By Rachael Tolliver, U.S. Army Cadet CommandJanuary 3, 2013
SAN ANTONIO (Jan. 3, 2013) -- In today's world, flying is second nature to man, if he is in an airplane. But skydiving, not so much.
Stan Soderstrom stood outside Stinson Municipal Airport looking skyward at members of the Army's parachute team the Golden Knights and wondered how he would handle the fall.
"I've never jumped," said Soderstrom, executive director of Kiwanis International. "And I have a little anxiety, I will admit, but I replace it with a high degree of confidence because these guys are good at what they do. They have thousands of jumps. It's a life experience I'll never have another chance to do."
Soderstrom was among seven community leaders and educators gathering at Stinson Thursday to try their hand at skydiving in tandem jumps with members of the famed parachute team. They were invited by U.S. Army Cadet Command to attend the All-American Bowl and the week of activities surrounding the event to learn about the Army and how it creates its officers.
They are part of a larger contingent of nearly three dozen men and women in positions of influence within communities nationwide who have been targeted as people who can help articulate the Army's story to the American public and prospective Army leaders. Over the next few days, the group will tour the Center for the Intrepid where many wounded warriors are treated, eat alongside Soldiers in a Fort Sam Houston dining facility and take part in target practice with the Army Marksmanship Unit.
Soderstrom said jumping with the Golden Knights would be exciting aside to the meetings in which he will later take part to discuss presenting better opportunities to young people.
"The Army's reputation precedes them," Soderstrom said. "I've had the opportunity to work with them over the last year and a half, and I have been extremely impressed with the level of follow through on everything they do. I've met people at every level, and they are very good and passionate about what they do which is educating leaders and people."
Dominic Dottavio, president of Tarleton State University, was also on hand to jump.
"One of the things that so impresses me about the Army is the leadership skills and basic core values they have, and we hope every student from Tarleton University has those same skills and values when they leave us to go into the world," he said.
Dottavio added that he felt it easy to be supportive of the Army because of what it tries to teach Soldiers as an educational institution and, at the end of the day, both organizations strive to create better citizens and leaders for their communities, states and the nation.
Dottavio came to San Antonio with some questions, but mainly one of how to get more knowledge.
"I want to know how it is I can be more helpful to our battalion," he said. "We are very proud of our battalion and of our long legacy of serving with the military, and as president I would hope to find a way to work with the Army to continue to educate great leaders for tomorrow. We want to find ways to use the lessons ROTC teaches Cadets to further the education of other students and to help other students understand what these Cadets are doing."
While he has never jumped from a plane before, he said his trust is in the professionalism and training the Army provides its Soldiers.
"I have been thinking that these are the best professionals in the world, and the Army would not throw me out of a plane if they were not confident in their ability to get me down safely," Dottavio said. "This is a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime experience."
By mid-afternoon the low clouds and spitting sleet-rain combination prevented the group from jumping. However, the Golden Knights did not disappoint. They took all the advocates up in the jump plane, in small groups, so they could watch pairs of parachutists jump.
Though Soderstrom didn't jump, the flight was a success.
"This is almost as good as a jump -- a close second," he said.