Paratroopers soar in to kick off the homecoming football game

Friday the 13th was a special day for NPHS students. Not only was it the homecoming game versus Ventura High School, but they also enjoyed a very unique surprise before the game: the US Army Golden Knights Aerial Demonstration Parachute Team dropped  onto the field and delivered the game ball to the school.

Shortly before the school year started, the local army recruiter informed Assistant Principal Michael Godfrey that the Golden Knights would be available the night of the homecoming game. 

“They had already scheduled to drop in at the UCLA game at halftime, and the Rams game on Sunday. They’re just beginning to do high schools on the Friday nights before,” Godfrey said. 

The Golden Knights are the only Department of Defense (DOD) sanctioned skydiving team in the army. Principal Steven Lepire felt the experience was unforgettable, especially with the aid of new age technology to document the moment. “It will be in the yearbook, it will be in everything. It will live in a memory of this school year, so it’s an exciting event,” Lepire said.

Godfrey commented on how perfectly the event worked that evening. “It was amazing to see a plan come together. All that work that went into organizing, and preparing, and working on the timing, all the logistics, came together, and how appreciative our crowd was,” Godfrey said.  

One notable moment from the demonstration was watching the students assist in the packing up of the parachutes and trying the parachute backpacks on. “It was a really immersive and interactive experience,” Godfrey said.

Performing the demonstration were Staff Sergeants Mike Koch and Blake Gaynor, along with four other jumpers. Jumping from planes had been a dream of Koch’s since his childhood, leading him to start skydiving as a hobby on the weekends and eventually to join the Golden Knights in 2009. 

The Golden Knights require a rigorous training process in order to join the team. “You go through an eight to ten week selection process, where you get about two hundred jumps. If you make it until then, you go to the annual circulation cycle, where you get about another 150 jumps,” Koch said.

 Gaynor has been a member of the army for 15 years where he serves as a logistics transportation operator, and has been skydiving as a Golden Knight for the last eight years.  

Although Gaynor, a Camarillo High School graduate, may not have initially intended to be a parachuter for the army, he is grateful that this is the path he took. 

“This is the best thing I’ve ever done,” Gaynor said. “There’s been some hard days, and there’s been some really good days, but overall, it put me into a really great career.”