Ready to rock - SJAFB F-15E Demo Team will be one of the featured acts this Sunday
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 13, 2006 1:54 PM
A heavy metal guitar solo blares out of tall speakers as a pair of captains fire up dual engines.
The crowds have been waiting for this act all day.
Their screams and cheers drown out the music until -- with a roar -- the eagle takes flight and they are left awestruck.
For the past year, members of the F-15E Strike Eagle Demonstration Team have been on tour in locations across the globe -- entertaining frenzied fans in Holland, Canada and Italy, to name a few.
Still, the self-described "rockers" of the 4th Fighter Wing said nothing will compare to taking their home stage Sunday at Wings Over Wayne -- the skies over Goldsboro's Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
"A lot of people see us flying, out practicing, and now they have a chance to get close up and see exactly what we do," Demo Team Chief Master Sgt. Mark Pindell said. "It will be nice to actually have them come out on that flight line and see not only what we do, but to meet the team individuals. We're just regular people just like them. I think it's great."
Staff Sgt. Nicholas Ward, avionics specialist for the team, said the road back to Wayne County has been a tiring one.
"It's been a blur," he said. "That's the only way to describe it."
Crew Chief Staff Sgt. Jamie Farnell agreed.
"You get home and you've got one day to do your laundry and then you get back on the road again," he said. "I just got married in February, so it wears on you a little bit. But once you're out there, it's a lot of fun."
It's fun to be the fan-favorite, Ward added -- to be a hero and a role model to thousands.
"Another big trip is standing in front of your whole family at a show and to have people come up and ask you for your autograph," he said. "You're just standing there talking to your old man and some kid walks up and says, 'can I have your autograph?' Well, yeah."
The first time a child calls you his hero is special, Senior Airman Albert Morales added. In that moment, you're changed.
"You realize we're not just representing ourselves," he said. "You're representing the Air Force, your team members, pretty much everybody on and off duty. We want to show the other people around us -- especially the kids -- a good attitude, a professional image. It's very, very important that we do that."
Ward added to his fellow crew chief's thought.
"It's a lot of responsibility," he said. "For the most part, we're pretty responsible in our off -duty time. It's because this job is so awesome, and we don't want to lose it. But there's also a lot that goes with it ... we've got to keep the image up."
Interacting with the crowd is a big part of that task, Farnell said.
"For the kids, they're a little intimidated at first," he said. "You're this big military guy to them. But sure, come on up. Let's take a picture. It's worth it just to see the smile on their faces."
Still, despite the need to keep it professional while on tour, in their few spare moments, team members said they have a little fun, too.
"I rode a Dutch police motorcycle down the flight line in Holland," Ward said.
"Yeah, and we conned some cops in Spokane out of their bikes," Farnell added. "We both ride Harleys. We told them, 'Hey, we'll show you our jets if we can ride your bikes around.'"
And at night, long after the crowds have dissipated, the crew goes out on the particular town they are in -- to cut it up and enjoy the company of friends who have become more like family since the team was formed.
And that relationship keeps trust levels at an all-time high, Weapon Systems Officer Capt. Jack Stallworth said -- and makes the performance that much better.
"It's not what everybody outside these doors sees," he said. "The way that Capt. Kennedy and I have kind of developed the culture in here, we feel that being a friendlier and more tightly knit group has paid dividends. Now, not only do these guys work on the planes because they respect us, they like us. That means they are going to go the extra mile ... These guys bust their butts to make sure everything is ready to go. We think that is because we're friends, but we're also professionals."
And blowing away the 60,000-plus expected to attend this weekend's airshow with their professionalism and joy of working as a team, will hopefully show their fellow airmen at Seymour just how far they've come in the past year, Stallworth added -- and why they are the best.
"I'm kind of hopeful, and expectant, that the way people feel about the demo team will change between now and next week," he said. "A lot of people here consider the team to be a pain. We cause them to either delay their sorties, or we've taken their maintainers away from other jets ... but I think after this weekend, they are going to change their tune and start saying, 'what you guys did was really awesome.'"
And the show is just that, they said.
"It's going to be loud and fast and the adrenaline is going to be pumped up," Pindell said.
"Our show is in your face," Farnell added. "And that's what we wanted the music to be. We're loud and rude. We're not going to fluff the pillow for you. So, bring your earplugs."
And while other acts -- including the Air Force Thunderbirds -- will undoubtedly draw screams and cheers also, demo team members said they are confident that their performance will be the one people can't forget.
"We're typically the team that everybody likes," Farnell said. "The thing that people don't understand is that the Thunderbirds have a completely different style of show than we have. Theirs is more of a ballet and pretty and they do the tight formations. They get the 'oohs' and 'ahs.' If theirs is a ballet, ours is like a mosh-pit at a Pantera concert. The people out there are going to love it."
And after the show, the team will pack it up again, for the next leg of their world tour.
But as they show off their eagle in Florida, California, Arkansas and Texas, they'll take with them the roar of their home crowd.
"We're Goldsboro's home team," Pindell said. "So, when we go out on the road, we take Goldsboro with us."
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