SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Community leaders from around the U.S. gained a new perspective of the U.S. Army last week from 13,500 feet above this south Texas city.
The Golden Knights supported the U.S. Army All-American Bowl by accomplishing 47 tandem jumps Jan. 5-7 for distinguished guests of U.S. Army Accessions Command that were here for the game and other bowl week activities.
"It was the most exuberant thing I've done in my life," said Bobby Singleton, an Alabama state senator from Tuscaloosa had two players from his district playing in the game. "I wasn't nervous. I thought I would be when I hit that door, but it was really, really - I'm overwhelmed from the experience. I thank the Golden Knights and the Army for giving me this opportunity because, hey, I'm Army Strong."
Golden Knight Staff Sgt. Aaron Figel was thankful for the mild weather that allowed the team to accomplish nearly 50 free falls in three days.
"I would say they were having the time of their life," he said of the cross section of Army supporters. "They get about 30 to 40 seconds of freefall and about 30 seconds of fun."
Michelle Flinton works with the Family Career and Community Leaders of America in Manassas, Va., and came to San Antonio looking to gain more information for students.
"One of the reasons I am here is to learn what Army programs are available, which ones are similar to ours, and how do we make them work together," she said. "There are so many opportunities for our students, especially when they are looking for careers, so it's going to be a good fit when looking for college and career readiness."
Flinton said she gave very little thought to jumping out of an airplane.
"It was really fun. A little nauseous at the end, but it was great," she said with a laugh. "This will be one of those bucket list check marks before I turn 50. ... I just appreciate being here and the opportunity."
Gus McCoy of the Metro Youth Initiative in Jackson, Miss., said "this was an once-in-a-lifetime experience that I'll never forget."
"Instant excitement, but at the same time you still feel safe," McCoy added. "It scared the devil out of me. ... This was my first time ever to think about doing something like this. The thing is it really doesn't hit you until you're standing in the door. Then they're telling you to smile, and you're like, 'smile at what''"
Figel believes he has seen every reaction possible during his time with the Knights.
"The scariest part I'd say for the passenger is that first initial step out of the airplane. It's like the first drop on a rollercoaster, like 'Oh, my God, what's going to happen''" Figel said. "It's really a thrill to take somebody who's never been before. ... It's like you just opened a new chapter in their life. Like you just woke them up from a dream."
Private pilot Tim Williamson volunteers in Phoenix with Army Reserve family support units and after his jump planned on a new purchase.
"That was good. I'm going to have to buy a parachute," he said after touching down. "I already have the plane; I just need the parachute. The best part was dive-bombing down, that was great."
The president of American Steel Corporation and member of Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve said he cherished networking with troops during U.S. Army All-American Bowl week.
"It's going to be overwhelming because there's so much to look at and see," Williamson said. "But the best part for me is just meeting the Army guys and talking to them. Usually their passion for what they're doing is so incredible, that's the best reward I get is just seeing that they enjoy doing what they're doing."
Dr. James Morales, vice president for student services at Utah State University, appreciated the opportunities to jump and learn more about the Army.
"That was an incredible experience. I can't believe it," Morales said after landing. "That's what the birds do, they get up there and glide and fly and enjoy it. This is once in a lifetime - wonderful."
The tandem jump was a bonus as his primary goal during U.S. Army All-American Bowl week was to "learn more about the programs the Army has going so that I can better promote those opportunities to our students back on campus."