Passion, precision the hallmarks of Leapfest

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KINGSTON, R.I. – Aug. 5, 2010 – Imagine jumping from 1,500 feet in the air from a CH-47 helicopter flying at more than 100 miles per hour with enough precision to land within a few feet of an X marked in an open field on the ground below.

It takes years of military training to pull off the feat. This weekend, the best paratrooper units in the world will put those talents on display during Leapfest 28, a Department of Defense training exercise conducted here in Kingston. The largest continuously conducted parachute competition in the world comes to the University of Rhode Island campus Saturday, August 7 as units from the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force as well as international units from Europe, South America and Asia come together for a one-day competition.

URI President David M. Dooley will be part of the festivities, as he will take a ride in one of the helicopters.

“President Dooley will fly with us on Saturday,” said Lt. Col. Denis Riel, public affairs officer for the Rhode Island National Guard. “We figure it’ll give him a chance to get a different look of his new hometown from about 1,500 feet.”

While Dooley won’t be jumping from the helicopter, hundreds of paratroopers from around the world will display their paratrooping skills in a non-combat setting. Following the opening ceremonies, Army National Guard helicopters participating from three states will take off from URI’s turf fields and airlift the teams over the field at West Kingston Elementary School, where the leapers will aim for an “X” painted in the grass. Capturing all the action will be local photographers Paul Murray and URI alumna Emily Rutherford (’05). Murray and Rutherford work together as part of Harmonic Threads, Inc., a photo, video and graphic design company run by Murray and his wife, Beth Ann.
After last year’s event, Murray and Rutherford, both from Jamestown, published Leapfest 27, a 48-page book filled with images from the 2009 event.

Murray and Rutherford were invited to shoot last year’s Leapfest through contacts they made while photographing the 2009 Rhode Island National Guard Open House Air Show for their book Rhode Island National Guard Air Show: 2009 Selected Highlights.

There was little time to plan, as the invite for Leapfest came a day before the event was held.

“The challenging thing for us was to shoot something with so many moving parts while not having much background on the event itself,” Murray said. “The Army National Guard at all levels worked with us to make sure we had the support and access that we needed. They were really impressed with the way we were able to capture the essence of the event.”

This year, they have worked closely with officials from the R.I. Army National Guard since January to plan a second book that is scheduled to come out this fall.

“Paul and Emily are folks who are proud of their community,” Lt. Col. Riel said. “They take a lot of pride in their work, and they produce a phenomenal product.”

The next book will go further into detail about the behind-the-scenes work for Leapfest, covering everything from the rigging of the parachutes to the judging of the event. In addition to the actual Leapfest, Murray and Rutherford will be on hand for the opening ceremonies and the pinning ceremonies.

“The camaraderie among paratroopers is fantastic,” said Rutherford, who earned her degree from URI in psychology with a minor in history. “These units come together from all over the world and display their talents for the public. It’s special to see.””

“Leapfest is one of the many ways that the National Guard has been integrated into the broader military,” Murray said. “Today, many National Guard troops have had prior regular military service, and those who have not meet the same high standards of performance and dedication as any other troops. Yet as citizen soldiers, they may be in any civilian occupation today, and next month be helping during a flood or implementing our nation’s foreign policy far from their homes.”

For more information about this weekend’s competition, visit

“These are men and women who risk their lives for our country,” Rutherford said. “For us, shooting the event and doing the book is a way to say, ‘Thank you,’ back to them.”