By Hilary Broman, Staff Reporter
The CNM Sky Warriors is a hot air ballooning program in which student veterans learn how to be a part of a ballooning crew.
“It’s all about team building,” David Walker, crew chief and administrative coordinator for the veteran’s resource center, stated.
People in the military are used to working together as a team, said Walker who is also a Vietnam era veteran.
“A lot of veterans have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other issues that may cause them to isolate themselves. The goal of the Sky Warriors program is to help vets come together, work as a team, pull them out of their shells, and give them a mission purpose” Walker explained.
There are 4,445 registered veterans at CNM, which makes it the college with the largest veteran population in New Mexico, Walker stated.
“It’s been very successful with all of the veterans we’ve worked with so far,” said Diana Myklebust, hot air balloon pilot and administrative coordinator for the dean of students.
“We had a veteran who didn’t talk to anybody. He used to come into the VRC, get a cup of coffee and leave. Now he is very outgoing. He’ll come in and visit with everybody.” Myklebust said.
“This is the success we want. We want to help acclimate veterans to become more comfortable with the CNM environment and contribute to their overall success here.” Myklebust explained.
Transitioning from the military to college can be extremely difficult for veterans, Walker stated.
“The Sky Warriors program and the VRC provide veterans with the type of structured environment that they are familiar with,” said Walker.
“Support is the key element in all of this,” Myklebust stated.
The Sky Warriors have just finished their third ballooning season where they partnered with the New Mexico Child Advocacy Networks (NMCAN) for the first time, Myklebust explained.
The veterans (sky warriors) helped mentor students who have recently aged out of the foster system (sky scholars), said Myklebust.
Along with the sky warriors program many of the sky warriors and sky scholars are also participating in a 40-hour leadership workshop where they focus on working together and team building, Myklebust said.
Veterans and foster kids deal with similar issues such as PTSD, anxiety and lack of structure, Walker said.
“The Veterans are helping to mentor and guide them and provide them with the structure that they need. They are also helping them get into college,” he said.
“The Sky Scholar program has been so much more successful than we had anticipated,” said Nick Vottero, NMCAN program coordinator.
NMCAN is working on developing an on campus community where the Sky Scholars can feel safe to seek support when dealing with the stresses of school, he said.
Facing their fears by going up in the balloon and being a part of the team dynamic on the chase crew are both helpful in building the community that NMCAN is trying to establish, he said.
“We’re just very thankful that we have this program and that CNM has allowed us to do this for our veterans here,” Myklebust expressed.
Myklebust has been involved in hot air ballooning since 1983, she sated.
She and her husband lend their personal hot air balloon to the sky warriors to practice with as well as pilot and teach them how to set up and use the balloon, said Myklebust.
“I am extremely passionate about hot air ballooning. My husband and I love sharing our balloon experience with others. That’s what makes ballooning so much fun,” Myklebust said smiling.
“Recovering the balloon is half the fun,” Walker said, “It’s the thrill of the chase!”
Myklebust and Walker are thrilled about how successful the program has been, they said.
“The program is still in its infancy but it is doing very well and progressing rapidly,” she said.
Jonathan Banks, a star in Breaking Bad, has taken an interest in the Sky Warriors, Myklebust explained.
“He is very very passionate about our veterans and to help them be successful. He even said that he would come out and actually go out and fly with us next time he was in town. He thought it was a fantastic program,” she said.
Walker and Myklebust have many plans for the future of the Sky Warriors and the VRC, said Walker.
“One of our major goals is to have an all-female crew,” Walker expressed “As well as a Veterans Resource Center at every CNM campus.”
“We’ll push until we get it. All we’ve got is time,” Walker said.
The fourth Sky Warrior season will hopefully start in the fall, Myklebust said.
If anyone is interested in joining the Sky Warriors they can visit the VRC at main campus in the SSC building, room 207,” Walker said.
For more information about the veteran resources provided at CNM click here.