04/24/09 — Blue Angels team visits hospital, two county schools

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Blue Angels team visits hospital, two county schools

By Kenneth Fine and Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 24, 2009 1:46 PM

News-Argus Video Report

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Caroline Bryan, 5, gets an autographed poster from Blue Angels flight surgeon Lt. Johannah Valentine during a visit to Wayne Memorial Hospital Friday morning.

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U.S. Navy Blue Angel Lt. Mark Swinger tells seventh-grade students at Greenwood Middle School about the hard work it took for him to become a Blue Angel.

Caroline Bryan's eyes lit up as she approached the three sailors standing inside the Wayne Memorial Hospital auditorium this morning.

And she smiled when one of them, Lt. Frank Weisser, asked for her name.

The 5-year-old might not quite know what an autograph is -- or the meaning of "G-force," a term she heard several times during Weisser's lecture.

But none of that seemed to matter as she watched, in anticipation, as he and other members of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels made their marks on a glossy picture of six F/A-18 Super Hornets flying in formation.

The Blue Angels spent their last morning before performances at this weekend's Wings Over Wayne air show out of the skies -- focused on an "equally important mission."

Some were with Weisser in that hospital auditorium.

Others, like Lt. Mark Swinger, were at Greenwood Middle School.

The purpose of both visits was the same -- to get some face time with those who will likely be among the crowd during their performances, to share the team's history, and, potentially, to spark some young boy or girl's interest in a military career.

Swinger told students at Greenwood about all the Navy flight demonstration team does, but beyond the 10-minute video and questions from the audience, his mission was very specific -- to emphasize the importance of learning, teamwork and dedication.

"All this stuff you guys are doing now really matters," he told the seventh-graders.

Groans rose up from those around him.

"I know, I know, I didn't think that either when I was in seventh grade," he said.

In fact, growing up in Virginia, he had no idea he would enter the career field that now takes him around the globe performing daring feats and visiting hospitals and schools.

So he felt obliged to give the students the information he didn't get until much later in his life.

Being a Blue Angel, he told them, is not just about mastering the art of flying a fighter jet.

It's also about teamwork and trust, he said, a message Weisser echoed at Wayne Memorial.

"If you're not working together as a team, this doesn't happen," Swinger said.

Nate Stewart, a member of the team's maintenance crew, agreed.

"Without teamwork and without trust we could not do that job," he told those gathered at Greenwood. "If one man messes up just a little bit, every man around him is going to suffer the consequences -- not only in the Blue Angels but on the fleet."

And how does that all apply to seventh grade? Singer asked.

"The stuff you do in seventh grade, all the classes that you take get you to eighth grade and then to college," he said. "Everything you do, you have to work for."

Beyond the festivities this weekend at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, the men said they value the opportunity to interact with students and to discuss the benefits of military service, explaining the opportunities available in the Navy and Marine Corps.

The questions at Greenwood ranged from the size of the planes to whether the uniform was hot and how Swinger kept his shoes so shiny.

But several also wanted to know more about job and how much it paid -- about $2,200 to $5,000 a month.

"I was expecting that question," Swinger said. "I figured that would be the second question we'd get asked."

Meanwhile, hospital staff were asking about potential health risks associated with pulling Gs, whether or not pilots followed a particular diet and other medical questions.

In response to one woman, who asked what kind of food the pilots were encouraged to eat, Flight Surgeon Lt. Johannah Valentine quipped, "This is not the time to go on a low-carb diet."

As both the lectures ended, both Greenwood and Wayne Memorial were presented with a laminated photo of the Blue Angels in formation for their respective facilities.

Several Greenwood students commented that they were impressed with the presentation.

Katie Mooney, whose father is in the military, said she learned a few things.

"I didn't realize it was such a small space inside (the plane)," she said, "and that they can fly like two feet apart and not crash."

Elisa Fleming also appreciated the information and that the men took questions from the students.

"I think I will take away (the message). It will follow me through high school and encourage me to go to college," she said.

For Quaviis Holloman, a career in the military might be a possibility.

"It was something new because my family, they're not in the military. I liked the presentation. I like how much they make. I might want to join."

Marquis Colebrook is part of a military family -- his father is retired and mom is in the reserves.

"I liked it," he said. "I have been to the air show a lot, but I haven't learned as much about it as I did today."

Jonathan Otana also thought it was "pretty cool."

"I just learned some stuff that I didn't think they actually do," he said. "I didn't think they put that much work into it."

And then there was Caroline, that 5-year-old at Wayne Memorial who walked away with a smile -- and a memory to hold onto -- until her next encounter with the Blue Angels.