FORT RUCKER. Ala. -- A Soldier from the 1st Battalion, 11th Aviation Regiment recently received the opportunity of a lifetime -- a flight in an Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon as the result a friendly challenge.

Last fall, just before the Troy University Military Appreciation game, the commander of Maxwell Air Force Base spoke with Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, regarding the upcoming football game. He stated he would be willing to offer a ride in an F-16 Fighting Falcon to one service member from whichever service had the most members attending the game.

In the third quarter of the Military Appreciation game in November, it was announced that Fort Rucker had won the challenge and that a Soldier from the post would be selected for the honor.

Nominations were sent out and Sgt. Ashlee Saalfeld, 1-11th Avn. Regt., was selected, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin Pinckney, 1-11th Avn. Regt. "Sergeant Saalfeld demonstrates a high professionalism and motivation we want to see in junior NCOs."

Saalfeld said she was thrilled being selected for the flight which took place on Feb. 15th. "Everything that they told me I did that made me the Soldier that would be selected, I did as a specialist," Saalfeld said. "So, my message to other Soldiers would be to get active and get out there. You don't get recognized sitting on your butt."

On the day of the Troy Military Appreciation Game, Saalfeld volunteered to march in a local Veterans Day parade that morning to represent Fort Rucker. Following that parade, she returned to Fort Rucker and took charge of a group of Soldiers from 1-11th Avn. Regt. who were traveling to Troy to attend the football game.

Saalfeld is an air traffic controller, so she is familiar with Aviation, but she had to learn about how the F-16s safety systems work before her flight.

"The people were very informative and patient during the preparation training -- the amount of professionalism that the Airmen have is impressive," she said.

Saalfeld said the flight was like nothing she had ever experienced. "You realize how big the world is when you are up there. Daily stresses get to be heavy sometimes -- being up there makes the things you are facing seem manageable.

"I enjoyed hearing the air traffic controllers in the plane -- it was eye opening to see my job from the other side," she added. "When you are flying in the plane, you have to trust the voice on the other side of the radio. Hearing the confidence in the air traffic controllers made me feel better being in the plane. It really showed me the importance of maintaining a calm, reassuring demeanor in my job."

"If I was given the option to do it again, I'd give it to another Soldier to experience because it really changes the way you look at things," Saalfeld said. "I would do it again, but I know it would be something that another Soldier would value as much as I do."