, you missed the fact that I was in 101 Batalion on the border? Even though I am too humble to admit, please note that I was so good, that they had no choice but to fly me from bakboord to stuurboord to make use of my services - to train the rookies. In fact, I also served in the Rhodesian Light Infantry.
But that's a story for another day.
Okay, let me tell you about Operation Neverlie...
I wore a maroon beret during this period. It went well with my hair colour.
Bloem was wetter than usual. A parabat (Parachute Batallion) is a South African paratrooper (for the sake of the Phallies I include this explanation).
The history of the Parabats started on 1 April 1961 with the formation of 1 Parachute Battalion (after 1994 renamed to Parachute Training Centre). Us, who served in the special forces, never got the hang of the new name.
The motto of the Parabats is Ex alto vincimus
, meaning "We conquer from above". And that is just what we did.
In 1986, the Parabats embarked on their first HALO/HAHO (High altitude Low Opening/High Altutude High Opening = Hotel Alfa Lima October/Hotel Alfa Hotel October) course in Bloemfontein. This would enable the Parabats to drop in to enemy territory from aircraft following commercial routes. Two CIA operatives (some strange looking guy and I)
had previously arrived in South Africa in 1981 to train the Parabats in this new form of free fall.
Well, I had no problem to show them the ropes, so to speak. My ropes were safely on the ground when I tried to pull the lightweight nylon kernmantle cord called the bridle. So it was time to use my reserve - the parachute of my co-instructor from the CIA, that is.
About Operation Aunt Sparrow:
A very distinctive tradition of the Parabats concerns Tannie Mossie (English: Aunt Sparrow).
Tannie Mossie is Ms Joan Abrams, a teacher in the city of Bloemfontein. She chose the name after the legend of a group of women who requested government to put a sparrow on the smallest coin in South Africa’s currency denomination. The reference comes from the Bible in Matthew 10:29: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father".
Tannie Mossie wanted every soldier to know that God will protect them “falling from the sky” with their parachutes. She handed every soldier a necklace, consisting of a half cent on a string of para-cord, before they were deployed for active duty, telling them the story of the women and of Matthew 10:29. She truly loved the soldiers and the duty they were doing for their country and took it upon herself to be a mother or loving aunt to all of them. She enlisted thousands of elementary school children to write letters to the parabats, usually titled: Liewe Oom Dapper Soldaat (Dear Uncle Brave Soldier).
These letters made an impact on many soldiers, not only providing a face of the innocents that the soldiers were protecting, but also much more. Even soldiers killed in action were found with some of these letters, tattered from repeated reading, folded inside their pocket Bibles. Lifelong friendships were found with families from these letters and an unknown amount of motivation came from them.
Apart from letters, Tannie Mossie made sure that paratroopers regularly got other mail, food parcels, visits and even published a few books – which were mostly compilations of soldiers’ tales.