The Age-Old Question: “What Happens if You Guys Can’t Jump?”

In the more than 50 years the Golden Knights have been demonstrating their parachuting prowess for the American public, there is one question that never gets old: “What do you guys do if you can’t jump?”

SGT Brandie Phillips listens as a girl tells her she's three years old. The kids were ecstatic to meet the team. (photo by SGT Rachel Medley)

Both the Black and Gold demonstration teams tackled that question with gusto today and their actions spoke louder than any words could have. In a very rare coincidence, both teams (who are in two completely separate geographic locations) had to cancel airborne operations for the entire day due to bad weather.

Black Team, in Cleveland, Ohio, canceled because of extremely high winds (gusts of 45mph), rain, and low clouds. Gold Team, in Martinsburg, West Virginia, had to cancel due to high winds (25mph).

Members of Black Team talk to some potential recruits at the recruiting booth in Cleveland (photo by SGT Rachel Medley)

Many people may wonder why high winds prevent safe jump operations. The parachutes used by the Golden Knights are flexible wing gliders. The air flows into the openings in the front of the parachute (inflating the wing), as well as over the top and under the bottom of the parachute. If a high gust of wind was to pass over the top skin of the canopy, the parachute could collapse. At a high altitude, a collapsed parachute would easily re-inflate within a few hundred feet with no damage to the jumper…but if the jumper is only¬† 50 feet off the ground on final approach, a collapsed parachute could mean falling several stories to the pavement below.

The Golden Knights have a wind limit of 20 miles per hour on the ground. If the landing area is tight and there are a lot of obstacles, the Team Leader may make a safety call and stop the jump at an even lower wind limit. Each Team Leader knows the individual abilities and strengths of each team member, and uses his knowledge and expertise to make sure his Team is never placed in harm’s way. Both SFC Will Fleming and SFC JD Berentis took their respective Teams out of harm’s way today and opted to do a little extra work on the ground to make sure the crowd got their money’s worth.

Black Team split up into three groups as soon as the weather call was made. One group, headed up by TL SFC Will Fleming, went to a luncheon with the Recruiting Battalion Commander and some local school administrators. Another group went to the Army Recruiting tent and hung out with the crowd there, talking to potential young recruits and signing autographs. The third group headed to the air show announcer’s booth, where they had some mic time with air show announcer and honorary Golden Knight Mr. Rob Reider. They talked a little bit about why the team couldn’t jump and got the crowd pumped up for tomorrow’s performance.

Gold Team at least got the plane off the ground and threw wind drift indicators, but it was obvious from the streamer data and ground wind readings of 25 miles per hour that cancellation was inevitable. The jumpers landed with the plane and made a bee-line for the recruiting booth, where even the climbing wall had to be taken down due to wind safety rules. The crowd loved having the team there, even though they didn’t jump.

SGT Chris Clark chats up some fans in West Virginia (photo by SSG Steven Robertson)

The forecast in both locations looks promising for tomorrow, so hopefully the crowds will get what they came to the show for: a stellar Army Strong performance by the Army Golden Knights!

Black Team Gets Back to 82nd Airborne Roots

SGT Brandie Phillips takes a moment to chat with the grandson of a Vietnam veteran (photo by SGT Rachel Medley)

It was a truly humbling evening in Cleveland today as Black Team mingled with past war heroes at the Cleveland chapter of the 82nd Airborne Association. About 40 veterans from World War II all the way to current conflicts in the Middle East gathered on a small patch of lawn on the grounds of the Coast Guard Auxiliary station downtown to have a barbecue and share war stories. The chapter president knew the Golden Knights would be in town for the air show and invited them to come down to the event.

Of the nine members of Black Team, six are 82nd Airborne Division veterans, and proudly wear the 82nd combat patch on their right shoulder. This was, of course, a huge hit amongst the old Soldiers, who regaled the Team with stories and memories of their times in the service. Many of them had served in Korea and Vietnam, and one even had a combat jump onto the battlefields of France in World War II.

Though most of the stories were lighthearted, some were touching. “I saw a lot of things over there when I was a boy in the war,” said one of the vets, who grew up in Vienna during WWII. “Even though they were terrible memories, I wouldn’t trade them for anything, because it meant I would get to come to this great country,” he said. He went on to join the US Army and served in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division. As a tribute to veterans of all wars, he has collected more than 150 military uniforms and countless pieces of military memorabilia in a makeshift museum at his home in Cleveland.

The Team ate dinner with the veterans and Black Team Leader SFC Will Fleming (who is a veteran of the 82nd himself) stood up to say a few words. “It’s always an honor to come here and visit with you folks,” he said. “We will put on the best show we can for you tomorrow, and we will do the 82nd proud.”

SSG Brandon Valle (left) and SSG John Bennet look at pictures of memorabilia as a veteran tells a story (photo by SGT Rachel Medley)

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