News: What a day for a Knight jump!
Story by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Smith
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - They took to the sky together for the last time on the first day of spring. A beautiful sun splashed sky lay ahead as the father and son ascended several thousand feet into the air, taking in the vast beauty of the untouched wilderness and mountainous terrain of Alaska. They could see Mount McKinley to the north as they made their way to the storied Geronimo Drop Zone nestled high above in the undulating terrain of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
They pushed off their side-seated perch on the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter they rode in on, their canopies opened, and they took in for the last time together the sweet silence of descent.
Their equipment was top-notch. The Army’s MC-6 Maneuverable Troop Parachute System with the SF-10A main canopy allowed the pair to steer themselves onto the tiny drop-zone.
They landed without injury, quickly recovered their equipment, donned snowshoes, and met back up in the assembly area.
They say timing is everything in the Army, and this time, March 20, 2014, was the last time they would jump together as Army paratroopers.
The jump marked a coming of full circle for the senior enlisted adviser of U.S. Army Alaska, Command Sgt. Maj. Bernie Knight, and his son, Sgt. Charles Knight, a squad leader with Apache Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division.
Beginning their parachuting history together, Command Sgt. Major Knight attended his son’s first jump at Fort Benning during airborne school in 2009. At the time, Knight was the operations group command sergeant major for the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. He was invited down to be guest speaker at his son’s basic training and infantry graduation ceremony. From there, he stayed to participate in his son’s first jump.
Sgt. Knight said the jump onto the Geronimo Drop Zone was significant because it brought back some good memories.
“This kind of brings me back to when he jumped with me on my first going back a little over five years when I joined the Army, and him ending his career with this,” said Knight. “It means a lot to me. I know it means a lot to him, too. I’m glad I got to do his last jump with him.”
Knight’s dad gave him courage and motivation to join the airborne ranks and jump out for the first time.
“I was nervous; I’m not going to lie. Airborne wasn’t something I wanted to sign up for, but because he did, I felt I had some shoes to fill. So definitely, having him there helped me have the courage to go up in the bird and jump out.”
For the sergeant major, his 109th and final jump was significant because of his son, but also because of the 501st.
“I got to do it with the 501st. The first parachute infantry regiment in the Army,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Knight. “They tested the parachute. I was a sergeant major of that unit, my son is in that unit. I’m doing Geronimo Drop Zone with the Geronimos. I mean, how could you go wrong with that?”
Command Sgt. Maj. Knight has been an influential figure in his son’s life, helping guide his way through the Army, mentoring him, and setting an example to emulate. He said the Army and the airborne have been a great way to bond with his son.
“It’s awesome! This is a great way to do it. Heck, I tried to talk him out of doing this kind of stuff, because, you know, I said, ‘Hey, I did this for the family, I got it’. But, he wanted to serve, so what better way, and he wanted to be airborne, so I thought that was cool.”
Sgt. Knight worked as a civilian videographer at the National Training Center, and he was inspired by soldiers and wanted to do what they did, so he talked to his dad about joining.
“It was during the war, and I had just come back from a pretty serious Iraq deployment. You know, we lost 53 soldiers in this brigade (4-25), so I was a little bit apprehensive about what my son was going to see,” said Knight. “I kind of tried to talk him out of it, because I didn’t want his mom mad at me forever, and I didn’t want to lose my son.”
“I was like, ‘Well, you know, you might want to get a skill that will help you when you get out of the Army’, and he was like, ‘well, it was good enough for you wasn’t it?’, and that’s when I said ‘OK … alright’.”
Through his enlistment, Knight’s relationship with his dad has been enhanced.
“We were close before, but definitely, once I joined the Army, we could bond over it. We had something to talk about. We had something in common besides cars, Harleys and other stuff,” said Sgt. Knight. “I definitely use him as a mentor, and he helps me be a better soldier.
“We talk shop a lot. Nothing bad, all good stuff, you know. I tell him my gripes about the Army, and then he tells me, ‘That’s the Army, suck it up.’ I say, ‘roger that.’ He tells me to drive on, and I drive on.”
After graduating jump school, Sgt. Knight was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. He deployed twice with the 82nd, and on his second deployment, he found himself stationed in the same sector of Afghanistan as his dad, who was at the time assigned to the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
“So, he goes to the 82nd, and I go to the 1-25 up north (Fort Wainwright), and we deployed, and he was right across the river from me,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Knight. “We deployed to the same sector of Kandahar, southern Kandahar, one of the worst areas, right there where Mulla Omar, who started 9-11, lived.”
After the deployment, the Knights reunited in the U.S. when Sgt. Knight re-enlisted with orders to Alaska.
“I love what I do. I’m glad I joined. I’m glad I could be closer to my father. That’s why I re-enlisted to come here, so I could be near Family, and do the Army life,” said Sgt. Knight.
According to Sgt. Knight, he and his dad call Alaska home, even though his dad is originally from Kansas City, Kan., and he is originally from Orange County, Calif.
“I would say I grew up here. My dad spent most of his career here, so I definitely grew up in Alaska,” said Sgt. Knight.
Both Knights plan to live in Alaska after their Army service.
“I am going to be a member of this community. I’ll still be a friend of USARAK. I’m still going to try to hang out with them,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Knight.
Command Sgt. Knight is wrapping up a successful 31-year, active federal service career. He spent four years with the Marine Corps and 27 years with the Army.
He takes with him many memories and experiences. He said the Army is a big family. An example of this was reinforced when he talked about finishing up his airborne career with Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Hacker, the senior enlisted adviser for the Spartan Brigade.
“The Army, although people say it’s big, it’s a small Army, and it’s a huge family, because on this jump right here, the sergeant major of the 4-25 was with me when I first started jumping out of airplanes back in 1990. We were in a LRS (long range surveillance) unit together, and he is on this jump! That’s kind of neat. So you say it’s a big Army, but it’s not. It’s a small Army, but it’s a big family.”
With his recent home purchase in Chugiak, Command Sgt. Maj. Knight is beginning his retirement plans as his son looks forward to tackling upcoming Army challenges. He is going in front of the staff sergeant promotion board this month and plans to attend jumpmaster school, as well as compete for a Sergeant Audie Murphy Club membership. Long term goals include a college degree and a slot at Ranger School.
“I enjoy my job, I love the Army. I love the Army life. They are good to my family, and I appreciate what the Army has done for me and my father,” said Sgt. Knight.
As he snapped the last button of his last aviator’s kit bag, the 52-year-old veteran summed up his leadership, “I would tell people that Sgt. Maj. Knight doesn’t make one decision without thinking about soldiers first.”