It started out simple enough.
“Would you want to tandem skydive Kris Domeij’s mom, Scoti, into Normandy for the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day?” asked Matt Griffin, CEO and co-founder of Combat FlipFlops.
Little did I know then how this simple question would challenge, frustrate and reward me in ways that I could have never imagined.
Years ago, when I first got to 2nd Ranger Battalion, the opportunity presented itself to go to Normandy for the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day. Due to the fact that I was so new and low-ranking, I was quickly and easily scratched from the list. In the subsequent years, I would travel to France a half-dozen times, but would never get any farther north than Chamonix. Normandy was never a priority, a fact that, quite frankly, I am ashamed of. Years went by and the combat deployments and personal trips and adventures stacked up, priorities would shift and new goals and obligations would accumulate. I played small parts in somewhat significant moments in military and Ranger history. Some you may have heard about, many you never will. And yet still, with all the pride and dedication I would put into being a Ranger, I never made the trek to the sacred beaches of northern France to pay my respects to those who not only paved the way for modern-day Rangers, but who helped liberate a country and ultimately region of the world from one of the most devastating and brutal empires mankind has ever seen. I was ashamed.
While I was mainly just a face in the crowd of Rangers at 2nd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, SFC Kristoffer Domeij -- callsign Tyrant 22 -- was anything but. A Forward Observer (MOS 13F) by trade, he would become one of the first ever Joint Terminal Attack Controller-qualified personnel in the U.S. Army and one of the most feared (by both subordinate and enemy combatant alike) and respected men in the entire Ranger Regiment, Special Operations community and beyond.
SFC Domeij was the first Ranger I would meet when I arrived at Ft. Lewis, WA and one I would share chow halls, gyms, training areas, ranges, and missions with over the next seven years.
On October 22, 2011, Kris was killed by a massive IED in the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan on his fourteenth Combat Deployment. For many reasons, Kris’ death hit me harder than most of the others we lost in my time at 2/75. And while I have thought about it a lot, I still haven’t quite figured out why.
SFC Kris Domeij was an incredible leader, a caring and thorough mentor, a great friend to many, and one of the funniest guys you would ever meet. The passing of Kris was a massive loss to the Ranger Regiment, the Special Operations community, the Army, and most of all, his friends and family.
I often wonder how best to show thanks to a man and fellow Ranger even after he’s gone What I have come up with since SFC Domeij’s passing nearly eight years ago is to live a life that would best honor them and their legacy. I don’t know what awaits us in the afterlife but in the event that I see that smirking asshole again, I hope that I’ve made him proud. If not, there is one hell of a smoking waiting for me.
What I wouldn’t quite realize is that saying yes to “Griff” during that phone call would mean hundreds of hours of planning, phone calls, meetings, teleconferences, deal-making, frustration, hoop-jumping, more frustration, and a fair amount of finger-crossing. Ultimately, we were able to secure funding thanks to Cisco, Team Wendy and SOG Knives, as well as gear support thanks to Smith Elite Optics. I was able to secure two aerial videographers who both have direct or family ties to the Ranger Regiment, combat service, and World War II. Furthermore, Devin Supertramp would come on board to document the jump, remembrance of D-Day and the soldiers who fought and died, honoring Rangers past, present, and future, and to help us honor Kris, his service, his sacrifice, and ultimately, his family.
Even with all the planning, contingency plans, pitfalls, fixes, and early phases of execution, in the back of my head, I was still crossing my mental fingers that everything would work out. And though we had covered most every other base and assembled a pretty bulletproof team, weather and aircraft would remain my biggest concerns.
June 1 finally arrived, and the team -- which consisted of myself, Scoti, Griff, Andy Farrington and Larry Yount, my spotters and videographers -- congregated and assembled at my least favorite airport on the planet, Paris Charles de Gaulle. Miraculously, we didn’t lose any luggage, and after a two-hour fiasco securing rental vans, and a four-hour drive, we arrived in Normandy.
The next item on the list was to keep a keen eye on the weather and maintain open communication about our primary plan of jumping on June 5 with the contingency to jump on June 7, 8 or 9 in the event of weather (due to significant dignitaries in town for the ceremonies on June 6, there would be no jumping or non-essential air traffic in the region that day).
