Tag Archives: Thunderbirds

Veterans Day: reflecting on service, Air Force Memorial

By Tech. Sgt. Karen J. Tomasik
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

Veterans Day is near and dear to my family since many family members have served this nation across several service branches. I’ve attended many ceremonies and services at various locations over the years, but there is a place I have yet to visit on a military holiday – the Air Force Memorial.

Why would I want to spend Veterans Day visiting the Air Force Memorial specifically? It’s because my daughters are finally old enough to notice the details of the memorial and what they mean. It’s a visual representation of me and my husband’s Air Force service, and I’d really like to see the wonder in their eyes at seeing the memorial for the first time.

What I remember most about the first time I ever saw the memorial, was the way the three soaring, shiny stainless steel spires seem to rise up out of the trees when driving up to the memorial site. It was their graceful curvature that took me back to my childhood when I saw the Thunderbirds perform what’s known as the bomb burst maneuver.

I also remember a lot of the news that came out about the design and building of the memorial – some people liked the design while others were very vocal in saying how much they didn’t like it. What mattered to me was my service branch finally having a memorial for our Airmen that captures our mission – much like the Navy’s Lone Sailor Statue signifies the service of Sailors and the Marine Corps War Memorial embodies the courage and sacrifice of Marines.

The memorial is not just for the men and women serving in today’s Air Force but also those who served in early organizations like the Aeronautical Division and Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps; the Army Air Service; the U.S. Army Air Corps; and the U.S. Army Air Forces among others. This is for all of America’s Airmen.

The memorial also features a bronze honor guard statue, which I also identify with – not as a ceremonial guardsman in the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard – but as a young Airman allowed to participate as a member of the base honor guard at McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

The opportunities I had to render final honors for many who served in the Army Air Corps and some who served much more recently really opened my eyes to how much we owe to people who choose to join the ranks of those going off into the wild blue yonder for their country.

As a kid growing up in rural Ohio, I loved watching the crop dusters flying over local farms and enjoyed each chance I got to fly to Texas to visit my grandparents for summer vacations. I’m sure all that, my dad’s service in the Ohio Air National Guard, and my being born in San Antonio, home of the Gateway to the Air Force, played a part in my decision to join.

The Air Force memorial is more than just steel spires, bronze statues, granite walls or the glass contemplation wall honoring fallen Airmen. It shows the American people the spirit of its Airmen through the decades, represents our core values and recognizes the three components that make up our Total Force.

It is a legacy of American Airmen and airpower that I hope future generations, including that of my daughters, can look upon with awe as they remember the great feats we have accomplished and the leaders we have developed.

Photo: The Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va., is the site of a dedication ceremony Oct. 14, 2006, at 9 a.m. Organizers braved the cooler afternoon temperatures Oct. 12 making final preperations for the dedication ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Larry A. Simmons)

Weather no match for Thunderbirds

(Below is a post originally on PACAF Pixels from Capt. Christy Stravolo, an Air Force Reservist working for PACAF Public Affairs and currently traveling with the Thunderbirds team.)

Everyone knew the Thunderbirds tour through the Pacific wasn’t going to be a cakewalk. Getting their F-16s and support team of 80+ Airmen across tens of thousands of miles of open ocean to 10 different venues including Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and South Korea has taken almost a year of planning and coordination between the Air Force active duty, Reserve and Guard plus a few embassies and numerous foreign militaries. The only “member” of the team who has been less than cooperative has been Mother Nature, but the Thunderbirds – I’m proud to report – have so far adapted and overcome…

The Thunderbirds left Hawaii and arrived in Australia Sept 22 via airlift provided by C-17s from Elmendorf AFB and Hickam AFB, which were refueled by Hawaii Air National Guard KC-135s and Reserve KC-10As from Travis AFB, Calif. The day after we arrived we started hearing about a massive dust storm in Sydney, which the news people were calling “the dust storm of the century.” The images of pink and yellow haze where buildings supposedly stood were hard to believe and we wondered if the dust might make its way more than 1,000 miles north to Townsville where we were. Sure enough, it did. We had a few days before the practice for it to clear up, which it did not. Visibility was so poor on the practice day that the Thunderbirds flew a “flat” (low altitude) show and the commander ended it early as a safety precaution. It was anyone’s guess as to whether the air show would be possible the very next day.

