Five parachute jumps have allowed Estevan's Radley Kolb to take another step towards his dream of a career in Canada's military.
Kolb, a master warrant officer with the Estevan PPCLI (Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry) Army Cadets, spent most of July and the first few days of August at the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, Ontario, for a parachutist's course. Thanks to his successful completion of five jumps from a plane 1,250 feet in the air, he's now the only young person in Saskatchewan with a paratrooper's certification.
The course was more than just the jumps. Physical training was a big part of the first week, as Kolb had to prove he had the requisite conditioning. Five-kilometre runs, push-ups, chin-ups, sit-ups and conditioning tests proved his mettle.
The physical training continued in the second week, and was mixed in with ground training. The jumps came in the third week, during a three-day span from July 22 to 24.
He was supposed to parachute six times, but mechanical problems shelved their plane, and scrubbed the sixth leap.
“You only need five for your qualifications, so we did five,” said Kolb.
The first jump was what he called a “Hollywood-style” plunge, with little equipment – the main parachute, a reserve 'chute and a helmet. The second was with equipment, and it was much harder, he said.
“You really feel the equipment, because it's about 60 pounds, right on your hips, and all the weight goes to your shoulders, so you have a shoulder load, plus a parachute in reserve,” said Kolb.
The third jump was also with equipment, but it came during the evening, with the sun setting in the background. The fourth jump was at night.
“I'm not going to lie – that's probably the most terrifying feeling – getting out of the aircraft on a night jump, because we did a ramp exit, so you're just looking at the back end of an aircraft, in the pitch black, and all of a sudden, you jump and you're gone,” said Kolb.
As he floated to the earth in the silence of the night, he still had to remember all the drills.
The fifth and final jump was, admittedly, his Murphy's Law jump. The problems started because he had to jump out a starboard door instead of the port side. He bounced off the aircraft, twisted his lines, bumped someone's canopy and suspension lines, and had his 'chute deflate slightly.
He proceeded to roll his ankle upon landing, and still had to run a kilometre to the finish line.
Kolb a little more than a minute in the air during each jump.
He was presented with his certification papers, and his wings, at the end of the course.
Kolb was impressed with the commanding officers at the base; they provided strong leadership and “corrective conditioning,” he said. After each mistake, he'd have to drop for 25 push-ups. By the second week, his errors were rare.
“The officers were actual regular force officers,” said Kolb. “They were sergeants, warrant officers and master corporals. They were really good at what they did, and they make sure you knew they were in charge.”
Some of the cadets in the parachuting course were people that he's known for years, as they have attended courses together through the army cadets.
Kolb is the first person from Estevan in more than 40 years to successfully complete the paratrooper's program. The last local to do it was in 1973, just after the local army cadet corps was established.
And he's the only youth in Saskatchewan with his qualifications.
“I thought there would be at least one or two other people from Saskatoon, because they have a few corps up there, or in Regina,” said Kolb.
Kolb is entering his sixth year with the army cadets. He recalls that when a colonel discussed possible courses, his interest was piqued by the paratrooper's class.
“The colonel said 'It's a really hard course, I think you've got what it takes, and you should do it,'” said Kolb. “For the past few years, I've always just wanted this course, I've been bugging my COs (commanding officers) about it at my home corps, and then finally, this year, it was the first opportunity I could go for it.”
There were four steps in the process. He had to apply to be part of a stage before the pre-course. Then he had to send a video that stated he could handle the fitness requirements. Once he was accepted, he went to Edmonton for the regional selection process.
“You do a vigorous amount of tests of physical activity, and from there, only six kids from my entire region got accepted (to go to Trenton), and I was the only one from Saskatchewan,” said Kolb.
Forty-nine cadets and a major were in Trenton for the start of the program, but 10 cadets were sent home because they weren't up to snuff.
The army cadets helped him prepare for the program, particularly from a physical training perspective, because of the emphasis on conditioning.
Kolb said he wanted to be part of the program because it's a certification he can use once he joins the military.
He also wants to maintain his jumping skills. Kolb would have to participate in one to three jumps every three months. There's a jump club in Moose Jaw, and Kolb is trying to convince some of his friends to join him.
Once he turns 19, and he has graduated from high school and the army cadets program, Kolb wants to join the PPCLI's Third Battalion in Edmonton, which has a paratrooper's corps. He's entering Grade 12 at the Estevan Comprehensive School, and he has 2 1/2 years of eligibility with the army cadets, where he is currently the highest ranking officer.
Kolb said he believes that joining the military would be a great opportunity, and it would allow him to make a career out of jumping from an airplane.