The Broken Knife by John L. Neel

I made Sergeant First Class in 1984 while I was in Turkey with NATO.  To  celebrate, Kady gave me a beautiful display Knife, an Ek Commando, beautifully etched in gold and engraved with my Rank and Name, #1203 honoring Airborne Forces.  I loved it.

In the infantry, we always carry a good knife and I have gone through quite a few trying to find that perfect combat knife.  I've tried Buck, Gerber, and various other knives, settling, on the tried and true Ka-Bar that I carried most of my career up to that point.  When I saw the EK, I recognized it as a great weapon and bought a field version to carry.  It was perfect, double-edged, razor-sharp, hard as nails, and kept its edge.  It went everywhere with me.

In 1994, my Battalion jumped into Andrews AFB for Armed Forces Day.  I'd jumped there twice before and it was always a great time.  Once on the ground, assembled, chutes turned in, and accountability at 100%, we were turned loose to see the rest of the show and mingle with the crowd.  We were always a hit with the people there, strolling around in our maroon berets, which said to every pretty girl there, "Yes Ma'am, I just Parachuted in."

This time it would be slightly different for me.  As 1SG of Charlie, I was responsible for accountability of my company's jumpers, so, instead of being a Jump Master, for which I was usually tasked, for this jump, I was task-organized in the chalk with my company so we would land in the same vicinity on the Drop Zone (DZ).

When I got out under canopy, after making my safety checks, I noticed two things which, combined, would  make this landing less than ideal. 

First, our lateral drift across the ground was very rapid.  The wind was howling, not at the maximum safety level of 12 knots, but much higher.  I'm an experienced static-line jumper with over 200 jumps, and I can tell when a Drop Zone Safety officer has buckled under the pressure to "put on a good show, no matter what."

Second, I was drifting toward the Taxiway.  Andrews is set up like a big "H" with a taxiway connecting the  two main runways.  The concrete and a building just inside the leading left edge of DZ were the only obstacles for the day.  I was headed straight for a very hard landing.

It was decision time.  I could either try to slip over the concrete, which would increase my lateral momentum, or I could try to pull an opposite slip to try and land on this side of the concrete.  A slip, for those non-airborne people reading this, is a way to direct your chute in a certain direction by pulling down on the nylon straps, called Risers, that connect to the nylon cords connected to the chute, called Suspension Lines.  Pulling down on your risers, pulls down the side of your chute, spilling air out of the opposite side of your canopy. Pulling down on your front two risers, empties air out of the back of your chute, moving you forward.  This works very well.

In my situation, I had to judge my drift across the ground with my rate of fall, to time it just right.  Indecision took over.  I was drifting to my Right, so I first reached for my left risers to try to stay on this side of the taxiway.  Then I changed my mind.  I reached for my Right risers. Then Left.  Then Right.  Then Left.  Then Right.  Then left. Then Right.  Then Left.

And then it was too late. 

It was time to prepare to land and it had better be a damn good landing because I was going to hit the concrete.  I reached up high on my left risers, pulled them down deep into my chest, tucked my chin into my chest, put my feet and kneed together, presented the balls of my feet to the ground, and set my eyes on the horizon so I wouldn't reach for the ground. Thankfully this was going to be a right-side landing-fall, my best, but this was going to hurt.

True to my training, I rolled, hitting the balls of my feet, my right calf, thigh, push up muscle.  Though my chin was tucked tightly into my chest, my helmet still crashed into the concrete.  I attempted to roll my feet in the direction of drift, but the wind took over, spinning me around and began dragging my carcass across the taxiway.  I felt like Hector behind Achilles' chariot, though thankfully, I was alive.  I popped one of my canopy releases, separating me from one side chute, but not before the "twelve knots or below" wind had had a good time with me.

 Checking all my body parts and shaking the sense back into my head, I stood up and began my battle damage assessment.  Legs, OK.  Arms, OK.  Hip, sore as hell.  Back, ...what's that on my shoulder?  Head, no blood coming out of my ears, focus OK,   Then I noticed my right canteen dangling by its dummy cord down by my leg.  The concrete had rubbed a hole in my canteen cover so large that my right canteen had fallen out of the bottom.  I had holes in my uniform on my right hip, right shoulder, and the right rear of my helmet.

Paratroopers say, "Any landing from which you can walk away is a Good Landing."  Well, Good Landing 1SG Neel.

After recovering my chute, I moved to the designated Charlie Company Rally Point, set up the Assembly Aid, and began taking  roll call as the troopers of Charlie Rock arrived.  During this process, one of my troopers asked, "1SG.  What happened to your knife?"  I looked down and noticed, for the first time, that my prized EK Commando was snapped in two, perfectly at the hilt.  I had landed on it so hard that I had broken steel.  So, this is why my hip was so sore.

I pouted over the loss of my knife a few days, replaced it with my trusty Ka-Bar, and got over it.  I did, however, want to let EK know about this problem and sent them the broken knife and a nice note telling them that their "Toughest Knife in the World" was not as tough as the Toughest US Paratrooper in the World.  To their credit, they replaced my knife and sent my broken knife back to me with a nice note telling me I should keep it as a great story.

And a great story it has been. 

Side Note:  As my retirement present, the VMI Commandant's Staff gave me a new Ek Bowie, pictured above.