Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cherry Jump

On Tuesday I had the pleasure of completing my "cherry jump" with the 82nd Airborne. I'm not finding much online explaining the tradition of the cherry jump, so here goes:

Here in the 82nd Airborne Division (and elsewhere), a new soldier to the unit is known as a "cherry" (I'm assuming you can follow the connotation), and his first jump in Division is known as his "cherry jump" or "cherry blast". While this part of the tradition has now been gutted in an ill-targeted crackdown on "hazing", the cherry soldier used to be given a cherry-red helmet cover to single him out (which would also, to my mind, rather helpfully alert the jumpmasters to his inexperience). The cherry is also given a cherry pie to carry in his pocket during the jump, which he then eats on the drop zone after his landing. Complicating this process, however, are his fellow paratroopers who, through much good-natured punching, ensure he lands with nothing but a charleyhorse and a pocketful of cherry goo.

So that's the tradition, but I missed out on most of it. One of my buddies had indeed bought a full cherry pie (instead of the usual Hostess single-serve pie) for the three cherries in our platoon, but I ended up in a different "chalk" (a single planeload of paratroopers) and so managed to jump without my pocketful of pie. Oh well. I've got that out of my way, and got my first precious scrap of Airborne credibility.

Which is not to say the jump went off without a hitch. After a shockingly early wakeup call and zero-dark-thirty manifest formation, we arrived at the drop zone to find that, in all-too-classic fashion, our unit had failed to procure both parachutes and working aircraft for the day's jump. One could be forgiven for incredulously exclaiming that these are, in point of fact, the two sole necessary elements of an airborne operation. But, you see, you would be applying sense, and the fact of the matter is that, particularly in garrison training operations, the Army rarely makes any. Eventually, though, 'chutes were scrounged and a bird was summoned, and we jumped. And I'll never understand what makes a sky full of paratroopers such a beautiful sight, but maybe I've drunk just a bit of that Airborne Kool-Aid, because this is awe-inspiring:

Next time I jump I'll try to post a good short video of the jumpers coming out of the bird. It's awesome.

All aside, it was a good jump and a safe landing, even if it was a bit harder than textbook. It's well and good to angle your body to adjust for your direction of drift, but they never really tell you what to do when you're falling straight down. Land like a sack o' potatoes, apparently. Oh, and the green patch that looks thick and soft from 200 feet up? Yeah, that's blackberry briar and it's nowhere near as soft as it looks.

Protestant America

Joseph Bottum of First Things shares a fascinating historical perspective on Protestantism in America. Having been educated in the limestone tower of Mainline Lutheran (ELCA) academia, much of Bottum's analysis rings true as things I'd known, without knowing I knew. (And apparently I can simultaneously channel Plato and Mr. Rumsfeld). I really like his analysis of American society resting on the three-legged stool of democracy, capitalism, and religion, and his social and economic analysis of civil religion's role in general. As to where that society can be headed on a two-legged stool none of us can say for certain, but neither politics nor economics has a good track record in trying to fill the role of civil religion.

Cake Wrecks

A new fun blog: Cake Wrecks. A gallery, with commentary, of some truly appalling cakes (and a few totally awesome ones). My favorite is titled I'll Take My Chances. That or the cake-entombed baby. Yeah, you read that right.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Big Doofus reveals the truth behind the Zucchini Conspiracy. Concerned citizens beware.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Apparently Obama's got 'em, but they don't reflect particularly well on him, as PowerLine reports. What amazes me more than his preference for sightseeing rather than visiting wounded soldiers in Germany is that -- again -- the allegedly masterful campaigner seems unaware of or indifferent to the sort of message these choices send. We must conclude that is either a) a fool, or b) cynical enough to write off the yellow-ribbon crowd as already lost to him and not worth the trouble of pandering.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns

I just finished reading Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. It's a very good book, and its popularity gives me faith in the American book-reading public. I know he made his name with The Kite Runner, and they already made a movie and all, but this book is better. Hosseini's storytelling talent and incredibly, almost painfully honest portrayals of the guts and grit of human relationships, which made The Kite Runner so rightfully popular, are here refined even further. So, too, is the pain and torment, the heartbreak, the devastation of a whole country told through so many devastations of individual lives.

There was a particular point that caught me, though, in the midst of all the terror and destruction wrought by the waves of utopian revolutionaries, Soviet "liberators", counterrevolutionaries, and holy warriors of all stripes whose various crusades all but destroyed Afghanistan. At one point in the novel, a character is standing trial before a Taliban judge, who explains in the sentencing that while the circumstances of the crime tempted him to mercy, he was himself nearing death, and feared that he would be held to account for his failure to uphold God's law. He imagines God standing judgement upon him saying, "But it was not for you to forgive, Mullah". Probably the second-most common Muslim epithet for God is al-Rahman, the merciful. Every letter, every document, every memo in the devout Muslim world is headed by the phrase bismallah al-rahman wal-rahim. In the name of God, the Merciful, the Benificient. Islam hangs all hope of salvation on this, the mercy of God. Does God really then hold a monopoly on mercy?

This point struck me so because it is the complete reversal of a Christian understanding. My God is indeed not merciful, not in the sense of a pitying judge who pardons the truly guilty, for He is just, and justice demands payment for sin. This payment has been made. Our sins are not pardoned out of mercy, they are absolved by Christ's redeeming sacrifice. All of which allows us to leave divine judgement where it belongs, in God's hands. A judge, no matter his personal faith, does God's work when he rules wisely according to the law of the land. We ought not be so bound by the Law that we fear damnation for encroaching on God's mercy, for stepping on His toes.

Back at Bragg

For my four readers who aren't family members or reading this on Facebook, I'm now safely back in the best country on the planet: Not Iraq. Specifically, America. Or 'Murka, if you're Toby Keith. We've been having lots of free time since we got back, which is rather nice. Still waiting to get most of my stuff out of storage and get fully moved into the barracks. It's definitely a different feeling, settling into a place with the expectation of staying a while, rather than just living out of one's bags, waiting to leave again. I haven't gotten internet in my room yet, but there's at least coffeshops and such here I can use, so I'll likely be posting on a fairly regular basis again. I've got a lot of material in my mental queue, so expect plenty of stories and reflections from my deployment.