LUMBERTON — Army Sgt. 1st Class Gordy Horvath can’t decide what he likes most — hurtling toward the Earth at 120 mph or feeling both feet hit the ground.
“I love free-falling,” the active-duty parachutist said after a jump at Lumberton Municipal Airport on Tuesday. “I love jumping. But coming in for a landing and hearing the crowd roar and seeing the excitement on all the faces of the little kids, there’s no other feeling like that, either.”
Horvath is the leader of the Black Daggers, a nine-member parachuting team that demonstrates infiltration techniques of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. The team, which currently works out of a van, is visiting Lumberton this week as part of a search for a place to ground its base operations.
“We have brand-new hangar facilities that are attracting business like this,” said Joshua Pusser, manager of the Lumberton airport. He said the Black Daggers could help bring revenue to the city.
“It would give the public something to do,” Pusser said. “You’re going to have people driving from Florida up to Pennsylvania on 95 who are going to see it, they’re going to pull in. Hopefully we’d be able to sell them fuel, and it would be good PR for the city.”
The Black Daggers, which operate as part of the Army’s recruitment efforts, is looking at airports within 50 miles of Ft. Bragg where they will have room to fly but be close enough to respond to an emergency.
City and county officials gathered at the airport on Tuesday to give the team a warm reception and to see the demonstration, during which three parachutists floated from 3,000 feet in the air down to a leather “X” on a freshly-mowed patch of grass while trailing red smoke from canisters on their shoes.
“It’s amazing how they can guide themselves to one specific spot … they make it look easy,” Lumberton Councilman John Robinson said.
“I’m excited that this bunch could be considering locating here,” said Charles Chrestman, the president of Robeson Community College who has been a member of the Airport Commission for five years. “It would be good for our airport and our county. We’ve got momentum, now this would help keep it moving.”
As for team members, they just want to be able to reach 33,000 feet — and stay there as much as possible. Horvath said many who are a part of the team, to which active-duty military are assigned on request, have had multiple deployments and are looking for a little down time.
“A lot of it is a break,” Horvath said. “The guys need a break from what’s going on in the world right now.”
Army Staff Sgts. Justin McIntosh and William Wallace agreed with Sgt. 1st Class Adam Baig when he said he joined the team “to get to jump all day, every day.”
“It’s probably the most adrenaline-filled thing you’ll ever do in your life, besides being deployed in active-duty combat,” McIntosh said. “It’s as close to being Superman as you’re going to get.”
Wallace said that while the initial jump provides an incredible rush, what comes after is a near-impenetrable quiet and a deep sense of solitude.
“Once you open up your canopy you’re up there for several minutes, just floating around, and occasionally you get a bird fly right by you,” Wallace said. “Where else can you do that?”