Champions of the Skies: The Golden Knights Descend Upon Skydive Chicago for a Week of Tandem Training

The U.S. Army’s Golden Knights occupy a unique role in the armed forces as one of three Department of Defense-sanctioned aerial demonstration teams, alongside the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. Nearly 100 men and women make up the Knights’ four parachute teams, who perform regularly at public demonstrations, compete at national and international skydiving competitions, and—in the Tandem division—share their love of the skies by facilitating tandem jumps for celebrities, government officials, and other fellow soldiers.

“We provide an experience of a lifetime to those who spend their lifetimes supporting us,” said Jimmy Hackett, SFC and Tandem Operation Team Leader.

For nearly twenty years, the Tandem Orientation Program (T.O.P.S.) has enjoyed an overwhelming success in helping the general public understand the training and professionalism of Soldiers while making the sport of parachuting more accessible. This past week, the Knights took up residency at Skydive Chicago to continue their training. The drop zone staff, including DZO Rook Nelson, couldn’t have been more thrilled.

“We love when the Knights come to SDC. It’s a great opportunity to be working alongside people who share in your vision of furthering and celebrating the sport of skydiving.”

Public Relations and Events Director, A. J. Johnson, agrees. “It’s a sight to see when the Knights bring their Tandem Team here… They bring their all of their own gear, video team, tandem instructors, and that beautiful Twin Otter. We’ve got a fleet of our own, but it’s always nice to see that bird rolling down the runway.”

The Knights, much like team’s official aircraft, was designed to not only instill a deeper spirit of nationalistic and Army pride, but in the particular case of the Tandem Orientation Program, a sense of self-efficacy in regard to every American’s personal pursuits.

“We’re not just here to increase our recruitment numbers,” LTC Ned Beechinor explained. “We welcome any person who chooses to make the military their home, but we also want to educate the public about skydiving… Being in the Army isn’t just about fighting overseas and carrying that weapon into battle. There are over 280 different jobs in the military and each one helps support our country just as we strive to do when we take to the sky.”

Nicknamed the Golden Knights back in 1962 after both the team’s gold medal winnings and its valiant mission to conquer the skies, the Knights have participated in over 16,000 demonstrations in 50 states and 48 countries, reaching an average of 60,000 people per show. The team has brought home 2,148 gold, 1117 silver, and 693 bronze medals in competition, and has broken nearly 350 world records. But as accomplished as they are, the Knights’ creed speaks first of prestige, excellence, and professionalism—a mission Skydive Chicago is honored to share and support.

“[Skydive Chicago] runs its facility like an Army operation. From the gear to the facilities to the aircraft… everything is so organized, methodical, and professional,” said SSG Trey Martin. “We fit right in when we’re here.”

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