Thousands of visitors to the recent Open House and Air Show at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey were treated to a display of aerial precision and skill courtesy of the U.S. Army’s team of parachutists.
Eleven members of the Golden Knight parachute team — with varying experience of anywhere from 500 to 5,000 jumps — boarded a C-31 aircraft, climbed to 1,300 feet, then hurtled through the air in geometric pattern before pulling their black and gold ‘chutes and landing on target.
Winds on the ground must be between 5 to 10 mph for the team to jump. The jumping narrator is first to go. He jumps, salutes, and when he reaches the ground he radios the other jumpers the go ahead.
Staff Sgt. Shelby Bixler, who has jumped roughly 650 times, said that right before exiting the plane, the team members are thinking mostly about safety and how to put on the best performance for the crowd.
“This is the best way for us to be able to connect the American Army to the American public,” she said. “The best part about our performance is being able to go out and interact without he crowd afterwards.”
Staff Sgt. Richard Sloan, who has done three tours of combat, chronicles the jumps, circling the formation wearing video and photography equipment.
When not performing, the team trains other members of the Army to jump, Sloan said. That training helps soldiers, including medics, access dangerous areas.
When Sloan was 10, he watched in awe as his father, a Navy SEAL, emerged from the York River in Virginia after a training exercise jump. That’s when he knew he wanted to be jumping.
For Staff Sgt. Chris Clark, the pinnacle of his 3,500 jumps was landing in Yankee Stadium. He was inspired by his brother, also a Golden Knight, who set Clark up with his first tandem jump.
‘Ready, set, go’
Each Golden Knight must go through an eight-week assessment selection program, which includes daily physical training, a lot of jumping and memorizing 16 pages of narration verbatim. “There’s a lot of different maneuvers that we have to learn and safety is paramount,” said Clark.
About nine minutes after the jumping narrator is on the ground, the other jumpers will head to the back of the plane.
“All you’ll hear is ‘Ready, set, go!’ And it will get really loud and all 10 jumpers will exit at exactly the same time,” explained Sloan.
When he’s performing, he’s thinking about care packages that were dropped to him in Iraq and Afghanistan — cookies, toothpaste and usually a certificate from a middle school.
“You may not know that kid on the air show circuit, but it gives you the ability to come back, say thanks,” said Sloan, “Because it could have been that kid, and that means a lot more to these American soldiers than people realize sometimes.”