By Army Pfc. Benjamin Watson
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 13, 2009 - How soon after a traumatic accident would you put yourself back in the same circumstances that nearly ended your life? For one fearless jumpmaster now closing in on his fourth consecutive year serving in Iraq, the answer is "right away."
Then-Army Sgt. Ronald L. Cox experienced what every paratrooper fears. For a brief, terrifying time on a summer day in July 1978, 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 10 or 15 times, and I was just hanging there, watching the bottom of the plane fly," he wrote in a 1978 article in the Fayetteville Observer.
The accident gave him a concussion and cost him his helmet, and once pulled into the plane with the aid of a winch, he was without a boot.
Still, in less than a week, Cox was at the door and "out" it again.
"While I was in the hospital," Cox said at the time, "I was thinking of quitting." But, he explained, it was his duty and family that kept him in.
"My father jumped in World War II, my brother was with the 82nd [Airborne Division] from 1970 to 1973," and with an uncle in the Special Forces, he decided to strap on his chute for another go.
He spent another six years with the 82nd Airborne before retiring as a master jumpmaster in 1984.
Today, Cox serves in the California National Guard as a staff sergeant with the 425th Civil Affairs Battalion. He works with the State and Justice Departments on a provincial reconstruction team in Iraq's Salahuddin province.
He came out of retirement to join the Guard in 2004, at 48 years old, 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 said.
An El Monte, Calif., native, 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 the final jump he ever made.
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, he couldn't be held back from an opportunity to serve his country.
"I volunteered to come to Iraq after serving a year on Operation Enduring Freedom," the 52-year-old Cox said.
"I have done well here in Iraq," he said, adding that since arriving, he has 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.
He does not hesitate to state his plans. "I hear Afghanistan calling," he said, "so that will be where I'll be heading next."
(Army Pfc. Benjamin Watson serves with the 49th Public Affairs Detachment.)