More than 70,000 Australians flocked to “The Strand” on air show day. The Strand is a beautiful stretch of beach and palm trees looking out at Magnetic Island, which was still fairly hazy from the dust but at least we could see it. It wasn’t visible the day before. I was standing at show center and wondering if the Thunderbirds commander was going to give the green light to fly. The music picked up and suddenly the Thunderbirds raced across the sky from behind us and once over water, shot straight up as high as you could see. We were going to get a show! All the loops, high-speed maneuvers and formation flying thrilled the crowd. What a show it was. A special treat was watching the Royal Australian Air Force’s F-111 demo.

While we were in Australia, we were hearing about a typhoon headed towards our next destination: Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Because of the severe weather, the call had to be made to cancel Guam and arrive ahead of schedule in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Everyone was disappointed. To cancel a show after all the months of planning to make it possible is disheartening. I felt especially bad for our folks at Andersen.

The day we arrived in Kuala Lumpur, those of us working PA met with the embassy PA folks at our hotel (across from Petronas Twin Towers, which are magnificent). Smack in the middle of the meeting, I felt my body trembling. I wasn’t sure what was happening and held onto the table, which was vibrating. Finally the embassy PA asked if “anyone else felt that” and turns out we all did. Later on the news, we learned about the massive earthquake in Indonesia, which was felt as far away as Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. I was beginning to wonder what else Mother Nature had in store for us…

Even though the rainy season was upon us, the air show in Malaysia on Oct 3 went off without a hitch. More than 100,000 people flocked to the Subang air base to watch the Thunderbirds perform.

I heard over and over from the Malaysians at the show how fantastic they thought the Thunderbirds were.

From a public affairs standpoint, our time in Australia and Malaysia was well spent. The Thunderbirds visited a children’s hospital in Australia, met with orphans in Kuala Lumpur, conducted countless radio, TV and newspaper interviews in both countries and even met the Sultan of Selangor, Malaysia who came out to see the show and was presented a Thunderbirds lithograph signed by the team.

Our next scheduled stop on the Pacific tour was Thailand, however the Thunderbirds commander has gotten approval to “swing through” Guam first now that a super typhoon (stronger than the first storm that diverted us) is no longer threatening the island. So here we are! The Elmendorf C-17 carrying the first half of the team arrived yesterday and the F-16s along with the second C-17 from Hickam arrives this evening. If Mother Nature cooperates, Guam residents will get to see the Thunderbirds fly this Wednesday. I’m keeping my fingers crossed…

“Hometown Hero” flight during AF Week Salt Lake City

There’s more to the mission of the Air Force Thunderbirds than performance, precision and indescribable skill.  Recruitment and retention are at the core of their operation, and with that comes participation in the community as well.

While the Thunderbirds are the center of attention at air shows, they like to share the spotlight with citizens of the communities that support them through their “Hometown Heroes” program. Ogden-area resident Megan Funk was one such local hero to be honored by the Thunderbirds team during Air Force Week Salt Lake City June 4.

Megan recently completed her first year as a second grade teacher. It’s early in her career as an educator, but she’s been around long enough to provide infinite life lessons to her seven- and eight-year-old students, namely “teaching young kids about giving to others.” It was this theme that brought Megan into the back seat of Thunderbird #7.

While the media hype may surround the Thunderbirds the moment they land, this particular flight was to recognize Megan as a Hometown Hero.

“You run the ride,” Thunderbird #7, “Taz,” told Megan before he briefed her on what to expect during her F-16 flight. Their signature diamond formation, the delta, rolls, turns and pulling Gs… she would experience it all.

“You’ll do what everyone will see this weekend,” he said.

Like his fellow pilots, Taz boasts an impressive flying resume, illustrated by a few notable numbers. His flying career started with the F-15 in Japan and Florida, and his F-16 career followed in Nevada where he flew with the National Guard. Taz’ flight times are no small feat: he has spent over 1500 hours in F-15 and 700 hours in the F-16.

An amusing connection was made between pilot and copilot during their pre-flight briefing, Megan mentioned that her and her husband, Curtis, had their first viewing of Top Gun the night before her flight. Taz smiled and reminisced that Top Gun was the movie he took his wife to on their first date in 1986. Megan was born just one year prior.

The Thunderbirds’ aircraft are the most mission-capable, mechanically-sound F-16s in the fleet. The maintainers and support crew are the cream of the crop: they are perfectionists in all they do, from their support to their sharp uniforms. They are primo representatives of who we are as a United States Air Force, supporting a vast mission through excellence in all they do.

Thanks to 2nd Lt. Shannon Laubenthal for writing this post and Alex Lloyd for providing the photos.