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Soldiers recall combat jumps into Panama on 30th anniversary

It was 11 minutes past 2 a.m. when the order to stand up was given inside the C-141 Starlifter cruising over Panamanian airspace.

The “cherry” paratrooper next to then-Maj. Paul D. Schambach was struggling to comply — likely due to the mortar base-plate and three rounds he was hauling.

“He was a stout young man, but I still had to help him,” said Schambach, an intelligence officer with the 82nd Airborne Division’s ready brigade during the 1989 mission.

Normally, a freshly christened paratrooper’s first jump out of Airborne School is in training at about 1,000 feet above ground, allowing for plenty of time to pull a reserve parachute should anything go amiss. But Schambach recalled that the young soldier on his “cherry jump” next to him wasn’t so lucky. This combat jump was going to be dangerously low to reduce the exposure to enemy fire.

“All of our reserves were loose-rigged. You don’t have but a nano-second to pull a reserve at 500 feet," he said. "And we think it was probably low enough that it wouldn’t have worked anyhow.”

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