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Golden Knights Provide Survivors the Opportunity of Lifetime Jump with Elite Team Makes them Army Strong

 

On November 9, 2010, the Army Golden Knights based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina invited a group of survivors of officers killed in the line of duty to make a jump of a lifetime at Laurinburg-Maxton Airport in Maxton, NC.

The United States Army Parachute Team, nicknamed “The Golden Knights,” is the U.S. Army’s official aerial demonstration team. The Team travels around the United States, performing parachute demonstrations at air shows, major league football and baseball games, and special events, connecting the Army with the American people.

 


(L-R) Survivors Tracie Hewitt, Linda Coen-Cushman, and Dana Moody Shriver

 

The Team originated at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the airborne in 1959. At the time, the Russians dominated the relatively new sport of skydiving, and were unbeatable at the international competitions. Thirteen intrepid airborne Soldiers saw an opportunity to beat the Soviets at their own game…and began practicing to meet the world as the first U.S. military parachute team. Success came quickly, as the Team began bringing home gold medals and winning the hearts of the American public. The fledgling Team’s mission was to assist in the development of modern parachuting techniques, to provide world-class competition parachutists, and to perform live aerial demonstrations in support of Army public relations and recruiting. In 1961, the Team adopted their nickname, “The Golden Knights.”

Over the past 50 years, the Team has grown to more than 90 people, including jumpers, pilots, administrators, parachute technicians, and media relations and supply specialists. The demonstration teams perform more than 100 demonstrations a year with the help of the Team’s four dedicated aircraft. The Tandem section takes Soldiers and VIPs on tandem skydives, and the Competition section continues to win at several national and international competitions per year.

 


(L-R) Survivors Tracie Hewitt, Linda Coen-Cushman, and
Dana Moody Shriver share a hug

 

The Team represents the finest of Soldiers and personifies the Army Values, showing the world the professionalism, precision, and discipline of today’s modern Army.

Sergeant Major Stephen Young is one of these Soldiers and a team member. A twenty-six year veteran and a Green Beret, he has been with the Golden Knights for a year. He ensures that the team has the training and resources necessary to conduct their mission. A large part of that mission is to bring America’s Army closer to the American public and serve as goodwill ambassadors.

 


Survivor Tracie Hewitt and Buncombe County Deputy James Redmon

 

The opportunity for this goodwill presented itself to Young at an air show in Florence, South Carolina when he met survivor Dana Moody Shriver. Shriver lost her fiancé Joey Rodgers, a Florence County (SC) Sheriff’s deputy in 1997. Young and Shriver continued to correspond after the air show and the possibility of doing a survivor jump was discussed. Although apprehensive, Shriver agreed to do it herself if she could do it in honor of Rodgers. She also took the opportunity to reach out to other survivors.

Young discussed the idea with members on his team and they thought it was a great idea. There are many parallels between the military and law enforcement and their service missions. According to Young, “Law enforcement officers ensure that the home front is kept safe while we are away completing our mission and I was always appreciative of this.”

 


Survivor Dana Moody Shiver and SGM Stephen Young

 

Survivors who had the rare opportunity to jump with the Army Golden Knights were Tracie Hewitt (Widow of Jeff Hewitt - Buncombe County Sheriff’s Dept), Dana Moody Shriver (Fiancé’ of Deputy Joseph ‘Joey’ C. Rodgers - Florence Co. Sheriff’s Dept. South Carolina), and Linda Coen-Cushman (Sister of Deputy Sheriff Ronald L. Coen - Franklin County Sheriff’s Dept. Ohio). Sheriff Leon Lott (Richland County Sheriff’s Dept Columbia, South Carolina), Deputy James Redmon (Buncombe County Sheriff’s Dept), and Lt. D. Williams (Laurinburg NC Police Dept.) also jumped to demonstrate their support of the survivors. Each survivor and supporting Law Enforcement Officer was attached to a tandem team member and jumped from approximately 14,000 ft in the air.

 


SSG Joe Jones and Survivor Linda Coen-Cushman

 

The experience was extremely gratifying for Young and members of the Golden Knights. For them, the jump had a special feeling and truly captured a moment in time. Young said, “Each of them held their heads a little higher and with a lot more confidence. They all had a gleam in their eyes as they came down from that jump, knowing they had been a little closer to their loved ones and their continued presence.” He added, “It was a pleasure and honor to be just a small part of their experience.”

Linda Coen-Cushman lost her brother Ronald Coen in 1994. It has been 17 years since his death and she still cries for him every year on the anniversary of his death. For her the jump was a healing experience and one she will carry for a lifetime. She said, “This event was the best medicine. Once the door opened a peace came over me and it was like the jump was okay and I was okay.” She added, “I am so thankful for the experience. This is a story my kids will be telling their grandchildren one day….that is how much this meant.”

 


(L-R) Lt. D. Williams (Laurinburg PD), Survivor Linda Coen-Cushman and her children

 

Staff Sergeant Joe Jones was the partner of Coen-Cushman for the tandem jump. As the son of a 30 year police veteran he is intimately aware of the challenges that officers and families face every day. “It was an honor to be part of this very special day for the survivors and these brave officers”, he said. He later corresponded with Coen-Cushman who thanked him and commented on the emotional pain that she left on the airplane that day. According to Jones, “That put into perspective for me how much this event meant for Linda and the rest of the survivors.” He added, “It made me realize that what may be an everyday job to me can actually change the lives of others.

 


Survivor Dana Moody Shriver and Sheriff Leon Lott
(Richland County-SC Sheriff’s Department)

 

Tracie Hewitt, who lost her husband Sgt. Jeff Hewitt in 2004, was extremely touched by the experience. She said, “There is nothing I wouldn’t do to honor Jeff and the sacrifice he made. I and the other survivors were joined together by tragedy, but the Golden Knights allowed us to create a bond that will never be broken.” She added, “My life was torn apart by the loss of my husband, but the Golden Knights have given me a renewed spirit and strength. This is a memory that I will cherish forever. Thanks to them…I am Army Strong!”

 


SGM Stephen Young on left, SFC Mike Elliott and Survivor Dana Moody Shriver

 

For Shriver it was a bittersweet moment. She lost Rodgers right before their wedding. She was devastated to the point that it became a daily challenge to put one foot in front of the other. Now almost 14 years later, she found herself jumping out of an airplane to honor his memory. According to Shriver, “I was extremely hesitant to make this jump, due to the fear of the unknown. Since Joey’s death, I haven’t been much of a thrill seeker, but I knew that if I could make the jump, then others would see that no matter what tragedy you endure in life….you can pick yourself up and do anything.” She added, “The Golden Knights gave us the rare opportunity to face many fears that survivors come across daily, and overcome them. I am so thankful to the entire Golden Knights team for allowing me to make this ‘Jump for Joey’. It was the experience of a lifetime.”

 


SFC Mike Elliott and Survivor Tracie Hewitt
 

A special thanks to Dana Moody Shriver, Linda Coen-Cushman, Tracie Hewitt, Sgt. Major Stephen Young, and Staff Sergeant Joe Jones, for their contributions to this article

Information from the Army Golden Knights website was used in this article

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