My Son Earned His Army Airborne Wings

My Son Earned His Army Airborne Wings

My Son Earned His Army Airborne Wings

On Thursday, February 16.2017, my son graduated from the U.S. Army Airborne School at Ft. Benning. He earned his wings and is now a basically trained, five jump parachutist. Apparently, my son is insane. Why else would one jump out of a perfectly good plane? Certainly not for the extra pay each month.

My son and I after I gave him his first bath.

This is what I thought about while my son was at Ft. Benning for Airborne training. Didn’t I just have a baby a few days ago? I thought he would be a writer. My husband thought he would be an investment banker. Why is that precious gift from God jumping out of a plane? The answer is that he is living his dream.

John is a Captain in the U. S. Army. He branched Logistics and is currently assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division (All-Americans), Ft. Bragg, NC. The military is the only career he has ever wanted and, of course, he wanted to be Airborne.

Wednesday morning, my husband and I drove the four hours from Knoxville, Tennessee to Ft. Benning which is about an hour West of Atlanta, Georgia. The weather was not good. It was very overcast and high winds. The Airborne training group at Ft. Benning maintains a Facebook page. This way families know when the Airborne candidates are jumping and the time for graduation after jump five. Mike Gotschall, one of the candidate’s dad, was keeping everyone up to date on the weather conditions. Still not looking good.

My husband and I decided to chance it and head to the drop zone in Alabama. There is nothing like the gut clench that you feel at the thought of watching your baby boy jump out of a plane.

Let me tell you that the Army family is second to none. I met Mike Gotschall’s wife Donna and we became instant buds. Her older boy did Airborne training already. I don’t think that stops the gut clench. There were a ton of families there. We talked and laughed and worried.

The wind never died down, three black hats (Airborne trainers) jumped and we knew that our children would follow on soon.

Families watching their loved ones make their fifth jump

The Airborne candidates jump out of both sides of the plane. They try to avoid crashing in to one another. Watching them is wonderful and terrifying. Pretty soon, they were racing up paths to check in with the black hat with the clip board. They would turn in their parachute and reserve before heading over to grab a hot dog and a bottle of water.

Safe Landings

Ready for this? If they didn’t move fast enough, the black hat would yell, “Double-time, Airborne!” There were 300 Airborne Candidates jumping from Charlie Company. These young adults have just jumped out of a plane for the fifth time and the black hat doesn’t think they are moving fast enough! How many do you think asked for a “safe space” or accused the black hat of a “micro-aggression? Zero. That’s right. These kids, many of them quite educated, are not snowflakes. They are what makes America Great!

And, I started screaming “Congratulations Airborne” at all of them. Everybody was yelling “Congratulations Airborne”. The Army is family and we support each others’ children.

My son after his fifth jump
The three of us after Jump 5

Then, I saw this big, square head checking in with the black hat. There was my boy. Safely on the ground. After he dropped off his gear, we started hugging him and found out that he was in pain. His first four jump landings went fine. This time, the wind caught him at the last second and he went “ass over teakettle” three times and then got dragged a short piece by his parachute. Plus, the toll that five jumps in a week takes on the human body.

After he was released for the night, he came over to our hotel. He told about being terrified before his first jump. “What the Hell am I doing?” “I have a good life.” “I really don’t want to die.” He shuffled forward on the plane, handed his static line to the jumpmaster and jumped anyway. John told us about the candidate who quit right before jump five. When I asked why. John told me that it was because his “heart pumps Kool-aid”. I cannot verify the accuracy of that statement.

Charlie Company, 2nd Platoon. My son is in the 3rd rank (line)

Just before 11 a.m. on Thursday morning, we assembled with our new friends, the Gotshalls’ at the Airborne Walk at Ft. Benning for Airborne graduation. The ceremony lasted about thirty minutes and renewed my faith in America’s institutions. The young lady who sang the National Anthem a cappella did a beautiful job, the chaplain led a wonderful prayer and the Company Commander of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment gave a lovely speech.

Captain Williams wearing his Airborne wings.

Family members who are themselves Airborne were called forward to pin the wings on the new Airborne in their family. The rest of us were then allowed to pin our loved ones. The new Airborne platoons sang the Army song and recited the Airborne creed. Since I was sitting there with eyes like saucers and my mouth hanging open, I didn’t video any of the Airborne graduation. I did find the Airborne creed on youtube.

What do you do after you earn your Airborne wings? My son is going to try to get five more jumps in at Benning next week. You need a minimum of twelve jumps to start the qualification for Jumpmaster. My pride in my son, like my love for him, is unlimited. Just like his future…Airborne!

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  • VALman says:

    Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Congratulations to your son, you and your husband, the other graduates and their families. We’ re so thankful for their service and pray abundant blessings upon their service.

    Gonna’ run . . . everyday . . . all the way . . . AIRBORNE!

  • VALman says:

    As we get older, we sometimes look back and are confronted with regrets. One of mine regards military service. However, I did have some familiarity with basic training and PT.

    You’re rightly proud, because this is the America we know and love. God bless you and yours.

  • Doug says:

    Thanks for the memory. You write well. I especially liked where you said, ““What the Hell am I doing?” “I have a good life.” “I really don’t want to die.” He shuffled forward on the plane, handed his static line to the jumpmaster and jumped anyway.” I was telling my wife almost the same words the other night. It has been a long time since I tried to remember my first jump. Thanks again!

    • Toni Williams says:

      Don’t you think most semi-sane people think….why am I doing this? I still think my son must be semi-insane for jumping out of a plane.

      I am still bursting with pride.


  • Robert Crump says:

    Congratulations! All The Way!

  • Merle says:

    Pleas offer him my congrats – and keep some for yourselves!!!

