jobs in all of the Airborne forces. A Jumpmaster Instructor. A black hat.
He wore a maroon beret like everyone else in the division when in his official dress uniform, but when he was at work, in “duty” uniform. He wore a very distinctive black baseball cap. It was specially formed and taken care of. It was a trophy. When you wore that black hat around paratroopers, you were revered just highly as drill sergeants. You might have called us “Sky Gods.” My turn through the turnstyle was in May of 1993. My buddy Robert Maggott was our current representative from our unit, but he had been specially picked to go stand up a new unit at Fort Riley, KS. I begged CSM Adams to let me try out. He agreed.
I taught a class on Visual Aircraft Recognition for my 15 minute POI. POI stand for Period of Instruction. Letters and numbers, “Nomenclature” is very important in this world. I talked through the WEFT method, it’s a way to help identify aircraft that we used. They seemed to like it. After a quick huddle, they introduced me to SSG Gus Papillo. He had that mafia swagger about him. He had that rugged look. Chisel-like. This guy was smart. He spoke with such military precision. I could never imitate him but I always tried to emulate his crispness.
Eventually, he shared his TURD book with me. I felt like it was a right of passage. They were all his notes from when he was a TURD. As a Jumpmaster Instructor, you had the know everything there was to know about Jumpmastering. To explain the amount of knowledge that we basically memorized almost verbatim. The amount of facts and information that we were regularly learning and “performing” at such a high level. These black hats were total studs. I was trying to be one of them. SSG Papillo had agreed to help me.
I was going to be “Fitting and Wearing.” It was one of two TURD classes. Every black hat was either Fitting and Wearing or “Nomenclature.” Its like the Ying and the Yang. The Auburn or the Alabama. The Army or the Navy. I had to learn everything about the helmet, the Aviators Kit Bag, the M1950 Weapons Case and all its variations, the ALICE Pack, the H Harness. It goes on and on. Basically, I needed to learn, a 20-page single page typewritten spiel verbatim. No big deal, I can memorize stuff. The BIG deal was learning everything that there was to know the equipment, learning how to teach in a strict military “black hat” manner. You had to learn a very specific question and answer technique. You had to be able to shut people up that were trying to disrupt you. You had to learn to stand in one spot. Scan the classroom, present information, take questions, and give off the air that there was nobody that knew more about what you were talking about, than you. You were the expert. The way they got you there, to be one of them. That was called TURD training.
A large part of Jumpmaster school is spent, “in the circle”, learning how to conduct a JumpMaster Primary Inspection or JMPI. This inspection is where the Jumpmaster inspects the Troopers parachute and equipment to make sure that it is safe before the jump. It also gives times for leaders to look at each Trooper in the eye, and gauge his or her sensibilities and capabilities about safely exiting and landing on the drop zone to conduct their mission. It is a time-honored tradition of battle. To be a leader in the Airborne, you had to be a Jumpmaster.
For the next 30 days, while the black hats taught and trained for 40 minutes every hour, I would stand on the platform with all of my equipment. I would recite my class, again and again. Over and over. If I got tired of one part, I would try another part. I had a TURD Buddy, SSG Hunter. He and I would quiz each other. He was a few days ahead of me and he was fitting and wearing too.
When the hats would come in from break, they would either to tell us to get the hell out of there. Or, for them, it was party time. They wanted a show. This was when we got to know them and they got to know us. The loud one, he would interrupt us just to make us start again. Or yell over the top of us that he couldn’t hear. I always remember Pshock and Johnson throwing the football playing burn out with each other. All the while I’m up there trying to teach these guys, who were already experts, a class that they already knew. At least half of them anyway.
Maggott told me, you’ll have your committee class, then your Hat class. Hat class is easy he said, just get through committee class. See, the committee class consisted of the current team leaders, the Deputy Chief, and the Chief. A TURD had to get through committee, before he/she could go before the Commander and the 1SG for the Hat class.
The disorderly one, that was committee class. That was the fun day for all the hats on that committee. It was our pizza party. Our time to show out. Our time to decide if we wanted this new member into the club. This is when the existing black hats grill their possible partner as hard as they can, to make sure he can be counted as one of them.
It was committee class day for me. I was standing on the platform, old school green ramp. It had a really tall stage. Missed that at the new school. All of my equipment laid out. I was ready to go. All the current hats were milling about. I was patiently waiting for them to take their seats but at the same time I know they were wondering if I would be bold enough to ask them to be seated. You know the tension. I started.
During this period of instruction, we will concern ourselves with the proper fitting and wearing of the T-10 Main and Reserve Parachute along with……. As I started, their assault began. “Question Jumpmaster” I would say as I extended my hand, fingers extended and joined toward the fake student/harasser. “Yes, I was wondering if you have Xactly disease, you know, where your face looks Xactly like your ass, hahahaha.” “Jumpmaster, your question does not pertain to this period of instruction.” I would reply. They would go on for a while. Some were pertinent questions; others were just pure harassment. I got hit with a few pizza bones here and there as the day went. Chairs were tossed here and there. It was the wildest, toughest class of my life. But I knew that if could get through that, my hat class would be easy.
It was. I am proud to say that I am Rookie #13. SSG Hunter is rookie #12. I will forever love my days as a Jumpmaster Instructor. SSG Papillo was a great mentor. The list of heroes that I worked with from 1993-1996 is amazing. We saw lots of changes around there. “We Are Here to Teach” that’s what the sign says above the door. I loved it.