Sergeant Major Darren Chambers of the Parachute Regiment remembers his first-ever parachute jump.
“I was 18. I’d done an apprenticeship in engineering and joined the Paratroopers after that. My first jump was around week 24 of my Army career.
I hadn’t completed the jumps course, which is down in Brize Norton. I was driven down there on the Sunday night, then did ground training from Monday to Thursday. Once that was complete, the first jump was on the Friday. I didn’t find out until the day before. I was just told there was a parachute jump the next day and that was it.
I was one of the first eight to go out. We jumped in numbers and I was number four of the eight in a plane.
I remember looking round and seeing some nervous faces. It was a bit tense, but I was perfectly fine. I was a young kid, and kids don’t really get as nervous as the older soldiers who are 20, 30-plus, you know? I was more focused on getting out of the plane and getting done and dusted so I could go on the weekend leave!
But I could see my mate was nervous – it was actually his first time in a plane, let alone parachuting. It gave me a bit more strength, to be honest. I was thinking, ‘If he’s looking worried and I’m not, then I must be perfectly fine’.
I found myself looking at the ground in an unnatural way; straight down in a way I’d never seen it before. Then the green light went on, which means go.
Number one went out, number two, number three, and then I was number four. I knew I had plenty of air space, so I was quite confident. I went out the back of the plane; it was more like being on a roller coaster. Like a big slide. Down the slipstream, travelling along at around 120mph.
I counted: one thousand, two thousand, three thousand, checked my canopy, then carried on with the drills. For your first jump, you don’t have equipment. You have a look around, make sure the ground is clear, and just float down.
When I landed, the instructor checked I was alright and I watched everyone else do their jumps. I didn’t feel any different. It’s part of the job. Others can’t wait to do the jump and get their wings.
But the Parachute Regiment is unique. Everyone understands the hardships they’ve been through to get their wings. So when we stand next to each other, everyone is level pegging.”