By Rachael Tolliver-Fort Knox Public AffairsJune 4, 2015
Sometimes a parade field is for assemblies and parades, and sometimes it can be used for other things--like a landing zone for the Army's award-winning Golden Knights parachute team.
Cadet Command's 7th Brigade hosted the U.S. Army Golden Knights May 27-29 and for their tandem jumps the team used Fort Knox's Brooks Parade Field.
The Golden Knights are well known for not only their competitions and stunts, but for tandem jumps with community leaders and educators of the areas in which they perform.
The opportunity to interact with Soldiers, like those represented by the Golden Knights, gives members of communities not located near Army installations a chance to see who a Soldier really is.
It also gives them a chance to hear from that Soldier on why they are Soldiers, and what it is he or she really does.
Lt. Col. Matthew Weinrich, commander for the GK, said such events put his teams in communities and give people a chance to spend time with Soldiers and learn about them.
"And we get to see the communities and we get to connect with the people in these communities, and we get to see what they think," he explained.
"Some of these educators get to see that ROTC at schools isn't just about having a built in color guard for the school football games," he added about what an ROTC education really entails.
Teachers like Sandy Gentry, from Tennessee's White County School system, was one of several educators on hand. Cadet Command's 7th Brigade has a responsibility for ROTC programs in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee so the CLEs visiting Fort Knox were from those areas.
She accepted an opportunity to jump with the Golden Knights--the teacher said skydiving was on her bucket list. And she added that the Soldiers who make up the GK were well trained, very professional, and detail oriented about her safety and security.
Gentry doesn't live near an Army installation and although she said she knew national defense was important and she knew the Army trained warfighters, she said she didn't really know anything about the Army. But spending two days with the Soldiers changed that.
"I had a whole different outlook on the Army now than I did before I spent a couple of days here," Gentry explained. "I looked at it and understood the training to be warfighters. But now I see all the things you can do in the Army and the ways it can prepare you for life outside."
One of the reasons for her confidence in the Golden Knights, was because of Sgt. 1st Class Noah David Watts--the assistant team leader for the tandem team on the Golden Knights. He is also one of two safety and training advisors on the team.
"You don't 'get' it or 'apply' for an STA," Watts explained. "You are appointed to it by a regional director in the United States Parachute Association. In the team we follow three different sets of rules: military rules, USPA rules and FAA rules."
Watts spend 11.5 years as a Marine, was in force recon, used his airborne qualification for several "jumping assignments," and was later at Fort Benning Georgia, as an airborne instructor. Because all military branches of service go through basic airborne school at Fort Benning, for every 30 students that come in the Marine Corps the school needs one Marine instructor. Watts was one of those instructors.
While at Fort Benning he was also on the Silver Wings, Fort Benning's parachute team--only the second Marine in the wings' history to join its team.
"I was at Fort Benning about the time I was going to get out of Marines when someone said, 'What are you going to do?'" he explained. "I said, I'd probably get out, and they said, 'Why don't you join the Golden Knights?'"
He attended the annual assessment and selection program held every September and passed--only the second Marine to pass GK tryouts but the first to ever join the GK as a Marine. He left the Marine Corps Dec. 28, 2007, joined the Army, and reported to his first duty station Dec. 29.
Additionally, there are less than 10 people in the U.S. that are certified in the Instructor Examiner Rating Course, accomplished through the USPA, and by the time this story is published, he will be one of those few. And as if that isn't enough, he is a commercially instrument rated pilot and an FAA certified parachute maintenance technician.
Lastly, there are only 187 tandem examiners in the U.S., and only three people who can certify someone as a TE, and Watts is one of those 187.
And he did it all while serving the military.
"I love tandem because I love any kind of instruction--I love to share the experience with people," Watts said. "It never gets boring, and this is the closest way for me to live that first time experience by living it with the people who are going through it for the first time."
He added that tandem jumps are very gratifying for the team because they meet a lot of great people--businessmen, educators, Soldiers who have done great things for their units, amputees, or people from Gold Star families or the American Widows Project.
"We take them up so they can cope or possibly relate to a job that their loved one did in the service and that is bar-none the best feeling you could absolutely hope for--those kinds of jumps are the best part of the day," he added.
Blake Proffitt is the mayor for Vine Grove and has worked around Fort Knox long enough to know what the Army does and who its Soldiers really are--Proffitt gets to talk to Soldiers like Watts regularly.
But as the mayor of a town, Proffitt can also view the Army from another spectrum: it trains quality leaders and provides his community with the, "most prepared adaptable workforces in the U.S."
"The military prepares you probably as well as any education out there," he said. "You all train scholastically, practically, every experience the whole way around. Military people are as prepared, or more, than anyone in the work place and are ready to fill in at any level and at most any job."
He said that when it comes to experience the Army has the best leadership training, a variety of jobs that are adaptable to almost any civilian position, and people in the Army work as a team and are driven toward excellence.
So while most people wouldn't willingly skydive from two miles up, Proffitt said he had no reservations because the Army's Golden Knights aren't just any group of parachutists.
"The Golden Knights are the best," he said. "They are the symbol of excellence so that is why I can jump out of a perfectly good airplane."