One of Scotland County’s unique attractions can be found 5,500 feet overhead.
A particular source of Scotland County pride is the Golden Knights U.S. Army Parachute Teams, who use the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport as their main training facility. I recently had the honor of spending the better part of the day with the men and women of the 4-way competition team. Without question, I can state that the hospitality of the squad was only exceeded by their professionalism.
The Golden Knights have a distinguished past that reaches back to1959 when 13 souls banded together as the Strategic Army Corps Sport Parachute Team. In the almost sixty years since, they have given jaw-dropping performances of both freefall formations and pinpoint accuracy at stadiums, events, air shows, and other venues across the United States and around the world.
The Golden Knights currently have six teams with many members calling the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport home: these are the 4-way competition team, the 8-way competition team, the canopy piloting team, a vertical formation skydiving team, and the two demonstration teams: the Black and Gold Teams. In all, there are only 80 members of this elite group. We are truly talking the “best of the best” when referring to the Golden Knights.
The mission of the Golden Knights is to compete nationally and internationally in parachute competitions, to support the Army’s public relations efforts and recruiting efforts, and to test and evaluate new parachuting equipment. Yes, while these men and women are highly skilled and trained, there is inherent danger dropping from the sky at speeds that exceed 120 mile-per-hour.
While never failing to deliver oohs and aahs, the Golden Knights aren’t mere entertainers. They spend countless hours working on their craft as well as with local recruiters and students, showing the kinds of futures the U.S. Army can help them realize.
Tryouts for any open slots in the Golden Knights begin in October of each year. As you would expect, the tryouts are intense and highly competitive. Requesting a team tryout can only be extended after considerable training and jumping, and remember, that is just to get to the tryouts. Once on the squad (for the few that are selected), the training only intensifies. The current members of the 4-way team came together this past January. Since that time they have each logged over 500 jumps. The general rule of thumb is a jumper and team need well over 1,000 jumps in order to prepare themselves to consistently win competitions.
Not surprising, joining the Golden Knights is a commitment that extends well beyond the deployment. Each team member is often making a four-year commitment, with the competition teams (such as the 4-way team out at the airport), often requiring a longer stay. But these members wouldn’t trade their spot to anyone.
While all this jumping is going on in the sky, what most people do not realize is that the practice sessions are open to the public. While you are not allowed to jump with the team, you are able to watch from the landing site – which, given their incredible accuracy means you can watch from right where they land. Depending on what each individual is working on, the landings can come in “soft” – almost floating in, or “hot” as they land at speeds in excess of 25 miles per hour. There is some shelter for observation, but spectators are encouraged to bring a chair in order to sit back, relax, and be mesmerized. There is also opportunity to engage with the team members – who are eager to be “information officers” as needed.
“We encourage everybody and everyone to come out and watch, says, SFC Justin Little. ”We try to encourage all of the kids to come out, and give them the chance to touch the parachutes and let them know how skydiving actually works.”
SFC Richard Sloan echoes the invitation. “Children love it. It’s a great opportunity for the school system as well because it can be part of a science project or a physics course as they learn velocity and miles-per-hour – all elements we track and can discuss. So it’s a great opportunity for the kids.
The teams practice Monday through Friday from approximately 7:30 to 2:00 at the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport. Throughout the day multiple team members are jumping, so there is constant motion with multiple descents and landings taking place each hour.
For more information or visit www.goarmy.com/events/golden-knights.html You can also follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/usarmygoldenknights
The Golden Knights. A special unit of the U.S. Army, and a unique partner in making Laurinbrug/Scotland County a great place to live, work, and play.
Cory Huges, executive director of the Scotland County Tourism Development Authority, wrote this week’s Focus on Scotland, an effort by community leaders on making Laurinburg/Scotland County a better place to work, live, and play.