YOLO! Is a really common phrase that members of the United States Army Parachute Tandem Team heard this past week from candidates, who participated in the Army Strong Experience?It wasn’t the fact that we were conducting the tandem parachute jumps at the local Sky Dive Sky Dance Drop Zone right there at the Yolo County Airport either.
These fortunate Centers of Influence who were selected by the local Recruiting Command come from various walks of life and continually give support to the Sacramento Recruiting Command.
The morning was bright, voices of joyful chirping birds were echoing through the air, with a spring like refreshing cool breeze blowing through your hair. These tandem passengers came out to jump with the Golden Knights and were actually putting their very own life in the hands of one of the most highly trained and skilled Soldiers in the US.These Ambassadors of the Army, The Golden Knights, represent each and every Soldier around the world, which most Americans rely on daily.
Most people are really surprised to discover that only 1% of Americans serve in the military to protect and defend our country and out of that, only 1% is military free fall qualified.
This once in a life time opportunity, allows these select individuals to get to know a Soldier for a day and to experience all of the camaraderie, professionalism and skill that every individual Golden Knight displays and lives by, though they still are definitely an inseparable unified team.
Each day the tandem orientation class was filled with Doctors, Coaches, Teachers, Deans, various council members, public servants, a Smoke Jumper Mr. Alan Worthington, and even a local Priest, Fr. Joe Crews, who runs Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma.
I would say for the most part the majority of them came to the drop zone extremely nervous, reserved, quite and even some of them were very apprehensive about the endeavor they had previously signed up for.
Elayna Campbell a Corporate Recruiter with Human Resources with VSP had made a jump about seven years ago, but admitted she had kept her eyes shut for the last jump and didn’t see or remember anything but fear. After we talked for awhile she was reassured that this was going to be the most awesome experience of her life and she promised to keep her eyes opened this time.
SFC Joe Jones was Elayna’s tandem master and SFC Joe Abeln was her videographer documenting the fantastic experience skydiving with the Golden Knights. You could hear her screaming and hollering all the way to the ground. She said it was absolutely the best thing she had done in her life. She couldn’t wait to call her husband who was anxiously sitting by the phone to be assured she was safe.
Tyler Stovall, UC Berkeley, History Teacher was so stocked about his jump that his Tandem Instructor, SFC Noah Watts, said “Today, Tyler made history himself.”
In just a few short hours they all followed the YOLO “You Only Live Once” mantra and by the end of the day every single one of them were all extremely different people. Never again would they be the same. Each and every one of them mustered the strength to place their lives in the hands of a very skilled Soldier.
Following the final tandem all of the Knights’ team members presented each new jumper a tandem certificate, which counts as their first jump if they choose to pursue a skydiving career. They then proceeded to tell their own Army story to include the Commander of the Golden Knights, LTC Jose Melendez, who also told his Army story to include the story his mom told him about jumping off his bed as a small child after seeing Golden Knights perform in Puerto Rico more than three and a half decades ago.
They all left laughing and chattering with the person beside them, which now seemed to be their new (NBFF) best friend forever, which was just a mere strange face they never knew before.
The day was not finished for the tandem team. There were parachutes still being packed, tandem suits being folded, harnesses, helmets’, gloves and video equipment being carefully packed and put away. The Pilots CW5 Michael Knecht and CW4 Jeffrey Dillon inspected the plane as SGT Austin Bowman took care of fuel.
The plane was precisely loaded with all of the pelican cases secured in the center of the plane for weight and balance, but the plane was much lighter for the trip back to Fort Bragg.
Duty called elsewhere for other members of the tandem section. SFC Noah Watts who had advanced the deployment for the camp was summoned to Oregon to jump a Medal of Honor recipient, SFC Leroy Petry, who was suppose to be jumping with the Team in Seattle the week before, but was delayed and then canceled due to unseen inclement weather.
SFC Joe Abeln, SGT Reese Pendleton and SSG Jared Zell departed Sonoma to continue on to a Canopy piloting swoop competition in San Diego, CA.