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Army parachute team fills the skies over UNG

Army parachute team fill the skies over UNG
Eight members of the U.S. Army's Golden Knights parachute team performed a jump over the UNG Dahlonega Camps, landing on a bullseye in the middle of the Gen. William "Lipp" Livsey Drill Field on April 2.

Cutting away a parachute on purpose. Passing a baton at 120 mph. Flying the American flag at 12,000 feet. Landing dead center on a target. That's the job of a Golden Knight.

On April 2 in the skies over the University of North Georgia (UNG), members of the U.S. Army Parachute Team, known as the Golden Knights, did their jobs. They impressed the hundreds of UNG faculty, staff, students and other curious onlookers ringing the Gen. William "Lipp" Livsey Drill Field on UNG’s Dahlonega Campus.

The Golden Knights formed in 1959, with 19 Airborne soldiers from various military units with the intent of competing in the relatively new sport of skydiving, which the Soviet Union dominated at that time. Named the Strategic Army Command Parachute Team, the soldiers began representing the United States on the international competition circuit. By 1962, the team earned the nickname the Golden Knights. "Golden" signified the gold medals the team won while "Knights" alluded to the team's ambition to conquer the skies.

UNG Professor of Military Science Col. Brent Cummings extended an invitation to the team after a chance meeting with Golden Knights Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney O'Dell at Fort Knox, Kentucky, during cadet summer training.

"Sergeant O'Dell and I had worked together previously, and the Golden Knights were doing a jump at Fort Knox to inspire our cadets and select VIPs," Cummings said. "During this discussion came the idea of having the Golden Knights jump into Dahlonega."

The team took off from Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville, Georgia, after 3 p.m. and made its way to the jump zone. At 3:30 p.m., eight members of the "Gold" demonstration team spilled out of the C-31A Troopship at 5,000 feet. In an intricately timed display, the Golden Knights dazzled the crowd with a three-minute demonstration with colored smoke, twisting, turning and corkscrewing in the sky. One member carried the Stars and Stripes and another the Georgia state flag and Boar's Head Brigade flag as they hurtled toward earth at more than 120 mph.

Each member steered their chutes toward a large bulls-eye set in the middle of the field and a couple of Golden Knights made a high-speed descent at 60 mph. All landed square in the middle of the target as the crowd cheered.

After touchdown, the team gathered for a 20-minute meet and greet with cadets and others, signing autographs, posing for photos and answering questions.

"It's a challenge to get the Golden Knights to come to any venue. They are a parachute version of the Blue Angels," Capt. Weston Layfield, an instructor in UNG's Department of Military Science, said, referring to the U.S. Navy's flight demonstration team. "The Golden Knights are a big deal. Everywhere they go they're treated like rock stars."

The Golden Knights have conducted more than 16,000 shows in 50 states and 48 countries, reaching an average of 60,000 people per show. The team has earned the U.S. Army 2,148 gold, 1,117 silver and 693 bronze medals in national and international competition. Team members have also broken 348 world records.

The team is composed of approximately 95 men and women, which includes four parachute units, an aviation unit and a headquarters unit. The demonstration teams, which use five dedicated aircraft, perform at more than 100 events per year.

"It is exciting to bring the Army's and world's best parachute demonstration team to the Army's senior military college, the University of North Georgia," Cummings said. "The Knights professionalism is known around the world. In about a month's time, many of our senior class will join these Knights as commissioned officers serving alongside each other, and today’s jump highlights the spirit of UNG, the values of our Army and its professionalism."

The Golden Knights are one of only three Department of Defense-sanctioned aerial demonstration teams, along with the Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

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