The U.S. Army Parachute Team the Golden Knights’ 2010 Assessment and Selection program graduated 9 Soldiers vying for the prestigious honor of becoming a Golden Knight. It is a time honored tradition and great privilege to earn the status of a knight and trade your basic duty uniforms to wearing the black and gold uniform of the world’s elite parachute team.
The prerequisites for applicants are simple; an individual must be on active duty status, have completed 150 free fall parachute jumps and have a flawless civilian and military record. Individuals submit their packets for selection, a process that includes a rigorous six-week assessment and selection program of training. Members that successfully completed the six-week training program were knighted yesterday at 10:00 a.m. in a special ceremony as an official member of the Golden Knights at Raeford Drop Zone.
This year the team received 20 applications, but only 16 were selected for the “tryouts” held September 7- November 1st. Virtually every demographic was represented at this year’s program to include two females, one of which was an airman and Soldiers from various military occupations and Army posts. Regardless of their reasons for wanting to be a Golden Knight, all hopefuls wanted to make it. The Soldiers endured 16-18 hour training days with a typical day beginning at 4:00 a.m. They wake up, form-up for physical training, personal hygiene, barracks maintenance and then head out to Laurinburg-Maxton Airport where they conducted training. Their entire days consisted of extremely demanding physical training to gain the endurance to get through the sport, to prevent injuries and to maintain an exceptional Army Image.
The cadre (SSG Tom Dunning, Team leader, SFC’s Tom Bovee and Greg Windmiller and SSG’s Derrick Coleman and Scott Janise) have developed a very structured course to hone the candidates individual skydiving and accuracy skills, mastering difficult aerial maneuvers, memorizing narrations, team history, team building and additional details around the headquarters facility.
Not every Soldier was up to the challenge to make the cut. Unfortunately all could not endure the rigorous training it takes to become a Golden Knight and represent the Army’s “Official Ambassadors” telling the Army story to all they meet. Some resigned for various reasons ranging from medical problems to personal conflicts.
On November 2nd, Sgt.s 1st Class Brian Sealing and Dustin Peregrin, Staff Sgt.s Adrian Hill and Thomas Melton, Sgt.s David Echeverry, Thomas Pryjda and Richard Sloan, Spc. Matthew Navarro and Pfc. Jeshua Stahler made their 180th jump of the program into their graduation ceremony. Throughout the duration of the program, the candidates and cadre have completed 2,350 free fall parachute jumps. Each new member of the Golden Knights recited the last line of the Golden Knight Creed as they were ‘knighted’ into the Army’s only Department of Defense parachute team by LtCol Joe Martin, Golden Knights’ commander. Each Knight kneeled before the team Sergeant Major and Commander to be knighted with the teams Excalibur Sword and stated, “When I have gained the respect, admiration and gratitude of the American public and my team mates, then I have fulfilled my mission as a Golden Knight,” written by Spider Wrenn.
Following the knighting of the candidates there was a very special “Knight” that was knighted. SFC Tom Bovee, the NCOIC of the teams Rigger Section who continually displays all knightly virtues to all his team mates was asked to genuflect before the commander and was bestowed the distinguished honor of knighthood. SFC Bovee said,”I was totally in shock and thought it was strange that LTC Martin and SGM Young came and stood in front of me. I couldn’t believe that I was being knighted. I never realized that my work means that much to people.”
The Commander addressed the congregation with heartfelt remarks.”Yesterday was a great day. We’re thrilled to have nine terrific Soldiers join our ranks and be knighted as new Teammates. They will be great additions to our Demonstration Teams, the foundation of the Army’s Parachute Team.
An interesting thing about yesterday’s ceremony was looking at the two main groups of people assembled there…the audience, consisting of alumni and current teammates, family and friends; and the other group, the newly knighted Teammates standing in formation in front of them. And as the current Team and Alumni looked at the newest Knights, we saw the future of this Team. At the same time, if our new Teammates were paying attention, as they looked out at the Alumni, they were looking at what the future holds for them. It was an interesting dichotomy.
