A jumpmaster's story of ultimate courage, endless determination
March 3, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - How soon after a traumatic accident would you put yourself back in those same circumstances which nearly ended your life'
For one fearless jumpmaster now closing in on his fourth consecutive year serving in Iraq, the answer is - "right away."
"It has come to my attention that you were towed during your battalion's mass jump on July 21, 1978 and then a couple of days later jumped again," begins a now 30-year-old letter addressed to Sgt. Ronald L. Cox from Lt. Gen. Volney F. Warner, the commander of 18th Airborne Corps.
The incident Warner was referring to marked the occasion Cox became what every paratrooper fears. For a brief, terrifying time that summer day, Cox was a towed parachutist, entangled mid-air in his static line immediately after exiting the door of a C-130 aircraft.
"I must have banged into the side of the plane ten or 15 times and I was just hanging there, watching the bottom of the plane fly," Cox said in a 1978 article in the Fayetteville Observer.
In the accident he suffered a concussion, lost his helmet and, once pulled into the plane with the aid of a winch, found he had also lost a boot.
Still, in less than one week, Cox was at the door and "out" it again.
"While I was in the hospital, I was thinking of quitting," he said. But, he explained, it was his duty and Family which kept him in.
"My father jumped in World War II, my brother was with the 82nd from 1970 to 1973," and with an uncle in the Special Forces, he decided to strap on his chute for another go.
Cox spent another six years with the 82nd Airborne Division before retiring as a master jumpmaster in 1984.
That was then.
Today, Cox serves in the California National Guard as a staff sergeant with the 425th Civil Affairs Battalion. He works with the State Department and the Department of Justice on a Salah ad Din Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq.
He came out of retirement to join the Guard in 2004 and has been deployed to the region ever since. "I've done everything from patrolling Baghdad, to running gun trucks up and down Route Tampa on convoy escort missions, to route security missions," he added.
A native of El Monte, Calif., Cox said he came to Iraq because of the mission's cost to young American Soldiers.
"I wanted to help put a stop to that," he said.
Bouncing back is one way to describe his history with the U.S. armed forces over the course of the last 30 years. It also comes painfully close to describing his own life following his final jump.
He was at Fort Riley, Kan., when the dangers of the airborne life again became terrifyingly real. This time, it happened on a free-fall jump.
"I crash-landed on a hardtop road, fractured my tailbone and when I pulled my chute in, it was on the front of a car."
Despite the trauma, Cox couldn't be held back from an opportunity to serve his country - even if that meant helping out in two foreign countries.
"I volunteered to come to Iraq after serving a year on Operation Enduring Freedom," admitted the 52-year-old Cox.
"I have done well here in Iraq," he said, adding that since arriving, he earned the Combat Infantryman Badge, Combat Action Badge, Bronze Star with Valor device, Army Commendation Medal with Valor device, among other awards and decorations as a Soldier.
"I commend you for your courage and professional excellence," Warner ended his personal letter to Cox more than three decades ago. "You represent the type of noncommissioned officer that we can be truly proud to have in the U.S. Army and the airborne."
Today, that dedication is at least as strong as it was 30 years ago. When asked what he has planned for the coming months, his answer is swift.
"I hear Afghanistan calling," he said, "so that will be where I'll be heading next."