Golden Knights Winter Training 2014
Each year, beginning in January and continuing into March, the US Army Parachute Team, better known as the Golden Knights, go through their winter training. For many years it took place in Yuma, Arizona, but budget constraints and other factors have made Florida's Homestead Air Reserve Base the annual training location. 2014 marks the 4th year at Homestead and the relationship between the Golden Knights and base personnel couldn't be better.
I've been coaching the narrators for the Knights for almost 10 years and it's a great opportunity for me to meet the new team members, renew friendships, and learn more and more about the kind of precision, skill, work ethic, and dedication of every team member. My job is to work with young soldiers, both men and women, to develop narration skills so that when called upon - and ALL team members are required to be able to announce the Golden Knights' show - the excitement, professionalism, and skills of the team members is communicated to the audience.
Work starts early, with the first jump of the day taking place at about 7:00. A bus takes either the Black or Gold demonstration team from the DZ (drop zone) to the ramp where they will board one of the three new de Havilland Twin Otters or the familiar Fokker C-31 Friendship jump planes. As one team is getting ready to jump, the other team sets up the DZ for narration practice with a small sound system so that rehearsing is more realistic. Also, there are a couple of small sets of bleachers for local area folks to come and watch the team practice. After the first team jumps, the other team then boards the bus and heads for the jump plane. This "leap frogging" continues until about 3PM when each team will go to their respective "offices" for the debrief. It's "pack and play" for the entire time. A typical team member will have as many as 8 jumps in a day. Weather is always a factor and if clouds are below 2000' jumping is suspended. Jumping with clouds below that height make it very difficult for a jumper to deploy the reserve parachute if the main chute should fail. Most of the jumps are made from about 12,500' - 13,500' above the ground. Wind is also a consideration. The normal forward airspeed of the demonstration canopies is about 22 miles per hour. If the wind at the DZ hits 20 mph, there's an automatic 30-minute suspension of jumping. I've been at the DZ when an entire day's practice has been suspended because of high winds. It's simply too dangerous when the wind is equal to or greater than the forward speed of the canopy. A jumper just doesn't want to land going backwards or maybe get pushed off the drop zone into a dangerous area.
Not only do the Black and Gold teams jump throughout the day but the Tandem Team also conducts jumps with VIPs, community influencers, members of the media, and others so that those “passengers” can get a feel for the thrill of the free-fall, the incredible view, the slow ride down under canopy, and most of all, meet the Golden Knights and learn about their mission. It's a great way for the Golden Knights to support Army public relations and recruiting. I've made 3 tandem jumps with the team and what I've experienced and learned has helped me immeasurably as an air show announcer.