Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Wounded warriors find thrills parachuting in Zephyrhills

ZEPHYRHILLS — As a U.S. Army helicopter mechanic, R.J. Anderson had been looking forward to attending Airborne School.

The three-week course for paratroopers at Fort Benning, Ga., would teach him to parachute from an airplane and land safely on his own.

But, before he was scheduled to go, Anderson was injured. A motorcycle crash paralyzed him from the chest down.

Jumping from an airplane seemed out of the question.

On Saturday, about a year and a half after his accident, that changed.

Anderson, of Chicago, was one of 14 wounded military members to tandem parachute jump at Skydive City in Zephyrhills as part of the Wounded Warrior Athletic Reconditioning Program of U.S. Special Operations Command Care Coalition at MacDill Air Force Base.

"It was awesome," Anderson, 31, said after landing. "I just always wanted to jump and it was everything I thought it would be."

The event marked the end of a week filled with sports training at MacDill for 54 wounded warriors from across the country attempting to qualify for a spot to represent SOCom at the Warrior Games in Colorado later this year.

Troops from all military branches injured while serving under SOCom participated in archery, shooting, cycling, track and field, volleyball and swimming. On Saturday, those not parachuting went to Busch Gardens or hunting.

Many who elected to jump Saturday had done so before their injuries, said Anthony Gonzalez, manager of the reconditioning program. "To be able to do it with the SOCom Para-Commando team, that's an amazing introduction back to recreational jumping," Gonzalez said. "And this probably won't be their last jump."

Those with injuries that restrict movement jumped in tandem with specially trained Skydive City crew members.

For 35-year-old Chuck Wesson, an Army Unmanned Aerial Vehicle operator who served for 15 years, the opportunity to jump again was exciting. He was paralyzed in a car accident in 2012. "The experience can't be put into words," Wesson, of Charlotte, N.C., said upon landing. "Just the act of getting up there and jumping out again, the feeling of the free fall, it was all amazing."

James Macrellis, an Army veteran from Chattanooga, Tenn., jumped with one of the Para-Commandos. It was his first time doing so since he suffered spinal and brain injuries from an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan a few years ago. "At first it was very nerve-wracking," Macrellis, 43, said. "But, I had a smile on my face the whole way down."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3401.

Wounded warriors find thrills parachuting in Zephyrhills 03/08/14 [Last modified: Saturday, March 8, 2014 8:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida education news: Prekindergarten, charter schools, online education and more

    Blogs

    EARLY EDUCATION: Florida's Voluntary Prekindergarten program continues to get high marks for access but low ratings for quality and funding in the National …

  2. Review: L.A. music scene in the '60s rocks again in 'Everybody Had an Ocean'

    Books

    I was 13 when I went to my first rock concert, a 1966 show by the Beach Boys at the long-gone Bayfront Arena in St. Petersburg. After the last song, one of my friends dashed up on the empty stage and nabbed the paper cup left behind by dreamboat drummer Dennis Wilson. We cut it up and shared the relic, swooning …

  3. Alison Barlow named director to spur creative economy, jobs of St. Pete Innovation District

    Economic Development

    After an extensive search, the recently created St. Pete Innovation District now has its first executive director. Alison Barlow on Thursday was named to the position in which she will help recruit and facilitate a designated downtown St. Petersburg area whose assets and members range from USF St. Petersburg, Johns …

    Alison Barlow has been named the first executive director of the recently created St. Pete Innovation District, a designated downtown St. Petersburg area whose assets and members range from USF St. Petersburg, Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital and Poynter Institute to SRI International and the USF College of Marine Science, among many other organizations. Barlow, who most recently served as manager of the Collaborative Labs at St. Petersburg College, starts her new job June 16.[Photo courtesy of LinkedIn]
  4. The winner of 'Survivor: Game Changers?' It has to be Jeff Probst

    Blogs

    But Tampa Bay fans are more interested in whether local lawyer and ex-Buccaneer Brad Culpepper came out on top. After winning five - count ‘em five - challenges Culpepper made probably the most serious error in taking Sarah Lacina. the 33-year-old police officer from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to the finals with him.