The 17-year-old girl screamed in terror as she stared at the ground 34 feet below her. Behind her, a Soldier assisting her with her exit encouraged her to jump.
Braced over the opening, her lack of retreat showed a desire to push herself, but despite seeing student after student safely leap off the Airborne Sustainment Tower, her instincts wouldn’t let her surrender her mortality to the two straps attached to her harness.
April 19, 2017- Eagle River High School Air Force Junior ROTC Cadet Megan Hancox exits a 34-foot jump tower at the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Airborne Sustainment Training Area. The jump tower builds a paratrooper's confidence in equipment and training. (U.S. Air Force photo by David Bedard)
A crowd of Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. cadets gathered below to offer encouragement, knowing she’d be glad she did it. Their cheers of encouragement were – perhaps a little too regularly – punctuated by the screeches of other cadets leaping off the opposite side.
From the ground, it may be difficult to understand the level of fear one could feel at the top of the tower, but perspective is everything, and the Soldiers on the ground all agreed the tower was much scarier than an actual airplane.
The immediacy of the earth below was significantly more visible at 34 feet than several thousand, they said.
“If you can do the tower, you can jump out of an airplane just fine,” said Army Staff Sgt. Jason Kenny, air noncomissioned officer in charge of the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. “This is an incentive for them to continue with their process and complete their commission. Some will even go to Airborne School before they commission.”
Graduating from high school is an exciting time in life, full of opportunity. However, those opportunities bear a burden many in high school haven’t experienced – they’re making life-altering decisions with no realistic idea of where those decisions will take them.
Overcoming fears like this is something everyone faces at some point, and these JROTC cadets had the opportunity to face some of their fear on the accelerated program.
“I think it’s great,” Kenny said. “It gives them idea of what to expect, and if they’re scared of heights, this’ll get them over it.”
“Jumping out of towers probably isn’t a thing I want to do,” said Cole Mooty, a senior at Eagle River high school before his jump. “But I’ve found fear isn’t what you need to be afraid of, but paralysis on the basis of fear.”
Megan Hancox, a junior at Eagle River High School said she was still nervous before jumping a third time despite having done it twice before. After having her harness checked and double-checked by the Soldiers though, her nervousness seemed to disappear as she ran off to the tower with her friends as readily as one might get on a rollercoaster at a theme park.
Before long, everyone had jumped at least once, with one exception – the girl who couldn’t yet push past her sense of self-preservation. However, when she came down, she wasn’t the slightest bit depressed.
If anything, she seemed thrilled to have faced her fears. Maybe she’ll conquer them next year.
By U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Kyle Johnson
Provided through DVIDS
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