Frogmen Falling From the Sky
The Navy Parachute Team celebrates 40 years
You're plummeting through the air at 120 miles per hour. The Earth is rushing up faster than any person should be comfortable with. Yet, you're cool, calm and collected. For the Navy Parachute Team, this is just another day at the office.
In the beginning the team was made up of mostly parachute riggers, but toward the end of the Vietnam War the Navy SEALs returned home in search of more exciting things.
"They decided they wanted to jump with the Navy Parachute Team," said Jim Woods, the safety officer for the Leap Frogs. "Come 1974 the SEALs had pretty much taken over the parachute team. They called themselves the Leap Frogs."
Members of the Leap Frogs trust in their equipment and training to entertain crowds around the country in support of Navy public outreach.
"We're not going to jump into a YMCA camp full of thousands of kids unless we know exactly what the winds are doing, how our parachutes are packed, we've had our pre-brief, which lets us know exactly what our routines going to be and we go through all the contingency plans. That's the routine for every single jump," said Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Brad Woodard, the team chief assigned to the Navy Parachute Team the Leap Frogs.
Equipment changes and upgrades over time have allowed the team to expand their capabilities by enabling them to steer their parachutes to create different formations in the air and more accurately control where they are going to land.
"Back then the parachutes were a lot different than they are now," said Woods. "They were round, which pretty much said, if you jump out here, you will land there, because that's where the wind blows. Today we have square parachutes that we can maneuver easily."
Performing at airshows and jumping into sports stadiums provide the team the opportunity to get up close and interact with the general public on a large scale. As the parachutes break from their formations and come in to land, the crowd is ignited; their cheers can be heard from afar.
"When you jump out of a plane at 12,000 feet you free-fall for approximately 45 seconds before opening up your parachute," said Woodard. "It's very quiet until you hear that crowd at an opening day game of baseball, they are cheering for you, we know it's not for us; it is for the whole military, as well as the Navy."
Once the team is back on the ground, they have time to meet and interact with fans.
"One of the things I never get used to is the appreciation people show when you land," said Lt. Dan Gibson, the officer in charge of the Leap Frogs. "The jumping is all cool and it's a lot of fun, but really what means a lot is when you land and everyone wants to shake your hand, everyone wants to thank you for your service. I think that's a testament to the Navy as a whole. I think we see a lot of the appreciation probably more so than the rest of the military, and I think we get a lot of the accolade that really is deserving to those guys on the ships oversees spending time away from their families."
Jumping into stadiums allows the team to reach a greater audience, but the bread and butter for the Leap Frogs comes from landing at schools, which gives them the ability to connect with kids in a smaller and more personal environment.
"We do a lot of public outreach in conjunction with shows," said Gibson. "We go talk to kindergarten classes or at a high schools; we'll jump into a high school and spend some time talking to the high school kids about opportunities in the Navy. We also go to children's hospitals. It's just neat to kind of give back a little bit."
Having that interaction with the public is part of what has kept the team around for as long as they have. Through times of war, budget constraints and uncertainty about the future, the years continue to fly by for the Leap Frogs.
"That 40th anniversary is a milestone for many reasons," said Woods. "It's a milestone because the team has been 100 percent supported, 100 percent manned and 100 percent jumping for 40 years and I think something like that is just something that we can really hang our hat on and be proud of."