By Michelle Eberhart (USAG West Point Public Affairs)January 22, 2016
WEST POINT, N.Y. (JAN. 22, 2015) - The U.S. Military Academy at West Point Parachute team is arguably the "coolest" team on post. Not only do its members get to jump out of planes into the Army-Navy Game and Yankee Stadium, but they also go out of their way to help those in need.
During the 2015 National Collegiate Parachuting Championships in Lake Wales, FL from Dec. 21, 2015 to Jan. 3, 2016, team captain, Class of 2016 Cadet Jordan Komm, was selected to be a videographer for a two-way dive for the competition. This was standard, as athletes who aren't jumping during a particular event can enter into a camera pool to record fellow divers' jumps.
Komm jumped out of the plane after two divers from the University of Connecticut.
"I was above them and I could see, probably within the first 10 seconds that (one diver's) chest strap was just flapping in the wind," Komm said of one of the UConn divers. "You're not supposed to stop the dive, but it's a safety hazard and I was like, 'If this was my teammate, what would I do?' I would go down there and I would fix it."
Komm flew down, trying to get the diver's attention, but she was focused on her dive and couldn't understand what was going on. At 5,000 feet in the air, Komm couldn't re-route her gear or speak to her. He knew he'd have to use hand signals to communicate.
"So I flew under her and basically just grabbed her harness and pulled it all together," Komm said. "I didn't get it re-routed or anything like that, I was just telling her you got to pull your parachute. "The dangers of not having your chest strap routed correctly is all the shock from the opening pulls from your shoulders where the risers are connected and if you slip out, you could fall out," Komm added. "So all I did is really bring it to her attention."
Luckily, the diver understood what Komm was telling her, pulled her parachute and landed safely. Afterward, she came up to Komm and thanked him, knowing the potential dangers of the situation.
"We are huge on equipment checks," Komm said of his team. He is a professionally-rated diver, as are most of the seniors on the team. He noted that his team triple checks the equipment and are adamant that situations like this don't happen.
"The young lady was not going to die," Coach Thomas Falzone, head coach of the Parachute team, said. "The chest strap is really for a backup, do I really think that she would have fallen out? No, but at the same time it's really a heads up move and a huge safety maneuver that we definitely discipline on our team.
"It just kind of shows you his awareness and gives credit to his training and his calmness," Falzone said of Komm. "He just flew down there and did what he was trained to do and was able to be heads up, and the girl was able to pull stable and all turned out well."
The West Point Parachute team ended up winning the entire national competition that weekend, bringing home 40 medals total including 18 gold, nine silver and 13 bronze.
They also brought home the Gavin Gavel award, a prize that combines the team members point scores against other teams, including the Air Force Academy. Army's winning point total was 112 points.
Komm was also named the "Most Competitive Collegiate Skydiver" by winning two gold, one silver and two bronze medals.
Obviously, the Parachute team is impressive in the air, from helping people mid-flight to winning national championships. On land, the team is equally impressive.
After watching an HBO Special about an organization called "Friends of Jaclyn," Coach Falzone was inspired. Friends of Jaclyn is a non-profit organization that pairs children battling pediatric brain tumors and other cancers with sports teams, campus clubs and art programs in their community (friendsofjaclyn.org).
"I ran into one of my team leaders from a couple years ago (who had a connection to the organization) and I said we have to get involved in this," Falzone said. "Nearly two years had passed and the former cadet gave me a call and said I have great news, I got a kid we can help sponsor."
That's when the team adopted Andrew, a young boy with stage four cancer.
Although the team was training for the collegiate championships, they took the time to make a video for Andrew welcoming him to the team. One of the cadets on the team, David Hart, even spent the night editing the video for Andrew entitled, "To our teammate, Andrew."
"We took all the seniors and build an 'A' in freefall," Falzone said. "We sent it to the caseworker and she sent it to the parents and Andrew and the response we got from his mother and everyone from the Friends of Jaclyn was phenomenal."
"Anything that we can do outside of West Point, to contribute to the big picture, we're excited to be a part of," Falzone said.
Not only did the team make a video, but during the Class of 2019 team induction ceremony, Andrew was inducted as an honorary member. "The whole team got to meet him," Komm said. "He's just a super strong individual for how young he is, and it just kind of catches you off-guard.
"He'll hopefully be coming to our team dinners, and coming out to practice, we really want to be there for him," Komm noted. "I just wanted to be a friend to him."