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America Supports You: Captain Plans 200 Jumps for Scholarships

By Monique Reuben
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 23, 2006 – The clock will begin ticking July 7 at 8 p.m. Floodlights will illuminate the area surrounding the Perrine Memorial Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho, giving spectators the chance to see one man's mission to support a cause he believes in.

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Air National Guard Capt. Dan Schilling plans to make 200 BASE jumps July 7 from the Perrine Memorial Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho, to support the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Courtesy photo
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image)

The man behind this mission is Air National Guard Capt. Dan Schilling, who will attempt 200 BASE jumps off the bridge in 24 hours to raise college funds for the children of fallen special operations personnel.

BASE stands for building, antennae, span, earth. BASE jumpers use parachutes to jump from bridges, towers, cliffs or buildings in this extreme sport.

Schilling knows first-hand the costs of war. He participated in the 1993 operation in Mogadishu, Somalia, that the book and movie "Black Hawk Down" were based on. During that mission, he was a combat controller with the Air Force Special Operations Command. He understands that sometimes not everyone makes it home.

"If you're in special ops, you know somebody who has died," he said. "When our men and women get killed in the line of duty, whether it is in combat or training, which they inevitably do, they leave behind these shattered families, and these kids are just at such a disadvantage in life."

Often when servicemembers die, they have yet to begin saving money for their children's college education. Recognizing this problem prompted Schilling to join forces with Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

"These kids ... have already paid a price because they have lost a parent," Schilling said. "They've paid that price for all of us. ... And we're here to support these kids and help them get a college education."

The 26-year-old grassroots organization in Tampa, Fla., is near the U.S. Special Operations Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base. The group provides college scholarship grants, financial aid and educational counseling to children of special operations personnel who died in operational missions or training accidents.

The group is a member of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which showcases Americans' efforts to support servicemembers and their families.

The Special Operations Warrior Foundation is sponsoring Schilling's 200 BASE jumps event. The event is titled "Project Warrior," and is different from many charity events the organization holds. The group primarily sponsors benefit dinners, golf tournaments, adventure races and triathlons to raise money for the children, Edie Rosenthal, the foundation's public relations director, said.

However, the organization always welcomes servicemembers' fundraising ideas. "This is something he (Schilling) specifically wants to do, and I have no doubt that he can do it," Rosenthal said.

A 60-ton highway construction crane with a basket will be parked on the bridge for 24 hours. Schilling will stand inside the basket until he is ready to make the 486-foot jump. Once in the air, his parachute will bring him back down to the surface.

He said he plans to make a jump roughly every eight minutes and 20 seconds. His "Project Warrior Team," which consists of 17 parachute packers, a safety director and paramedics, will be on hand to make sure the event runs smoothly.

"There's a lot of people involved in this; this is very much a team effort to help us break the record and raise money and awareness for these kids," Schilling said.

The Twin Falls City Police Department and the Idaho Transportation Department also have gotten involved by closing one lane on the major interstate freeway.

The Perrine Memorial Bridge is the site of hundreds of BASE jumps every year. It is one of the few areas where BASE jumpers don't need a permit. The bridge was also the scene of a BASE-jumping accident in May, when a 34-year-old California woman died after her parachute failed to deploy after she leapt from the bridge.

Schilling acknowledged the risk involved in BASE jumping, but said he is willing to take a "calculated risk" if it will draw enough attention to make people want to donate money to Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

"Logistically, it's feasible," he explained. "I'm shooting for 200 because I've got a very large support crew and very professional and safety conscious group of people that are helping me out, so we really believe we can pull this off."

Schilling is no stranger to the skies. He has been a BASE jumper for four years and has been preparing for this particular challenge for a year.

Schilling is preparing for the toll 200 jumps in 24 hours will take on his body. He does yoga five times a week, swims, does calisthenics, runs three times a week, gets adequate sleep, and is careful about what he eats. He also practices jumping from the 500-foot cliff in the backyard of his home in Utah.

As the event draws closer, he also will take three or four practice jumps a day off the Perrine Memorial Bridge.

Previous experiences have well prepared Schilling for this challenge. He has 20 years of experience as a skydiver and military high-altitude, low-opening parachutist, and is currently serving as a special tactics officer with the Oregon Air National Guard's 125th Special Tactics Squadron.

"I see this as a mission; I'm doing this because I believe in it," Schilling said.

Schilling also will attempt to make history. He sent a proposal outlining his plan to the Guinness Book of World Records in December.

Gary Cunningham, an Australian BASE jumper, is believed to have completed the most BASE jumps in 24 hours. However, his record of 133 jumps, which he set Dec. 31 at Malaysia's Menara Kuala Lumpur tower, has yet to be recognized by The Guinness Book of World Records.

If Schilling fulfills his mission of 200 base jumps in 24 hours, he will have broken this record.

While Schilling is excited about the possibility of setting a world record at the event, he said he's more focused on raising money for the children of his fallen comrades. His goal is to raise $100,000 at the event. Tables will be set up for spectators to learn about the Special Operations Warrior Foundation and donate money.

Although he is confident about the event's success, he is realistic about how much interest the event might garner. "Are people really going to come from Los Angeles or New York to Twin Falls, Idaho, just to watch this? Probably not," he said.

But, he said, he knows he can depend on support from the Twin Falls community and surrounding areas. Spectators often watch BASE jumpers at the famous bridge, so he said he intends to use the public's fascination with the sport to command their attention in pursuit of his mission.

Schilling has supported the foundation for many years and donated the proceeds from the book he co-authored about his experience in Somalia, called "The Battle of Mogadishu," to the organization.

Rosenthal said the foundation contacts families of fallen special operations troops within 30 days of the servicemember's death to inform them of benefits the group provides. The organization begins educational support to children of fallen warriors during their junior year of high school, when most begin making college plans. Other support begins sooner. The organization sends birthday cards, graduation gifts and provides counseling services for the children and their families.

Schilling said he wants the public to be more aware of the role special operations forces have played and continue to play everyday in keeping America safe.

"Special operations forces, whether they're Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines, pay a greater price in blood and loss of life than all other servicemembers combined," he said. "We are constantly on the road; you're always away from your family.

"These children are so deserving of our support and money so we can send them to school and give them back something that will still never compare with the loss of their mother or father."

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Related Sites:
Special Operations Warrior Foundation
America Supports You

Click photo for screen-resolution imageAir National Guard Capt. Dan Schilling deploys his parachute as he descends from the Perrine Memorial Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho. Schilling plans to make 200 BASE jumps from the bridge July 7 to support the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Courtesy photo  
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