MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – An airplane carrying members of the U.S. Special Operations Command Parachute Team soared through the clear night sky, 3,500 feet above the brightly-lit Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla., Oct. 18, 2014. More than 82,000 fans ready to see the Florida State Seminoles versus the Notre Dame Fighting Irish gradually became louder as three highly-skilled Para-Commandos clad in black and yellow flight suits silently exited their plane. Shortly after, the first commando came into the crowd’s view.
“At approximately 1,500 feet, I couldn’t hear the ground crew from the radio on my chest anymore because I was flying over the stadium and [the cheering] was so loud,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Kyle Margelofsky, the noncommissioned officer for the USSOCOM’s Parachute Team. “We had the American flag [flying with us], so they were obviously pumped up to see that coming in. At about 600 feet or so, I came into the stadium. I had the Florida state flag and once they saw that, they got loud again - lots of camera flashes.”
The 13-year Army veteran spent his first 10 years as an Army Ranger before joining the Para-Commandos. Margelofsky’s voice and mannerisms rarely show any sign of emotion or excitability, but his face began to register a smile – ever so slightly, “It was pretty intense to fly over [82,000] people, land on the 50-yard line, take the football out and present it to the referees. It’s definitely something I will never forget and I’m definitely thankful for the opportunity to represent the command, the operators and all the support personnel of SOCOM in that way.”
Margelofsky is one of only two full-time team members. The rest of the team is comprised of both DoD Civilian and active-duty military assigned to other jobs within USSOCOM who serve on the Para-Commandos as an additional duty.
“Jumping is just a way to get people’s attention and then we educate the public about SOCOM,” said Keith Walter, the Para-Commandos’ team leader. “Once we get their attention, we get on the microphone and tell them about the 68,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and DoD Civilians assigned to USSOCOM stationed around the nation, and deployed to 85 countries around the world defending their freedom. We also conduct one-on-one interaction, especially during other events such as air shows.”
Walter and Margelofsky agree that jumping is the easy part, but what people don’t see are the months of training and planning that go into each event; and the ground crew who have the vital role of ensuring the Commando’s land safely, on time, and on target.
“The drop zone safety officer is on the ground,” said Army Staff Sgt. Micah Hitchcock, primary Para-Commando drop-zone safety officer. “He’s responsible for the safety and mechanics of the jump from the ground. He’s on a radio, talking to the pilot as well as the jump team. He’s also in charge of keeping everybody off the field, ensuring wind conditions are correct as well as any other variables on the ground.”
“They’re jumping in usually blind,” adds Hitchcock. “They don’t know any of the wind conditions and they don’t know what’s going on, on the field when they’re up above 13,000 feet. That’s my job – to be on the ground coordinating with them and whoever our host is.”
Marine Sgt. Corey Mackenzie has been with the Para-Commandos for about three months and is serving as a ground crew member. Although his only prior experience was limited to recreational jumping, he joined the team once he learned that it was open to USSOCOM personnel who wish to volunteer.
“When I joined the team, the learning curve was near vertical,” said Mackenzie. “You have to catch on quick because it matters how you set up a drop-zone for these guys, making sure the wind-call is correct so they don’t end up coming in sprinting. They have to hit a target that’s pretty small and they rely on the ground crew to make correct wind calls, set up their gear correctly, and to ensure they have all the gear that they need. I basically assist whenever I can.”
One new experience for Mackenzie was accompanying the team during their monthly vertical wind-tunnel training, where they practice dive formations and other mid-air exercises.
“What stuck in my mind was watching the other experienced team members and just how easy it seemed for them – it kind of made me a little more comfortable,” said Mackenzie. “But when you get in [to the vertical wind-tunnel], it’s a little bit of a different story and it motivates you to try and get as good as they are. And plus, with them watching, you don’t want to mess up.”
“They’ve got a professionalism that I have not seen in any sort of joint command billet before,” said Mackenzie. “They really believe safety is paramount. I’ve watched some of the civilians jump [non-team members] and they almost seem like cowboys, but I feel completely comfortable [with the Para-Commandos] and I trust the team when it comes to safety and also professionalism.”
“We do other things [in addition to skydiving] as well,” Hitchcock said. “We went to a children’s hospital and signed pictures and talked to kids and just tried to get some smiles out of them for the one time that we were there. I think we make a great impact within this community around here.”
“Everyone does an awesome job volunteering their free time away from family and friends, supporting the command and educating the public on SOCOM,” said Walter. “Everyone else [besides Margelofsky] has a regular job within the command, but they’ve volunteered to train and perform demonstrations for the Headquarters.”
“It’s a pretty busy train to be on, yet very rewarding as well,” said Margelofsky.
“We would like people to know who we represent,” he added. “We’re just the face of [the men and women] assigned to SOCOM. We have the distinct honor and the ability to represent them by showcasing one of the insertion techniques that someone who is operational within SOCOM learns to execute.”
More details on the team and a schedule of upcoming jumps can be found on the USSOCOM website www.socom.mil.