When Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay decided finally to confront his fear of heights, he went all out and called some of the nation's skydive specialists -- the U.S. Army's Golden Knights demonstration parachute team.
"I was positive about it and excited, but still pretty nervous as we were taking off and gaining altitude," Ramsay said. "You're sitting in this chair next to a giant window that rolls up like an accordion shutter. They roll it up at 13,500 feet. This huge blast of air rushes in and you go, 'Holy crap,' this is for real.'"
On Thursday, Ramsay completed a tandem skydive jump (he was harnessed to an instructor, Spc. Jon Ewald) with the famed Golden Knights over Homestead Air Reserve Base.
A friend who knew the Florida Keys sheriff had an aversion to heights and planes sent Ramsay a note suggesting he put his name on a list of civilian community leaders the team takes up once a year.
Ramsay did, and two weeks later, received an invitation.
"Honestly, no," Ramsay said when asked if he had always wanted to skydive. "I've always been afraid of heights and flying, but I told myself this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance and I'd always be kicking myself in the butt if I didn't do it. So, I decided to hit my fears head-on and who better to do it with than the Army Golden Knights?"
For 54 years, the Golden Knights have conducted demonstration jumps at air shows and fairs across the country, displaying the military's operational might and the skill of its soldiers. The demonstrations are a way for the military to give back to the community and recruit future soldiers, much like the Navy Blue Angels and the Air Force Thunderbirds demonstrate the precision, skill and excitement of their jet fighter squadrons.
The Golden Knights also test and evaluate new parachuting equipment and techniques. The team members are usually drawn from the Army's Airborne divisions for whom parachuting is required training.
"I'd do it again, but only with professionals like these folks," Ramsay said. "I watched them train and one after another they would jump and hit this little 4-by-4-foot 'X' right in front of their office. It was amazing."
The Golden Knights are not to be confused with the U.S. Special Operations Command Parachute Team, which is made up exclusively of Special Operations Forces. That team, not the Golden Knights, performed at the 2013 Southernmost Air Spectacular at Boca Chica Field, but the two teams are similar in mission.
Ramsay's leap drew some grins around the Monroe County Sheriff's Office headquarters, where Ramsay is not particularly known for his adventurous side -- a point not lost on the sheriff and one that may have factored into his decision.
"A few folks were shocked I did it," Ramsay said. "They know I'm not much of a big risk-taker and some people know I don't like to fly. I fly, but have never liked it. So I think it surprised some. That 120 mph free fall as the wind is blowing past you ... It is amazing."