Sgt. First Class Dannielle Woosley leaps from planes for her country

Nov 11, 2014 at 8:47 a.m. ET
Image: U.S. Army Parachute Team

When leaping out of an airplane at 10,000 feet and hurtling towards the ground at 110 mph, Sgt. First Class Dannielle Woosley of the U.S. Army, has one thing on her mind. She and her three teammates have the next 35 seconds to nail as many sequences of team skydiving formations as accurately as possible. The best way to understand what they are really doing up there is to watch this video of a jump.


Sgt. First Class Woosley and her teammates are members of the U.S. Army Parachute Team known as the Golden Knights. Her team — the Golden Knights Female 4-way Team (GKF4) — is currently the only all-female 4-way team competing nationally.

 Sgt. 1st Class Dannielle Woosley and the U.S. Army Parachute Team (The Golden Knights) women’s 4-way skydive team exit the aircraft to begin their competition routine.

Photo credit: U.S. Army Parachute Team

Woosley joined the Army in 2000. She had never tried skydiving before entering the service, much less being on a competitive formation skydiving team. After being assigned to the Golden Knights at Fort Bragg as a human resource specialist, she was asked if she wanted to try a jump. Woosley said, "Sure, why not?"

Sgt. 1st Class Dannielle Woosley of the U.S. Army Parachute Team (The Golden Knights) women’s 4-way skydive team

Photo credit: Sgt. Dannielle Woosley

Fifteen years later at age 33, she is a mother of two, a wife and a soldier in the U.S. Army who has served in Iraq. With more than 4,000 jumps now in her pocket, she still remembers her very first jump.

"I remember sitting in the door going what am I doing? Sitting in that door waiting to go, I thought my heart was going to explode in my chest. Taking that first leap, trusting the tandem master behind me, it was a freeing feeling."

She trained and joined the GKF4 in 2008 and immediately became part of a support system and sisterhood with her teammates. Woosley wanted to be a part of something that showed the depth of opportunities that the Army could provide, especially to women. She says the team gets to do that in the U.S. and around the world.

Photo credit: U.S. Army Parachute Team

The GKF4 recently became the women's 4-way national champions and set national and state skydiving records. They also compete internationally where other countries have all-female teams. They won gold and set a new world record in formation skydiving at the 2014 World Military Parachuting Championship in Indonesia.

That win comes from a lot of time spent training, making anywhere between eight and 20 jumps in a day. When they are competing, the team is on the road together non-stop for anywhere from one to three weeks. Woosley says it has developed a relationship where they don't have issues or drama. Pretty important, since they are trusting each other with their lives. Woosley says she doesn't think about the danger element because the Army has provided the training, safety procedures, preparation and equipment to make sure they feel extremely safe.

Sgt. 1st Class Dannielle Woosley (third from right) of the U.S. Army Parachute Team (The Golden Knights) women’s 4-way skydive team and her teammates accept their gold (women’s 4-way category) and bronze medals (4-way open category) at the 2014 National Parachuting Championships in September in Chicago.

Photo credit: U.S. Army Parachute Team

Above being a mom, wife, military career woman and a championship skydiver, Woosley says having the deep support her of family has made the biggest impact on her life. Her daughter was already born when Woosley began skydiving and so has never known anything other than having a mom that jumps out of airplanes. Her husband is Army Airborne and supports her completely. Her stepson is counting down the days until he turns 18 and can make his first jump. Woosley says she will be jumping with him just to make sure he is safe. "We'll do that one together." When she started, however, her mom and grandmother didn't want to know about it, they just wanted her to be OK. They've since become part of her network of support.

With both she and her husband being active military, sometimes they are called to serve at the same time. Their families take care of their kids, who have become very resilient themselves. "They've grown up to realize they can do things because mom and dad have a job to do," says Woosley. "They allow us to go fulfill our mission and do our dream."

 Sgt. 1st Class Dannielle Woosley and the U.S. Army Parachute Team (The Golden Knights) women’s 4-way skydive team perform their routine over Prostejav, the Czech Republic, at the 2014 World Parachuting Championships in August. The team won silver in the women’s 4-way category.

Photo credit: U.S. Army Parachute Team

Woosley's dream into the future is to finish out her 20-year career in the military and then become an elementary school teacher, for which she is now studying. "My husband is like, really? You would want to go sit in a class all day? And I'm like yeah, that is the next step of something I want to do."

Woosley believes that as women, we sometimes underestimate ourselves about the things that we can do. She says women handle so many things at once; being a mom, having a job, doing things that we all manage to accomplish and don't give ourselves credit for.

She says she will continue to jump as long as she physically can, and wants to continue to share the stories of the GKF4 to inspire women. "Being a woman is just being strong and allowing ourselves to do all the things we can do."

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