RED SPRINGS — U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Reis has executed what seems like a countless number of jumps out of an aircraft, but the Tacoma, Wash., native hasn’t lost count.
“Me, I have 607,” he said of the number of jumps he has executed. “I’m keeping track of mine. I want to get to that 1,000 plateau.”
For jump No. 608, Reis, 33, and the black demonstration team of the U.S. Army Golden Knights took the 15-minute flight from Pope Army Airfield at Fort Bragg to the air 5,000 feet above Red Springs High School on Oct. 27. The six-member squad jumped from the open doors near the tail of a black, white and gold detailed Fokker C-31A aircraft made specially for the world-famous parachute team, were in free-fall for about 3,000 feet before pulling the cord on their parachutes to float gracefully from the twilight sky to the field and awe the crowd before the football game.
Despite all the experience under his and the five other jumpers’ belts, the jump into Red Springs was unique, like every jump is, no matter if it’s jump No. 1 or 608 or 1,000.
“It’s a different jump. We are going to do stuff that’s similar to jumps we’ve done before, but it’s a new location, a new drop zone, it’s a different crew we are flying with today. There is always something a little different about every jump,” Reis said. “Even if you do it once or hundreds or thousands of times it’s something new every jump.”
The same like-new feeling returns each time Reis, who is in his first year with the Golden Knights and 12th year overall in the Army, goes hurtling toward the Earth before deploying his parachute. It is hard for him to describe the sensation of freefalling, even though he has been skydiving and parachuting for nine-plus years.
“It’s like sticking your head out the window driving down the freeway at about 120 mph,” Reis said. “The common misconception is that you get the drop in your stomach like you do on a roller coaster. What causes that is you coming back up and have the G-forces coming down. Here on the airplane you are just coming down so you don’t feel that. It’s freeing, it’s exhilarating, it’s an indescribable feeling that is different for everybody.”
While the jump was different, the preparation was the same as before every jump. This time it took place in the hours before the skydiving demonstration that mesmerized the crowd as the six figures fell out of the sky over Red Springs with red smoke trailing behind them.
Two hours before the jump the team goes through a safety briefing to cover who is jumping in what position in the “stackout,” where they stagger their jumps out the opposite doors on the plane, and other basic safety measures. Then the equipment and gear on the plane is checked before the team has its dirt dive, which is the final runthrough on the jump’s safety and execution aspects.
The plane left the ground at Pope Army Airfield 45 minutes before the jump over Red Springs.
“We take care of that and rehearse what each guy is doing on each jump so that way we can anticipate each other’s movement,” Reis said. “We want to provide a show for the American public that doesn’t endanger them or ourselves. After that we will do our, I guess what you would call, our superstitious thing. It’s our little chant before we hop in.”
The “superstitious thing” looks more like a six-man basketball team huddled up pregame saying the same words in harmony before breaking the huddle to do the final preparations before takeoff. Just like any good basketball team, the Golden Knights are a well-tuned machine getting themselves ready for the seriousness that comes with a jump, while staying loose at the same time.
Red Springs High School seems out of place on a Golden Knights schedule that includes jumps at NFL and college football games. But regardless of the venue, big or small, the objective and the focus on the details remain the same.
“We do have high-profile jumps. We jumped into Ohio State this year when they played (Army) West Point. We jumped into the Washington Nationals game on the Fourth of July. We’re going to do a Baltimore Ravens game later in November,” Reis said. “There’s not necessarily a higher or lower priority, it’s just first-come-first-serve, really. Who requests us and if our schedule meets up.”
Red Springs was able to have schedules line up because of efforts started when Lawrence Ches was hired as head coach. Red Springs High School social worker Milena Gonzalez helped make the connection between the Golden Knights and the school to set up the demonstration.
“The Golden Knights are the best and I appreciate the show they put on. The morale for the kids and community was second to none,” Ches said. “I appreciate the fact they were able to share that with the community.”
The Golden Knights stayed for a few hours after the jump to speak with people in the community about themselves and the Army.
The Golden Knights weren’t too far away from their training ground at the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport, where they spend time Monday through Friday practicing jumps and maneuvers displayed for the public.
While there are physical things to check before going up and jumping out of an aircraft, there are several things that run through the Reis’ mind before each jump, this time 11 miles as the crow flies from where he practices near Maxton.
“I’m making sure that I’ve got everything ready. On this one, we are jumping in a football, we are jumping in a baton, we also have smoke on our feet so the American public can see us in the air. I’m just making sure that everything is safe and everything is in line,” Reis said. “It is fun to skydive, this is my job. However, I do have a job to do. I want to make sure that I give the people on the ground that requested us to come out a good show and I want to make sure that my teammates are also proud of me.”
After going through the preparation in his mind, Reis then stands on the edge of the door at the rear of the plane, eyes the target, lets out an audible “standby” and jumps out. Seconds later he is seen with a red smoke trail following him toward the illuminated football field that stands in contrast of the approaching darkness on Red Springs.
One of the members of the U.S. Army Golden Knights looks down below at the target of the jump, Red Springs High School.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Reis salutes as he jumps out of the plane before parachuting onto the Red Springs High School football field before its game against West Columbus on Friday night. Reis and five other members of the Golden Knights’ black demonstration team executed the jump pregame.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.