Below is a story that Keith Paulsen, one of our readers, shared with us earlier today when we were in the middle of bitching about a double-dose of Mondays. Petty shit really, and this note from Keith certainly helped us put things in perspective. We do have a lot to be grateful – and damn, jumping out of planes is fun.
Dear friends and family,
As a skydiver for 26 years with almost 3600 jumps and an Army veteran, I’ve made a lot of special jumps. I’ve jumped into Armed Forces Day and Veterans Day parades and ceremonies. I’ve done tandems with World War II airborne vets. I’ve met and jumped with people from all over the world. This one tops them all.
Last week I was invited to jump with the Liberty Parachute Team to perform with them at the worlds largest airshow, EAA Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) auctioned off three tandem jumps to raise money for the Young Eagles. The first one went for $3300 and the second two for $17,000! Wow!
On Friday I was tapped to fly with the tandem to take video and still pictures. Some guy named Bob won the first bid but he gave the jump to a young marine. Sergeant Jonathan Blank lost both legs to an IED in Afghanistan. The left leg had almost half of the thigh and the right leg had nothing.
After learning this our first concern was how to fit him in the harness and do the jump safely. We spoke with Jonathan and he shared our concern. He had already planned to have his grandfather jump in his stead if he wasn’t able to. Jeff Bogart, his tandem instructor, said “Our first concern is your safety, the second is your dignity”.
Four tandem instructors and a very experienced rigger went to a private meeting room to fit and adjust the harness and make sure this was going to work and be safe. After an hour of fitting, adding straps and refitting we were all satisfied; still nervous but confident that it would work safely.
Sgt. Blank is the veteran of 48 military jumps and was easy to train and ready to jump in short order. We lifted him into the DC-3 and he shook off any help after that, hopped into the seat and put on the seat belt. We talked and joked on the way to altitude. At 5500′ the fist stick to jump was eight other members of the Liberty Parachute Team and six of the Misty Blues (an all female skydiving team). Each of the LPT members saluted Jonathan when they got to the door and then exited one at a time.
The last five of us started to prepare for our jump while we climbed to 10500′. Jim had the spotting duty and told us when to go. I climbed out the door with two cameras on my head, Bogie and Jonathan got into the door with Jim and Sam behind them. Ready, set, GO. The exit went well. Jonathan performed flawlessly and enjoyed the view of Lake Winnebago and the awesome display of aircraft on the ground below us. Jim docked on the tandem pair while Sam flew next to me. I got some great video and still shots while Jonathan smiled and gave us a thumbs up.
At pull time Bogie waved, Jonathan deployed their parachute and the rest of us tracked away and opened ours. The canopy ride was spectacular as we performed turns and spirals in front of 100,000 people. Jim flew with the American flag and circled around Jonathan and Bogie.We all landed smoothly on target in front of the crowd. We gathered our gear and climbed into the back of convertibles and pickups for the “clap lap”. The crowd cheered and many veterans stood and saluted Jonathan as we passed. Jonathan enjoyed the whole experience.
I would like to thank the Liberty Parachute Team and Jonathan for allowing me to be part of this. It was an honor and a privilege. His great attitude and spirit made it very special.
This amazing young man, this American soldier, this combat veteran, Sergeant Jonathan Blank, USMC, humbled me and reminded me what it means to be a veteran and an American.
— Keith Paulsen.
Check out the video and photos below – and thanks again Keith for sharing with us.