HOMESTEAD, Fla. - The U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team is stationed in Fort Bragg, NC. But, for two months in the winter, they call Florida home, practicing the skills that make them commanders of the sky.
The elite group began in 1959 when a group of soldiers formed the "Strategic Army Corps Parachute Team." They brought home so many gold medals from competition that they earned the name, "Golden Knights."
Today the Golden Knights perform and compete all around the world, acting as ambassadors for the U.S. Army. Rather than just hearing about what soldiers do, people get to see it first hand.
WINK News anchor and reporter Haley Hinds traveled to the Golden Knights' winter training home in Homestead, FL where she got to live a day in their jumpsuit.
After a training course, Haley suited up, took her final steps on solid ground and got a pep talk from her tandem partner Sergeant First Class Jared Zell.
"She's a little bit nervous, I'm really nervous. I have one question. Where does this thing go?" joked SFC Zell.
Two and a half miles in the air, Haley and SFC Zell jumped and let gravity do the rest. Falling at 120-miles-per-hour the pair got a birds-eye view of the Florida Keys. At 5,000 feet, the chute was deployed and the landing, perfect.
They even let her try it a second time with SFC Noah Watts.
Every Golden Knight has a story. They've served our country in some of the most dangerous conditions and have gone through rigorous training. For some, it was a lifelong dream. "I saw the golden knights when I was a freshman in high school and decided this is what I wanted to be," Sergeant David Echeverry said.
But, the job comes with great risks. A year ago, SGT Echeverry and his teammate, SSGT Chris Clark became tangled together during a jump. With time running out, and the steering lines wrapped around SGT Echeverry's neck, Echeverry pulled the cutaway handle, trying to sacrifice himself in order to save his partner. But SSGT Clark refused to let go of the lines and holding on with all his might, he made sure they both landed safely.
The men were honored with Soldier's Medals, the highest Army award for valor outside of combat.
While the Golden Knights' fearless aerial performances leave crowds gazing up in awe, they also serve as an important reminder of all who've served selflessly.
"We are honored to represent the soldier that is down range right now, that is putting their life in danger for the freedom of the United States. Those that have even made the ultimate sacrifice," said Lieutenant Colonel Jose Enrique Melendez. "We are so proud to be able to call ourselves part of that organization."
The Golden Knights will be in Homestead until mid-March. After winter training wraps up, they'll begin another season of shows.
Click here to see their calendar.