MIAMI, Fla. –
The U.S. Air Force Parachute Team, the Wings of Blue, kicked off the Orange Bowl and BCS National Championship games, January 1 and 7.
The team delivered team flags, the American flag and the game ball into Sun Life Stadium, surrounded by more than 75,000 screaming fans.
"Jumping into the stadium was overwhelming," said Cadet 1st Class Derek Travis, the Wings of Blue demonstration team commander for the fall semester. "I've jumped into more than a dozen air shows and those just don't compare; it's a great honor that I get to cap off my time as demo team commander with an event like this."
The Wings of Blue, which has demonstration and competition teams, is comprised of 75 Air Force Academy cadets and 36 staff members who are based out of the U.S Air Force Academy, Colo. Each year, the team collectively performs at more than 40 nationwide events to an estimated combined audience of 12 million.
Travis found himself with the Wings of Blue while looking for a team atmosphere after leaving the Academy's football team.
"I missed being a part of a team," said Travis. "I grew up playing little league and then taught and coached little league. I missed the camaraderie of being on a team. So when I learned about the Wings of Blue, I tried out and was lucky enough to make it."
In addition to performing, the team is responsible for the instruction and coaching of Airmanship 490, the basic parachutist course at the Academy. During the course, the Wings of Blue train new jumpers on everything from preparing and getting into the air and back down to the ground safely.
Each Airmanship 490 participant performs five solo jumps, consequently earning the Air Force's basic parachutist badge. The program is the only one in the country in which your first jump is an unassisted solo freefall sky dive.
The team also teaches and coaches the Wings of Green, the Wings of Blue's train up team.
Though Travis has had the opportunity to perform at multiple air shows and college football games across the country, his favorite part of being on the team is coaching and working with his classmates.
"The greatest thing is the reward of watching someone you've trained and coached face their fear and get out of the plane for the first time," he said. "They get on the ground and they're beaming because they've just done something they never thought they could do and you were a part of that."
Being the team commander isn't always easy though.
"The hardest part is deciding which jumper gets to perform at what event," he said. "The bowl game jumpers and ground crew were selected based on their skill level - we have the best of the best here."
"Sometimes folks get upset they didn't get chosen for certain trips, but it comes back to that team atmosphere. We trust each other, the jumpers trust that I'm making the right decisions for the team as a whole."
Ultimately, the confidence and leadership skills that cadets gain through the program are the most important, according to Travis.
"Throughout the program, you've learned to work as a team and trust each other, from day one you are quite literally putting your life into other people's hands," he said.
"The confidence and leadership skills you gain from are huge - it gives you the courage to do something like step out of a plane and that transfers to every other aspect of life."
Upon his graduation and commissioning from the Academy in May of this year, Travis, a Management major with a Portuguese minor, will head to Columbus AFB, Miss., for undergraduate pilot training.