Big thanks to the All Veteran Group for one of the most thrilling moments of my life!
When people say that jumping out of an airplane is a “life changing event,” it always sounds like a bit of an exaggeration, but hardly a day has passed that I have not thought about the jump that changed my life. Mike Elliott, a paratrooper who has made over 10,000 jumps, and the entire team at AVG are truly amazing. I encourage everyone to learn more about the work they do, especially their program for veterans called Therapy in the Air.
Here’s the story of my jump:
In the summer of 2014, I had the privilege to participate in “Wounded Warrior Weekend.” It was my second time attending this event in Canada. A few hundred veterans from four countries were honored, most of whom served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some troops had combat injuries and many were left with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which they call “The Silent Bullet.”
The All Veteran Parachute Team gave a number of exciting demonstrations and then invited a few guests to make a tandem jump. I literally “jumped at the chance.” (ha ha)
Step 1: Ground school. Mike Elliott, who did a tandem jump with President Bush when he turned 90, would be our leader. I never had a moment of fear or hesitation knowing I’d be in Mike’s care. Watching professional paratroopers at work was just incredible. Mike explained every aspect of the jump in great detail. As I was getting fitted into my jump suit, Mike insisted I put my old 7th Army khaki shirt (the one with the seven steps to hell insignia on the sleeve) over my suit.
From the point when we reached 10,000 feet until we landed safely on the ground, there were lots of laughs, thumbs up by all, and of course plenty of selfies. But, shortly prior to the actual jump, everything turned quite serious. Mike double and triple checked every buckle and every strap of our rigging before locking us together like Siamese twins. Hand signals from the first jumper at the open door to a paratrooper kneeling next to the cockpit signaled a change in the flight path. It crossed my mind that this would be as close as I might ever get to becoming a Navy Seal. The 1st trooper dove out, camera fastened to his helmet, head first, arms out like Batman. It was quite a beautiful sight to watch.
Mike and I, locked together, waddled to the open door and on the third body rock we were suddenly into a free fall of about 125 MPH. At that speed your eyeballs can be sucked out, so of course goggles were tight. Loose skin on your face flaps and disappears into your ears!
After about 15 to 20 seconds, Mike pulled the parachute cord. There was a slight bit of a jolt as the shoot opened and carried us upward. Then, the magic began.
We soared like an eagle…really.
Mike slowly manipulated the parachute 360 degrees several times allowing us to float in silence. We could see perhaps 30 miles or more in every direction. The horizon was everywhere. We didn’t talk.
All too soon, I had the first tap on my back indicating it was time to pull my legs up to my chest as close as possible. Seconds later, a second tap meant it was time to put them straight out in front with toes up. Before I realized it, we were gently gliding along the grass before coming to a stop.
As you can see at the end of the video, all I wanted to do was just lean back on Mike, laugh with him, and be in the moment….a moment I wished would never end. It’s that moment I remember almost everyday.
Thank you, Mike, and thank you, AVG.