They were my nameless heroes when I was kid. At least I never knew any of their individual names. As a team they were (and still are) known as the Thunderbirds. Their dangerously tight formation flying and acrobatics in high performance combat aircraft made several jets look like one machine. As an Air Force brat, I shared the dream with every other son of an Air Force man of some day flying wingtip to wingtip in a crowd-dazzling display of airmanship, and then afterwards glad-handing with the adoring audience in a crisp blue flight suit and white scarf.
This week I attended a client's government sales conference in Las Vegas, highlighted by a trip out to Nellis Air Force Base and the home, hangar, and headquarters of the US Air Force Thunderbirds. The best part of the whole trip was that we didn't talk to one officer or pilot. The NCOs and young enlisted men working on the jets were just magnificent. As an old corps Marine, I was impressed to the point of jealousy at how squared away these airmen were, right down to the military creases in their coveralls and spit-shined boots. This is not just a show-place, either. Those kids had the jets apart and were doing the knuckle-busting maintenance critical to keeping old aircraft (surprising to call an F-16 "old," but they are older than the men maintaining them) flying.
I handed out a few of business cards and told these guys that when they left the Air Force to give me a call and I'd find a place for them on my team.
The be-scarved pilots aren't my heroes any more. Those kids with their arms up to their shoulders in the guts of a jet are my heroes now.