University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes raised awareness for the University’s Army ROTC program in a unique way – a tandem skydive with the Golden Knights – the U.S. Army’s elite parachute demonstration team.

Prior to the jump, Stokes went through a safety briefing and ground training before flying high above Albuquerque and jumping out of the airplane at 9,000 feet, and landing safely back on Johnson Field at UNM’s Main Campus. Her instructor was  Sgt. 1st Class John Ewald, a member of the Golden Knights for 12 years with more than 6,000 jumps to his credit.

The jump was aimed at highlighting the close partnership UNM has with the U.S. Army, and raise support for the Lobo Army ROTC program

"There were the butterflies leading up to it, but I had a great instructor that I was attached to and you just do it," said Stokes, who made her first-ever jump. "They (Golden Knights) were fabulous; these are the best of the best. They're elite and that's why I wanted to jump with them because we have such a strong relationship with our Army ROTC program. We really focus on being a veteran's friendly school. That was the primary thing to really showcase the strength of that relationship here at UNM."

The jump itself was an incredible experience for Stokes, who is also the wife of a retired U.S. Army Colonel, Dr. Jeff Younggren.

"It's almost indescribable. You're just falling, but it feels like you're floating on air. You don't realize how fast you're going though until that parachute is opened up. You slow down significantly at that point and then it's just like a walk in the park," said Stokes. "But the free fall, I mean the big initial sensation is you feel the wind as a powerful force. My first thought is 'OK, are my goggles gonna stay on?' but no problem. I just tried to remember everything I was told to do and it all worked perfectly." 

The Army Golden Knights are one of three Department of Defense sanctioned aerial demonstration teams, along with the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels. The team originally formed in 1959 when 19 Airborne Soldiers from various military units formed the Strategic Army Command Parachute Team (STRAC) to compete in the fairly new sport of skydiving, dominated by the Soviet Union at the time.

Two years later, the Department of Defense announced that the STRAC team would become the United States Army Parachute Team. By 1962, the team earned the nickname the "Golden Knights." "Golden" signified the gold medals the team had won while "Knights" alluded to the team’s ambition to conquer the skies.

The Golden Knights are also performing a demonstration at Atrisco Heritage before heading back to their home base in North Carolina. For more information, visit U.S. Army Golden Knights.

For UNM Army ROTC details, visit Lobo Battalion.