By U.S. Navy SEAL + SWCC Scout Team
Posted February 20, 2019
Music open intro...
Intro: The United States Navy Parachute Team, or “The Leap Frogs,” is the official parachute demonstration team for the US Navy. As a part of Naval Special Warfare Center, the team brings together active-duty Navy SEALs, SWCC, and support personnel. They demonstrate professional excellence by performing precision aerial maneuvers throughout the US. I’m Daniel Fletcher, today, we chat with Luke Vesci, a member of the Leap Frogs, who shares with us not only his personal perspective on parachute mastery, but also insights from his 13-year career with NSW. Let’s get started.
DF: Thank you so much for starters for sitting down with us. I appreciate you taking the time.
LV: Absolutely, thanks for having us, yeah.
DF: If you just want to briefly just identify a little bit of your career and your history with the Navy, we can start with that.
LV: Okay. I’ve been in the Navy for 13 years and I came actually out of high school in San Diego. I joined the military, so it was very natural for me to join the Navy. I remember seeing all the helicopters flying by, and I’d actually come down and check out the training on the Strand when I was a kid cause I was really interested in that kind of thing (DF: Cool). Also grew up going to Miramar Air Show, and I remember seeing the jump teams at the air show and seeing the boats and, you know, the SEAL booth and the SWCC booth. I just remember thinking at a very early age that this was, this was exactly what I wanted to do. So, I joined the military back in 2005, and I decided at that time that I wanted to become a Navy SWCC, so what I did is I got a contract and joined the military, went to boot camp, did all the screening that was at Great Lakes at the time and went to SWCC school back in 2006 and graduated SWCC class 5-4, which happened to be the first class that we were actually awarded the SWCC designator, so SB. That was the first year SBs and SOs, SEALs, got their own designator, so that was, that was very privileged to graduate as a full blown SWCC at that time. From there, I checked into my first command, which was Special Boat Team 20, and that’s in Little Creek, Virginia. I did three good years there, deployed twice. One of the deployments was an around the world tour (DF: Wow), so we went to the Middle East, we went all over the Philippines, Indonesia, so we did what we call the world tour, and it was a really great experience, especially for a first deployment. From there, I deployed again to Iraq, and I augmented one of the SEAL teams at that time, and basically what we were doing is doing a lot of over the land mobility with Humvees and then also doing some stuff on the water using some boats that we had basically built from the bottom up as a combat craft, so that was a really interesting deployment.
LV: From there, I went to, screened and selected for Naval Special Warfare Development Group, and I spent five years there. Had a great time there, did three full deployments out of Development Group. And then at that point, I’d been in the Navy for about nine years, and I wanted to kind of do something a little bit different. So, at that time, I requested to become an instructor over here on the West Coast. Like I said before, I was from San Diego, so I wanted to come back, and that’s what I did. So, I came back, I went to Advanced Training Command, and I taught what we call ‘air operations’. So, I was teaching Static Line Jump Masters school. I was also running the Navy Parachute Course, which is the free fall and static line, and then at the same time, we were doing the HRST-Cast Master Course, which is the helicopter rope suspension techniques. So, if you guys have ever seen the, you know, repelling out of a helicopter or the fast roping, so I was, you know, involved with a lot of that stuff. At that point, I got a phone call. I was up for orders to, you know, do something different, and I got a phone call from my detailer. And he said, “Hey, would you be interested in going to the Navy Parachute Team? There’s a billet open,” and I said, “Absolutely.” So, after that, it’s just been hitting it hard and jumping a lot, having a lot of fun with the Navy Parachute Team.
DF: That’s really cool that you’ve kind of gone full circle like that. It’s like, as a kid, you were exposed to it. I kind of expected to hear you say that’s kind of what’s like you had your eyes focused on that goal the whole time, but it’s just kind of, it ended up happening, but it didn’t seem like you’re knocking down the door like, “Now can I do it? Now can I do it,” no, just kind of naturally happened.
LV: It did, yeah, (DF: That’s pretty cool) and my parents were not happy that I ditched college to join the military (DF: Yeah, well), but it worked out cause I got my degree a couple years ago, so, yeah.
DF: Nice! So, what parts of your early training I guess and your continued training in the Navy prepared you to safely perform such dangerous maneuvers? I know that’s a big question, but maybe if you could touch on tying that back cause obviously some things are different.
