JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Known for soaring above stadiums around the country, the U.S. Special Operations Command Para-Commandos head back to EverBank Field in Jacksonville this weekend to participate in the Jaguars halftime show
The men and women that make up the elite parachute demonstration team have been a fan favorite at previous Jags games. In fact, they perform at dozens of events every year, spreading the message of patriotism and sharing the mission and contributions of the more than 70,000 U.S. Military members across the globe.
In preparation for the return of the Para-Commandos to Jacksonville, Roar cheerleaders traveled south to the parachute demonstration team's training site in Zepherhills outside Tampa, and News4Jax went along.
"I actually put in my headphones and listened to the most calm, soothing music that I could find and tried to not think about it." said Roar cheerleader Claire Ross about the drive down to jump with the Para-Commandos.
First came a safety briefing for the cheerleaders, and then they were assigned an instructor to jump with.
Lt. Col. Ken Ates has been jumping out of planes since he was 20 years old. He now has made more than 3,400 jumps and is a member of the Para-Commandos. Ates said he just loves being in the sky.
"The rush of it," he said. "It's exciting because you are performing for a crowd. But so many of us have been doing this for a while that it's still a lot of fun, but it's not what people think, you know as like, it's really scary. It's still exciting."
Ates was paired with Ross for his second jump of the day.
"We are at about 6500 (feet), almost halfway there. How are you feeling?" Ross was asked in the plane.
"I feel like we are already really high up. I don't know if we need to go any higher," Ross answered.
But the plane did fly higher before Ates directed Ross to go ahead and leave the plane. GoPro cameras captured the pair's entire jump.
"I thought that I would be terrified and it's actually a very calming experience. Everyone around you is so calm so you really, or I didn't feel any fear until pretty much as I was being forced out of the plane," she said.
While the jumps with the Roar cheerleaders were just for fun, there is always training going on. There are very strict requirements to be a member of the Para-Commandos, which is comprised of U.S. Special Operations Command personnel headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
Most are combat veteran special operators from the U.S. Army Special Forces or Rangers, the U.S. Air Force’s Special Tactics Squadrons, U.S. Navy SEALs, or U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations Raiders.
"We rehearse it so many times that it is a drill we do. We know how to enter the stadium, where to turn, where to set for final, and where to land," said Ates. "It never gets old."
"They are going to be like our best friends coming down. It's so exciting," said Ross about looking forward to the Para-Commandos jumping into the Jags game Sunday.
You are going to want to look towards the sky at the start of Jaguars' halftime show. The Para-Commandos will open the show by jumping from a plane and racing towards EverBank at 120 mph before opening their iconic back and gold canopies and landing near the 50-yard line.
“We are thrilled to be part of this event and back in Jacksonville,” said team leader Keith Walter. “Our team is truly proud to represent Special Operations Command and be a part of the Jacksonville Jaguars' home game.”