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Opinion: Neal McNamara, Spirit in the Sky, a Skyhawks story

Along with a direct message for our youth in North Bay, MCpl Bent shared some insights into what it takes to do the impossible……to jump out of a perfectly good plane, for fun, every day!

Like synchronized swimmers in the sky, the Skyhawks soar across the heavens with their Canadian Flag parachutes.

However, behind all the glory and amazement, there is a struggle. Not just a struggle to provide a good performance, but in perfecting the teamwork and jump manoeuvres that make the difference between life and death for these brave military men and women. 

For over 40 years the Canadian Forces parachute team, the Skyhawks, has showcased Canada’s aerobatic excellence to over 75 million spectators worldwide. These precision movements and death-defying stunts have also been a hallmark of our own Armed Forces Day celebrations here in North Bay.

This will be my first Armed Forces Day since I retired from the military and my first as an official ‘Veteran’, and it pleases me greatly to be able to share the story of the Skyhawks, and of one of these 'Daredevils in the sky' in particular, my old roommate, MCpl Jason Bent.

It’s been 10 years since Jason and I were roomies down in CFB Borden. How fast a decade flies by (no pun intended). It was four of us to a room back then, all awaiting different training or postings. We had Martin the Cook, Neal the Military Police, Jeff the Lineman, and young Jason the Supply Tech, to round out our merry group.

I was able to catch up with him during his busy jump schedule for a quick interview, and along with a direct message for our youth in North Bay, MCpl Bent shared some insights into what it takes to do the impossible……to jump out of a perfectly good plane, for fun, every day!

This is his story:

Skyhawk Member: Jason Lawrence Jr. Bent

Age: 30

Rank: Master Corporal (MCpl)

Military Trade: Parachute Rigger (Supply Technician with sub-specialization in Parachute Rigging)

Q. How long have you been a Skyhawk and in the military?

A. Three years as a Skyhawk and 11 in the CAF

Q. How many jumps have you made in your career thus far? 

A. 870

Q. Why did you join the military?

A. Good pay, excellent benefits, a great pension and to travel the world.

Q. How/why did you sign up for Skyhawks?

A. I loved the thought of skydiving and travelling to different cities and meeting people. Over my years of (military) training, I let my chain of command know regularly that I wanted to be a Parachute Rigger for the SkyHawks - and they eventually selected me for the position.

Q. Are you scared jumping? 

A. I am never scared to jump. It is very exciting, and sometimes nerve-wracking, but the feelings are so similar it’s hard to tell which emotion you're feeling. I use all the information available to us prior to a jump to assess the conditions and develop a plan to execute the perfect show jump. This planning reinforces confidence and distracts from any potential nerves you're feeling. Combine that with extensive training and experience, and it ensures I’m fully prepared to take on what might be considered a risky activity.

Q. Finally, speaking directly to the youth of North Bay, what would you tell them about following their dreams? 

A. Growing up in a small town and getting to where I am today demonstrates that hard work and dedication to any goal someone sets for themselves will pay off! I never thought I’d be jumping full time in the Canadian Army when I joined up. Honestly, I have no idea what's in store for me moving forward, but I am excited about the future and the next adventure this career will lead me on.

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Neal McNamara

About the Author: Neal McNamara

Neal McNamara is an entrepreneur, investor, and former Military Police studying business at Nipissing University
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