Herald Photos / Provided
SKYDIVING — Kokomo High School wrestling coach Ryan Wells skydives with Army Golden Knights above Tennessee.
Herald Photos / Provided SKYDIVING — Kokomo High School wrestling coach Ryan Wells skydives with Army Golden Knights above Tennessee.
There is nothing like a great view from an airplane, especially at 12,500 feet when one still can make out details of the earth below. 

Kokomo High School wrestling coach Ryan Wells recently had that view flying high above Tennessee – and then he jumped and had the time of his life.

On a late April day that started cloudy but cleared, Wells joined the United States Army Parachute Team, better known as the Golden Knights, for a once-in-a-lifetime thrill – a tandem parachute jump. He was nominated for the adventure by local Army recruiters who regularly visit the school.

“I was nominated last year but wasn’t selected,” said Wells. “I was nominated again, and I got it. Then I realized I was going to jump out of a perfectly good plane.”

Wells traveled to Fort Campbell, Ky., to meet and then made the trip to nearby Clarksville-Montgomery County Regional Airport in Tennessee for the actual jump. He explained that the group consisted of 12 people that included educators and the mayor of Clarksville. 

“We met the Golden Knights at 7 a.m., and we expected to jump between 9 and 10,” said Wells. “But it was too cloudy to jump. I really didn’t think we were going to get to jump because the clouds were just sitting there. About 2:30 it started clearing, and they said it was time to get our suits on.”

Wells and his fellow civilian jumpers donned black and gold jumpsuits and began mentally preparing for the jump. As Wells said, “It got real right then.” In reality, he was “trying to hide” his nervousness.

“Like the guys said, if you aren’t nervous, something is wrong,” said Wells, remembering the climb to 12,500 feet. “I was scared, but I was excited. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be fine because these guys are the best in the world. I felt good about it, but, then again, I was about to jump out of a perfectly good airplane.”

Wells explained that the flight up was loud since the small plane was not pressurized. And then they opened the door and told him to sit in the lap of Golden Knights Sergeant First Class Noah Watts. Wells said once the free fall started, he realized SFC Watts was in complete control, so it was his goal to have fun and enjoy the experience.

“It was unreal,” said Wells, who has coached several state finalists and is a past North Central Conference Coach of the Year. “We were in free fall for 45 seconds to a minute. We were then under canopy, and we were doing loops and flips. It was unbelievable. We had a smooth landing, and the adrenaline was flowing. I was so fired up. I couldn’t even sleep that night. I couldn’t believe what just happened. It was an opportunity of a lifetime, and I am so appreciative.”

Wells said even the weather delay was enjoyable since members of the Golden Knights sat around and talked with the group.

“We just got to hang out with those guys all day,” said Wells. “We got to know them and hear their stories. I’ll tell you what, they were some of the most impressive guys I have ever been around. Not only were they the toughest dudes I have ever met, but they were smart and so down to earth. We heard their Army stories, and then they wanted to know about us.”

Watts enlisted as a U.S. Marine in 1996 and shipped out to Afghanistan one week after the 9-11 attacks. He also deployed to Iraq in 2003 before joining the Golden Knights in 2007 (he transferred to the Army at that time). Watts is a certified free fall instructor and has more than 6,400 free fall, 2,400 tandem, and 60 static line parachute jumps. He also served as an Airborne School instructor at Fort Benning in Georgia.

“It is no big deal to them; he had six jumps that day,” said Wells of his tandem partner. “I was just so impressed about SFC Watts and the guys and how normal they are. The mental toughness that they have and the way they approach things, nothing fazed them. The Army attitude they have, but at the same time, they were very welcoming to us. They knew that we were there for an experience, and they wanted to make sure we got that experience. It gave me a different outlook on the Army.” 

Looking back at the jump, one of the take-aways for Wells had to do about accomplishing something that one may not be comfortable with.

“I think it is good for a person to get good and scared every now and then,” he said. “No matter how tough you are, to face that fear and get good and scared – like jumping out of a plane at 12,500 feet – I just think it is good for you.”

Safely on the ground and back in Kokomo, Wells said the experience was unforgettable, and his appreciation for the men and women of the military – while already high – has grown even more. And in the process, he got a good scare and an unforgettable experience.