LV: What we do, it is perceived as being fairly dangerous, and it definitely can go wrong very quickly if you are not confident, and if you’re not trained well, so that’s the only way I can say it. A long time ago, someone told me, they said, “There’s a big difference between being dangerous and being unsafe.” So, in Naval Special Warfare, I mean almost everything we do is dangerous, but, you know, we have the training, we have the risk management that makes it not unsafe. So, there is a difference there. What I would say was growing up, I was very active in sports. I was what you would, might call an adrenaline junkie (DF: Yeah), so I kind of always had some knack for being in dangerous situations and handling myself in fear of danger or injury, and then basically, when I joined the military, the military kind of shows you how to take a wrap off, fall back on your training in order to be, dangerous but not unsafe. So, with our job and the Leap Frogs, you know, yesterday we knocked out seven jumps in one day, and we were doing these very complex formations, but, you know, it all starts with the first day of training when we check on the jump team, and we just start from the very, very basics, and then we build from there. So, you know, in case anything does go squirrelly, fall back to what you know, take a wrap off, let’s figure it out and then try it again.
DF: When you say take a wrap off, what do you mean by that?
LV: Taking a wrap off, what we call is a tactical pause. So, in the worst of situations, there’s always a time for a second just to hesitate and just think, let’s take a look at what’s going on, reassess and then hit it again, you know. You’ve probably heard that hesitation kills. That’s also very true, but also reacting too fast in a situation can also, you know, get you hurt or killed, so we call it the tactical pause. So, hey if things are going, very fast, moving quick, maybe things are kind of falling apart, take a quick second to look around, you know, check out your surroundings and then act on that new observation.
DF: You said something about confidence. Was that developed through the extensive amount of training that not only you received but then gained, or talk a little bit about that piece of it?
LV: Definitely, so I think confidence is, it’s something that almost defines a very well trained warrior, or for that matter, a very well trained sailor or a Leap Frog. When you go through the paces of training, and you go through those building blocks, and you prove to yourself, and you prove to your team that you can, do these types of things, inherently confidence just comes. You don’t just walk on the jump team and just have confidence on day one. You know, it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of practice, and then, like I said, once you’ve kind of proven to yourself and then you prove it to your team, naturally you kind of have that confidence to know, “Hey, I’m doing the right thing,” or, “I’m doing the wrong thing. I need to adjust, and correct,”.
DF: Obviously, there’s a tremendous amount of planning that goes into what you guys do whenever you’re doing a jump for the public. (LV: Right) We’ve talked with people in the past about the importance of visualization. Can you walk us through the self-talk and visualizations that you perform when you’re preparing for a jump.
LV: That is huge. I mean visualization comes into play really throughout anyone’s whole career, and I don’t think that you can be successful unless you actually visualize what success is. So, for us, before any jump, we rehearse multiple times. So, what we’ll do is without the gear on, we’ll just go and say, “Hey, this is what we’re going to do. Let’s walk through it, let’s talk through it, what are some considerations that might come up on this particular jump venue,” whether it’s, “Hey, the winds are looking high. The clouds are looking low. You know, maybe there’s, the crowd line has been pushed in on our drop zone,” or something like that. So once we discuss, all these types of things, we talk about what exactly do we want to accomplish here and what does that look like. Once we identify what that ideal jump might look like, then we get all the gear on, maybe we even go out to the plane before, and we actually talk through exiting the plane, where’s everyone going to be, what altitudes are we going to open up at. You know, where’s the wind coming from, how are we going to approach the landing? So, there is a ton of visualization that comes into play, and honestly, I wouldn’t ever recommend, you know, jumping out of an airplane without at least going through a couple talk throughs and walk throughs. I think those are huge.
DF: Is there a time in that I guess pre-jump phase where you feel that self-talk is the most intense? Like I jumped out of an airplane once, and I did an accelerated free fall class, I had to do a lot more myself (LV: Of course) than just being along for a ride, (LV: Right) and I felt like on the ride up to, to where we were going to jump, you know, in the plane, the worldview kind of narrowed down to like, “It’s go time.” (LV: Right) I don’t know if that’s the same for you, (LV: It is, yeah) or when is that? So, maybe you could kind of walk us through whenever that kind of starts to ramp up where everyone kind of is quiet, whenever you start to focus.
