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Soldiers fly into stadium

Paul Spadafora | Monday, September 13, 2004

The opening ceremony of the first home football game was highlighted by members of the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team, who landed in Notre Dame Stadium with the American Flag at the start of the game Saturday.

The Golden Knights are the U.S. Army’s official parachute demonstration team. According to Sgt. Jeffrey Schaffer, a performer on the team, they serve a three-fold mission – to test parachute equipment and techniques, participate in parachuting competitions around the world and to promote the public relations and recruitment offices of the army.

Founded in 1959, the Golden Knights have been called “the best parachute team in the world” by many organizations, Schaffer said.

This year marks the Golden Knights second appearance at a Notre Dame game, but it hasn’t dulled their enjoyment of the event. Cries of “Let’s Go Irish!” were shared by the soldiers as they prepared for the jump, and Sgt. 1st class Michael Elliot, wearing the Notre Dame jersey later presented during the game, performed the arm motions for the Celtic Chant.

Excitement didn’t reduce their sense of caution. Private first class Sean Sweeney said the safety procedures made sure they could control as many factors that could interfere with the jump as possible.

“Stadiums are a very difficult place to jump into,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney said the preparations for the event included a dry run conducted with streamers designed to replicate a parachute in flight.

“The streamers help us compensate for wind in the jump,” Sweeney said. “They let us know when we need to get out.”

After reaching 4,100 feet and passing by Notre Dame Stadium twice, Schaffer announced it was time to jump, and the seven members flew out the plane doors.

The jump also served to honor the anniversary of September 11.

Sergeant 1st class Calvin Fredlake said they would assist in raising the flag, then lower it to half mast in honor of the anniversary. Fredlank said the anniversary was important, but it shouldn’t overshadow the events of the day.

“We respect and remember what happened on 9/11, but we also have a job to do,” he said.

Sweeney said he felt fortunate to be able to participate.

“It’s definitely an honor to represent the Army today, at such a big event.”

After the presentation of the flag, the team retired to the sidelines to watch the game. For some of the team, like Sweeney, the game was their first live Notre Dame football game.