Photo and Video Courtesy of U.S. Army Golden Knights
After I jumped or, more accurately, was nudged out of an airplane, I found that the phrase that I kept incessantly repeating to people when they asked was, “It was a crazy experience.” It was the first thing I could think to reply, but it was also the most sincere response I could feasibly provide.
About three weeks ago, I was chosen as the student media representative to join MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and retired Lt. Gen. Keith M. Huber in their honorary tandem jump with the Golden Knights, the U.S. Army’s parachute demonstration team. I was, of course, a bit skeptical at first as I had never jumped from an airplane and the majority of my life has been spent firmly planted on the ground. I had always thought skydiving was something I may want to experience in the distant future, but distant is the operative word in that sentence. After some thought, I decided it was an opportunity I simply could not turn down. As an aspiring journalist, I knew that I needed to be open to experiences that would be uncomfortable and scary to me, and a 13,000-foot freefall does wonders for breaking out of your comfort zone. I had made my decision and there was no turning back.
I arrived at the Clarksville Regional Airport at 7 a.m. on Tuesday and was quickly introduced to some of the men and women who would be assisting in the jump later that day. I was also briefly introduced to some of the people who would be joining me in jumping. Pastors, entertainers, educators and other people who had an influence in their community were invited. The participants were promptly seated and asked to sign liability waivers and watch a short instructional video that included people having a blast falling through miles and miles of terrifyingly open air. It was a tandem jump, so each participant would have a trained Golden Knights member strapped to them via a harness during the jump. The team leader of the Golden Knights, Joe Jones, walked us through the video and other rules for the day. He discussed the dos and don’ts of a tandem jump. One of the don’ts mentioned was to not lose your lunch during the fall as Jones stated he was “a sympathetic puker.”
After the instructional portion of the time prior to the jump, some of the Golden Knights and members of the Nashville Recruiting Battalion took the stage and told their “Army story.” These were the stories of how they became members of the United States Army and how it had changed their life forever. For some, their Army story was based in tradition and family. For others, it was a saving grace and a call to action.
Anita Brooks, the commander for the United States Army Recruiting Company in Nashville, said, “I started when the army wasn’t even a thought in my mind.”
Brooks didn’t have a military background, but she was able to travel often with her family.
“I knew, at that point, that I didn’t want an office job…I didn’t want to sit behind a desk,” Brooks said.
By her senior year of high school, Brooks was dead-set on gaining a four-year degree to become a commercial pilot. An Army recruiter called her that spring saying that they saw her name on an interest list for Florida Institute of Technology, and the Army was curious why she did not apply.
“I said, ‘The school’s $130,000 dollars. I could buy a house for $130,000 dollars’…The recruiter said, ‘How would you like to go to school five minutes from the beach. You can learn aviation. We’ll teach you some leadership, and, guess what? We’ll write you a check for $130,000 dollars,’” she said.
After a few of the Army representatives had provided their stories, the participants were free to mingle and discuss their crazed reasonings for wanting to jump out of an airplane.
President of Austin Peay State University Alisa White, who said that she told only her husband that she would be skydiving, explained why her nerves were calmed after the training.
“I’m exhilarated and would be nervous if it weren’t for the incredible expertise of the Golden Knights,” White said.
The lead pastor of Awaken Church, Kevin Miller, agreed that his nerves were settled throughout the experience.
“I’m surprisingly not nervous at all. I’m just excited. My son turns 3 today, so the whole family’s coming to watch me jump,” Miller said.
Megan Ruger, a pop rock singer-songwriter who was on season six of The Voice, stated, “I’m excited to have people around me filming it all as I’m probably going to be screaming and throwing up some rock signs.”
As I was in the very last group to jump, I was able to speak to some of the participants who already had a chance to take the leap of faith.
In this group was contemporary Christian recording artist and 2003 MTSU alumnus Brandon Heath who said it was like nothing he had experienced.
“It’s a beautiful cold spring morning. As soon as the door opened up, you felt the cold air rush in. We had a cameraman, and I was trying to give him a good face, but I literally could not catch my breath…It was a 45-second free-fall, but it feels longer. It’s like, ‘Wow. We’re still falling.’ But it was pretty amazing,” Heath said.
Singer-songwriter Gary Chapman also took the jump and immediately lost his shoe to the open air.
“I should’ve just kicked off the other one so someone could have a pair,” he joked.
Despite now only having one shoe in his possession and on his feet, Chapman stated that he had a blast.
“It was awesome. It was so exciting. It makes me wish I had another life. I would do this,” Chapman said.
Finally, it was my turn. The propellers of the aircraft were already buzzing while I stepped towards it with my Golden Knights jumping partner. While we were headed to the most surreal experience of my life, my tandem partner, Ken, turned to me and said, “You haven’t eaten, have you?”
I promptly responded, “Yes. I just had a sandwich like 10 minutes ago.”
The expertly trained and experienced precision tandem parachute team member then turned to me and matter-of-factly stated, “Well. Try to keep it inside.”
We got onto the plane while a Golden Knights member with a go-pro camera strapped to his head filmed us and asked me questions about my impending dive.
The tone between the Golden Knights in the plane was almost ironically light. They constantly flung horrible skydiving jokes between one other while we stared, wide-eyed at the quickly disappearing ground.
Some of my favorites included: “Hey, man. How did you get this job? I just kind of fell into it.” And “You know how I got to do this? I have friends in high places.”
Finally, the plane reached about 13,000 feet and we were ready to fall. I clenched my fists, breathed in and got in position with my tandem partner to jump. On a count of “One…Two…Jump,” I was nudged out of the opening.
While I still enjoyed it, the free-fall was the most intimidating portion of the jump. There was so much wind and pressure that it was sometimes difficult to breathe. It felt like I was flying downwards through miles and miles of air, and it did, indeed, feel longer than 45 seconds. However, once the parachute went up, it was like a dream.
I opened my eyes and widened them as much as physically possible. It seemed like I could see half of the state. Trees, houses, fields and even people slowly became larger and larger as we comfortably floated towards the ground. It was one of those moments that I tried to hold onto for as long I could.
Once we reached the ground, I shakily stood up, shook hands with my tandem partner and triumphantly headed back into the airport.
I had done it. The craziest experience of my life. While it could be described in some many indescribable ways, “crazy” was the most fitting. It was crazy because it was something that, seemingly, only crazy people should be doing. Falling through thousands of feet of open air with just a parachute to save you? But it was also crazy because it was surreal that I was able to have this opportunity. I was able to represent my school in a way that I never dreamed. I was proud to be crazy with President McPhee and General Huber. I was proud to be crazy with the United States Army. While it was terrifying and intimidating, it was also something I would never forget. So, when asked multiple times if I would try it again by friends and family, I have proudly declared, “Yes. I would absolutely skydive again…Just maybe give me a year or two to stay on the ground.”
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To contact News Editor Brinley Hineman, email firstname.lastname@example.org.