Fort Bragg, N.C.-August 11, 2009, Bent slightly forward, his chin on his chest, elbows tight, Campbell University ROTC Cadet Kyle Gaskill exited the airplane.
"One thousand, two thousand, three thousand," he counted before feeling the shock of his parachute opening.
On the ground, Gaskill's aunt, Maj. Theresa Kavenaugh, was already removing her jump harness. With Gaskill on his way into the Army and Kavenaugh preparing to retire from the Army, the aunt and her nephew had made the historic jump together.
"It was probably my best day in the Army," said an emotional Kavenaugh. "We had talked about jumping together since Kyle was little. It was a very proud moment for me."
Kavenaugh, who has been on jump status for 21 of her 22 years in the Army Reserve, said Gaskill has always been around the jump zone. "He's talked about being a soldier since he was small and I always told him I would jump with him if he did become a soldier."
Gaskill, who receives his commission as a U.S. Army Second Lieutenant in 2011, considered it a privilege to jump with his aunt.
"I was born when she was in Airborne School," he said. "And I was in Airborne School while she is in the process of retiring. That is really amazing."
Gaskill graduated from Airborne School on August 14. Entrance into the school is based on the principles set forth in the Order of Merritt or OML. "If you're â€˜squared away,' meaning doing what your supposed to do based on the OML list and in the battalion, you are allowed to attend jump school," Gaskill said.
Requirements to attend Airborne School are based on participation, academic standing and instructor assessment, among other criteria.
Kavenaugh, a civilian in the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency, is a laison to the Joint Special Operations Command. She has no doubt Gaskill will be a valued military leader.
"He has always felt a responsibility for his community, church and family," she said. "I think that sense of responsibility will transition to his soldiers and make him the kind of leader they will follow. He is also as good a follower as he is a leader, and that is the key to success as a leader."
Gaskill, an Exercise Science major, would like to be a helicopter pilot when he joins the Army.
"I've wanted to be a pilot since I was a child," he said. "My aunt has been my influence. It was a tremendous honor to be able to jump with her. It is something I will never forget."
Gaskill is the son of Kyle and Karen Gaskill of Wilmington, N.C. His brother Ethan is 15.
Established in 1971, the Campbell University ROTC Battalion has consistently out-performed other units both regionally and nationally. From 2005 to present, the Battalion was ranked in the top 15 percent out of 273 ROTC programs in the nation by the U.S. Army Cadet Command. The Campbell Battalion includes cadres at Methodist University, Fayetteville State University and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Photo Copy: Campbell ROTC Cadet Kyle Gaskill and his aunt, Theresa Kavenaugh, prepare for a parachute jump at Fort Bragg.