Our annual intensive training cycle held this winter at Homestead AFB, FL will be key to integrating them into the Black and Gold Demonstrations Teams and making them a cohesive, competent and fully trained member of the team – able to successfully and safely represent the Army in front of Air Shows, professional sporting events, high schools and other opportunities to help connect large crowds of the American People with her Army, “said LTC Martin.
After the closing teammates, family, friends and alumni all went up and congratulated each of the new knights with handshakes, hugs and a few tears of joy. Numerous family members have traveled from all over the country to be part of this special event. They spent a bit of time conversing and reminiscing about the program and even enjoyed a cake made like the teams’ Auls head logo, which SFC Sealing’s wife had brought all the way from Ft. Knox,KY.
“I have learned a lot from the cadre. The training was wonderful, we all learned so much, the cadre really took the time to explain things to you and you didn’t feel like you couldn’t ask questions. The team operates unlike any other I’ve ever seen, they respect each other for what they can contribute to the team. The Golden Knights fly their canopy different than I was use to. It was really hard for me to grasp stopping that canopy and coming straight down,” said SFC Sealing, an Airborne Infantryman.
SSG Adrian Hill an Airborne Infantryman said, “I have a since of relief after making it through the program. Three years ago I came to the team unprepared and was cut from the program, it was very humbling. I went back and worked really hard with the Silver Wings Team. I know I have what it takes to be a good teammate. SSG Dunning gave me great mentorship and coaching to get all of us where we are today. I am so proud, this has given me a great since of pride and I want to be a good ambassador for the Army.”
SGT Richard Sloan and Airborne Communication Technician said,” To actually become a Golden Knight is an incredible feeling that words cannot describe. The training has been awesome and I am looking forward to more training when we go to winter training. The team has a rich history and heritage in parachuting and probably has the finest Soldiers in the Army, and I want to be part of it.”
These modern-day knights, the Army’s “Official Ambassadors” job is to be the face of every Soldier in the Army. They have proven their commitment, loyalty and ability for service as Golden Knights. They will join the ranks of Soldiers who will traverse across the nation telling the Army story to all they meet and have learned to manipulate the laws of gravity and command control of the blue skies. They all vowed to follow the legacy of their predecessor’s pledge: Under a canopy of black and gold I fly the colors of the Army. I volunteered to become an ambassador of my service and I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor, high standards and the esprit de corps of the United States Army Parachute Team.
The U.S. Army Parachute Team originally began as the Strategic Army Command Parachute Team, borne at the height of the cold war in 1959 and has exceeded all expectations and an evolution of excellence dominating the Soviet bloc countries in military sport parachuting. The team was officially recognized as the United States Army Parachute Team in 1961. They earned their nickname, “The Golden Knights” on the competition battlefield. Gold signified the medals they won and Knights for conquering the skies.
Serving under the United States Army Accessions Command and The United States Army Accessions Support Brigade, the Golden Knights are stationed at the home of the Airborne, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The team has a threefold mission; Support the U.S. Army Accessions Command by performing spectacular live parachute demonstrations in front of millions of Americans manifesting the “Band of Excellence” as displayed by all U.S. Army Soldiers around the world, conduct tandem jumps for selected centers of influence who actually put their lives in the hands of Soldiers and enabling the U.S. Army to promote its strategic outreach program and compete and win in national and international parachuting competitions exhibiting the “Warrior Ethos.”
Join me in reviewing the journey it took to reach this goal and welcome each of these outstanding Soldiers to the team, and wish to them the most famous quote used at the closing of every show the team does. Our Alumnus and Legacy Award holder Spider Wrenn was the first to say this at The North Waymouth, Mass. Naval Air Station Air show in 1967. ” May your days be prosperous and May your Knights be Golden!”