To catch a glimpse of the first action sequence for Thursday's U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic, fans will have to start with their heads in the clouds.

For those of you planning to attend Thursday’s 39th annual U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic at Central Regional High School, it will be worth it to arrive early and be in your seats about 15 minutes before kickoff.  On a night that should feature plenty of big plays, one of the most exciting moments will occur not on the field, but above it.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Black Daggers.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Black Daggers.

The game ball for this year’s Gridiron Classic will be delivered in a rather unique fashion as The U.S. Army Special Operations Command Parachute Demonstration team - The Black Daggers - will fill the sky above Joseph J. Boyd Memorial Field before landing on the field. Captain P.J. Hartman (Toms River Recruiting Center) said these expert skydivers will jump from 12,500 feet before handing the game ball off to referee Vinnie Kelly. Captain Hartman said they’ve never lost a ball before and plan on keeping their perfect record intact on Thursday.

The Black Daggers unit is comprised entirely of volunteers from throughout the Army special operations community, including special forces, civil affairs, rangers, psychological operations, signal and support and Army special operations aviation soldiers.

For almost 75 years, soldiers have been inserted behind enemy lines to disrupt the movement of enemy troops and supplies to the front lines. These soldiers have frequently used parachutes as a means to infiltrate without being detected, and although most of the airborne forces of the world still use round parachutes, some specialized units use the Ram Air Canopy as their primary means of infiltration.

The Black Daggers use the military variant of the Ram Air parachute, which allows a free-fall parachutist the ability to move with more than 100 pounds of additional equipment attached and provides greater control over speed and direction. Typically descending from 12,500 feet - nearly 2.5 miles off the ground - they free fall at 120 miles per hour before deploying their parachutes a few thousand feet off the ground to start a pin-point landing sequence.

The aircraft for the event will be provided by Skydive Cross Keys in Williamstown.

This specialized unit has been busy over the last month jumping out of planes for a variety of different events.  While this might be fairly routine for them, it should provide a signature moment for the players, coaches and fans in attendance.  It might not be a bad idea to bring binoculars to get a closer look at what should be a thrilling way to start this year’s classic.

Bob Badders and David Wintrode also contributed to this story

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