When I began my military career in November 1968, basic combat training was at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, or “home of the Airborne.” I volunteered for 11 Bravo Infantry, and I remember like it was yesterday that a formation was called and the entire battalion was double-timed down to a field they called “the Golden Knights’ backyard.” We were to be spectators for a team demonstration, and it was amazing. The red smoke, the black and gold canopies, and drill sergeants yelling and blowing their whistles, “Get your asses out there and sign up for jump school!” I pondered the thought, but didn’t put my name on the dotted line.
My mom wanted me to attend college. The promises I made to her when joining the Army were (1) I would not get a tattoo, and (2) I would not jump out of a plane. So, Fort Polk, Louisiana, was my next stop for infantry training, and then it was off to Vietnam. I served with the 101st Airborne Division, and did get a small taste of “jumping” from a Huey UH-1H there—jumping from eight feet above the ground with a full rucksack and slamming face-first into the elephant grass.
I returned home. I graduated from Drill Sergeant School and was a drill instructor at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. It was 1973 when I put in paperwork to attend jump school, and the request was denied, as they couldn’t release me from my current duty. And though I got out of the Army in 1975, it didn’t take me long to realize that I “couldn’t make it on the outside.” In 1978, I enlisted for Airborne School. Mom forgave me.
Skydiving then began to change my life. I quickly became a military jumpmaster in the 82nd Airborne Division, and loved that I was finally doing something that I had held back on for years. I met Bill Friddle, who said “Ben, go with me to Raeford to make a skydive.” He wanted to try out for the Army Parachute Team, and so he needed to make some jumps. After watching his jump that day in 1978, I signed up for the next class.
I progressed quite well—82nd Airborne during the week, skydiving at the parachute club during the weekends. And when it seemed that life was full speed ahead, I received a letter stating that I was going to be an Army recruiter. All wasn’t bad, as I was assigned to the Raleigh, North Carolina, District Recruiting Command. It was close to Fort Bragg, as well as Carolina Sky Sports, and now the hoorah was on. Jumping became an addiction. I even managed to slip down to Lonnie Willer’s Dismal Swamp Jumpers in Greenville and join some of his many demos. I was introduced to the Carolina Council Meet and became a member of a 4-way speed-star team called The 4 Nicators, out of Louisburg. I enjoyed competing so much, and even winning a few times.
In November 1984, the dream became a reality. I became a member of the United States Army Parachute Team—the Golden Knights. I was assigned to Gold Team, where I remained until my retirement in 1991. In six of those seven years, I was in a leadership position, as assistant team leader to Roger Jutras, and then team leader.
We performed demonstrations at airshows in all 50 states and overseas, jumping into sports stadiums and promoting the U.S. Army, which was my life and the most important mission of all. What a ride! And some of those Knights who jumped into that field in 1968—when I didn’t sign up for Airborne school—became my teammates.
Ben Currin | D-7951
Mount Airy, North Carolina