Jump and enjoy the ride

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. David J. Zemkosky
  • 17th Medical Support Squadron commander
As I prepare for my change of command and departure from Goodfellow next week, I struggled to find an appropriate topic for my last commentary. Eventually, my wife's tandem skydive this weekend gave me the inspiration. As I was reflecting on the day's events, I realized her experience was a metaphor for my assignment as squadron commander.

Please indulge me while I explain.

There are four distinct phases of a skydive: arrival and ride up, freefall, canopy flight and landing. The arrival and ride up are similar to the first 17 years of my career. During the first years you receive the training and equipment you need for a successful jump. I made certain that I took advantage of all the opportunities the Air Force offered to expand my knowledge and increase my level of responsibility with every job which led to my selection as a squadron commander. Then the ride up to altitude comes and it's rife with anticipation for the big moment. When I received my orders to Goodfellow, I was eager to say those powerful words, "I assume command." Soon the time comes and I jump!

Freefall - according to my wife and the other skydivers I spoke to, there isn't a "stomach leaping into your throat" feeling, but as you begin hurtling towards earth at 120 mph, the sudden rush of wind literally takes your breath away. Everything's a blur as you suffer from sensory overload at first, then you get an out of control feeling. This is similar to taking the reins of command. As I got settled into the job and began to learn all the intricacies of my unit and people, and the pace of command, it seemed overwhelming.

All of a sudden the ripcord is pulled and the parachute is deployed. The canopy flight is smooth and gentle as you assume control and glide to the landing area. You're able to steer your canopy precisely where you want to go, but there are still hazards with changing wind currents and as you descend you're forced to make small corrections in your trajectory. Everything begins to click. I've done my planning and set my goals for where I would like the squadron to be by the time I leave. Now I am just leading the unit in that direction.

The ride has to end eventually and there are many ways to come in for the landing. Some choose to gently glide to the landing zone and walk in while others choose to swoop in at a high speed and slow at the last minute for a graceful landing. Some may come in a little out of control and hit the ground off balance or a little too hard. I hope I'm gently gliding to my landing as my command draws to a close. Like my wife's skydiving experience, the ride was exhilarating and inspirational and as my feet are now approaching the ground, I must tell you it ended all too quickly.

Thank you for bearing with me. It's important to remember that you can have apprehension as you attempt something new, but you have to be willing to take reasonable risks, trust in your team, training, and equipment ... then just jump and enjoy the ride!