LV: For sure. No, that’s a huge, that’s a huge consideration, and we like to liven up the environment sometimes with some laughter and joking around (DF: Right) because it does just get quiet and especially (DF: Intense) before a really high pressure jump, whether it’s 25,000 people in the stadium, or whether the winds are just below the limit. You’ll definitely see the internal, you know, turmoil and the, a little bit of that fear going on. So, what I would recommend, and this is just what I do, but I like to do the rehearsals on the ground and then, again, once I’m in the aircraft, and then I shut it off. I feel that going through it over and over and over and over again, it tends to work me up more than maybe some other guy or girl doing the same thing. So, I like to make sure I’m getting in my correct number of rehearsals, and then I shut it off, and I relax, and then when it’s go time, you know, you just have to kind of have that confidence that, “Hey, I’ve rehearsed it, I know exactly what I’m doing, and we’re going to nail this thing.”
DF: Yeah, that says a lot about the preparation because that was where I kind of thought things are not as well planned as they, as you’d like them to be, (LV: Right) like I, you need to make a quick last minute change, but it sounds like you prepare to the point where you’re able to rely on muscle memory, (LV: Sure) and you, it becomes more automatic.
LV: And then one, one consideration, too, is things are changing on the ground all the time. So, we’ll be two minutes out from a jump run, and they’ll say, “Hey, the timeline’s been shifted,” or, “It’s been moved up,” and so, you’re constantly reengaging with their guys, “Hey, this is, you know, we have to make this work.” Maybe the landing direction shifts, so now our whole plan that we planned for has now been completely reversed 180, you know, so we have to basically get everyone on the same page, chat it out, “What’s the new plan?” you know, do that mental rehearsal real quick and then, “Okay, it’s go time.”
DF: What part of the jump requires the most intense communication?
LV: I would say our formations that we do under canopy are fairly complex. If someone opens up their parachute the wrong altitude, or they approach the formation at the wrong angle, or they’re in the wrong spot, that can just throw everything off. So, it’s, I would say it’s more important that everyone knows what everyone else is doing and where they fit into that piece, cause like I said, one, you know, mistake there could either be dangerous, or we just don’t want to accomplish the mission, meaning we don’t nail that formation, or, you know, we’re not coming in at the right order and landing at the right place.
DF: I watched a few of your guys’ videos, and, yeah, I was really shocked at the level of really hands on, like, you’re not necessarily on a radio talking to somebody. You’re holding onto them like right next to you, and you’re shouting. You’re within earshot of each other. (LV: We are, yeah) You’re right next to each other, so explain a little bit for people listening what you mean when you say formations under canopy or however you phrased it.
LV: Absolutely. And once you see it, it’ll make total sense, so I recommend anyone who is listening to this, go on YouTube, check out the Leap Frogs, go on Facebook, check out our Facebook page at Navy Parachute Team because we have some fantastic videos up there, but what we pride ourselves on with the Navy Parachute Team, Leap Frogs, is that we are masters of CREW. CREW stands for Canopy Relative Work. Um, so what we’ll do is we’ll exit the aircraft anywhere from 2,500 feet above the ground, all the way up to 12 or 13,000 feet above the ground, and our flagship routine is that we can take multiple people after they deploy their canopies, and we can actually work those canopies right into each other, and we can do a variety of formations. So, if you could imagine canopies bumping, guys grabbing, you know, each other’s lines, hooking feet together, you know, building a diamond formation, and then a, you know, really technical and the really fun one is called the Down Plane, where two guys actually bring their canopies together. They link up, they link their legs, and then they flip those canopies towards the earth, and they’re flying at the earth about 70 miles an hour, which we call the Down Plane. So, it’s really exciting to watch, and it’s a ton of fun to do, especially when we bring that Down Plane into a stadium. I mean it’s a real crowd pleaser.
DF: Those are the times of a jump or those are the parts of the jump you say that require the most intense communication?
LV: Definitely, right, yeah, you can’t perform these maneuvers without talking to each other. In those videos that you’ll watch, you’ll see the entire time, we’re calling out altitudes, you know, we’re calling out ground winds. We’re saying, “Hey, this is the landing direction,” and then once the maneuver happens, you know, “Give me your arm, give me your leg, cross your legs, tighten up the grips, going into flares, we’re turning left, turning right,” so there’s a ton of communication, but like I talked about before, that rehearsal, that practice, it kind of makes that whole transition really smooth and second nature.