After a couple of days of touring the beaches, countryside and historically significant locations and with last minute planning and set up in place, the morning of June 5 arrived. Bright an early, we headed to Cherbourg Airfield to meet up with our chalk of jumpers and await our turn and our aircraft, a 1944 Douglas C-47 named “Drag ‘em Oot” that still sports over thirty bullet holes from the original invasion operations. In true military fashion, there was a lot of hurry up and wait (we were the first of anyone to arrive at the airfield, and were one of the last chalks to jump). Several hours were spent trying to make sense of the confusion of this truly historic multinational event and we kept our spirits lively by taking pictures, talking about old times and goofing off.
Finally, we got the call, “Get it on.”
Luckily for us, it’s not as painful as jumping static lines in the military. Throw on your gear, do a few gear/safety checks and head to the aircraft. I had jumped from a WWII era C-47 Dakota several years ago in an airshow in Florida. Big, bulky, loud and not very fast, the C-47 is truly a magnificent machine. And “Drag ‘em Oot,” like so many other of those planes that still fly, carried the spirits of the troopers and pilots from over seventy years ago within its skin. We were literally a part of history. The feeling was almost overwhelming.
While there was certainly a bit of emotion going on, my energy and attention quickly diverted to Scoti, my passenger and friends’ mom, as well as Andy and Larry. Andy is a third generation skydiver whose grandfather, Lenny Aikins, was forced to ditch his P-47 Thunderbolt over Belgium during the war. Not able to get his cockpit open and jettison using his parachute, he would go in with the plane. He would however return home from the war and take up parachuting. Lenny loved parachuting so much it became the family business; one that has now been passed down to Andy and his sister. Larry Yount is a Panama Ranger who, after surviving the jump and battle in 1989, would go on to become a Green Beret and complete twenty-two years of military and combat service. Both are professional skydivers, aerial stuntmen, current and former world record holders, arguably two of the best skydivers in the world and two really good friends.
As this was only her second time jumping out of a plane (her first was a trial run with me a few months prior), I could feel the nervous anticipation surrounding Scoti, so I made small talk, diverted her visual gaze out the window of the aircraft to admire the English Channel and the beautiful scenery of the Normandy countryside. After about fifteen minutes of climbing, we were over our DZ, Andy gave me the nod. It was time. I hooked up Scoti, gave her a short, comforting reminder of what we were going to do, and we walked together to the door.
Andy finished the spot via hand signals with the crew chief and gave me the thumbs up. Andy stepped out and hung on to the skin of the aircraft, now bearing the full brunt of the 130kt airspeed and 1200hp prop blast. Scoti and I stepped into the doorway, I gave the count and we exited the aircraft. Larry would follow close behind and Griff would exit the aircraft later with another Panama Ranger amputee. For me, the jump was all business. I focused on my flying, on Andy, and on Scoti. Before I knew it, it was time to open the parachute. Once under a good canopy, I checked on Scoti, got her comfortable in the harness, started setting up for my landing pattern, and enjoyed the view a bit. Scoti didn’t want to land. I didn’t want to either. With the English Channel to our backs and the entirety of the hallowed grounds of Normandy before us, the emotions were almost enough to break through my focus on completing the mission.
We landed safely a few feet in front of Larry who was filming. I unhooked Scoti and gave her a big hug before she headed off to do some interviews. Larry, Andy, Griff and I high-fived and chatted about the aircraft flight, spot and jump. While Scoti continued with interviews, soaking up the moment, the rest of us packed our parachutes and headed to the beer tent to toast and observe the subsequent jumps over Carentan DZ. The dishes were done. Mission accomplished.
Over the next few days we finished up some interviews and tours of Pointe du Hoc, Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, St. Mere Eglise and other sites of significance from the invasion. While we spent nearly a week after the jump in and around Normandy, it just wasn’t enough. There are too many places to visit, too many historical sites to see and too many souls to thank. Regarding one in particular that I will never get to thank, I hope I at least earned a pass from a smoking in Valhalla. Thank you Tyrant 22. RLTW.