By REID TUCKER
The term “bucket list” is often bandied about when someone first starts skydiving, but for Air Force Staff Sgt. David Flowers, nothing could have been farther out of character than jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.
That is, until Saturday, Nov. 17, when the wounded explosive ordnance disposal operator, who lost his right leg to a land mine while serving in Afghanistan, took a leap of faith from 2 ½ miles up. Flowers and his wife, Liz, both had their first-ever tandem skydives courtesy of Walton County drop zone SkydiveLive!, which partnered with Eglin Air Force Base’s U.S. Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal (NAVSCOLEOD) to organize the event. The jump itself went off without a hitch, and suffice it to say that Flowers is hooked.
If anything, he was amazed at how easy the whole thing was, and he said he’ll encourage other wounded service members to take up skydiving.
“If a one-legged guy can do this, then anybody can do this,” Flowers said. “There was no problem with the jump at all. I think it’s fantastic. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. I thought I’d never be able to do something like this, but any [wounded warrior] can do it. We’ve got so many good people to help us out. I say, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s get back to living life.’”
Flowers, a nine-year Air Force man and a veteran of several combat tours, was defusing a large weapons cache in northern Afghanistan in 2009 when he stepped on a land mine, which shattered his left leg, cut the other off at the knee and broke his right arm in four places. Now, three years later, he walks with a prosthetic right leg but not a limp, symbolic of how he returned to active duty as a NAVSCOLEOD instructor, teaching trainees the art of defusing bombs. Flowers, who will be promoted to the rank of tech sergeant later this year, said it was his Navy colleagues who first suggested that he give skydiving a try and put him in contact with Jim and Melanie Nipper, the owners of SkydiveLive!
The Nippers, both Army aviation veterans, donated their property, equipment, expertise and time to put together an afternoon of jumps for Flowers. More than 40 other military personnel and members of the local community came out to jump or just to hang out and enjoy a barbecue lunch provided by the Florala Airport. The event, which also raised $419 for the Wounded EOD Warrior Foundation, was all about giving back to a fellow serviceman.
“There’s just a sense of pride in helping one of our own,” Jim said. “We understand, having been there, the sacrifices these guys go through. The posters and the pictures and the movies, that’s not what it’s like in real life. What you go through to actually end up where he ended up is a nightmare on top of the injuries that he’s had. We’re glad to be able to offer [veterans] anything that we possibly can to help them in their lives when they come back home.”
The Nippers said they received an outpouring of support for the event from their neighbors, military friends and even local governments, as the city of DeFuniak Springs donated the fuel used for the jump. Though this was the first such special jump hosted by SkydiveLive!, Jim said it would not be the last, as everyone involved is more than glad to do what they can for the wounded military men and women in the area.
Flowers’ skydiving experience was only the most recent part of what has been a long road of recovery and adjusting to life since suffering his injury, but the process gave him a desire to help others that went through the same things he did. His plans include retiring from active duty next year to pursue a degree in gerontology in order to help wounded veterans as they age. He said his goal is to be of help to others in the same way all those who supported him in his recovery helped him.
“It’s been fairly easy (recovering from the injuries), but some days are obviously a little tougher than others,” Flowers said. What made it nice is that there have been a lot of good people like Jim and Melanie in my life. I think the whole country supports us now. It’s not like what a lot of the guys went through when they came back from Vietnam. It’s great to be back and to feel like a normal person again.”