Middle Tennessee State University President Sidney A. McPhee and retired Lt. Gen. Keith M. Huber, senior advisor for veterans and leadership initiatives, have experienced many of life's challenges.
They encountered a leap of faith, literally, Tuesday (April 25), as they tandem jumped with members of the Army Golden Knights precision parachute team at the Clarksville-Montgomery County Regional Airport.
Along with MTSU sophomore and Sidelines journalist Andrew Wigdor, McPhee and Huber were invited to participate because of MTSU's commitment to student veterans, the opening of the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center and a recent expansion into career placement.
The Golden Knights, trying to bring awareness to Army career opportunities, invited McPhee, Huber and others from across the region and state to participate in the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of them.
"I can't describe the feeling," said McPhee, still sensing the adrenaline rush of freefalling from 13,000 to 4,500 feet before the parachute opened. "There was nothing like it that I have ever experienced in my life." He gave a thumb's up and huge smile as he passed a military member, then told someone about to jump to "be ready for the thrill of your life."
During introductions before the jump and referring to the heights and altitude they would encounter, he jokingly shared he "gets nervous (being) on the second floor."
Huber, a Special Forces veteran as an infantryman and Green Beret, said the tandem jump "was incredible. It was such a beautiful view of the countryside. It was great being around professionals again. I miss being a soldier."
Observing Huber's jump were his wife, Shelly, and daughter, Alexis, 10.
Wigdor, who is a multimedia journalism major and Sidelines assistant editor from Maryville, Tennessee, described his jump as "the craziest experience I've ever had."
"It was amazing," Wigdor added. "The least favorite part for me was the freefall. It was still fun, but there was a lot of pressure I felt in my head. It was hard to breathe. But after the parachute opened, it was like a dream."
MTSU alumnus Brandon Heath (Class of 2003), a university studies major and English minor who is a contemporary Christian recording artist, jumped with the first group after the early-morning fog lifted.
"It was incredible," Heath said. "Besides the G forces that took my breath away, if you're going to skydive, you want a Golden Knight along with you. They make it safe and a whole lot of fun."
The groups flew in a de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter plane with twin turbo-prop engines that came on board in 2013. It bears the name of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush on the pilot's door. The Golden Knights, who have four days of jumps planned, are based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Educators including Austin Peay State University President Alisa White, entertainers from past seasons of "The Voice" and "American Idol," a wildlife biologist, heart surgeon/state Sen. Richard Briggs and others participated in the second day of four scheduled days of tandem jumps.
Col. Wayne Hertel, commander of the 3rd Recruiting Brigade at Fort Knox, Kentucky, told the group "you are the spokesmen for the Army. You help us tell the Army story. You help young men and women know that the Army is not the last resort and it's a great opportunity to serve their country."
For more information about MTSU's Daniels Center and its student-veterans services, visit www.mtsu.edu/military.