By Terrance Bell
Fort Lee PAO
FORT LEE, Va. – One would think a life-or-death moment in the pursuit of an occupation could surely be the impetus to head in the other direction, to find another line of work, to do something a little less dangerous.
Then Pvt. Joseph L. Jimenez had the opportunity to do that years ago as a student undergoing airborne training. It occurred during his third jump at the U.S. Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. He recalled exiting the airplane, counting off four seconds (one thousand one, one thousand two ... ) and waiting for the parachute to deploy.
It didn’t, or so he thought.
"I think I counted to 4,000 really quick," said the current chief warrant officer five, indicating he wasn’t certain about the elapsed time. Nevertheless, when Jimenez checked the canopy, it was only fractions of a second into deployment. "I thought I had a parachute malfunction."
Plan B was immediately executed at a mere 1,200 feet in altitude, said Jimenez. "I went and immediately activated my reserve parachute, but my main (parachute) had already deployed properly."
He floated to earth safely, his silhouette marked by two canopies. Only seconds separated Jimenez from a potential fall to his death over the Georgia skies. The incident could have created a different outcome for Jimenez, who went on to become a rigger, completing more than 1,000 jumps over nearly 40 years, despite incurring the same risk on each and every occasion.
In all of creation, why would Jimenez, a seemingly rational and sober human being, not only continue on after such a perilous welcome to his new job but dedicate himself to a military occupational specialty fraught with high-wire risk? His answer is tinged with nonchalance.
"I really enjoyed my MOS," said the current command air drop adviser at the Quartermaster School’s Aerial Delivery and Field Services Department, who was honored at a retirement ceremony, Jan. 15. "It was something different. I really enjoyed the camaraderie and esprit de corps that we have in the airborne and rigger communities."
The active-duty rigger community is a small one. Comprised of just a few hundred Soldiers who are rigorously trained. Those in the career field are primarily charged with packing the parachutes of airborne-qualified personnel in airborne units. Because of their unique responsibility, riggers wear bright red baseball caps that are easily identifiable at loading and drop zone locations. The Army rigger motto is "I will be sure always."
Jimenez, who was 18 when he came into the Army in 1975, said he never entertained feelings of buyer’s remorse about being a rigger and was 100-percent sure of his career choice after arriving at his first duty station and tasting what the job was like. "I had no desire to ever change my MOS," he said.
Among the highlights of his career, Jimenez spent nearly 20 of his 40 years at Fort Bragg, in the 82nd Airborne Division and various other units. He also was an instructor and platoon sergeant at Fort Bragg from 1979 to 1987 and completed a 2004 to 2005 tour in Iraq.
However, he said the shining jewel of his career portfolio, was being a part of T-11 parachute testing from 2006 to 2008.
"It was one of the most rewarding experiences I ever had because I had the opportunity to provide input on the development of that parachute," said Jimenez. The T-11 replaced the T-10 and is used by conventional forces throughout the Army.
If there was any shortcoming in his career, Jimenez said, it would have been the lack of day-to-day interaction with Soldiers which he didn’t have in his current position.
"I miss dealing with Soldiers in an operational environment," he said, noting the substance of real-world missions and common goals that are the staples of combat units. "But on the flip side of that, I am able to impact Soldiers who are embarking on their journeys as parachute riggers, so for me, I’ve come full-circle."
Jimenez’ career path is more than mere circumference but a hallmark to leadership and selfless dedication, said a colleague.
"Jimenez is a Soldier’s Soldier who will never ask anyone to do what he won’t do himself," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Anthony W. Hall, ADFSD’s acting command air drop adviser. "He was on every airborne operation and led from the front. He always accepted the training, understood it and ingested it for others to follow. He is a very humble person who does not like the limelight and will willingly and always lead the folks to proper research and development that helps them become well-rounded leaders as well as followers. He always stated that without being a good follower, one can’t be a great leader."
Sacrifice, leading from the front and dedication have benefits as well as costs. Jumpers, prone to injuries like no others in the Army, are subject to broken ankles, torn ligaments and blown-out backs. Some are forced to leave the career field. Others march on, said Hall.
"Over the years of jumping, you have muscle aches, broken bones and days when you can barely walk," he said, "but chief was always in his office and running up and down Avenue A. To the junior leaders of America, he set the bar high and showed that any adverse condition will only point you toward a broader future."
It was a future he never questioned. The 58-year-old Jimenez went on to marry, raise a Family and earn a degree. He said his wife, Cindy, was an encouraging factor in his career and made him a better person. He looks forward settling in Fayetteville and traveling in his idle time and attending college, largely without the aspiration to concentrate on any one thing.
"What I want to do, I have no idea yet," he said.
Such uncertainty might be considered peculiar for a self-assured old Soldier who never looked back on his career choice. One would have to admit, however, that school attendance is a lot less dangerous than coming to work at 1,200 feet above ground.