Diving into a life of service

By Jennifer Bissell

Pipho, a 2020 Decorah High School grad, is now a sophomore at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

Decorah native Ambria Pipho is diving into adult life.
Pipho, a 2020 Decorah High School grad, is now a sophomore at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. In addition to preparing for a life of service, Pipho is also literally falling into a new passion as a member of the Naval Academy Parachute Team.
Pipho is the daughter of Amy and John Pipho.

Choosing the Academy
While in high school at Decorah, Pipho was a multi-sport athlete, known for her prowess on the volleyball court as well as in basketball, track and softball. Pipho was one of two Iowa high school students nominated to multiple service academies during the 2019-20 academic year. U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley nominated her to both the U.S. Military Academy at West Point as well as the Naval Academy. 
She chose the Naval Academy because it was the “perfect balance between serving my country, growing as a person and leader, and continuing my education,” she said.
She graduated from DHS in 2020 and began classes in the fall at the Academy. 
As a first-year student, Pipho learned about the parachute team. While it was something she had never experienced or even dreamed of doing while in high school, Pipho was drawn to the idea of being a part of the team during college.
During the week-long tryout, the selection process included “beat downs,” which were physical workouts to gauge how people reacted under pressure. There were also teamwork exercises before the final interview.

What is the parachute team?
As a member of the parachute team, the members work first on ground preparation to learn the basics of skydiving, including how to pack a parachute, working on freefall techniques and safety procedures in case of a malfunction. 
Once ready, the team goes up in the air. 
Pipho explained there are seven steps to a skydive. Before even taking off, participants need to check over their gear, including their helmet, altimeter and parachute rig. From there, an airplane takes jumpers to around 14,000 feet. Once the pilot gives the okay, Pipho said divers locate their landing point and jump.
Once divers get to around 4,000 feet from the ground, they pull the handle to deploy the parachute. At around 1,000 feet, jumpers start the landing pattern. Pipho explained the pattern includes making 90 degree right hand turns every 300 feet, essentially making a box. Pipho said this makes it less confusing for those in the sky and also helps reduce the risk of collisions with other canopies. 
The final step is to “flare on the landing,” which is a way to slow down by changing the angle of the canopy in the wind. 
“I never imagined I would be on a skydiving team,” said Pipho. “Looking back on my younger self, I know I would be proud to see how far I’ve come.”

Full story available in the in the Feb. 3 Public Opinion.

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