Skydiving with the US Army Golden Knights: A firsthand account

Watch the Golden Knights parachute into Thunder, go behind the scenes for a jump

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The United States Army Golden Knight Parachute Team is well-known worldwide for its stunts and demonstrations at events and competitions.

The group was formed in 1959 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It wasn’t until 1961 that they adopted their name the “Golden Knights.”

Since then, the Golden Knights have performed at more than 20,000 shows in all 50 states and 48 countries. Their performances reach more than 200,000 people per show.

Their goal is to connect with the public to the U.S. Army. There are currently 127 people on the team.

On March 26, the U.S. Army Golden Knight Parachute Team invited me to do a tandem jump with their tandem team at the Women’s Leadership Forum at Fort Knox.

It has always been a dream of mine to go skydiving. When the Army invited me to jump with them, I couldn’t say no!

After getting on post at Fort Knox on a chilly Tuesday morning, I, along with other local media members, were escorted into a building for training prior to the jump.

They told us the risk we were taking by jumping out of the plane -- risks I had already thought through and accepted prior to even signing up to jump! My emotions were all over the place, sitting in a room with more than a dozens others who were preparing to jump. I signed a waiver, confirming we read the safety rules and watched all of the videos. I basically signed my life away.

I was nervous but ready to jump. (Source: U.S. Army Golden Knights)
I was nervous but ready to jump. (Source: U.S. Army Golden Knights)

Our training instructor, SFC Noah Watts, told us the three media members would be the first of the group to jump.

I suited up in a bright, yellow jumpsuit with a U.S. Army patch and two Golden Knights patches on it, and then put the harness on. I also had some sweet clear goggles and hat for the jump that I didn’t put on until right before we jumped. I was loaded into a van to head to the hanger to get on the plane.

Before getting on the plane, the U.S. Army did a little interview with me, reminding me of what I was about to do: head up to 10,000 feet and freefall at 120 miles per hour. Honestly, my brain couldn’t even process that information. I just kept thinking about the fact that I was about to jump out of a perfectly good aircraft.

After a quick refresher of what to do as we jump and land, my tandem instructor, SSG Marcus Denniston, and I were walking on the tarmac, climbing up half a dozen steps into the airplane. I asked him A LOT of questions as we walked -- “how many jumps have you done?” “What made you decide to join the Army?”(Typical journalist here).

He reassured me he’s jumped more than 2,500 times, and he said it so nonchalantly!

This isn’t an airplane like the Boeing 737 you board to head on a vacation trip or a business trip. This is a DHC-6 Twin Otter (de Havilland) with about 16 seats inside, against the walls of the plane. As I climbed into the plane, the two other media personnel and their instructors and videographers were already seated. My seat was directly in front of the big door -- not what I expected!

Suddenly someone told me I was going to be the first one to jump from our group. Then the door closes and we’re taking off! No going back now!

As we took off to reach 10,000 feet, SSG Denniston and the parachute team videographer with us started telling me jokes along the way, helping to calm my nerves.

A little over halfway there, SSG Denniston attached my harness to his. Then the door to the plane was opened up, and we were about to jump.

In the few seconds before we jumped, I looked out of the plane at the ground and thought, “Well I guess you really are about to do this. Here goes nothing!”

Right out of the plane, the shock was disorienting. (Source: U.S. Army Golden Knights)
Right out of the plane, the shock was disorienting. (Source: U.S. Army Golden Knights)

As we jumped, I screamed, but you couldn’t hear me. We were freefalling at 120 miles per hour. Because I was screaming on the way down, I lost my breath for a moment there. For the first few seconds, out of a natural reflex, my feet were kicking after realizing I was falling. By the way, they tell you to tuck your knees right away—oops! I quickly remembered and tucked my knees.

We were freefalling for about 30 to 45 seconds. The entire freefall I was reminding myself to breath. Our videographer jumped at the same time we did, so he was tracking with us. Once I saw him I had to remind myself to smile, give a thumbs up and just enjoy it! Afterall, I was skydiving -- and getting paid to do it (thanks Wave 3 News for letting me do this!).

I got the hang of it! (Source: U.S. Army Golden Knights)
I got the hang of it! (Source: U.S. Army Golden Knights)

The 30 to 45 seconds of freefall went by very quickly. I’m a big fan of rollercoasters normally and the uneasy feeling you get during those drops. During this jump, I didn’t get that feeling as much. It was just really thrilling!

Once the parachute was up, everything was so quiet and peaceful! SSG Denniston gave me the controls for the parachute for a few minutes, allowing me to pull down on the straps to make us spin as we slowly made our way back to the ground. SSG Denniston and I talked on the way down about his favorite places to skydive and his favorite part about it. Our landing was simple and soft!

It was an incredible experience -- hard to put into words!

I understand now why people say it only takes one jump to get addicted. It’s a thrilling, freeing feeling you can’t experience anywhere else!

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