Special Ops' Black Daggers descend swiftly, silently to kick off game
By GREG JORDAN | Bluefield Daily Telegraph, W.Va. | Published: August 27, 2016
BLUEFIELD, W.Va. (Tribune News Service) — A droning helicopter announced that visitors were about to drop in on Mitchell Stadium. Tailgaters and people preparing the field for Friday’s Beaver-Graham football game looked up and found the helicopter, tiny midst the clouds and sunny sky.
Three dots suddenly came out of the helicopter, they quickly became three people and they sprouted distinctive black and red parachutes. They descended swiftly and silently in a corkscrew course, flying with precision and touching down one by one on the football field. Three members of the Black Daggers, the U.S. Army’s Special Ops Parachute Demonstration Team, had arrived.
Based out of Fort Bragg, N.C., the Black Daggers were scheduled to drop into Mitchell Stadium Friday evening to help kick off the annual Beaver-Graham, or Graham-Beaver, depending on team loyalty, football game. Plans called from the team to bring in the American flag, the POW-MIA flag, and the game ball to the thousands of fans waiting for the kickoff.
The team performed two practice jumps before Friday’s game. They took off from the Mercer County Airport and were soon over the stadium. Doing the practice jumps allowed them to learn about the stadium, conditions for the jumps and any possible hazards. Other members of the Black Daggers were doing a risk assessment at the stadium before the jumpers arrived.
“That was fun,” SGC Aaron Figel said after he landed on the first practice jump. “It’s absolutely beautiful here. You guys live in some of the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen.”
SFC Chance Carico, who was designated to carry the game ball, calls Fort Chiswell,Va., home, came down as his wife, Chelsey, and son Garrett watched.
“It’s nice to be able to come homeward bound,” she said after her husband touched down. “We have some family here who don’t get to see him jump that often. I go out to the airfield to watch him every chance I get. I’m pretty proud of him, but I just say a little prayer every time he jumps.”
The Black Daggers’ day started with media appearances and preparations at the airport. A military helicopter wasn’t available, but local pilot Chandler Swope volunteered his services and his own helicopter for the parachute team. He removed his aircraft’s doors for the jumpers. He said it wasn’t the first time he has accommodated parachutists.
Practice jumps helped the Black Daggers familiarize themselves with terrain around Mitchell Stadium and the stadium itself. While waiting for the team to arrive at the airport, Swope used his cell phone to check current wind conditions and other factors with the National Weather Service. With the helicopter’s doors off, he would have to limit his air speed. He also had to keep in mind how the helicopter moved as the three Black Daggers jumped out. He expected the helicopter to wobble a little, but didn’t expect that to be a problem.
“You’re about a mile in the air and you’re not going to hit anything,” Swope remarked. “A little wobble is not a problem.”
Flying in a corkscrew pattern while descending allows the jumpers to select the best route to a safe landing, SFC Aaron Figel said.
“It allows us the safest possible landing that you can get,” he explained before the first practice jump.
Carico described the Black Daggers’ mission while Figel and SFC Andrew Mehall repacked their parachutes and prepared for the next practice run. Originally they planned to fly again from the Mercer County Airport, but for the second jump the team took off from the practice field above Mitchell Stadium.
“We’re looking forward to coming out tonight and jumping in front of these guys. Obviously, it means a lot to the people around here. There’s a lot of energy right now just leading up to this whole thing,” he said. “It’s like a homecoming almost friends and family will be coming up there.”
“We all work for the United States Army Special Operations Command. We’ve flown in over 70 countries worldwide,” Carico added. “This is kind of the way we get to interface with the public and boost morale and show them what our training leads up to and some of the things we are capable of. Obviously, the parachute has been used for many years as an infiltration platform, and it’s definitely something of great use to USASOC. And it’s a big honor to me. It’s like being able to give back, to interface and not only get to do my job, but to come out and show it, and have their support. It’s just a good experience all the way around.”
©2016 the Bluefield Daily Telegraph (Bluefield, W.Va.)
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