    Merle, USN

  • De Oppresso Liber says:

    Congratulations…..Airborne All the Way!
    1969 Fort Benning Graduate.

    My very first time in any Aircraft was flying down to Fort Benning for Jump School, the second time they opened the door and I jumped out.
    Welcome to the Brotherhood, Trooper!

    • Toni Williams says:

      De Oppresso Liber-
      Have you been to the National Infantry Museum at Ft. Benning? They said schedule 3 hours. We were there 4. The food at the Fife & Drum is delicious, too. The docents have a 10% off coupon.


  • Anthony Cady says:

    Great story. Congrats to him. I remember those days. The first jump, I actually wasn’t really that nervous. The harness is tight and not very comfortable so you just want out of the plane. Your son was lucky to have family there. I didn’t, but do remember a few people that did and some that helped pin their wings on. For the rest of us the blackhats did the honor, first approaching us, congratulating, and then asking us the dubious question about pinning the wings on..whether we wanted “blood wings,” (not sure if they do that one anymore…it was a choice though) or not. That is where the instructor would put the wing backing clips in your pocket, place the wings on your chest, and then use a fist to …gently make sure that your chest was used as the backing. Which, of course, most of us said yes to… From a former paratrooper, Airborne!

    • Toni Williams says:

      Anthony Cady-

      DoD guidelines strictly forbid the issuance of blood wings. Wink wink! lol

      They all still want them.


  • Jim Davis says:

    I took that training and made those 5 jumps 44 years ago. My folks couldn’t come out from California, but I was welcomed just as much by my friends’ families who could make it. Tell your Captain this old Captain is happy to have him in the line.

  • Scott says:

    Congratz! that is awesome beyond words… perhaps if i’d been smarter in my young age, and less interested in the girl that became my Ex-wife, i’d have followed that path myself.. it is one of my regrets in life. But Bravo Zulu to your son and his classmates!

  • JIm Bailey says:

    So long to being a LEG, Hello to being a Cherry.

  • Timothy Byrne says:

    Congratulations CPT Williams. For the better part of the last year he has been my rater in the S-3. My job was as the S-3 Air for our BN. I am glad to see he finally put his jump boots where his mouth was and made all 5 jumps. Time to start Studying and getting ready for JM school. Can’t wait to be pulling duties with you in the air. AAW sir


    • Toni Williams says:

      Timothy Byrne-

      He has been screaming to get to Airborne since he commissioned. He is screaming now for JM.

      Hope to meet you.


  • Katy says:

    I never had children but I often hoped I would have one that would make me as proud as you must be for your son. Congratulations.

  • Matt Galvin says:

    I am a Army Veteran of 26 years. Most on jump status on Ft Bragg. I still have the original wings awarded me at Ft Benning and they remain one of my most precious memorabilia. Congratulations to your Son, and to you, for accomplishing what so few get a chance to do.

  • parker says:

    May your son be blessed by God for his service.

  • Jeff Davis says:

    Congrats To your son, and we welcome him into our family. We paratroopers from the 82d Airborne are a fraternity of brothers who stand together during and after our service.

  • My alma mater…82nd abn div…Great job..Cherry…Sorry but its a rite of passage for your Son,soon he will do the same to other newbies.AIRBORNE ALL THE WAY..SUPERDUPERPARATROOPER.

  • GWB says:

    Your son is CRAZY!

    Having said that, congrats to him!

    And, if you haven’t read them yet, find Curahee! by Donald R. Burgett (and the subsequent books: The Road To Arnhem, Seven Roads To Hell, and Beyond The Rhine). They are fantastic first-person accounts of his time from jump training through D-Day to the surrender of Germany.

  • Bobby Garrette says:

    Congrats Airborne! “All the Way!” Hope he enjoys Bragg, I did but I was there 16 years ago, the Airborne family is a close knit community that is always there to take care of their own. Welcome to the Family he will love Bragg if he is high speed enough just for all the opportunities within the Spec Ops world and he will have many chances to just go jump to get the 12 he needs for JM School, best of luck to him and have confidence in your son Mom that he knows what he is doing and wont get hurt!

    • Toni Williams says:

      Bobby Garrette- He loves Bragg. Especially after Ft. Bliss and Ft. Lee. He preferred Afghanistan to Ft. Bliss. lol for real.


  • J Walter says:

    Good for him. How many women got their wings the same day?

    • Toni Williams says:

      J Walter-
      I would say about 5% or 15 women. I don’t like it, but then I still think the men kill the spiders.


  • George V says:

    Let me add my congratulations to your son! Wonderful accomplishment!

    I went through Airborne training in 1973 as an Navy ROTC student. ROTC could, if crazy enough, go through the training and wear Jump wings. All you had to do was get yourself to Ft. Benning and cover your own expenses. Lots of running, lots of PT, lots of pushups and knee bends for any slight error made in training. Good times?! Lots of wondering “Am I out of my mind?” Still remember the feeling of each jump.

    What I don’t remember is a hot dog and bottle of water after the 5th jump!
    Again, Congratulations!

    • GWB says:

      Lots of wondering “Am I out of my mind?”

      Why, yes! Yes, you were!
      But the world takes a little bit of crazy to run. 🙂

    • Toni Williams says:

      George V- The Colonel down the street said that back in the day when he went to jump school a retired Master Sergeant used to come to the DZ with ice cold cokes. Two for a dollar. I think the hot dogs and bottled water are fairly new.


  • Donna Gotchall says:

    Did you get my first comment? I either deleted it or submitted it before it was completed! Lol at any rate, thank you for this wonderful recap and it was an equally delightful experience getting to meet you and your sweet family! We will meet again as Matthew is now assigned to Fort Bragg! Go Airborne!! Army Strong!

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