NEW WINDSOR–The West Point Jump Team wowed the crowd at the New York Airshow on Aug. 29 and 30 with a parachute jump bringing the unfurled American flag to the show’s center, free falling out of helicopters from 8000 feet.
Alan Mack, Commander of the 2nd Aviation Division at West Point, said the jump club is a close knit organization. “I know them all very well.” Mack said the military academy is a large school and students have teams and clubs they are required to join.
“West Point itself is emotionally draining, so that emotional support is probably one of those things [a club provides]. They have a commonality in what they are doing.” Mack said a candidate must be able to listen to instruction and correction and follow rules. The can only start their first year. There’s a plan for progression by their senior year.
The jump team spends so much time together that they look for candidates that will mesh with the team, Mack said. Having the skill or desire is not the most important quality to be chosen for the team. They are very selective. They have a tryout process at the beginning of the year and must be selected their first year at the academy.
Mack said it’s not necessarily that they are a good jumper, but they must be a good teammate. “They can be taught to jump but you can’t make somebody a nice person. They are looking for somebody that ‘got’s my back.’ They are very close knit. They take care of each other,” he said.
The jump team spends a lot of time together. Cadet Pace Murray has 455 sky dives under his belt. The team practices from 4:00 in the afternoon after class until 6:00 on weekdays and 9:00 am to 7:00 pm on weekends.
Mack says he jumped after some on the team convinced him—and he’s scared of heights. “Pilots for some reason are all scared of heights.” Once he did a tandem jump he found he loved it and earned a jump license. Still, standing at the door just before a jump is a challenge—”I’ve 7000 hours in helicopters, but it doesn’t equate to moving to the door and you’re going to jump out of the darn thing.”
Training for Performance
A West Point sky diver first earns a skydiving A license which is a beginner course in how to sky dive. B, C, and up licenses require advanced courses. West Point cadets attend the army’s airborne jump school during the summer.
The basic airborne course helps to develop leadership, self-confidence, and an aggressive spirit through mental and physical conditioning. Instructors are nicknamed “black hats” for the black baseball caps they wear and usually answer to “Sergeant Airborne.”
The West Point Jump Team follows a plan of progression through their senior year. The most experienced jumpers perform at sports events throughout the region. “They will jump into home football games,” Mack said. The team jumped into Yankee Stadium last year and into Belmont Park when American Pharoah won the Triple Crown.
The team wears black jump suits with their name and insignia. The club follows rules of the United States Parachute Association (USPA). Equipment is provided by endowments and donations.
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