FORT BLISS, Texas – A trail of red smoke falls from the sky, suddenly a black and yellow parachute deploys as a crowd of nearly 40,000 begins to cheer. The parachutist is a member of the U.S. Army Parachute Team, Golden Knights. The cheers grow louder as the knight lands right on target.
Nearly 100,000 attendees got to witness civilian and military aircraft displays during the 31st annual Amigo Airsho “Thunder in the Desert Sky” on Biggs Army Airfield, Texas, Oct. 20 and 21. But one of the highlights of the Amigo Airsho was a performance by the Golden Knights.
The knights date back to 1959 when the Army put together a 13-person team to compete in the sport of skydiving. Since then they have been performing throughout the country as a recruiting tool.
The Golden Knights perform several types of shows ranging from the parachutists exiting the aircraft and landing in stadiums, to more complicated 20 or 30-minute aerial displays. Some often glide down to earth with smoke canisters used for additional crowd effect.
“I saw the Golden Knights for the first time when I was a freshman in high school,” said Sgt. David Echeverry, a demonstrator parachutist for the knights. “I looked at my parents and I said that’s what I want to be when I grow up.”
Echeverry, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., joined the Army as an infantryman more than eight years ago and has been with the Golden Knights for more than two years after applying for the rigorous assessment and selection program.
The knights are a tight-knit group of Soldiers. Working together, they have grown to trust one another, said Sgt. Jonathan Lopez, an infantryman, and demonstration parachutist assigned to Golden Knights. He has been jumping with the Golden Knights for over a year and said he enjoys traveling from show to show and visiting different cities around the country as a demonstration parachutist.
The Iraq War veteran said some members of the audience may not realize how physically demanding the job is.
“You use your arms, legs and shoulders to control the flight,” said Lopez, a Dorado, Puerto Rico, native. “You have to be physically fit.”
Once in the air, the Golden Knights performed various tricks to the delight of thousands of fans on the ground. During their descent, they communicated using hand signals as they maneuvered above the El Paso sky. The knight’s designated target was an orange X located on the center of the airstrip at Biggs Army Airfield. One trick involved one of the knights pretending his parachute failed and had to rely on his back-up parachute.
The crowd cheered loudly as each one of the knights landed right on target.
“I don’t get nervous, but with every jump comes new challenges, so every jump is different,” Echeverry said once safely on the ground.
Upon completion of their final performance at the Amigo Airsho, the Golden Knights performed the traditional ground line-up, in which each Soldier is introduced to the applause of the audience. After saluting the audience, they give each other high-fives, having completed another successful and entertaining performance.