All in the family for parachuters

Laurrel Hayes (center) gathers with her family last month before heading out to jump. Her father, Dennis Hayes, is pictured on the left along with her daughter, Natasha Childers. All three are looking forward to more airborne demonstrations. All six of the Hayes/Childers family are graduates of Rochelle Township High School. (Courtesy photo)

FAMILY time can be playing cards, watching a movie, or even visiting a museum or a beach. For Laurrel Hayes, family time is parachuting in Oklahoma with the World War II Airborne Demonstration Team.

Hayes excitedly tells her experiences as a trainee. With four jumps already under her belt, she is one away from earning a set of gold wings.

The passion all started with her father Dennis Hayes who first began reenacting at Frederick Army Air Field in Frederick, Oklahoma.

“My dad started it, he did it … he loves jumping,” Hayes said. “He was a paratrooper in Vietnam. For my first time jumping, I didn’t think. My adrenaline was pumping so high.”

Hayes’ father is 74 years old. And to this day he still participates in the reenactments which consist of jumping out of a C-47 aircraft wearing WWII uniforms and equipment.

It turns out the passion of reenacting is contagious; since her father’s start six years ago, Hayes’ brother, Howard, her son, Tylor Childers, and her daughter, Natasha Childers have all earned their wings. 

She explained anyone can be a part of the demonstration team but must first qualify by attending a nine-day jump school where they will be trained to jump with static-line parachutes. The training also includes learning to pack the parachute, proper landing, drag training and emergency procedures. 

Once trainees complete the training and earn their gold jump wings they are pinned at a traditional ceremony and can participate in various ceremonies and air shows across the country and around the world. 

Hayes said the team was recently in North Carolina, Michigan and Dallas and will be in Normandy next year to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.

“You live in the barracks … you live like WWII soldiers,” Hayes said of her experiences at the original WWII army base. “Everybody walks around in uniform, boots, pants, white T-shirts. We pack chutes at the end of the day. There is also those who work on maintenance of the base … working on the planes, the equipment, the Jeeps or they build what is needed. Even fixing the barracks. Everyone pitches in and takes it seriously.”

Hayes said she started training to honor her father. She talked about what the mission of all demonstration team members is. 

“We are honoring, remembering and serving our military veterans,” she said. “Being at the base is a great place to talk and connect with others. They are there from all over the U.S. and the world. I’ve met some from Australia and Great Britain.”

Hayes said there are also duties at the base for non-jumpers in which the demonstration team relies on such as cooks, carpenters, mechanics, office clerks and parachute riggers.

“You can be on the grounds crew, or if you are a pilot, or work on planes they have those people there too,” Hayes said. “If you want to be in the mess hall, they have that too.”

For more information on the airborne demonstration team or the parachute school, please visit wwiiadt.org or the organization’s Facebook page.

The WWII Airborne Demonstration Team holds three parachute schools annually. There are also several YouTube videos available. 

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