Hub of the wheel at UND Army ROTC

UND Aerospace dedicates newest helicopter to Trudy Soli – Army ROTC admin officer, student advisor and MVP

Trudy Soli, administrative officer for UND’s Army ROTC program, stands by the new R44 helicopter that UND Aerospace recently numbered in her honor . The ’86’ in the aircraft’s registration number refers to Soli’s 1986 start date at UND, and the ‘TS’ are her initials. Photo for UND Today by Wes Van Dell.

When Lt. Col. Jason Mathre learned he’d be coming to Grand Forks to lead UND’s Army ROTC program, he mentioned the news to a fellow officer.

“He’s a full-bird colonel now in the Army,” Mathre said. “And when he found out I was going to be the professor of military science here, he said, ‘Talk to Trudy Soli! She was there when I was there, and she’s a key person who really helps make the ROTC program work.’

“And he was absolutely right,” Mathre said. “She’s amazing.”

Last week, UND Aerospace got a chance to tell Soli how amazing, when it surprised her with a ceremony dedicating a new helicopter – one that’ll be used extensively by ROTC cadets, among other aviation trainees – in her honor.

For more than 30 years, Soli has served as the administrative officer and academic advisor for UND’s Army ROTC program. For that service and for Soli herself, the tail number of the new, blue R44 helicopter now stands as a permanent salute. The tail number is N 586TS, with “86” referring to Soli’s start at UND in 1986, and “TS” being her initials. (“N” is the standard U.S. registration prefix, and “5” notes that the aircraft is UND’s fifth R44.)

The May 26 dedication started with Soli getting a ride in the aircraft, which was piloted by Fred Kitko, assistant chief flight instructor for helicopters. Then after the flight, the aircraft bearing Soli and Kitko approached the James C. Ray Hangar at GFK.

The hangar doors rolled open, revealing a crowd of 40 gathered inside, to Soli’s surprise. The crowd burst into applause.

At the James C. Ray Hangar at Grand Forks International Airport, a crowd of dignitaries and well-wishers awaits Trudy Soli’s approach on May 26. Having just completed a helicopter ride, Soli and pilot Fred Kitko are in the blue R44 helicopter just outside the hangar doors. Photo for UND Today by Wes Van Dell.

A program mainstay

“I want to welcome all of our friends and family and special guests who are here,” said Robert Kraus, dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, to the group as Soli joined them, wiping her eyes.

Robert Kraus

“We’ve got the Military Affairs Council from Grand Forks, we’ve got our ROTC commanders, we’ve got everyone here. It’s a great turnout for a special occasion, which is to recognize a very special employee of UND.”

Wes Van Dell, chief flight instructor for the Aerospace School’s helicopter department, spoke next.

“Trudy is really a mainstay of the Army ROTC department, and has been the main connection between that program and UND Aerospace for the last 35 years, through all the iterations of the Army flight training program,” Van Dell told the crowd.

“She’s been the rock that all of the cadets have depended on, as has Aerospace management as well in working with her. … We still get Army aviators coming back, you know, 30 years later, and their first stop is always to go see Trudy.

“It’s a testament to the care that she puts into her job, over such a significant portion of time,” Van Dell said. “And it’s a testament to her character.”

Vote was unanimous

When the new R44 helicopter was being acquired, UND Aerospace solicited ideas for its tail number. “Basically, we put it out to the students and the instructors; they could suggest the tail number and what it would mean,” Van Dell said. “The only thing that we said is that it had to have a ‘5’ in it.

Wes Van Dell

“And once somebody suggested ‘86’ for 1986, which is the year Trudy started, and then ‘TS’ for Trudy Soli, it was unanimous,” Van Dell said. “Everybody voted for that, because we all recognize how significant she is in the lives of so many Army cadets and Army aviators.”

The key to understanding Soli’s impact is to recognize how many hats she wears, said Kitko, the pilot of that morning’s flight.

For students, UND has its own requirements, Aerospace has its own requirements, Army ROTC has its own requirements, Army ROTC Flight Training has its own requirements – and Soli is the hub of that wheel, Kitko said.

She’s the one who makes sure students are fulfilling all of those requirements and nudges those students who need to get back on track. She also monitors the scholarship dollars, including the flight-training money that’s available for aviation cadets.

“In a fraternity, you’ve got the ‘house mother,’ right?” Kitko said.

“A lot of the cadets, they see her as the ROTC mother. And we’re at the point now where we’ve got one-star and two-star generals, and as Wes said during the dedication, their first words are ‘How’s Trudy?’ when they come back. So, this recognition was well deserved.”

Lt. Col. Mathre agreed, and noted that Soli’s role also extends to helping the ROTC program’s military staff.

“Remember, we’re here for only two to four years,” he said. “And then we’re leaving again. But she is that continuity, for the students and everyone else.”

You couldn’t ask for a better person to work with, Mathre continued. “She takes care of everything, jumps in whenever there’s something that needs to be done. She’s just an amazing lady.”

Soli and pilot Fred Kitko, assistant chief flight instructor for helicopters at UND, take off for a ride in UND’s newest R44 helicopter before the aircraft’s dedication ceremony. At the ceremony, Soli was honored for her 35 years of exemplary service to UND. Photo for UND Today by Wes Van Dell.

Pictures on the alumni board

As for Soli, if you ask her about her job, she’ll say she’s never worked a day in her life.

“I love it,” Soli told UND Today. “I absolutely love everything about UND, ROTC and the Aerospace School. It’s just an awesome job, and it’s so fulfilling, to see the students reaching their potential.”

Asked how many UND alums she still keeps in touch with, Soli said, “Oh, gosh. Maybe two or three hundred? I couldn’t even tell you how many.”

Such contacts aren’t an everyday thing. But the pictures are – the pictures that are sent to Soli from around the world.

“I have a huge alumni board, and students constantly saying, ‘Hey, I ran across this alum.’ And they have a picture of that person or of themselves with the UND flag or the Army flag, and they say, ‘Can you put this on the alumni board?’ Then when they visit, they always look for those pictures, so I always make sure they’re up.”

In early May, Army ROTC relocated to Twamley Hall temporarily while the campus is under construction. “And I didn’t bring my Alumni Board with me, because it’s quite big,” Soli said.

But already, the photos from UND-trained soldiers worldwide are coming in, and Soli is posting them on her office wall. “It’s an awesome place to work, UND,” she said. “There’s no place better.”