NEWS

This paratrooper just took his first jump in 31 years

It is uncertain what the record is for the time between Army parachute jumps, but Lt. Col. John Hall may hold it at 30 years and six months.


When Hall parachuted from a military aircraft January 2018, it was the first time he had done so in over thirty years. Hall, a 53-year-old school teacher at Kearsley High School in Flint, Michigan, is serving a one-year tour of duty in Vicenza, Italy, as the public affairs officer for the storied 173rd Airborne Brigade, the contingency response force for U.S. Army Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

I first worked with the 173rd Airborne when I was put on active duty with the Michigan National Guard in 2014 and sent to the Baltic Countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve and in support of Latvia, our State Partnership Nation," Hall said. "The 173rd Airborne Public Affairs leaders and I developed a close working relationship, so last summer, when they needed an experienced public affairs officer to lead their team, I was selected and put on orders.

The 173rd Brigade commander sent word to Hall that he would be expected to jump from aircraft as a part of his duties.

"I was really excited and completely terrified at the same time. I graduated from 'Jump School' when I was 19 years old and last jumped when I was 22, so I knew what to do," Hall said with a laugh.

Army Lt. Col. John Hall, a paratrooper and public affairs officer assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade, poses for a photo in Vicenza, Italy, Jan. 31, 2018. Hall is a Michigan National Guard soldier currently on active-duty orders with the 173rd. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Alexander C. Henninger )

The 173rd put Hall through a one-day airborne refresher course, he said. This training included parachute landing, actions in the aircraft, and emergency procedures, followed by multiple jumps from a 34-foot tower in which his technique was assessed.

The next day, Hall reported to Aviano Air Base in northern Italy, donned his parachute with a couple of hundred other Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, climbed aboard an Air Force C-17 aircraft and, when 1,200 feet over the Juliet Drop Zone, exited the door and tested his training.

Perfect landing

"The jet blast spun me in the air so when my 'chute deployed it was pretty twisted and did not have a full canopy," Hall said. "I was surprised that I automatically reached up, pulled the 'risers' apart and worked the parachute fully open. Good training takes over and we automatically do the right thing. I then checked my position in the sky and prepared to land. It was all over in less than a minute. I took up a good parachute landing fall position and the landing was perfect."

Hall has served in the Army since graduating from LakeVille High School in the Flint area where he was an All-State wrestler, president of the school's student council, and where he began dating his eventual wife, Laura.

"I enlisted as a combat medic when I was 19 years old and served in the 82nd Airborne Division in the mid-1980s, where we conducted frequent parachute operations as a part of our combat training," Hall said. "After leaving the 82nd, I didn't think I would ever jump from a military aircraft ever again."

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Since leaving active duty with the 82nd, Hall has served in the Army Reserve, the Florida and Michigan National Guard, and has been called back to active duty — to include combat duty in Iraq — on multiple occasions, but he has not been assigned to a unit with an airborne mission until now.

He was initially commissioned as a cavalry officer following officer candidate school and served as a Scout Platoon Leader in E Troop, 153rd Cavalry Regiment in Ocala, Florida. His later assignments include company commander in the 1-125th Infantry in Flint, Michigan, as well as executive officer and commander of the 126th Press Camp Headquarters at Fort Custer, Michigan. It was in the 126th PCH that Hall served a combat tour in Baghdad.

Service in Iraq

Coincidentally enough, while serving as a press officer for Multinational Forces Iraq, Hall was serving in a combat zone at the same time as his daughter, Savannah, who had recently been commissioned as an officer through the University of Michigan ROTC program.

"My daughter, Savannah, grew up around the Army and has seen me in uniform since I was in the 82nd Airborne," Hall said. "She decided when she went to college that she wanted to enroll in ROTC, serve in the Army, and be a paratrooper. It was indeed a proud moment when I pinned her 'Jump Wings' on her at Fort Benning, Georgia. And now my youngest daughter, Samantha, is shipping off to Army basic training later this spring. It remains to be seen if she, too, will become a paratrooper."

Hall has been working in Vicenza, Italy, on the senior staff of the 173rd Airborne Brigade since August 2017. In this short time, he has supported airborne combat training in Latvia, Germany, Slovenia, a historic mission to Serbia, mountaineering training with the Italian Alpini Brigade, and next week will travel to Toulouse, France, to support 173rd Airborne combined engineering operations with French paratroopers.

Hundreds of 173rd Airborne Brigade paratroopers conduct a tactical airborne insertion exercise onto Juliet Drop Zone in northern Italy, Jan. 24, 2018. (Photo Credit: Army photo by Lt. Col. John Hall )

High operational tempo

"The operational tempo here at the 173rd Airborne is intense. We continually have combat training going on with our NATO allies throughout Europe," Hall said. "Our command philosophy is that we are always 'preparing our soldiers for the unforgiving crucible of ground combat.'"

A significant part of this, in the 173rd Airborne Brigade, is conducting airborne operations, so Hall will complete several more jumps from military aircraft in the coming months.

As far as teaching is concerned, Hall intends to return to the classroom teaching English, history, and theater for the fall 2018 semester. It is certain that the dynamic training and real-world experiences contribute to his classes and his students' enthusiasm.

Until then, Hall is an Army paratrooper and he said he's proud of the Soldiers he works with.

Hall added, "It is truly an honor to be able to serve with the 'Sky Soldiers' of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. To be able to begin my military career with the 82nd Airborne Division and end it with the 173rd Airborne Brigade is remarkable. I am humbled every day by the discipline, determination, and dedication of these young Americans forward stationed and always prepared to defend their country."

History

This pilot shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor in his pajamas

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it's hot on the work site, it's important to stay cool. If it's hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army's aircraft on the ground.

Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol' martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A's fuselage.

Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

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