By Neil R. GuillebeauJune 2, 2010
FORT GORDON, Ga. - You're about to jump out of an airplane flying 13,500 feet above the ground. You'll fall, fast, about 120 miles per hour straight down, plunging a mile or more before your chute opens. But you'll land on the ground safely because you'll be strapped to a Golden Knight, one of the Army's most expert and elite parachutists. That's the message ten visibly amped-up Soldiers from 7th Signal Command (Theater) and Fort Gordon received recently as they prepared to parachute with members of the Army's Parachute Demonstration Team, the Golden Knights, to help commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Signal Corps. "For 150 years, the Signal Corps has been getting the message through to our Army team and partners. We wanted to do something that would help spread the word about this significant milestone in the Army's Signal Corp history," said BG Jennifer L. Napper, Commanding General, 7th Signal Command (Theater). "Spending time with the Golden Knights was a fun and exciting way to learn more about each others' missions." The tandem jumps took place at the Golden Knight's training facility at the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport in North Carolina. After a couple of hours of instruction, safety briefs and signing release of liability forms, the Soldiers from Fort Gordon paced nervously throughout the overcast morning, hoping conditions would improve enough for them to jump. Due to fog, the Golden Knight's UV-18 Twin Otter airplane could not take off. Without better visibility, the jump would not happen. In early afternoon, conditions improved and the crews and jumpers received the "go" for the jump. With their Golden Knight partners, each group of two or three Soldiers from Fort Gordon boarded the Twin Otter throughout the afternoon and contemplated their pending fate as the aircraft climbed to jump altitude. "I ain't gonna lie; I'm a little nervous but more excited than anything else," said Cpt. Jeremy Fox, Commander, Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 7th SC(T) as the aircraft passed through 6,500 on its way to more than 10,000 feet in the air. "This is a defining moment and you have to define the moment... I am ready to jump." Strapped to a Golden Knight, each pair moved in tandem towards the door. The airport below, the dropped zone looked toy-like below the clouds. On the count of three each pair jumped from the airplane. "You are out there and you can't control it," said SGM Nathanil Jett, Operations Sergeant Major, 7th SC (T). "You are putting yourself in the hands of somebody else and it is an unexplainable adrenaline rush!" CSM Thomas Clark, Command Sergeant Major, U. S. Army Signal Center, viewed the jump as a metaphor for life. "It was exciting, fun, scary and exhilaratingly beautiful," he said. After freefalling about 45 seconds, everyone glided to a safe landing as promised by the Golden Knights. "You just jumped out of an airplane with the Golden Knights," declared a Golden Knight to Cpt. Fox. "How strong are you'" he asked. With a big grin, Fox replied, "Army Strong!" Following the jumps, each of the jumpers received jump certificates, a framed Golden Knights photo, a tee shirt and other mementos in recognition of their jumps. BG Napper and CSM Williams, Command Sergeant Major of 7th Signal Command, presented command coins to the Golden Knights in thanks for the jumps. On behalf of the Army Signal Center and Fort Gordon, Clark presented a U.S. Army Signal Corps 'I'll Get Your Message Through' poster signed by himself, Napper and Williams, along with a football emblazoned with 13 photos from Fort Gordon. "The football was to show we are all on the same team whether we are jumping or waving a wigwag, said Clark. "This jump represented the courage that our Soldiers exhibit around the world every day." The jumpers from Fort Gordon were: Brig. Gen. Jennifer Napper, Commanding General, 7th SC(T); CSM Kenneth Williams, Command Sergeant Major, 7th SC(T); CSM Thomas Clark, Command Sergeant Major, U. S. Army Signal Center; Col. Edward Morris, Chief of Staff, 7th SC(T); Col. William Laigaie, Command Chaplain, 7th SC(T); SGM Nathanil Jett, Operations Sergeant Major, 7th SC (T); Master Sgt. Joseph Cianciolo, Command Sergeant Major, S-TNOSC; Maj. Charles Dixon, Operations Project Officer, 7th SC(T); Cpt. Jeremy Fox, Commander, Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 7th SC(T); and Staff Sgt. Garrett Grubb, Operations NCO, South Theater Network Operations Center. June marks the 150th Anniversary of the Signal Corps which traces its roots to the American Civil War era. Major Albert James Myer, an Army doctor, first conceived the idea of a separate, professional military signal service. He proposed that the Army use his visual communications system called "wigwag" while serving as a medical officer in Texas in 1856. When the Army adopted his system June 21, 1860, the Signal Corps was born with Myer as the first and only Signal officer according to the Regimental Division, Office Chief of Signal, Fort Gordon. MAJ Myer first used his visual signaling system operationally in New Mexico during the 1860-1861 Navajo expedition. Using flags for daytime signaling and a torch at night, wigwag was tested in Civil War combat in June 1861 to direct the fire of a harbor battery at Fort Calhoun (Fort Wool) against the Confederate positions across the bay from Fort Monroe, VA. Until March 3, 1863, when Congress authorized a regular Signal Corps for the duration of the war, Myer had to rely on detailed personnel. Some 2,900 officers and enlisted men served in the Civil War Signal Corps. Myer's Civil War innovations included a hot air balloon experiment at First Bull Run and, in response to McClellan's desire for a Signal Corps field telegraph train, an electric telegraph in the form of the Beardslee magnetoelectric telegraph machine. Even in the Civil War, the wigwag system, dependent upon line-of-sight, was giving way to the electric telegraph according to the historical record. For more information about the Signal Corps' 150th Anniversary celebration and history, visit: http://signal150.army.mil/ and http://www.gordon.army.mil/ocos/rdiv/HISTARCH/schist.asp Also, plan a trip to the U.S. Army Signal Corps Museum at Fort Gordon. The facility is open to the public. For additional information, call 706-791-2818 or 3856 or visit their website at http://www.gordon.army.mil/ocos/museum. For more photos and information about 7th SC (T), visit: http://www.army.mil/info/organization/unitsandcommands/commandstructure/7thsignal/. About the Golden Knights... In 1959, 19 men joined to form the Strategic Army Corps Sport Parachute Team, to compete in the then communist dominated sport of skydiving. The team performed so well that on June 1, 1961 the Army officially recognized, designated and activated the team as the U.S. Army Parachute Team. For 50 years the "Golden Knights" have been wowing audiences at air shows, competitions and most recently, with high profile tandems. The two demonstration teams travel all over the country performing aerial demonstrations at air shows and special events in support of Army recruiting goals. The two competition teams travel, competing nationally and internationally at various skydiving competitions, continuously bringing home gold, silver and bronze medals. They are the most successful U.S. Department of Defense sports team. While the Tandem Team focuses on bringing the public closer to the Army and the sport of skydiving. "The Tandem Team enables the Army to reach out to influential citizens and give them a taste of the professionalism, leadership and teamwork that is involved in giving them a tandem," said Lt. Colonel Joe Martin, U.S. Army Parachute Team, "Golden Knights." The Golden Knights not only perform at air shows, compete on an international level and perform high profile tandems they also visit high schools and work with local recruiters showing young adults what type of opportunities the Army has for them. For additional information, visit: http://www.usarec.army.mil/hq/goldenknights/.