U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. –
The Wings of Blue returned to the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo. Sept. 22 after another successful trip to the U.S. Parachuting Association National Skydiving Championships, which began Sept. 11 in Chicago.
The team medaled in three events, no small feat for a team with far less experience in the sport of parachuting compared to their competitors.
According to Lt. Col. Sean McLay, 98th Flying Training Squadron commander, the teams that the Wings of Blue compete against typically have approximately 15,000 jumps between them. By contrast, cadet teams have approximately 2,500 jumps between them.
Team Air Force Shakedown, made up of 2nd Lt. Glenn Miltenburg and Cadets 1st Class Ryan Gray and Meredith Wilmer, earned a silver medal in Advanced Artistic Freefly. After seven rounds, the first place team, which included a world champion skydiver, edged out Shakedown by only one and a half points with a total of 45.7 versus Shakedown's 44.2.
This year's nationals also brought the opportunity and challenge for the cadets to compete in two first-time events for the Wings of Blue - Vertical Formation Skydiving, Advanced Category in which they earned a bronze medal; and 8-Way Formation, Advanced Category.
Team Air Force Conundrum, - which competed in the 4-Way Formation, Advanced Category - faced formidable obstacles leading up to the competition.
Due to injuries, Conundrum, which is made up of 2nd Lts. Dustin Weeks and John Skeele, and Cadets 1st Class Stormy Sagmoen, Jeremy Butler and Zeb Kimball, was forced to replace two team members in the weeks leading up to nationals.
One of the replacements, Kimball, has only 180 4-way jumps and the other replacement, Weeks, only started flying with the team a month ago. With only 60-70 training jumps together, they placed 7th with an average score that would have won the Intermediate category of 42 teams.
"It's a testament to Conundrum's character that they competed in the Advanced Category of the 4-Way Formation," said McLay. "Despite the setbacks before competition, they felt if they stayed in Intermediate that they'd lose credibility for only being out to win medals."
"They've performed very well in Intermediate in years past, and they would have performed well this year, too," he said. "But they made a tough call about what they felt was right - that type of character and leadership building is the real mission of our squadron, the parachuting is secondary."
The team also earned a bronze medal in 2-way Vertical Formation Skydiving, Advanced Category.
The Wings of Blue didn't just parachute in Chicago either. Three team members gave up a training day and volunteered to be keynote speakers at an outreach event in downtown Chicago, where they represented the U.S. Air Force Academy and the Air Force to nearly 400 people.