At more than 13,000 feet above southern Florida, Mary Kubik prepared to jump.
The New Jersey woman joined other families of fallen troops in a tandem sky-dive with members of the U.S. Army's Golden Knights last February -- putting action to things like letting go, trust and courage.
If you goWhat: Rockin' for the Troops concert, featuring Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band
When: Gates open at noon Saturday, July 21
Where: Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton
Tickets: $25, available at Jewel food stores or online
Parking: $10 on-site at Cantigny; free parking and shuttles from the DuPage County complex, 509 N. County Farm Road, Wheaton, and the former Navistar building, 4201 Winfield Road, Warrenville
Info: (630) 971-1150, osotamerica.org
Read our Q&A with actor Gary Sinise, Page 4
The sky-dive is the culmination of a two-day Leap of Faith seminar, a program offered by Operation Support Our Troops-America, that organizers say helps families push past the gut-wrenching grief and focus on the lives of their loved ones.
Kubik's brother, Army Sgt. Ronald A. Kubik, died April 23, 2010, of combat injuries he sustained in Logar province, Afghanistan.
The 21-year-old native of Manchester, N.J., was an "adventure-seeker" who loved white-water rafting and sky diving, played electric guitar in a punk band and was an articulate student who enjoyed a good debate, his sister said. His high school teachers encouraged him to pursue law school and, before enlisting, he spent a semester studying criminal justice at a community college.
"He lived in spite of his fear," Kubik said. "That made him even more courageous."
Kubik will sing the national anthem at the Rockin' for the Troops concert, a major fundraiser for OSOT-America at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. Actor Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band -- named in honor of his role in the 1994 film "Forrest Gump" -- returns as the headliner of the event, with gates set to open at noon Saturday, July 21.
In the fall, Kubik hopes to enlist in the Navy as a hospital corpsman, following two years of volunteer work with organizations devoted to wounded troops and helping amputees compete in athletic races and competitions.
She had often considered military service, sometimes discussing it with her brother. But it was the Leap of Faith seminar that solidified her plans.
"In finally jumping out and trusting somebody else and letting go of fear, it pushed me to make that decision," Kubik said.
Deborah Rickert highlights the Leap of Faith seminar in the list of programs developed by OSOT-America. She founded the nonprofit organization in 2003 after her oldest son, Capt. Dan Rickert, 28, decided to join the Army.
"We say, 'Today, you're going to jump out of an airplane. Tomorrow, your leap of faith may just be getting out of bed and going to work,'" Rickert said.
She said there's a guiding principle for Leap of Faith.
"Your loved ones sacrificed for you to have a full life and you curling up in a ball doesn't honor that sacrifice," Rickert said.
It's a program made possible by the success of the annual Rockin' for the Troops concert, which has raised more than $2 million since its launch, Rickert said.
Like most visions, there were humble origins: OSOT-America started with Rickert planning to send Valentine's Day care packages to overseas troops and working out of her dining room. She organized the concert to fund shipping costs.
Now, Rockin' for the Troops, usually a sold-out event, attracts 10,000 people to Cantigny. Some of the funds raised from ticket sales have supported postage on care packages -- OSOT-America spends $120,000 annually on that bill, Rickert said -- as well as research on treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
"You allow yourself to dream big," Rickert said of the group's efforts. "My husband always says he's going to have on my tombstone, 'How hard can it be?'"
At this year's concert, organizers will pass out red, white and blue glow sticks, a visual symbol of the unity ahead of the approaching presidential election, an "extremely divisive time," Rickert said.
"When it comes to our troops and families we should unite," Rickert said. "They were willing to go off and do the dirty work. Now, we need to make sure that they are supported."
Singing at the concert, Kubik says, will allow her to continue to salute her brother.
"He chose the role of true love for other people, of being willing to step outside of what you're feeling for the greater good as a whole," she said.
Concert tickets are $25 each and can be purchased at osotamerica.org or at Jewel food stores.