DF: Right, right, (LV: Yeah) to the point where, it’s almost like you’re going through a checklist. [LV: for sure] Yeah, I think that’s a kind of important thing. I think people don’t realize the sheer volume of training that goes into what it takes to be in NSW or, yeah, your level, where you’re doing stuff that’s maybe even above and beyond the types of technical things that you’re doing when you’re deployed. Maybe you could talk for a little bit about the differences between jumping into a football stadium for let’s say the Army/Navy game versus when you’re on deployment with the Development Group. How do those kind of situations contrast each other?
LV: I would say they’re as similar as they are different. They’re different because when we’re parachuting into a certain area, you know, there’s no really inherent threat except the environmentals and ourselves if we mess up. When you’re operating in a combat zone or something like that, the inherent threat is now all that plus, you know, the enemy and considerations with the enemy and things, and there is a lot more complexity that goes into a real world operation. However, you know, the similarities I would say being that the training is huge. You know, it’s critical. You don’t leave the wire without, you know, knowing exactly what you’re going to do and knowing exactly how you’re going to do it. We don’t leave the airplane without knowing exactly what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it.
DF: What about the gear that you use. I can only imagine that you’re using more of a like I would say sporting canopy, I don’t know if that’s the right word, versus what you use whenever you’re deployed. Is the gear, are there any similarities in the gear that you guys use?
LV: I would say, so what we use on the parachute team is called non-tactical equipment, so it’s not going to be using combat, you know, we have bright colors, and the canopies we use are specifically designed for what I was referring to as CREW. (DF: Okay) They’re not super high performance, they’re not real aerodynamic. They’re built for what we do. The parachutes that you’re going to use, you know, in a real world situation are going to be totally different. They’re going to be bigger, they’re going to be able to handle more of a load as far as carrying combat equipment things. So, granted, I would say canopy, is, you know, flying a canopy is flying a canopy, just like flying an airplane is flying an airplane. There’s just going to be some differences on how you fly that and some of the considerations with, you know, your landing and things, but, um, yeah, what we do is non-tactical. Obviously, we’re never going to go into a Down Plane into a combat zone. (DF: Right, right, right) We are a demonstration team, whereas in a combat role, you’re trying to get in undetected and, be as quiet as possible.
DF: Talk a little bit about some of your favorite events to jump at. I mentioned the Army/Navy game earlier because I was exposed to those as a kid, (LV: Oh, right on) so I’ve seen your group, obviously not you, but I’ve seen, you know, you guys show up at a football game and in the middle of the summer or wherever it is. Are there events that stand out to you as really special that you really look forward to, and maybe you can kind of just describe some of those situations?
LV: That’s an exciting question because, you know, honestly, I’ve only been on the team for six months, but we’ve probably jumped into I would say maybe two or three dozen venues by now. (DF: Wow) So, for me, the first one that stands out is we jumped into the Petco Park Padres’ game earlier this year, the home opener, also the military opener, and, you know, just seeing that skyline from my hometown, you know, I’m from San Diego, so seeing that view and then coming into a baseball game, you know, Padres and then knowing that, you know, friends and family are there, very, very exciting, very thrilling jump. So, for me, that one was very near and dear to my heart. It is a challenging venue to jump into, but we have had more challenging venues.
So, as far as challenge goes, recently, we jumped into the Reno Rodeo, which is in Reno, Nevada. Spectacular event, we had an amazing time. The landing zone was very technical. We had some interesting winds, and we also were at about 5,000 feet up there. So, all those types of factors really play into effect when you’re talking about how to land and how to land safely. So, that one, when you want to talk about a little bit of the jitters going into it, that one was definitely turned up, but I’ll tell you, when we landed, there was a lot of sense of pride in that we landed into the Reno Rodeo safely in front of all those people, and, you know, brought in the American flag as well. So, it was just a very special event. It was a very, I feel like we got a ton of outreach on that event, and no one really knew how technical it was except for us. So, behind the scenes, we were definitely high fiving and smiling and laughing, but that one stands out as a, probably one of the more difficult ones I’ve done.
