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Thunderbirds Perform at Air Extreme 2011
An Italian waves at a passing Air Force Thunderbird during the Air Extreme 2011 Airshow in Jesolo, Italy, June 11. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Justin Weaver)
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Thunderbirds visit Aviano, wow crowds at Jesolo

Posted 6/15/2011   Updated 6/15/2011 Email story   Print story


by Senior Airman Katherine Windish
31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

6/15/2011 - AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- The U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the "Thunderbirds," visited Aviano Air Base, Italy, June 9-14 to perform in the Air Extreme 2011 Air Show just off the coast of Jesolo, Italy.

In addition to preparing for the show, team members also met with junior enlisted Airmen, spoke with Department of Defense middle and high school students, met with a local hospital's youngest patients and re-enlisted two of the 31st Fighter Wing's technical sergeants: Tech. Sgts. Matthew Gonzales and Scott McAfee.

During the team's visit with the students, Capt. Ryan Riley, also known as left wing, or "Number Two," and Staff Sgt. Mark Creel, assistant crew chief for the number two F-16 Fighting Falcon, discussed goals and the future with the Aviano Air Base students.

"I don't have to sell the military to you, you all grew up with the military and the military sells itself," said Capt. Ryan Riley, Thunderbird pilot while giving a presentation to a group of Air Force junior ROTC cadets. "No matter what you have planned for your future, if you want to join the military, if you want to go to college, you should always set your goals high and work hard to achieve them."

The captain used his own experiences as an example.

"I always knew I wanted to be a pilot," he shared. "I knew I wanted to go to the Air Force Academy and become a fighter pilot, but I grew up in a town of 4,000 people, where no one ever went to the Air Force Academy and no one became a fighter pilot. They told me it couldn't be done and that the Air Force Academy was for smart people. So I worked hard, studied hard, and then I followed my dream."

The crew chief spoke to the students about the enlisted aspect, giving a different perspective, but with a similar message.

"When I first joined the Air Force, I knew I wanted to be a Thunderbird crew chief," Sergeant Creel said. "I was told I was too new and too inexperienced, so I had to work hard and make sure I reached the skill level required to become part of the elite team."

Retired Col. Joseph Sansone, Aviano High School junior ROTC commander, was impressed by the Thunderbirds' message, appearance and professionalism.

"It is an honor to have them come here to share their experience with these cadets," he said. "It's an important lesson, what they are teaching: that hard work does pay off. It truly is an honor to have these outstanding Americans here to show what the Air Force is all about, from both the commissioned and enlisted perspectives."

Colonel Sansone's student, Christina Abundas, 15-year-old daughter of Tech. Sgt. Michael Abundas agreed with her JROTC commander, saying the Thunderbirds' presentation reminded her why she had wanted to be a pilot when she was a little girl.

"I really enjoyed hearing them [speak]," she said. "I'm not sure if I still want to be a pilot, but their message was important no matter what I decide to do in the future."

The following day, Thunderbird pilot, Capt. Nicholas Holmes, his dedicated crew chief, Staff Sgt. William Rotroff, and Thunderbird associate pilot, Capt. Jeff Downing, visited the Pordenone Hospital children's wing, to boost the morale of patients and hone positive relations in the Italian community.

"It's our job to go out there and talk about what our Airmen are doing," said Captain Holmes. "As soon as we walk in, to see the children's faces light up, it's truly an honor to be doing what we're doing."

Sergeant Rotroff agreed, stating that meeting with the children is always a rewarding experience.

With the use of a translator, the Thunderbirds spoke to the children about their mission, the aircraft they use and the different maneuvers they perform during a show. They also gave out Thunderbird memorabilia and signed autographs.

The Thunderbirds spent the remainder of Saturday and Sunday performing alongside the Italian air force's air demonstration team, the Frecce Tricolori, and others at the coalition air show in Jesolo before the final day off to explore the Northern Italian countryside.

The Thunderbirds will continue their European tour, performing at Karup Air Base, Denmark, June 15 followed by shows in Finland, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom and Belgium.

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