March 10, 2010 10:51:00 AM
Allen Baswell - [email protected]
Though the days are long and being away from family for many days and weeks takes its toll, taking part in the U.S. Air Force Demonstration Team, better known as the Thunderbirds, has a good side, says Lt. Col. Rob "Red" Skelton of Columbus Air Force Base.
Skelton, who serves as a pilot instructor at CAFB, is a former member of the famed group.
"Being a part of the Thunderbirds means being on tour for 250 days, which can be pretty grueling and tough on a family; but by doing this, it helps foster a relationship between the United States Air Force and communities throughout the nation and the world," Skelton said.
Skelton was the guest speaker at Tuesday''s meeting of the Columbus Rotary Club, which met at the Columbus Country Club. Skelton gave a photo-slide presentation about the group, not necessarily to rekindle old memories.
On the weekend of May 15-16, the Thunderbirds are scheduled to participate in an Open House and Air Show at CAFB. Skelton said the show will feature demonstrations by the Thunderbirds Saturday and Sunday with other aerial demonstrations and programs included.
The event will be free and open to the public.
Through these slides, Skelton shared some of his past experiences as a member of the Thunderbirds, including a trip to Washington to dedicate the Air Force Memorial, and meeting President George W. Bush and other dignitaries.
He also had a chance to take part in the Super Bowl matchup in Miami featuring the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears.
"That one was known as the ''Mud Bowl.'' It was an honor to know that in Baghdad, it was 3 or 4 in the morning, and our men and women of the Armed Forces were able to see this game, to see us at the Super Bowl representing the Thunderbirds," Skelton said.
He described a flyover at Cape Kennedy Space Center in Florida he once took part in.
"The U.S. flag on the NASA building is as big a football field," he said.
He said the Thunderbirds have also been to seven countries in Europe including England, France and Ireland.
Through the years the Thunderbirds have not only toured the country and the world, Skelton said they have also spent time with children involved with the Make-A-Wish program.
"It is very touching to be a part of these kids'' lives, to have a chance to lift their spirits," he said.
Because the Thunderbirds have involved celebrities with their events, Skelton said they are hoping to do the same thing with the program in May at CAFB.
"We are working to get Morgan Freeman and Jerry Rice to participate," he said.
Skelton said the average tour with the Thunderbirds is two years. Once they complete their time with the Thunderbirds, it is back to regular duty.
"There are some who try for a third year, some even a fourth year, but it is very few who do that," he said.
Allen Baswell is a former staff reporter for The Dispatch