DF: You said something about the altitude just real briefly, and I think you said it was 5,000 feet you guys jumped at. Is that low for you guys to be jumping at? Do you, from my understanding, I mean, like I’ve said, I’ve only jumped one time. I mean, we were so high, you know, cause obviously, they can’t have me like jumping out right next to the ground (LV: Right) not knowing what the hell I’m doing. So, talk a little bit about how the altitude kind of changed that for you.
LV: Definitely. I was referring to the altitude of the Reno Rodeo (DF: oh okay, I gotcha), so being that it was at 5,000 feet, it really, it takes away from some of your canopy performance, so that’s what I was saying when it was another consideration. (DF: Gotcha) But all of our jumps, we can jump from 2,500 feet above the ground all the way up to like I said 12 or 13,000 feet. So, when we get out at 2,500 feet, we’re saying that is the lowest we can go. So, what happens is, you know, for instance, at the Naval Academy, we had a cloud layer at 3,000 feet, so we had to technically be 500 feet below those clouds in order to jump, and I mean we were right at 2,500 feet. When we exited, you have to make sure that you’re getting that formation together super fast because you have about one shot to get that formation together because if you don’t do it, (DF: There’s no time, yeah) we’re already below our hard deck, and it’s like, “Okay, that wasn’t very interesting.”
DF: Yeah, right, I mean, yeah, you make it, but like it’s not as much of a show.
LV: For sure, so 2,500 feet, you got to get in, make it happen and get to the ground. It’s, and it’s also very short. Our shows from 2,500 might be a couple minutes vice exiting at 5,000 feet above the ground, and now our show is like four to five minutes.
DF: What percentage of the time are you jumping in the evening or in darkness cause I know operationally, that’s pretty standard, (LV: Right) but you often see you guys jumping obviously in the middle of the day most of the time for sporting events or whatever, (LV: Right) but do you jump in the evening or at night?
LV: We do. So, during our winter training, we train up to the night standards just learning how to do the formations at night. We have a bunch of different effects that we can show the crowd at night as well, so we have these basically, they’re called pyro sticks, and they’re just like adult sparklers. I mean these things are really cool. They shoot out sparkler flame about 30 feet, and they go for about a minute per stick. So, we take these sticks, we wrap them up, and we attach them to our ankles. So, as we’re coming through free fall or under canopy, it’s really a cool scene from the ground cause it just looks like fireworks in the sky.
DF: They probably can see you a lot easier as well.
LV: Definitely, yeah, they, they wouldn’t be able to see us very good if we didn’t have pyro on.
DF: Yeah, right, especially at nighttime. If you could briefly just talk about the Leap Frogs’ mission or I guess your core function within the Navy that would be helpful.
LV: Definitely, so we have a really important aspect to Navy recruiting. There’s a common misconception out there the Navy Parachute Team just is, just is messing around, and then we just parachute and jump and have fun all day, but we’re actually, you know, a lot of things that we do, we are co-located with the Blue Angels and with the Navy Recruiting Command, and so what we do is we go out there, and we demonstrate precision aerial maneuvers to demonstrate Navy excellence. So, when people see, you know, a bunch of canopies flying around, and they say, “Hey, that was really cool. That was really challenging,” but then they see the Navy on the parachutes, we fly Big Navy flags, you know, the American flag, we get a lot of questions, and that’s the best part about our job, is interacting with the public. So, when we get to the ground, we say, “Hey, we’re the Navy Parachute Team,” and they’re like, “What is that, and what are you guys doing?” It’s like, “Well, we’re here to talk to you.”
And so, when people see that we can jump out of the sky, and we can demonstrate all these things, we’re not only showing a capability of the US Navy, but we’re also getting people excited about the Navy and showing them kind of what we can do. So, we are one of the major recruiting arms for Navy Recruiting Command, any time we jump, we can be in front of 20,000 people, 50,000 people. In, for instance, Chicago, next week, I mean we’re jumping in front of two million people (DF: Wow). So, you know, if you don’t think we’re going to get some questions about the Navy after parachuting in front of that many people, you’re wrong. You know, it’s like when I think back to when I was in high school, and I was visiting these booths and going to these air shows, you know, talking to the guys that were on the ground was one of the best parts about, you know, thinking about joining the military, (DF: Yeah) so it’s great. Like you said, that full circle, talking to kids, “Hey, this is what we do. You know, I was in your shoes at one point, and now look at what I’m doing.” So, it’s a really cool part of the job, is the outreach portion.
