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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sailors in Spokane: Naval parachute team jumps from a plane and touches down at St. Aloysius school

Students at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic School said ‘Ahoy’ to four Navy sailors who soared through the skies on parachutes and landed on the field at their school Wednesday.

The Leap Frogs, a naval parachute demonstration team, jumped from a plane 10,000 feet above the earth and landed gracefully on the grass to the delight of hundreds of children. The demonstration was meant to educate people about the Navy, a part of the military branch’s Navy Week series.

“We jump in all kinds of places,” said Leap Frog Ben Eddlemon, a senior chief petty officer who has been in the Navy for 19 years. “Stuff like this is fun because you get to interact with all the kids and hopefully have a positive impact on somebody.”

Each year, the Navy selects 15 cities around the nation without a large naval presence and sends sailors to spend a week in these cities, doing outreach and education. Spokane was selected this year, and sailors arrived to coincide with the Lilac parade on Saturday.

In the meantime, St. Aloysius’ students gawked as four Leap Frogs touched down at their school.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they come here; not a lot of people get to experience it,” said fifth-grader Paul Schwering.

The Leap Frogs hopped from an Air Force C-17 that took off from the Spokane International Airport and plummeted towards the school. The jumpers spent about 40 seconds free-falling through the sky before deploying their parachutes in a 2-minute descent.

Their feet made delicate contact with the field below, a landing they’ve done anywhere from 75 to 5,000 times, depending on the sailor.

Despite doing more than 950 jumps during his time in the Navy, jumping out of a plane never gets old for Eddlemon.

“Because of the nature of what you’re doing, it forces you to be in the moment and into what you’re doing,” Eddlemon said. “There’s no distractions at this point, you’re here and we’re doing this together. If it’s me by myself, I’m focused on what I’m doing, and I’m enjoying the view as well.”

The grassy patch outside St. Aloysius was among the smallest targets the Leap Frogs have hit, but they landed squarely on the field, two with their legs entwined in a move that impressed onlookers.

“I thought it was really cool how they were doing tricks in the air, when two of them were on top of the other one, that was really cool,” said eighth-grader June West.

After touching down, the kids swarmed the divers, hurling questions like, “What’s the highest you’ve ever jumped from?” and “Do you know Top Gun?” Some kids collected autographs on scraps of paper, others goaded sailors into push-up contests.

“I just loved learning that they look like a normal person, but then once you realize their backstory it’s really cool,” said seventh-grader John Schwering.

For some, the demonstration sparked an interest in hopping out of planes. For others, it only confirmed their fear of heights.

Emily Smith, a seventh-grader, thought the display was cool but has little interest jumping herself, though she’d do it “for enough money, maybe,” she said.

A $5,000 check at minimum would entice her to jump from a plane, and she’d prefer her friends to make the jump with her for emotional support.

“I’m really scared of heights,” Emily said. “Ain’t no way I’m doing it by myself.”