The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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July 19, 2006

U.S. Army skydivers to drop in

Golden Knights to hit silk at local car show

Myths are blown away when one talks to Joel Rowley about sky-diving.

For those not yet initiated, that means strapping on a parachute and taking a flying leap from an airplane into the cool, crisp air and landing on a designated target, all for the sake of sport.

Some might shudder at such a prospect, but Rowley knows better.

And he should. Before retiring from the military as a staff sergeant after 21 years, Rowley was a member of the Army’s vaunted Golden Knights for seven years.

“I stopped logging at 4,000 jumps,” says Rowley, now the civilian media relations official for the Knights, based at airborne-skilled Fort Bragg, N.C.

“Statistically, it’s one of the safest sports. Football guys get hurt all the time. If you do what you’re supposed to do, all the safety checks, and land like you’re supposed to, it’s safe. Flying is dangerous. Jumping is safe. You can jump out and leave the plane to the pilot.”

Attendees at the Friends of Coal Auto Show at the YMCA Sports Complex will get treated to the Army’s jumping prowess Saturday evening when a small team lands on the field.

Normally, in such events, X marks the spot, as opposed to huge air shows where individual jumpers land in front of each designated section, he explained.

Even the ride promises to be different — the highly maneuverable Twin Otter, as opposed to the standard fare of Fokker F-27, a turboprop airliner designed by the Dutch aircraft maker, Fokker.

Back in 1959, 13 solders banded together as the Strategic Army Corps Sport Parachute Team, at a time the Communists dominated the sport. Within two years, after a sterling performance by that maiden squad, the Army officially recognized the team as the Golden Knights.

Ever since, the team has delighted audiences globally with its skills in precision aerial maneuvers, plummeting to earth at speeds hitting 120 miles an hour.

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