SFC (Sgt. First Class) David Herwig Interview
(U.S. Army Parachute Team "The Golden Knights")

They are known as “The Army’s Goodwill Ambassadors To The World”.
They are The Golden Knights.
It’s the Army’s only official aerial demonstration unit.
The Team’s origin traces back to September 1959 when it was originally formed as the Strategic Army Corps Parachute Team.
On June 1st 1961, the Team was activated formally and re-designated as the U.S. Army Parachute Team and the following year earned the nickname, The Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights spend more than 230 days a year performing at air shows, state fairs, and civic events.
They have performed more than 8,100 “live” aerial demonstrations in all 50 states and in 47 foreign countries.
The Golden Knights have produced 129 national and 23 world champion parachutists. They have won an impressive 13 world team titles in free-fall formation parachuting, making them the most winning U.S. Department of Defense sports team.
We are honored to present an interview with Golden Knights member-----Sgt. First Class David Herwig.

Q – Sgt. Herwig, what did you have to put yourself through in order to get a place on the team?
A – Actually, it took me about 6 years to make it. Two try-outs. A lot of things going on in the Army. Other things I had commitments to, getting promoted, schools I had to attend in the Army, family life. Getting the opportunity to try out was tough, first of all. Came down on recruiting duty, so I had to go do that. When I came back from recruiting duty I said this is my opportunity. My window opened up-----the floodgates opened, c’mon in and take advantage of it. (Laughs). You have to have 150 skydives and you put in a written application, have a good military and civilian record, have recommendations from skydivers and also from military recommendations. And then, you come to try-outs. Try-outs are pretty demanding. Physically and mentally. Six weeks. It’s just like going back to Basic Training again.
Sometimes it can be even worse. Matter of fact we were just talking about that this morning. You’re up at 4:30, 5 in the morning doing detail work like cleaning the barracks, getting ready for physical training. Do that for an hour, come back and you’ve got about 20 minutes to shower, change into your jump uniform, get breakfast, load the bus with all your gear, and head on out to the hour long drive to the drop zone where you train. And during the whole time you can’t fall asleep. (Laughs). So, you’re sitting on this bus and of course you’ve been running for an hour. It’s only 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning and you’re practicing your narrations, practicing safety briefs, getting inspected of all your uniform and making sure everything looks good. You get to the drop zone and sometimes depending on what’s going on, without giving away all the inside stuff you do a lot of physical activity. You do a lot of push-ups, sit-ups, rolling around, Flutterkicks. We have an exercise we’re pretty famous for called the “Hit It” exercise. It’s when a cadre member throws a smoke grenade, everybody yells hit it! You get on the ground and you basically raise your back about six inches off the ground. Your hands are at your side. What it ends up doing is training you and getting your body in condition for the Diamond Track maneuver. The Diamond Track is a pretty demanding exercise where you jump out of the airplane, track across the sky at 180 miles an hour, turn, face each other, and track back. It’s one of our dramatic maneuvers that we do in the show. But, that exercise builds your stomach muscles up in order for you to get in that position and hold it for 2 minutes or a minute in free-fall. And then you’ll jump all day. You’ll start at about 8:30, 9 o’clock until about 3:30, 4 o’clock. Usually before you get done you run for another couple of miles and you get back on the bus and drive back to the barracks, which is another hour back, and of course you can’t fall asleep. Get back, unload the bus, eat chow, and then you got details ‘till about 10 or 11 o’clock at night, and it starts all over the next day. (Laughs)

Q – That is one demanding schedule.
A – Six days a week. Every minute is counted for. There’s no time where you just do nothing. It’s very demanding. The hardest part is getting to go to try-outs. Once you get to try-outs, it’s all mind and your body just being prepared for it. Going through physical training. Practicing your running, your working out. Pretty much all of us in the Army are in shape, it’s just that you want to get into a little better shape.

Q – According to The Golden Knights press kit, a soldier who wants to be a part of the Knights must have a “flawless military and civilian record”.
A – Yes.

Q – What type of offense would keep someone from qualifying? A shop-lifting arrest? A D.W.I? What constitutes a flawless civilian record?
A – Case by case scenario. If you have theft charges, first of all, if you have something that bad in the record, you’re not going to be in the Army. You have to pretty much have a clean record. You know some minor charges here and there.

