Blue skies and light winds are the ideal conditions for any skydive but Golden Knights do not always have those luxuries. Even in the face of questionable weather their mission still remains the same, to bring the U.S. Army to the American public. This was the first year that the Golden Knights jumped into the 2012 Never Quit Challenge. Since the event has a large Navy and Marine Corps influence the honor was previously held by the Navy’s Parachute Team the Leap Frogs. This year was different though, the event coordinators wanted the best so they called upon the Golden Knights to get the crowd pumped and ready to go.
During the Never Quit Never Challenge held on the beach in Jacksonville Florida the Knights did just that, never quit. With a tight landing area, grey skies and the winds almost at their limits the Gold Demonstration Team took on the challenge and performed remarkably for the over ten thousand spectators and competitors just before the 5K run on Saturday morning. Some of the jumpers also dug down deep and took on the 5k run just after the jump. Going into its fourth year the Never Quit Never Challenge started just a few hundred participants but has grown each year with now almost ten thousand. The mission of the Never Quit Challenge is “To educate the community on how to avoid Brain Bleeds, Stroke and Heart Disease through healthy life choices and encourage everyone to take on a Never Quit attitude and live life to its fullest.” This event was inspired by Captain Gerard Petroni of the U.S. Navy who suffered a stroke and brain bleed in November 2006, but through the support of his family and local community Gerard was able to live on for another three years until his passing in 2009.
Also while in Jacksonville the team was invited to attend a presentation from Nick Vujicic a man who was born with no arm and no legs who overcame his disabilities to become a world traveling evangelist. Nick Vujicic is also the president and CEO of a non-profit organization, Life Without Limbs. Since his first speaking engagement back when he was 19, Nick has traveled around the world, sharing his story with millions of people, speaking to a range of different groups such as students, teachers, youth, businessmen and women, entrepreneurs, and church congregations of all sizes. He has also told his story and been interviewed on various televised programs worldwide. Nick was also a main speaker who opened the Never Quit Challenge earlier in the morning boosting the competitor’s spirits just before the events.
The Bethpage Airshow held at Jones Beach New York has been a home for the Golden Knights since the show started nine years ago. Other than the Blue Angles the Golden Knights have been the only consistent act to perform there every year. The team was scheduled to jump all three days of the event but was cut short on Friday due to weather. This was the first time the Gold Demonstration Team had a jump cancelled on them but since it was only the practice/media day so the public did not miss out on the excitement. On Saturday the skies opened up and the sun warmed the beach making it a beautiful day to jump. The target area for this event is often one of the most challenging due to how close it is to the ocean. From the Air the drop zone is a small square of sand surrounded by over 200,000 people with no other place to land but in the water. It is a very intimidating area but one of the most exciting to jump into. As each jumper made his way to the target area the cheers of the people could be heard from as high as 2,000 feet making the jumpers even more excited to hit the target. Every time a pair of boots touched down the already pumped up audience became so loud that you couldn’t even hear the narrator. After the jump on Saturday the team gathered up their gear and moved through the people receiving handshakes and pats on the back from the gracious New York citizens. Sunday the team headed out to the airfield with dark grey clouds hovering low over them. The team geared up like normal while receiving on site weather reports that the weather was just as bad out at the Jones Beach area. After taking off the team was graced with good fortune when flying over show site because the clouds were lifting making it possible for the Gold Team to put on the planned full show.
At the conclusion of our demonstrations on Jones Beach, we packed our parachutes at the main entrance of the Airshow allowing each spectator in attendance to witness a pack demonstration and meet some of the jumpers. During this pack demonstration the jumpers displayed ultimate professionalism while packing in front of 50 anti-war Veterans for peace protestors. After the last performance of the weekend each demonstrator and recruiting liaison visited the Army recruiting booth from the New York City Recruiting Battalion and met with the Hofstra University ROTC cadets led by Captain Wilfred Massidas.
During this trip the team took advantage of the afternoons and went downtown to take a tour of the World Trade Center 911 memorial. The complex was more impressive to see in person than could ever be described on the internet. After leaving the remarkable memorial some of the team walked down to Wall Street to see the New York Stock Exchange and even had the privilege of getting to take a tour of the historic building. While inside the team had a chance to walk on the trading floor, see the upstairs boardrooms and also stand on the podium where the bell is that signals the start and stop of the trading day.
The Joint Service Open House Airshow held at Andrews Air Force Base is one of the highest visibility airshows of the season. There was several very impressive demonstration which included the Air Force F-22 Raptor, Stealth Bomber, Red Bull Air Force and of course the world famous Golden Knights. For all three days of the air show the Gold Demonstration Team accompanied by SFC Aaron Figel, SSG Jared Zell, SSG Reese Pendleton and SGT Jeshua Stahler performed spectacularly for the citizens of Maryland. There were a few bumps in the road along the way as the weather did not cooperate the whole time. For Friday and Saturdays shows the skies were blue allowing for the team to reach maximum altitude with no problem showing the audience some of the many formations possible to achieve while in free fall. Sunday was a different story because the clouds rolled in and the skies turned grey giving the team only a 4,000 ft. ceiling to work with. Even with the low clouds the Gold Team still came through for the show performing some canopy relative work and some of the jumpers wore smaller parachutes so they could show off their swooping skills for the last demonstration. Over all the Andrews Air Show was a great success.
The Gold Demonstration Team made a huge impression during the airshow when they paid a visit to the Army hangar which was supplied with 85 different Army vendors. Included in these vendors was the Army Cadet Corps of the National Capitol Region out of Ft. Meade, MD. Recruiting liaison SSG Shelby Bixler coordinated for seven Army Cadets to receive a plane side brief as well as an opportunity to assist the demonstrators in packing flags into their parachutes. Cadet SSG Nicholas Cutter is the leader of 17 cadets and plans a career in the Army and has already begun his skydiving career. Cadet Cutter stated that his Golden Knight experience from this weekend was “inspirational”. In addition to incorporating the Army Cadets into the Gold Teams pre-jump and post jump activities the Boy Scout troop #447 out of Fredericksburg, PA had the opportunity to meet and greet and discuss todays Army during the evening social on Andrews, AFB.
After each performance the team gathers up all their gear and walks through the crowd receiving high fives and pats on the back from the audience on their way to the packing area designated by the show sponsors and air show coordinators. While there, the jumpers receive help packing parachutes from anyone looking to lend a hand. The kids and young adults always get a kick out of helping the jumpers because for most this is the first time they have gotten to see a parachute up close and actually get to handle one. The best part about working with the young people is seeing the look of amazement in their eyes as they watch the large black and gold canopies become folded and disappear into the small containers.