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Military Traditions

February 7, 2019 By R.A. Jones

Hazardous Duty Pay

For paratroopers, hazard pay meant an extra $50 for enlisted and $100 for officers. Back in the 1960s, that was real money, but you lost it if you became too busted up to jump. In Special Forces Europe that happened a lot. It was routine for several guys at any time to have casts on from mountain climbing, skiing and parachuting, or maybe from jumping out a high window as one trooper did.

A big step on the road back to jump pay came when the group surgeon okayed removal of the cast. But you still weren’t expected to jump yet because landing on a hard-packed field was far too risky for healing bones. So still no jump pay.

That was the ‘Big Army’ view. But Special Forces had a better system and I learned it personally when it was my turn to have an ankle-to-hip cast removed. (I’d broken my leg during a night parachute jump when I landed in the trees, but that’s another war story.)

Several of us walking wounded reported to the airfield. Each of us was suited up in a Mae West life jacket. Then we strapped on a main chute and then came the reserve. It took two guys to load me into a chopper.

We lifted off and the bird circled over Lake Starnberg, and then out we went. My main chute opened but the old gas canisters failed to inflate the Mae West and I was still blowing up the water wings through a tube when I splashed in. After a lot of gasping and unsnapping of equipment our drop zone crew pulled me into an engineer boat.

We headed for the yacht club dock where they heaved us ashore like big fish. The group surgeon finished removing our dissolving casts, we were helped to our feet, handed crutches, and wobbled off, dripping, into the German yacht club bar where we hoisted drinks to celebrate a return to jump pay.

At the time it was just another routine day in Tenth Group. Years later after I was long retired, a civilian at a cocktail party heard the story and concluded that we must have been crazy.

Now that the hot blood has stopped pumping and I don’t have to head off a suspicion of failing nerves I have to face it: We really did go overboard.

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