When you’re standing inside a moving plane, doors open, wind blasting all around you, nothing visible but the inky black of the night sky, it’s hard not to think of the worst-case scenario.
But to hear Eagle Scout Kaz Kuczma tells it, that feeling actually fades over time.
“The only thing you can do is trust your equipment, the people who checked it, and, at the end of the day, yourself and your training,” Kaz says. “When I’m about to jump, that’s all I try to think about.”
In 2015, Kaz became an Eagle Scout as a member of Troop 506 of Medina, Ohio, part of the Great Trail Council.
And last month, Kaz, now 20, earned another set of wings: the Parachutist Badge, also known as “Jump Wings.” Like the Eagle Scout badge, the Parachutist Badge symbolizes an uncommon desire to reach a difficult goal.
While Kaz’s time in Scouting didn’t specifically prepare him for the unique task of jumping out of an airplane for the U.S. Army, it did instill bravery, confidence and a reminder to always Be Prepared.
“Being prepared when you’re about to jump form an airplane is everything,” Kaz says. “Just trust your training and your equipment, and you will have a safe jump.”
Earning his Eagle wings
Kaz loved being a Scout. He loved being outside, practicing camping skills and learning how to survive anything Mother Nature might throw his way.
“I’ve always been fascinated with going into the woods for the weekend and just living life for a couple days without any modern appliances or utilities,” he says.
Along the way, Kaz gained leadership experience, too. For his Eagle Scout service project, he led a group of volunteers in the construction of two benches and two picnic tables at a local sportsman’s organization.
“Scouting is a fantastic foundation to life in general,” Kaz says. “Even if you don’t finish Eagle, learning many of the core principles and ideals of Scouting is a tool that I and many others will use throughout life.”
Earning his Jump Wings
To earn the Eagle badge, Kaz had to complete requirements for all seven Scouts BSA ranks, each one more difficult than its predecessor.
To earn his Parachutist Badge, Kaz had to complete five jumps, each one more difficult than the one before.
These jumps have a practical purpose. Paratrooping is designed to quickly deploy trained soldiers onto the battlefield — especially in areas that are hard to reach on the ground.
“It is one of the fastest modes of transportation for troops,” Kaz says.
- Jump 1: Introductory jump that teaches the most important aspects of jumping: verbal communication, the feeling of the parachute opening, understanding your surroundings, seeing how much time you’ll have in the air and, most importantly, the landing.
- Jump 2: The “mass exit,” in which the goal is to get all the paratroopers onto the drop zone in one pass. That means 30-plus others in the air with you, adding more potential for problems and injury.
- Jump 3: The first combat jump, meaning you jump with your rucksack and weapons case so that you’ll have gear once you’re on the ground.
- Jump 4: The first night jump, giving you an idea of jumping out in mass exit without being able to see the ground or even, sometimes, other paratroopers.
- Jump 5: The grand finale, putting everything together. It’s a mass-exit, night, combat-geared jump.
“Each rank in Scouts prepares you for the next, until you’re ready to complete the final project by yourself or with little help and guidance,” Kaz says. “Much like the airborne course, which starts simple and builds off each previous step until you’re finally ready to jump out of a plane.”
Kaz’s dad, Ken Kuczma, shared his son’s accomplishments with Bryan on Scouting, filling in some things that Kaz’s humility prevented him from sharing.
Because he’s an Eagle Scout, Kaz earned an automatic promotion to private first class when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He quickly excelled, receiving the Military Achievement Medal, earning authorization to drive a Humvee and becoming qualified on three different weapons.
“Not bad for a 20-year-old,” Ken says.
Ken was a Scout himself in Cleveland but left the program at age 13 after earning Tenderfoot. As he watched his son reach Tenderfoot and beyond, Ken saw Kaz grow in confidence.
“There were many challenges — winter camping, high adventure — yet the confidence was built every step of the way,” Ken says.
Ken was able to witness this growth because in Scouting, unlike some programs for young people, other members of the family don’t sit on the sidelines.
“The beauty of Scouting is that it can be a family activity, unlike sports where the child participates and the parents watch,” Ken says. “We have many cherished memories from participating in Scouts together.”