By Chance Chamberlain
Some area residents had a once-in-a-lifetime experience last week as they took advantage of the opportunity to jump with the Army’s Golden Knights Parachute Team.
The Army Golden Knights Parachute Team held a three-day skydiving event Oct. 5-8 at Skydive KC at Butler Memorial Airport. The event was part of a national tour to raise awareness for Army recruiting across the country. Throughout the event, several persons from around the state had the chance to tandem skydive with the Army Golden Knights.
The parachute team is considered the best of the best and Chris Hall, owner of Skydive KC, said it was an honor to host the event at his business.
“We are the oldest skydiving facility in the region, so we got the opportunity to host the event and it is a prestigious honor to host an event like this even though we are just providing the facilities. Most people have never seen anything like this, so it is cool to watch the cream of the crop and experience the energy that everybody has during their jumps,” he said.
Hall added, “This event really puts Butler on the map because seldom do you get something of this caliber in this area. It is just so cool to experience this, especially because my dad was in the military so it’s cool to see his excitement.”
The Golden Knights offered the opportunity for civilians to jump to create interest in the Army and last Tuesday was a day reserved for university presidents and veterans alike.
Sgt. Brian Colette said, “We are the ambassadors for the Army and we have instructors here today from many different military occupational specialties so that we can express the many different job opportunities the Army has to offer.
“That’s kind of the reason we choose to take public figures for tandem jumps for these events. It helps get our team and the Army into the public eye and hopefully that sparks interest from people in the community to enlist and serve their country,” he said.
Colette added, “When people join the Army, they can even try out for the Golden Knights. All they must do is enlist, qualify with their military occupational specialty and be in their unit for a year. After that, they can complete a minimum number of required jumps and try out through the Golden Knights assessment.”
Throughout the event, the Golden Knights took 34 civilians on tandem jumps out of their custom Javelin Twin Otter skydiving plane from an altitude of 12,500 feet. During the descent, tandem divers reached a maximum speed of 120 mph during their two-minute fall.
Sgt. First Class Rich Sloan said, “The conditions today are perfect and it looks to stay that way for the next few days that we are here. Because there are no clouds, we will be able to climb to our preferred 12,500 feet for the jump. If it were cloudy, we would be jumping at 7,500 feet because we cannot tandem jump above the clouds.
“We are just excited to be able to connect to the public this week through firsthand experience with our line of work. Our jumpers, most of them being first time jumpers,
will have to step up to face their fear and that takes a lot of courage, but it is just one thing that we do on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
Civilians who participated in the jump day had to be cleared by Fort Bragg in North Carolina before they were accepted to participate in the event.
Among jumpers on Wednesday was Roger Best, the president of the University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg. He jumped at the opportunity to skydive with the Golden Knights to show his support of the university’s Army ROTC program and he said it was an honor to jump with the team.
Best said, “There is an amazing rush of wind you get hit with. As you are plummeting down toward earth, it is hard to imagine you are up there falling without any parachute behind you, then all of a sudden the chute opens and it’s just a nice drift down.
“Anytime you think about jumping out of an airplane that is still flying, it makes you a little bit nervous, but when you think about doing that with the finest parachute team in the world, you cannot do it any safer way,” he said. “I was talking to my instructor and my tandem partner and he said he does 500 to 800 jumps a year, so this is something that is his profession.”
Best added, “It’s something he loves, and he does it to serve us, so it is my honor and privilege to be able to jump with him today.”