Golden Knights Chris Acevedo

There's skydiving, and then there's Army skydiving.

Their origins began in the Cold War when the Soviet Union was dominating the emerging skydiving sport. In 1959, 19 Airborne soldiers began competing at the international level, and by 1961 they were known as the Golden Knights.

Since then, the Knights have conducted more than 16,000 shows around the world, and team members have broken 348 world records.

And sometimes if you're very lucky, you can strap one on like a backpack and jump out of a plane with him.

Here's how:


Watch what it's like to jump with the Golden Knights

The Golden Knights are comprised of a few different teams: the demonstration teams perform at over 100 events per year (and if you haven't seen them in action, run don't walk — they're remarkable) while the tandem team jumps with fellow soldiers, heads of state, celebrities, people of influence, members of the military community, and, well, military pin-ups as it turns out.

The Knights reached out to Gina Elise of Pin-Ups for Vets, and while she declined (for now, Gina — but I am determined to get you up in the air!!), she did ask if she could send some of her more daring ambassadors. If you're not familiar with Pin-Ups for Vets, it's a non-profit organization that helps hospitalized and deployed service members and military families.

Enter U.S. Army vet Erikka Davis, U.S. Marine Megan Martine, and me (U.S. Air Force vet — hello!).

Pin-Ups for Vets Golden Knights

Erikka Davis (U.S. Army), Megan Martine (U.S. Marine Corps), Shannon Corbeil (U.S. Air Force)

After a fun meet-and-greet with our fellow guests, who included people like an A.P. Bio Teacher, a Vice Principal, a firefighter, some Los Angeles Rams Cheerleaders, and a stand-up comic, we set our alarms for an early wake-up and set out for our adventure. This is where I got to meet Sgt. 1st Class Chris "Ace" Acevedo, who would be my jump instructor.

And who apparently is also a legend.

Before & After with SFC Chris "Ace" Acevedo. (Check out the hair! 😂)

Ace's Army career included service as a Cavalry Scout and an Air Defensive Artilleryman in countries like Iraq and South Korea before he joined the Golden Knights. Over the past eleven years, he has served on both the Black and Gold demonstration teams, competition teams, and now the tandem team. He will also be representing the Army on the 2020 U.S. Parachute Team in the 2020 World Championships. I asked him what he had to do to make the team:

"Freefall at 300 mph."

Oh. Is that all?

For comparison, during our freefall, we'd be descending at about 120 mph. So, yeah, the guy is fast.

He's also got about 6000 jumps under his belt, which gave me a lot of comfort when confronted with this view:

Golden Knights Twin Otter

Just imagine kneeling here and then...tumbling out. Because it was ALL I COULD THINK ABOUT.

(U.S. Army image by Sgt. 1st Class Richard Sloan)

It's nice to know that if I somehow fell out of the plane without a parachute, my instructor could just...come catch me.

Because as you can see in the video above, when the students load up in the plane, we don't have chutes. We strap in mid-flight, get a refresher from the morning's instruction (hold chest straps, keep your eyes on your videographer, arch arch arch, two taps on the shoulder means you can release your hands, two taps on your hips means arch more, etc.), then shuffle to the door.

From there, it became a practice in trust. Walking to the edge of an open plane door without using my hands went against every instinct in my body — but I knew that Ace literally had my back.

Can you find the C-17?

(U.S. Army image by Sgt. 1st Class Richard Sloan)

In 2003, I completed five unassisted jumps with the U.S. Air Force Freefall program, which meant I was responsible for pulling my own chute after a 10-second freefall. But with the Golden Knights, my job just was to "relax, arch, and have fun."

Right before we took off, my videographer Sgt. 1st Class Rich Sloan told me that safety was the priority, but if we were stable then he'd reach his hand out to me, and we'd spin SO I WAS DETERMINED TO BE THE MOST STABLE POSSIBLE IN THE UNIVERSE.

Golden Knights Shannon Corbeil, Christopher Acevedo, and Richard Sloan

"And we're the three best friends that anyone could have..."

(U.S. Army image by Sgt. 1st Class Richard Sloan)

In the video above, you can see what that spin looked like. You can also see from my reaction that it was thrilling.

During our descent, Ace pointed out a C-17 flying beneath us, maintained his checklist, and kept us alive – all of which I'm extremely thankful for. Then after what felt like 10 seconds but was actually a good 45 seconds, with a sharp salute he pulled our chute.

It went by so fast it surprised me, so I made a giphy of the moment BECAUSE MY LEGS KICK OUT AND IT'S HILARIOUS.

Weeeeeeeeeeee!

We had a good chute and did some spins under the canopy while Ace endured what I can only describe as me doing a breathless double rainbow guy impression ("Oh my godddddd! Oh my god this is amaaaaaazing!") before he steered us to the landing zone and brought us gently and lovingly to the earth from whence we came.

For me, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. For Ace, it could have just been another one of 300 tandem jumps — but that's not how he sees it. He still remembers his first jumps and the thrill of that experience, so he likes to share that feeling with others.

Talking with him after, I asked what some of his favorite parts of the job are. "Gold Star Families are pretty special. It helps them with their healing process, so that's a big deal to me. I just want to help them through the day — for many of them, it helps them feel close to the person they lost."

Feather-soft landing, I'm not even kidding.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Richard Sloan)

All I can say about the program is that if you get the invitation to jump with the Golden Knights, take it. They are so professional, so precise, and so skilled at what they do. I had no problem trusting this team with my life. I'm still incredulous that they even provide this kind of experience to people.

I asked Ace why they do it, and he said it's so our country can get to know her soldiers.

"This is us. This is what an American soldier looks like. This is my Army story."