DF: You’ve talked about being in the public and being a spokesperson for the Navy. You also have a history, and NSW in general have a history of operating in silence. How have you been able to successfully make that transition?
LV: You’re referring to just being in the public and having my name out there and things?
DF: Well, I just, I also mean I think even being open to the idea of being an advocate for something that is so secret most of the time, there are core values to NSW ethos that are team before self, and you taking in a role where you are a spokesperson. Some people I think are better at navigating that than others, and I’m just curious to get your perspective on that.
LV: That was a huge consideration for me coming to the team, was that I would have to accept the fact that basically now I’ve gone from the silent professional to, “Hey, everyone, let me tell you what I do.” So, that is an interesting consideration, but, it’s not like we’re selling our community up the river. We’re not telling all the little secrets. We’re here to just talk to people about what it’s like to be a Navy SEAL or a Navy SWCC or even just join the Navy in general. So, I think you can still keep that silent professionalism and also be yourself and really get other people excited about the military, like I said, without spilling the beans.
DF: Do you think that you represent your teammates out there? Is that, is that a fair statement, to say that whenever you’re out there, you assume that role?
LV: I do. You know, it’s kind of funny cause people consider you as a rock star once you get to the parachute team, and, you know, I get a lot of made fun of for my buddies and things, but the truth is, you know, I’m out there representing the SWCC community and also Naval Special Warfare. So, for me, there’s a lot of pride going out there and saying, “Hey, this is who we are, and let me show you what we can do, and let’s get excited about NSW.”
DF: I think that maybe is the impression I’ve kind of got from people that maybe it’s like, “Hey, you know, I didn’t have this information whenever I was a kid,” (LV: Right) but I think a lot of people maybe don’t realize they read the books, they saw the movies, (LV: Sure) they went to an air show, and they saw somebody that set an example and go, “Oh, I can do that,” you know what I mean?
LV: And that’s obviously one of the biggest pluses about having a team like this, is because, kids that are interested in joining the military, they’ve read the books, they’ve seen the movies, but for them to actually walk up to one of us, you know, at an air show, at a, Padres’ game, wherever it may be, and be like, “Whoa, I’ve never actually met a Navy SEAL. I’ve never met a Navy SWCC.” We have a Navy Diver on the team, we have a Navy Parachute Rigger, we have Navy SEALs on the team, you know, so for someone to actually come up and shake our hand and say, “Wow, this is really cool,” I would say that’s just a huge benefit for the public and for us as well because when I joined, I’d only met one SEAL, and I’d only met one SWCC guy before I joined the military. How cool would it have been for me to talk to ten SEALs or ten SWCCs and really get a good feel for, “Hey, this is what these guys are like. You know, maybe this is the right path for me. Maybe it’s not the right path.” A lot of people join, like you said, under this kind of mysterious circumstance thinking they know what it’s all about, I mean, jeez, if you could talk to just a couple guys before you joined and really get the real deal, (DF: Yeah) I think that would be huge for a lot of people.
DF: Yeah, right, to kind of get a more realistic impression (LV: Right) and maybe even give people more confidence.
LV: Right, cause the books and the movies aren’t going to do it justice. (DF; right) You know, it’s, you’re going to get the real, this is how it really works from the guys that have been there, done that. Um, and I mean honestly, when I joined the military, I didn’t know what to expect, but what I will say is the military has completely blown all my expectations out of the water, and I’ve had experiences that I would have never imagined, you know, in a million years.
DF: Yeah, you’ve kind of seen a really impressive and rare kind of perspective you know, from your operational history and then going into training (LV: Right). Talk a little bit about the different kind of training that you were responsible for quite a bit. Like you said that, you know, basically, all jumping out of airplane in the Navy kind of came under your umbrella. Maybe talk a little bit about some of the differences. Are there really big, big changes between like, you talked static line and also free fall, fast roping, you know. What part of that was your favorite?
