The event is hosted by the Wawasee Navy Seal Foundation, Inc., organized and coordinated by R. H. “Bud” Stickle, a resident of Venetian Island.
The group, formed by Chuck Janicki, a former Navy Seal, is comprised of those who have had at least five years experience on the Navy Parachute team, the “Leap Frogs.” Some members of the team have retired from the Navy with over 20 years of service.
Each member is highly qualified in various aspects of skydiving. Combined the team has over 100 years of parachuting experience, together with a total of over 30,000 jumps.
This year the event started around 8 p.m. and went into the evening hours with different aerial acrobats and pyrotechnics but the opening was just as dynamic as last year’s with Andy Crout-Hamel jumping from over 5,000 feet in the air with a 55-pound, three-story high American Flag. The crowd stood with hats removed, hands covering hearts, as the large American flag descended from the sky to the National Anthem. A bi-plane, two jumpers one on another’s shoulders accompanied the first jump.“It’s very challenging,” said Crout-Hammel who noted this year’s jump is more difficult than last year’s jump. “It’s more difficult because the field I dropped the flag in has had two houses built there. Now I’m going to have to thread my way to the back of people’s yard not that field. You really have to pay attention,” he said adding the flag weighs 55 pounds. “It’s hard to feel the distance so you have to pay attention to what’s going on.”
Crout-Hamel who retired as a Navy Chief in 1999, spent 20 years in the Seals and 5½ years with the parachute team. “I do this for a living. I train all the guys who go through Seal training,” including the three-week free fall school.
It was Crout-Hamel who suggested to Stickle to provide tandem jumping as a way to raise funds for the Wawasee Navy Seal Foundation, Inc., started by Stickle to help families of Navy Seals and wounded Seals. “Bud just took it from there. People started showing up and it turned into a really big event.”
A variety of music, including patriotic themed songs and of course the various anthems of the Armed Forces, kept the crowd entertained between the jumps. Boaters anchored in Johnson’s Bay waived American Flags during patriotic songs and boat horns sounded in delight for the jumpers.
Retired Command Master Chief Herschel Davis once again returned to Lake Wawasee as the master of ceremonies for the jumps, providing those within earshot of the speaker system information about each of the four members and descriptions of their demonstrations.
Last year’s event netted $15,000. Stickle stated “I thought we’d do better,” however he said it’s not about the money but “people need to see what its about … it’s really about raising the level of thought about the American flag, country and servicemen, not necessarily about raising money or donations.”
Only a few tandem jumps were held this year.
Thoughts are already being formulated for next summer’s Elite Frogs event on Lake Wawasee. The date and time will be announced at a later date.
Individuals can see videos of past Elite Frogs jumps on the web at www.wawaseenavysealfoundation.org. A video with Davis, Crout-Hammel and Stickle has been posted on inkfreenews.com.