Joe Jones of the U.S. Army Golden Knights and Keetha Mills of the California Community Colleges Foundation head for Earth on Tuesday during skydiving training at SkyDance SkyDiving. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Joe Jones of the U.S. Army Golden Knights and Keetha Mills of the California Community Colleges Foundation head for Earth on Tuesday during skydiving training at SkyDance SkyDiving. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Local News

Taking the plunge: The Army’s Golden Knights skydive over Davis

By From page A1 | July 25, 2012

At an altitude of 12,000 feet, the Army’s Golden Knights are soaring over Davis this week with tandem skydiving partners. Community members are invited to visit SkyDance SkyDiving at the Yolo County Airport to watch the Knights as they showcase their aerial talents.

They are jumping with key educators and other influential residents of the Sacramento and San Francisco areas, such as California Department of Education leader John Merris-Coots, Community Colleges Board of Governors member Alice Perez, Sacramento Kings recruiter Elayna Campbell and “Good Day Sacramento” weekend anchor Amy Carraba.

Much of the action takes place in a hangar where visitors may sit on old airplane seats to watch the Golden Knights prepare for the jumpers’ “leaps of faith.”

Highly trained soldiers coordinate everything with precision — it’s a tiny glimpse into not only the life of a soldier, but the life of a professional skydiver.

It’s precision skydiving, says pilot Mike Knec. Everything is graded, from their exits to the way the their bodies fly to landing on a target the size of a quarter.

Before they board the plane, the Knights put together the most expensive and technologically advanced parachute system on the market. Requiring plenty of focus, all the parachutes are laid out and assembled as the jumpers get suited up in Army colors: black and gold.

For fun, and for safety, the jumpers also wear an “old school,” all-leather football helmet for protection.

“This is really where you get to see the camaraderie  and professionalism of soldiers who know their jobs inside and out,” says Staff Sgt. Rachel Medley, a tandem coordinator and free-fall videographer. “We just want to share the fun and exciting aspects of the Army, the idea of taking the initiative, facing our fears and doing something that takes a lot of responsibility and precision.”

As the final touches are made on the skydivers’ suits and parachutes, the Army’s C-31 begins to fire up its engines.

Jumpers are led into the aircraft and buckled in for a quick ascent over Davis. Casual conversation and reassurances are common leading up to the jump.

The Rev. John Crews, a retired Navy chaplain, said he was nervous to jump for his second time. That is, until he found out that his friend of 30 years, Tim Norman, a retired Army soldier and clinical psychologist, was going to jump with him.

“I retired from the Navy when I turned 50,” Crews said. “I didn’t think that I would be jumping again with one of my best friends.”

After the aircraft reaches 12,000 feet, crowds on the ground head for the field where the skydivers will land.

While this is not an air show demonstration, there is still a lot of excitement leading up to the Knights’ descent. Every onlooker is asked to sit tightly in one spot so as not to interfere with the skydivers landings at high velocities.

As the parachutes unfurl a mile and a half up in the sky, viewers get a glimpse of some smooth descents.

The videographers are the first to land; they are particularly fast and fun to watch. However, the first-time jumpers are priceless for their post-adrenaline rush after falling out of a plane at 120 mph.

“It was just fantastic,” said Holly Winslow, director of catering operations at the University of San Francisco. “The great thing about it is that the soldiers were so dialed in and they really made you feel very comfortable. They brought my appreciation for the armed services to a whole other level.”

The Golden Knights are a demonstration and competition parachute team drawn from U.S. Army paratroopers who have demonstrated excellence in their parachuting skills. The tandem team has jumped with numerous celebrities and heads of state, most notably President George H.W. Bush, in 2007 and 2012.

The Golden Knights will be performing at the National Hotrod Association Sonoma Nationals this weekend.

Dominick Costabile

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