Monday, November 9, 2009


One of the best parts of Basic Training at Ft. Jackson is going to Victory Tower. It's 56' of sheer madness disguised as a wooden wall.

Victory Tower is part of an obstacle course designed to scare the hell out of recruits. It's a separate activity from the rest of the course which mainly consists of rope ladders and rope bridges.

Victory Tower is where we learn to rappel. One person puts on a wickedly uncomfortable crotch harness (the kind that makes you feel really sorry for the male recruits) and climbs the stairs to the top. One person is at the bottom - "on belay" (I'm probably spelling that wrong). The belay person holds the rope wrapped behind them. They can walk backwards and slow you down if you end up coming down too fast. At the top, you plant your feet on the edge of the wall, make your legs stiff and straight and lean your ass over the edge - that's called "making your L". That L is the hardest part. You have to trust your harness and your belay person to keep you from... well, plummeting to your death really. Then the person at the top hollers, "On rappel." and the person below yells, "On belay." and the games begin.

Drill Sgt. Ski (the really buff one who would always bag on women even being in the Army) gave the demonstration. He put on a rucksack (giant backpack) full of whatever to make it weigh 60 pounds. He said he was wearing the rucksack to demonstrate that no matter the weight, the rope and equipment will hold you - "So all you Nancy girls can just quitchyer whinin' and get up there and get it done." Yes. He actually called us Nancy girls.

He climbed the stairs to the top of the tower with his harness already on. At the top they clip on a carabiner clip and he made his "L". He was yelling down to us the whole time, giving instruction while demonstrating. I was front row center because I wanted at it! All of a sudden, his body gave a little jerk and we could hear him saying, "Mike! Mike! mutter, mutter, mutter" He was about 4 feet down the wall and those of us that heard him looked at each other with panic in our eyes. We'd never, EVER heard a DS call another DS by their first name. We knew something wasn't right. The DS he called to was at the top of the tower in a flash holding onto the rope for dear life.

DS Ski stopped talking and made quick work of rappelling down the wall. Even with another DS on belay, during the last five feet he was just in absolute free fall. I'll never forget him landing. I can picture clear as when it happened. He landed on his back. On that 60 pound rucksack. His arms and legs splayed out and all smacked the ground while his back arched around that pack - it all happened in about one second. His landing also jerked the belay DS smack onto his face.

Bless that man and his professionalism. He hit that ground harder then any body has a right too and just as quickly he popped up onto his feet and said, "See? Nothin' to it. Who's first?" That man got up faster then his belay person!

Some of the girls started crying. A couple started hyperventilating. Even those of us (like myself) who were so looking forward to it were now, understandably, a bit reluctant.

"All right," he bellowed, "I'm pickin' then. You, you, and you - get those harnesses on and get up those stairs. You, you, and you - on belay."

Standing up front like I was, I was one of the first one's up. At the top, I took some time adjusting my harness but actually I was eavesdropping on the whispering DS's. Turns out, DS Ski's carabiner clip had broken! Damned thing snapped clean off! That carabiner is the only thing holding the harness on your body to the rope. DS Ski came down that wall solely on the strength of his hands and arms. Granted he had the biggest pipes I think I've ever seen, but add that 60 pound rucksack and... damn.

I don't know where the broken clip went because we never saw anything fall. I found out later that as he was whisper-yelling for DS "Mike", he was also stuffing pieces of broken carabiner into his pocket so none of us would see it. Curmudgeonly as he was, he was a good man and a great DS.

Here's a pic of me on Victory Tower...

Do you see how fancy my hair is? My battle buddy was 24 and both her children were boys. She loved to braid my hair for me. (And if you've been following along, you'll know how much I needed that help!)

Despite the grimace in the pic, I had a blast! Making the L was difficult but those cheap-ass plastic boots they gave us didn't' help. They were slipperier then snot on a doorknob. You're trying to rappel down the wall and by rappel, the DS's mean to walk down the wall. The whole 56 feet. I walked/slippedslided down the first time I went. Then I did my belay then I ran up the stairs and went down 3 or 4 more times! Each successive time, I was leaping further away from the wall and flying down that rope. I even tried to make them let me attempt Australian style - that means you go... basically head first. Your butt is facing the sky instead of the ground. They said no. Regular style is is then! So. Much. FUN! I would do it again, anytime they'd let me.

On rappel, Ruth!


Yarnhog said...

Damn, that's impressive.

I learned to rappel on a standing arch in Utah. It was about...150 feet up? The widest part was the very top of the arch, where we were standing, and then it cut sharply under, so when you tried to step back and down, there was nothing there. I watched all 17 people in front of me step back, find nothingness, and flip completely upside down and smack into the rock. When I got up there, I almost passed out from not breathing. But I didn't flip over!

Anonymous said...


Marissa said...

Holy Moly, what courage to get up there after witnessing 'a problem'! Hats off to you!!