Marine Sergeant Jonathan Blank and tandem instructor Jeff Bogart jump from Duggy on Friday to open the AirVenture air show. Photo credit: Keith Paulsen
Marine Sergeant Jonathan Blank, of Augusta, Kansas, received a nice gift at AirVenture Oshkosh 2011 when he was provided with a tandem jump with the Liberty Parachute Team to open the air show on Friday, July 29. Last October Blank, 24, lost both of his legs and sustained internal injuries from an improvised explosive device while serving with the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The incident occurred four days before he was scheduled to rotate back to the U.S.
Blank was at AirVenture to help promote the Semper Fi Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides immediate financial support for injured and critically ill members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. Blank appeared at the B&S Aircraft Parts & Accessories exhibit throughout the week.
While at Thursday night’s Gathering of Eagles fundraiser with his grandfather, Blank sat at the table of Bob Wilson, principal and executive vice president of Kemmons Wilson Companies, and Buddy Stallings, a Shell Oil Aviation fuel supplier. They had all met earlier that day at the Shell tent.
“I was fortunate to meet Jonathan and his grandfather on Thursday morning and spent time talking to him,” Wilson wrote in an e-mail. “I shared that I flew wounded veterans for the Veterans Airlift Command and spent 30 years in the Tennessee Air Guard flying ‘Trash Haulers’ (C 124, C130, and C141s) dropping troops. We had a lot in common talking about the different troop drops.”
Wilson then described what happened next.
“After looking at the program and auction items, I noticed the tandem jump and asked Jonathan if he would like to do it and he immediately said, ‘You bet.’ Fortunately we (Wilson and Stallings) were the successful bidders.”
After consulting with the Liberty Team to ensure safety – Blank had made 48 military jumps - the jump was on for Friday afternoon. “I called Jonathan and all he could say was, ‘Awesome,’” Wilson wrote. “The jump was at 1, and as you can see it was fantastic as the Liberty Parachute team did a great job working out the details.” (See the video of Sgt. Blank’s jump below.)
Keith Paulsen, Army veteran and 26-year skydiver with nearly 3,600 jumps to his credit, shot the video and described the jump to Blue Skies Magazine:
“The exit went well. Jonathan performed flawlessly and enjoyed the view of Lake Winnebago and the awesome display of aircraft on the ground below us. I got some great video and still shots while Jonathan smiled and gave us a ‘thumbs up.’
“At pull time, Bogie (tandem instructor Jeff Bogart) waved, Jonathan deployed their parachute, and the rest of us tracked away and opened ours. The canopy ride was spectacular as we performed turns and spirals in front of 100,000 people. We all landed smoothly on target in front of the crowd. We gathered our gear and climbed into the back of convertibles and pickups, the crowd cheered, and many veterans stood and saluted Jonathan as we passed.”
After the jump, Wilson and his Chief Pilot Charlie Huggins flew Jonathan back to San Antonio, also stopping in Wichita, Kansas, to drop off his grandfather. They flew under a “Hero Flight” call sign and all the way home air traffic controllers thanked him for his service.