Two movie stars, a group of young veterans, an Olympian and a World War II bomber pilot took a leap out of a perfectly good airplane with the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights parachute demonstration team Thursday.
“Their reputation precedes them as an organization,” said Kyle Schmid, an actor who stars in “SIX,” a History Channel drama about the Navy Seals. “If you get an opportunity to do something like this, you have to take them up on it.”
Schmid volunteers on behalf of the veteran’s advocacy group Got Your 6, whose executive director, retired Maj. Bill Rausch, also skydived with the Golden Knights Thursday.
“It was awesome,” Rausch said. “You’re taken up there by absolute professionals and you put your complete trust in them. Everyone of those guys had my 6.”
The Golden Knights, based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, spends its winters at Homestead Air Reserve Base. The team is a recruiting arm that “allows us to showcase the opportunities in the Army,” said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, commanding general of the Army’s Recruiting Command. Snow said the Army is a great choice for those wanting to make military service a career and a springboard into professional life for those who just want to serve a few years.
“You show me a Fortune 500 company that has the same commitment to education and leadership development than the Army has,” Snow said.
The general’s job got a little harder in the waning days of the Obama administration after the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, which stopped the draw-down of the armed forces that began around 2012. Obama signed the bill into law in December. The Army’s recruiting goal was 62,500 new soldiers for the regular Army and 15,400 for the Reserves this fiscal year, but the new law added another 6,000 men and women to that target.
“That’s good news, but that obviously increases our mission,” Snow said.
The Golden Knights can be seen skydiving at major events like college bowl games, professional sports games and parades nationwide throughout the year. But their other main task is to take people on tandem jumps where a civilian skydives at 13,000 feet with a Golden Knight tethered to his or her back controlling the free fall at about 120 mph.
Snow said jumping with celebrities, community leaders and journalists helps the Army show another side to the public other than its prowess at fighting wars.
“Whether an individual serves one tour or an entire career, they are more likely to volunteer, be very active in their community, start a small business, more likely to vote. There are a lot of positives to experience in the Army,” Snow said. “This is a tool to get that word out.”
The educational opportunities aspect of the service was a significant reason Navy vet Jared Lyon, 34, came down from Washington, D.C., to jump. Lyon is CEO of the nonprofit Student Veterans of America. The group helps veterans transition from the military to civilian life, especially through the GI Bill, which helps pay veterans’ college tuition.
“We make sure that benefit is always available for those who have earned it,” said Lyon, who added there are currently 1.1 million veterans in higher learning.
There was also an Olympian among the group. Army Spc. Dan Lowe, 24, competed in the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro in the shooting competition, where he finished in second place in the team trials. He serves in the Army’s Marksmanship Unit. He’s been in the service for three years but Thursday was the first time he jumped out of a plane.
“I’m a little nervous, I’ve never done it before,” Lowe said. “But I’m looking forward to it.”
Alexandra Shipp, a film and television actress who starred in movies like “Straight Outta Compton” and “X-Men: Apocalypse,” eagerly accepted the invitation to jump with the Knights.
“I saw it as a chance to hang out with these cool people,” Shipp said. “I’m here for the jump!”
Also along for the adventure was Perry Cormen, 91, who flew bombers — including the B-24, B-25, B-17 and B-29, mostly as an instructor — in what was then the U.S. Army Air Corps. Cormen, whose exercise regimen includes doing about 100 squats a day, said accepting challenges like skydiving keeps him sharp.
“I expect to make 100,” he said.
Bob Body, 42, served six years in the Army as an infantryman. His left leg had to be amputated after he survived a roadside bomb attack while serving in Iraq in 2006. With the help of a prosthetic leg, Body is now a professional powerlifter. He completed Airborne School in the Army and had some civilian jumps, but this was the first time skydiving with the prosthetic leg.
“It actually went really smooth,” Body said after jumping. Normally, tandem jumpers have to squat at the low door before exiting the plane. But Body has difficulties crouching down with the prosthetic. Instead, he dangled his legs outside of the plane.
“I sat down and rolled out, and it was smooth the whole time” Body said. “It was awesome. Good stuff!”
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204