LT Justin Peglowski skydiving with the U.S. Army Golden Knights
On May 17th, 2012, 11 U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps officers were honored with the rare opportunity to jump with the acclaimed U.S. Army Golden Knights. The Golden Knights, a world-renowned demonstration and competition parachute team, consist of paratroopers who travel the country thrilling audiences and promoting the U.S. Army. The Golden Knights occasionally honor individuals and organizations by allowing them to participate in jumps; past honorees, such as Chuck Norris and President George H.W. Bush, have been selected from a wide variety of fields. Stationed at the “Home of the Airborne” in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the 90 soldiers that make up the Golden Knights have each been trained in at least one of the 200 military occupational specialties offered by the U.S. Army.
Many service members returning from armed conflicts are affected by behavioral health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia, anxiety, flashbacks, and depression. The USPHS officers who were honored are assigned to Fort Bragg as part of the ongoing agreement between the Department of Defense (DoD) and the USPHS to increase behavioral health services available to military service members, their family members and veterans.
The resounding reaction from the jumping officers was that they were thrilled that the Army demonstrated appreciation for the work they do. “Our job is to help people - whether we’re doctors, physical therapists, or social workers, our main job is to help - that’s what we are there for,” said LT Tricia Booker, a USPHS licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) who was one of the officers to jump.
Six Commissioned Corps officers went out to Laurinburg Maxton Airport to jump with the Golden Knights, and they were eager afterwards to relive their jump experience.
“The initial jump, or push, out of the plane wasn’t as scary as it looked, and the free-fall was comfortable, and didn’t feel forced. Absolutely I would do it again!” LT Booker breathlessly recounted.
Regaining her breath, she spoke of the honor it was to partake in the event. “I’ve been working with the Army for two years, and being medical folk, it’s nice to have action. It's incredible to jump with this crew and for them to acknowledge what we do.” This exercise is a clear example of the collaboration between the Commissioned Corps and its sister services.
LT Justin Peglowski emphasized the honor of the opportunity, “There is a difference between what we do and what the armed forces does, but we're all fighting for the same mission: to improve the country and the betterment of everyone here, so it’s nice to see that we’re all able to work together.”
"Providing behavioral health and brain injury care is an exceptionally difficult task and one that is often quite thankless,” said CDR Victoria Ingram, an USPHS officer and the deputy chief of the Department of Behavioral Health at Fort Bragg’s Womack Army Medical Center (WAMC). Thanking the Golden Knights, she continued, “What you all offered to the team of USPHS officers I brought over this past week was far more than a tandem jump. Each of those individuals walked away from that experience with a sense of deep appreciation from the Army and from our leadership teams here at Womack.”
USPHS officers posing before their jump with the U.S. Army Golden Knights.
In addition to the pride he feels from being honored for his work, LT Peglowski also sees this event as a sort of “welcome to the club.” He explained, “Still getting used to the Army, doing this was welcoming us into their team and their world. We walk through the hospital in a different uniform and everybody looks at us like, 'Who are you and where do you belong?', so it’s a good story we can tell that we jumped with your best and we’re kind of part of the Army now.”