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‘Just a walk in the park’

Safely on the ground, UNM President Garnett Stokes celebrates a successful skydive – her first – onto Johnson Field Tuesday afternoon. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Safely on the ground, UNM President Garnett Stokes celebrates a successful skydive – her first – onto Johnson Field Tuesday afternoon. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes had never gone skydiving before, so she asked her tandem jump partner about getting cold feet before the plunge.

“What happens if I say at the last moment at the door that I don’t want to go? He said, ‘Well, you say no, no, no, and I’ll hear go, go, go,’ ” Stokes said in an interview minutes after landing on UNM’s Johnson Field. “I thought, ‘OK. We’re doing this.’ ”

Stokes brought a bit of excitement to UNM’s campus on Tuesday afternoon. She jumped with the U.S. Army Parachute Team from a plane circling about 9,000 feet above campus and skydived onto Johnson Field in front of a crowd of about 60 students and university employees, including many uniformed members of UNM’s ROTC.

During the jump, Stokes was securely attached to Sgt. 1st Class John Ewald, who has been a member of the Golden Knights for 12 years and has made more than 6,000 jumps.

“These are the best of the best. They are elite and that is why I wanted to jump with them, because … we have such a strong relationship with our Army ROTC program and we are focused on being a military-friendly and veteran-friendly school,” Stokes said. “That is the primary (reason for the jump), to showcase the strength of that relationship here at UNM.”

About 10 Golden Knights jumped from a side rear door on a DHC-8 airplane and safely fell through cloudy skies and onto UNM’s campus, said Sgt. 1st Class Roman Grijalva, a member of the team. The team cordoned off about a quarter of Johnson Field as the landing zone, which all the Knights appeared to easily hone in on to make a smooth landing.

“The university ROTC program requested that we come out here and do a tandem jump with the president to showcase what the Army is capable of,” Grijalva said. “We were just in San Diego for an air show, so we coordinated the timing to come make it happen.”

Stokes didn’t skip a beat after the jump. She was falling through the skies giving the Lobo sign one minute and the next she was thanking university employees for watching her landing, and taking pictures with ROTC students.

“It is almost indescribable. It feels like you are floating in air. You don’t realize how fast you are going until that parachute opens up,” she said of her jump. “Then it’s just a walk in the park, basically, while you are floating down.”

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