This past week, the Golden Knights descended upon Skydive Chicago for yet another residency of tandem skydiving. 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. The Knights 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 educators, government officials, other fellow soldiers, and even selected celebrities, including local ABC-7’s meteorologist Cheryl Scott, who just made her first tandem at Skydive Chicago last week.

For nearly twenty years, the Tandem Orientation Program (TOPS) has enjoyed overwhelming success in helping the general public understand the training and professionalism of Soldiers while making the sport of parachuting more accessible. The drop zone staff, especially DZO Rook Nelson, couldn’t have been more thrilled to welcome the Knights back again this year.

“We have lots of military contracts at SDC,” Rook explained. “But this is a long-standing partnership that allows us to give back to our country in a unique way.”

The Knights’ focus on tandem parachuting is a particularly resonant common bond with Skydive Chicago, as is their passion for safety. Tandem examiner SFC Noah Watts and S&TA Anthony Ebel collaborated throughout the week to discuss the latest equipment, technological advancements, and strategies to make tandem skydiving safer.

“[Anthony] is so well-informed and is constantly seeking ways to better uphold safety protocols,” SFC Watts commended. SFC Adrian Hill,  who has been on the Golden Knights for almost 10 years, shared a similar sentiment about the dropzone as a whole. “The quality of Skydive Chicago’s facilities, the efficiency and caliber of their staff, and the observance of safety regulations is beyond reproach.  We’ve been many, many dropzones getting to come to such a top-notch facility makes the week of tandem jumping that much better for our team and for the tandems we have with us.”

SFC Chris Acevedo, who has been training with Golden Knights since 2008, recently ‘came home’ to Skydive Chicago for this tandem camp.  “I’ve been jumping at Skydive Chicago since 2010.  I’ve competed on multiple teams, including the Golden Knights Vertical Formation Team Video Slot, and I’ve been lucky enough to be on world record attempts at Skydive Chicago.   As a fun jumper, SDC is one of my favorite places to jump and the people here are like another family to me.  To come here to ‘work’ as a Golden Knight doesn’t even feel like work at all.  I love skydiving and I want to share that passion with everyone and I get to do it at Skydive Chicago this week. It’s fantastic.”

Upon completing their week of training, it was time for the Knights to fly. The SDC staff, particularly Events and Marketing Director A.J. Johnson, was sad to see them go.

“When the Golden Knights are here, the hangar buzzes with energy ” A.J. explained. “We get to see our old friends on the team, meet new ones, and have the opportunity to help more people enjoy the sky with us.  They are welcome additions to Skydive Chicago and we are so happy to have them here each year.”

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