Cadet Kaleb Estes didn’t let much slow him down.
Mourners at a Thursday memorial service for the senior cadet remembered how he came back from an earlier skydiving injury so serious that it landed him in Craig Hospital, Colorado’s premier facility for spinal injuries.
“He would always respond ‘Yes Ma’am’ when I chastised him for doing wheelies in his wheelchair,” recalled eulogist Lt. Col Meredith Beavers, who commanded Estes’ cadet squadron.
Estes was determined to return to the sky. He died May 7 in a skydiving accident that remains under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration.
His death, so close to next Wednesday’s graduation was a powerful blow for Estes’ classmates who gathered in the school’s Cadet Chapel Thursday.
“Our hearts are full of grief, questions and even fear,” Lt. Col. Mike Newton, a chaplain, said during the service.
Fear wasn’t something Estes seemed to know much about. He was a skydiver with more than 500 jumps. He was a base jumper, skate-boarder and part-time philosopher who was seen as one of the brightest members of the class of 2017.
Classmates described him as an inspiration and a leader others gladly followed.
“There was something about him,” said fellow senior cadet Graham Johnson.
The pride of Hartselle High School in rural Alabama, he gave the valedictory speech at his 2009 high school graduation.
“You will never be truly happy until you follow your heart,” Estes told his fellow graduates.