When asked as a child, what do you want to be when you grow up? I, unlike other children, had no reservations, no doubt in my mind and no hesitation in answering the question as to what I wanted to do with my life. I longed to be one of my favorite childhood toys. It wasn’t Stretch Armstrong, The Lone Ranger and not even Evel Knievel. Well, ok maybe a little bit of Evel Knievel, but mostly I wanted to be one of those little green army men that came in the plastic bags that we would play with as a child. I knew growing up that I wanted to do my part and serve my country, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my father and enlist in the Army. I even knew what job I wanted to do in the Army as a young child. I wanted to be an Airborne Ranger just as the cadence went. I want to lead a life of danger.
A life of danger is what I was after and that life is what I got. If someone had told me 20 years ago, when I enlisted in the Army, that I would be representing the US Army and the United States of America in skydiving competitions around the world by hurling myself out of an airplane under a parachute so small that the mere sound it made flying through the sky sounds like a jet engines high pitched whine. I would have probably said….. I can’t wait!
I began my Skydiving career in the military when I attended the Special Forces Military Freefall School early in my career. I enjoyed it so much that I began skydiving in the civilian community on my free time as well. In 2000 I tried out for the US Army Parachute Team “The Golden Knights” and after competing for a few years in canopy accuracy competitions, moved to the Tandem Team where we took VIP’s for the ultimate Army experience and gave them tandem parachute jumps. After nearly 10,000 jumps and feeling as though a change was in order, my focus had shifted. In my off duty time, I began playing with a relatively new discipline to me in skydiving called Canopy Piloting. Also known as Swooping, this fast new facet of skydiving seemed right up my alley. Canopy Piloting is where you take a smaller more advanced parachute and attempt to exceed normal parachute speeds. After nearly a year and a few small competitions completed, the Golden Knights began to notice the possibility for expansion into the skydiving world with the creation of a new team. Under the Supervision of the Golden Knight SGM, Michael Eitnear, the first Canopy Piloting Team was formed on the Golden Knights. Since Canopy Piloting had actually been around in the civilian skydiving world for many years, the team would have a lot of catching up to do.
SFC Christopher Moore, SGM Michael Eitnear and I made up the first canopy piloting team on the Golden Knights. With the team years behind the rest of the skydiving community, training had to be vigorous, so we hit the ground running. Armed with over 25,000 jumps between the three of us and an extensive knowledge of everything about parachutes, except what we were getting into, we began our training. Nearly 2 months of 6 days a week and 12 jumps each day is how our training started out. Devoting jump after jump into learning more and more about the discipline and what techniques worked and what didn’t. There were tried and true techniques being used, but our focus was on what hasn’t been tried and what can we do to modify the existing techniques to make them work for us? We modified equipment, tested new possibilities and conducted research and development which is one of our secondary missions on the Army Parachute Team. We trained until exhaustion every day and until physically unable to make any more jumps. We trained with a desire and intensity that no one understood. We trained with perfection as a goal, we trained to win because we knew that when we finally stepped onto the battlefield of competition as members of the Golden Knights and representing the US Army, there were no room for errors and there were no excuses as to why we were not performing. We were expected to win and that is what we were going to do!
The first year of training culminated at Longmont Colorado in an event called Swoop Week where not only did we perform well, but the US Army Golden Knights swept the US Canopy Piloting Championships winning Gold Silver and Bronze.
Immediately after that event was the US Nationals of Canopy Piloting. This event is used to select the “official” team to represent the United States at the 2008 World Championships in Pretoria South Africa. Not only did I make the US team, but in South Africa al the 2008 Canopy Piloting World Championships, I set a new World record in canopy piloting speed as well as placed 3rd overall in the world, winning a bronze medal. A new standard was set and the bar raised a little higher for the Golden Knights as well as the rest of the Canopy Piloting world.
With SFC Moore and SGM Eitnear retiring and the Golden Knights understaffed, I would eventually have to be the lone competitor for the Golden Knights Canopy Piloting Team.
The very next year I won the regional championships and won overall league champion in the Florida Canopy Piloting League. The 2009 US Nationals of Canopy Piloting, held in Rosharon TX would prove that the first year wasn’t a fluke as I won a gold medal and was crowned US National Champion in the Speed event in canopy Piloting. I was pleased with the win and the Gold medal but even more excited that in doing so, broke every state record possible in canopy piloting as well as set a new US National record in the Distance event and again was selected to represent the United States as a member of “TEAM USA” at the 2009 World Cup of Canopy Piloting in Johannesburg South Africa. This would be my second year in a row making the US team and representing the Army. My performance while not stellar still allowed me to win a silver medal in speed and bettered my previous performance at the last world meet by breaking the world record in speed again with a time of 2.093 seconds through the 239 ft course that has a 75 degree carve in it. The top speed, less than a foot or two off the water, was nearly 90 mph.
2010 was an even better year for the Golden Knights and the Army in Canopy Piloting as the first meet was a 3rd place finish. Normally a 3rd place finish upsets me more than anything else however, I was proud of my performance because I was actually deployed to Iraq for nearly 5 months and had just returned only 7 days before the competition. The next competition there were no excuses and it was the first time my Parents got to see me compete so winning the gold medal in the overall during that meet was very rewarding to me. A few months later at the 2010 US National Championships, not only did I repeat as the reigning US National Champion in speed but also brought home silver and a bronze medal and again broke the State and US National record for canopy piloting speed
Later in the year I traveled to Kolomna Russia as part of Team USA and brought home a Bronze medal in Speed. Being deployed definitely took some training time away from me, but it was an experience I would never give up for anything. My job is to be a soldier first, the opportunity to compete in skydiving for the Army is just a perk that I am allowed to do because that is where I am needed right now.
Since 2011 began, my training has become more focused and my performance has reflected. In January I got to compete against 90 of the world’s best canopy pilots from 41 countries in Dubai UAE, Winning 2 Gold medals at the Dubai International Parachuting Championships and Gulf Cup. With 3 competitions to go in the Regional events I am currently in 1st place in the overall league standings.
Competing for the Army and the Golden Knights has an overwhelming sense of pressure to it. Being expected to win a medal every time or break a record on every single jump is not a pressure that everyone is built for, however I believe that I was made for this, I believe that I found my main purpose in life. The pressure doesn’t affect me, because every time I put on my jersey that says ARMY STRONG across my chest, I feel an overwhelming sense of pride that totally washes away any stress or pressure that I may have felt before. I was trained that way from the beginning. The leadership I had in the Army as a young soldier trained me to take pride in what I do and how to handle stress and pressure. My first team leader in the Army, MSG (retired) Troy Anderson, has and always will be my mentor and my idol. He forced me to think of rational and sometimes unconventional ways to deal with any issues I may have had or any I may incur along the way. I may compete in individual competition, but there is nothing individual about my performances. When I wear the Black and Gold colors of the US Army I represent all that have come before me as well as those that have fallen. I wear their colors as well as the pride of my fellow brothers and sisters who agreed just as I did, to support and defend. I do what I do with the pride that I do because my fellow soldiers have and always will do the same. I am extremely lucky to be given the chance to do what I love for the thing that I love so much. No matter how dedicated you are, how competitive you are, and no matter badly you want to win, winning isn’t possible without the support of family and the support of the men and women around you that make up the team. Those little green army men don’t come individually wrapped and I understand why.