LV: I enjoyed seeing the students excel in whether it was the free fall or the static line or, you know, learning how to tie the knots to work the fast rope or the spy rig. Once you kind of got past that initial, you know, difficulty phase, and you start seeing the students picking up, “Hey, I’m really starting to understand this. I’m really starting to enjoy this,” that to me, as an instructor, was the best part. You know, there’s a lot that goes into teaching somebody how to skydive or teaching somebody how to, you know, be a jumpmaster for a jump. And so, once those skills kind of start clicking with the guys, that’s where I got a lot of job satisfaction cause prior to that role, I’d never been an instructor. And so, I really learned that I actually did like being a teacher.
DF: Yeah, and I think that’s a hallmark of a good teacher, (LV: Yeah) whenever they’re focused on outcomes, not just, “This is what I’m interested in. I’m going to make you listen to me.” You know, that’s not the same thing as teaching somebody.
LV: Right, and it’s a cool topic, too. It’s not like we’re talking about, something really boring. We’re talking about, “Hey, this is, you guys are going to use this down the road, and this is a really exciting skillset,” so I think the students were excited, I was excited. It’s also my passion. So, that was, that was a cool aspect of my career, was being an instructor.
DF: Well, there’s one area I do want to touch on, and that’s trust. Whenever you jump out of an airplane, I guess this is my impression, but you’re kind of dead until you’re saved by the canopy is kind of my logic there, and the amount of trust that you place in the people that you’re jumping with is I don’t think comparable to what most people experience in their regular life. Your life is literally in their hands. Can you, I guess how has skydiving changed your perception of trust and what it means to you?
LV: You know, in Naval Special Warfare, we select only the best guys and now gals, right. We do that because whenever you’re in a really, uncertain or dangerous circumstance, you have to be able to lean on that guy or girl and say, “Hey, I need you to make this happen,” right? With skydiving, it’s really no different. We screen people for the Leap Frogs, and we only select the best because, you know, that Parachute Rigger that’s on the team, he’s going to be packing my reserve. So, if I need to use that reserve parachute, we need to trust that thing’s going to work. And, you know, a new jumper that comes on the team, we want to make sure that his head is in the right place, that he or she, is comfortable, you know, operating a parachute in close quarters and is comfortable in these kind of high stress situation. So, if we feel that, you know, maybe a candidate does not have that quality or those qualities, then we just won’t accept them on the team. So that is a very big consideration, and if you don’t trust someone that you’re working with in the sky, it’s going to make for a very un-fun day, and so we just prefer not to go down that road and just select the right people from the get go.
DF: Do you think that working in this team environment has kind of honed your ability to make a snap judgment on somebody pretty quickly with those aspects?
LV: You know, I’ve been surprised. Yeah, the whole judge a book by its cover piece is I feel like somewhat true, but we like to run the candidates through the paces, so do the interview, take them to the drop zone, throw a parachute on them, see what they can do in the sky, you know, debrief with them. So, I feel like this whole process, you’re able to kind of get to know that person [DF: right, right] a lot better than doing a five-minute interview and saying, “I don’t like that person.” Some people shine, you know, a week after you meet them, and some people shine on day one. Some people don’t shine at all. So, it just depends, and we do a really good job on the team of screening candidates, just like Naval Special Warfare does.
DF: For people out there thinking about pursuing a career with the Navy, what general advice would you give them?
LV: I would say do as much research as you can, you know, read, talk to people, talk to recruiters, you know, try to get ahold of people in communities that you’re interested in being. You know, If you’re interested in Naval Special Warfare, talk to the Naval Special Warfare Assessment Team. Get ahold of us at the Leap Frogs , you know, on a show. Really kind of get a good feel for what you’re looking at doing, and then, at that point, then really prepare your mind, prepare your body to go that route, and really don’t give up on that dream until you’ve made it. If at any point in time, you know, you feel like this isn’t the right job for you, you know, there’s always options. There’s, the Navy has a million different things you can do. So, I would just, you know, recommend people that they just pursue their passion, figure out what that passion is and then really prepare to work really hard because in the Navy, you know, you do work very hard, but I will say that it’s probably one of the most rewarding careers that you can have.
DF: Well, thank you so much. You’re one of the few people that gets to really do what they love, and thank you for sitting down and giving us some of wisdom.
LV: Definitely, thanks for talking, yeah.
DF: Find out more at sealswcc.com and join us again for the next NSW Podcast.