Q – Shoplifting and D.W.I. would not be considered minor would they?
A – No. You can get in the Army with a D.U.I. (Driving Under The Influence), but, you have to have a special waiver and it takes a lot to get in. I used to be a recruiter so I know all that. It takes an act of Congress basically. It’s hard to get in with those types of offenses. Usually, you’re pretty squared away when you come in the Army.
As long as you haven’t had any bad offenses, Article 15’s.

Q – Do The Golden Knights perform all over the world or just the U.S?
A – Primarily the U.S. But, we have been to 46 different countries. In fact, we just came back from Guam. But, primarily in the U.S. every single weekend, a different state throughout the United States, and Alaska and Canada.

Q – The Golden Knights were named because of the number of gold medals they won. That explains the Golden part. Where did the Knights come in?
A – From the old, ancient military times.

Q – Would there be a person then who came up with the actual name?
A – We got our nickname in 1961, and adopted it. Somebody just came up with the title because of the golden winning tradition at the time. We were winning left and right. We took the knights from the West Point Academy. They’re called The Black Knights there; so, we basically adopted the Army’s mascot.

Q – Before 1959, had anyone ever talked about putting together a demonstration parachute team?
A – Before 1959, there was a bunch of guys who were in Special Operations-----jumpers. They were just talking about it and decided to form it, form the team. At first it was called the Strategic Air Command, the aerial demonstration team. And then they adopted the nickname The Army Parachute Team, and then The Golden Knights. But, they were doing this on their own, the 13 original members and eventually it became the team. General Stilwell pretty much put forth all the effort to get the team formed.

Q – Have women been Golden Knights?
A –Oh yes.

Q – In the years that The Golden Knights have been in existence, how many Golden Knights have there been?
A – Between 400-500 people. On an average, we’ll have 90 people on the team at any given time. Plus, we have people coming and going all the time.

Q – How long can you serve on the team?
A – The initial commitment is 3 years. After that, it’s on a case by case scenario. You can extend for another year, sometimes longer. I’ve been on the team 4 years, and I just extended for 2 more. So, I’ll have 6 years on the team. We have guys with 3 years on the team that leave. It’s pretty much everybody’s preference what they want to do. A lot of people don’t want to leave ‘cause it’s an awesome duty assignment. You can’t ask for anything better. Everybody here is here because they want to be here. They look forward to coming into work everyday. The team camaraderie is outstanding.

Q – Of course you were jumping out of planes before The Golden Knights…..
A – Yes.

Q – Were you frightened the first time you jumped out of a plane? Did you have any fear?
A – Yeah. It’s not natural. (Laughs). My first jump out of an airplane was in 1989, out of a C-130 at 1,250 feet in Ft. Benning, Georgia. I was very nervous, very scared. I was only 18 years old at the time. I’d only flown a couple times before that. But, once you go through all the training and the emotions, and you finally do it-----you’re thrilled! It’s hard to explain the feeling. It’s totally awesome, the rush that you get-----the wind, the opening shock, the sense of freedom in the air that you’re floating in the sky. My first skydive came in 1991, when I came back from the Gulf War. That was even better. It was at 13,000 feet. You free fall for a little over a minute. That feeling you cannot describe. Your first skydive is totally amazing. You could hit me upside with a baseball bat and I probably would’ve sat there and looked at you, with a big old smile on my face.

Q – After jumping out of a plane, you’re pretty much fearless aren’t you?
A – I wouldn’t say fearless, but, less afraid of things. Amusement park rides are kind of boring now. (Laughs). I went to an amusement park a few years ago and it was just like why am I even here? It was no Big Deal to me.

Q – Who makes the decisions as to what city you’ll perform in?
A – People will submit requests. They go straight to the Army Recruiting Command. Between us and the Recruiting Command we determine what shows would be beneficial for the Army.

Q – What happens to you after your time in The Golden Knights?
A – Well, I go back to doing my job in the Army which is a Mobile Subscriber Equipment Switching Systems Supervisor. I basically program telephone networks, computer and cellular networks for the Army. All our communications in the Army now are mobile and you can take it anywhere and talk to anybody in the world-----when it’s all hooked up and running.

Q – Isn’t that great?!
A – Oh, it’s awesome. We’re getting more to data now instead of voice. We’re doing a lot of teleconferencing. We’re just totally getting into the higher end more technical aspects of communications. In the old days you had the old radio and you’d key up the handset and let it warm-up a second and start talking. We still have some of them around but, now it’s mostly e-mail in and talking over the Internet.

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