BECKLEY, West Virginia – When Barbara Bush met the man who would take her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, on a tandem skydive in 2007, she issued a stern warning.
“She walked up to me and said, ‘If you kill him, I will kill you,'” recalled Sgt. 1st Class Mike Elliott, who jumped with Bush.
Elliott attached himself to the then 83-year-old ex-president for the parachute jump and the two leapt from a small plane as part of a ceremony for the former president’s library. Elliott, a member of the Army’s Golden Knights, would go on to jump with Bush two more times over the years, to celebrate his 85th and 90th birthdays.
Elliott has since retired from the Army, but he hasn’t stopped jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. In 2011, he founded the All Veteran Parachute Team, a group of active-duty and retired servicemen who enter skydiving competitions and put on shows around the world. Elliot was once a member of the Army’s Golden Knights, its aerial parachute demonstration team.
The organization’s mission, Elliott said, is to encourage veterans who may feel adrift or lacking in purpose after their tours of duty.
“Veterans feel like once they leave the military they’re not important anymore. That their mission is done. We want to show veterans that you can still use your skill sets. You still are important,” he said.
Last year, Elliott partnered with the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, New York, which owns Whiskey 7, a restored C-47 plane that flew paratroopers over Normandy, France, as part of the second wave of the World War II invasion. In June, the plane took part in a flyover ceremony above Normandy to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Elliot jumped with Helen Patton, the granddaughter of Gen.George Patton. He and his team continue to fly and jump with Whiskey 7, including a festival in West Virginia in October.
Elliott said that despite completing thousands of jumps, skydiving out of a World War II plane with such history is special.
“Whiskey 7 has a soul of her own. A spirit. You can feel it,” he said. “Just getting in this aircraft and hearing the engine start up, man, you just get this bone-chilling feeling that goes through your body. It’s an overwhelming experience.”