Well, here is another one of those stories that starts out with, "There I was...." This isn't a combat or peace time deployment story, and in fact it took place in Yuma Arizona. It was on my 18th jump at the Military Freefall School at YPG that I had a canopy malfunction. There were a total of 46 students, of which only four of us were Marines. The rest were Navy SEALS, Green Berets, and a few Air Force CCT guys. The atmosphere at the school was great, and the instruction was equally phenomenal. Marine instructors included SSgt. Thurmond, GySgt. Miller, SSgt. Rabidaux, and GySgt. Olson, all of which are Recon Marines.

There I was--12,500 ft on the ramp of a CASA 212 laden with combat equipment, rifle, and oxygen equipment. There were 11 other students on the ramp and we were all awaiting the "Stand by" command, and then the "Go." On exit everything went well. I was flat and stable by 12,000 and was enjoying the scenery. In the sky all students assumed the "cigar" formation and everything was going well. At 7,000 ft., I tracked away, 6,000 ft. cleared my airspace, 5,000 wave off and pulled my ripcord at 4,000 ft. The canopy came out of the bag as usual and was blossoming overhead. I then noticed that I was going into a downward spiral and it was getting out of control. The canopy had fully inflated on the left side, but the right side suspension lines were not unraveling, causing that end be collapsed.

The spinning was getting violent, and with all my equipment on, I was unable to reach and unstow my steering toggles to attempt to clear my problem. I pulled aggressively on my risers to try to clear it, but had no joy. By this time, I was parallel with my canopy and spinning to earth. That's when I knew I had to get rid of my problem. I threw away the main ripcord, looked down and grabbed my cut away pillow and reserve ripcord, gave a hard arch and pulled the handles. When I cut away the main parachute and pulled my reserve ripcord I heard the sound of the metal three ring riser assemblies pull apart. That was normal. The force of the spin sent me flying across the sky. This is where you have the split second thought of wondering if your reserve is going to save your ass. By 1,500 ft., I was under a fully operational ram air canopy. I lowered my combat equipment and landed safely in the dropzone. An hour later I was back in the sky with another chute.

In military freefall, you pack your own chute. I had packed it as I was taught, and as I had done before and after the incident. I wonder what I had done to cause this, but didn't dwell on it too much. Things like this happen. I wasn't the first guy, and I definitely will not be the last. Some guys have thousands of jumps with out any malfunctions, and others have them on their first jump. It's knowing that I can deal with a life threatening situation, while being calm and collective, that holds me true to the teachings of the Marine Corps. I took a good look at some of the students in my class, and I seriously wondered if they would have handled the situation the same way. Being around all the different branches of the military, you can see the big difference in discipline, bearing, and pride that the Marine Corps holds over the others. I seriously think that it was this same principle that pulled me through, and I marched on.

Semper Fi!