Champion veteran jumped into service for 3 branches
CHAMPION — Although Mark Mines’ father served as an Army Air Corps radio repairman overseas in World War II, Mines himself never intended to go into the military.
“But strangely it wound up that I made a 24-year career out of it,” Mines said.
After being drafted into the Army in 1971, Mines served two years with the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Later, he spent four years in the Ohio National Guard and then 18 years in the Air Force Reserve, from which he retired as a master sergeant E7 after nearly a quarter of a century of service.
A Howland native and current Champion resident, Mines, now 71, graduated from Howland High School in 1969 and briefly attended Youngstown State University before being drafted.
He did basic training at Fort Campbell in Kentucky and then attended artillery school at Fort Sill in Oklahoma.
“Out there I had a career choice. I had Plan B because Plan A would have been to be sent to an artillery unit over in Vietnam,” Mines said. “Plan B was not that great of a plan, but I would jump out of airplanes and stay in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for the rest of time time. So, I went with Plan B.”
Mines was sent to Fort Benning in Georgia for four weeks of jump school, where he learned the correct way to jump out of airplanes, first using a zipline and then jumping off a tall platform. After five successful jumps from airplanes, Mines earned his wings.
According to plan, he was sent to Fort Bragg to join the Battery A 319 Field Artillery unit for the remainder of his two-year enlistment.
“At Fort Bragg, all we did was train,” Mines said.
It was a huge base with property that went on for miles, where the artillery unit could go into the woods with its 105 howitzer — a long-range weapon that launches shells in an arc — and shoot at targets some six miles away, Mines said.
“You didn’t know what you were hitting. They would just send you coordinates and numbers and you would crank those into your sites on your howitzer,” Mines said.
While at Fort Bragg, Mines also did 16 jumps.
“Was I scared? Yeah, you’re scared,” Mines said.
Jumping from planes wasn’t all fun and games. Once during a mass jump, another person drifted directly beneath Mines, stealing his air and deflating his parachute. Mines landed on the other man’s parachute and walked across the green silk to get clear of him, hoping his own chute would open again — and it did.
Mines landed awkwardly, though, he said, due to the “freak wind.”
“So, if you don’t get up and race around there and step on your silk parachute and take the air out of it, there’s a possibility that big, silk parachute could just drag you across the ground and through the bushes and brambles. That’s what mine did.”
Mines said about 45 of the men who jumped in that wind were sent to the emergency room at nearby Womack Army Medical Hospital. The jump even had to be paused for a moment because ambulances were in the drop zone.
During that time, Mines was the first man waiting at the door, he said.
“We’re in a four-engine cargo jet. We’re doing about 140 miles an hour — that’s about the slowest it could actually go. You’re just standing there in the opened door, looking at that red light waiting for it to turn green and jump out the door, but your knees feel like they’re rubber bands,” Mines said.
He said one man died during that jump. The man’s static line, which opens a person’s parachute, wrapped around his arm and he was dragged along the side of the aircraft, Mines said.
On another occasion, Mines jumped with a parachute that had a small hole in it, but landed safely nonetheless. His parents and his then girlfriend, now wife, Cindee, watched him make that jump, he said.
After his two years, Mines came home and married Cindee, whom he had met when he worked at Ohio Gas Station after leaving YSU. Cindee “mysteriously” brought in a lot of cars with flat tires, he said.
Mines went to work as a fitter welder at Valley Steel in Niles. Later, he worked as a millwright at General Motors.
About a year after getting married, Mines was “talked into” going into the Ohio National Guard, he said. He served as a military policeman with the 324th MP Company in downtown Warren for four years before he decided to “shop around” and found an opening with the Air Force Reserve in Vienna. He joined the 910th Civil Engineering Squadron, where he stayed as a reservist for 18 years.
Their son, Shannon, is in the South Carolina Air National Guard and has served overseas about a dozen times in places like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iraq, Mines said.