MAXTON, N.C. – Perhaps jumping out of a perfectly good airplane doesn’t sound like a good time for some. But for several members of Richmond Senior High School’s faculty, there is nothing more exhilarating, and has left the feeling of adrenaline rushing through their bodies.
As wispy clouds hung neatly over Laurinburg-Maxton Airport Thursday morning, RSHS principal Jim Butler, assistant principal and athletic director Ricky Young, Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) directors Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Jon Ring and First Sergeant (retired) Aaron Light were all smiles as they entered the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights Parachute Team facility.
The RSHS staff, accompanied by friends and family, participated in tandem skydives with several esteemed members of the Golden Knights team. Also in attendance were members of Richmond County Schools’ Central Office, including superintendent Dr. Cindy Goodman. As the skydiving event was an effort to support and promote Richmond’s JROTC program, Butler, Young, Ring and Light underwent a short training and safety briefing inside the Golden Knights’ facility before taking to the sky.
The jump was also the first of many steps to allow the JROTC program to explore the area’s rich history in aviation and military history. LTC. Ring informed those on hand that National Airborne Day celebrated its 77th anniversary on Wednesday. August 16, 1940, signifies the Army’s first official jump at Fort Benning, Georgia, by members of the Parachute Test Platoon under the command of Major William Lee.
It wasn’t until November, 1942, that members of 2nd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment made the first official combat jump in North Africa. Camp Mackall (located in the eastern part of Richmond County) and Fort Bragg were, and are, staples in the airborne training industry.
“The goal of the program is to encourage and motivate young people to broaden their horizons,” LTC. Ring said, who had served in the U.S. Army for 27 years. “We want our cadets to become better citizens. I hope that this event helps get the image out there of how great of an organization we are.”
Considered to be the among world’s most elite skydiving teams, the Golden Knights are only one of three Department of Defense-sanctioned aerial demonstration teams, making them synonymous with the Navy’s Blue Angels and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds. With nearly 100 soldiers comprising the Golden Knights, the fear-nothing team members travel around the country and perform awe-inspiring stunts and theatrics. The Golden Knights serve as a part of the Army’s marketing strategy to try and intrigue young men and women’s interest in joining.
Boarding a standard Army plane draped with an intricate Golden Knights sword decal, the RSHS participants joined Command Sergeant Major Rodney O’Dell on a 13,500-foot ascent above the Sandhills. O’Dell, who has 25 years of service invested with the U.S. Army, is the commander in charge of the Golden Knights Parachute team. Having spent some time serving with LTC. Ring, it was a reunion between the two comrades.
“The Golden Knights are the best in the world at what they do,” CSM O’Dell said addressing a small audience of onlookers. “We are a proud part of the Army and are a world championship-caliber parachute team.”
Each skydiver was harnessed to an experienced Golden Knights team member. At nearly two-and-a-half miles in the air, jumpers experienced nearly a minute’s freefall, peaking at speeds of 130 m.p.h. Rushing toward the ground, the 210-square foot canopies were deployed, allowing for a several-minute gentle descent to a specific landing zone.
LTC. Ring, who’s list of titles served range from an infantry officer to a paratrooper, saw this “bucket list” event as a great way to encourage and promote Richmond’s JROTC program. As an experienced jumper himself, LTC. Ring noted that Richmond students who are a part of JROTC learn leadership and work ethic qualities, among a plethora of other life skills. He said they try to model themselves after the ethos the Army instills in its soldiers. LTC. Ring hopes that this adventure will spark a potential future trip for the RSHS JROTC to Normandy, France, the site of the largest amphibious assault in military history on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
For Butler, Light and Young, it was truly an experience of a lifetime and something they’ll never forget.
“It was really exciting,” Young said smiling after landing safely. “This was a great opportunity and the Golden Knights made it such a great experience.”
“We want our students and community to know how much we support LTC Ring and the JROTC program,” Butler, who is entering his second school year at Richmond, said. “Today was a lot of fun, and I want everyone to know how proud I am of what a great job the JROTC program is doing.”
The Golden Knights do not offer services to the public, but to find out more about qualified participants and event scheduling, visit www.goarmy.com.