04/03/11 — Air Force Thunderbirds to make wishes come true for Make-A-Wish children

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Air Force Thunderbirds to make wishes come true for Make-A-Wish children

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 3, 2011 1:50 AM

The public won't be in attendance when the Air Force Thunderbirds run through the "highlight" of their Goldsboro performance.

The thousands who show up to see the team headline Wings Over Wayne 2011 will miss out on the most emotional moments.

Those experiences are reserved for a group of children, one former Thunderbird said, who inspire those engaged in high-speed flight.

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base officials have agreed to welcome the Make-A-Wish Found-ation to the Golds-boro installation the day before acts take to Wayne County skies.

"For one day, they can just be children," said Tech. Sgt. Stacey Hines, the airman charged with organizing their stint inside the gates. "This may be their one and only air show."

So they will be offered the opportunity to watch teams practice for the two-day show -- after tours of fighter squadrons, a turn in the KC-135R simulator, an exclusive K-9 demonstration -- to make "memories that last a lifetime," the sergeant said.

And after the Thunder-birds wrap up their dress rehearsal, they will get to meet the men and women children often consider heroes.

4th Fighter Wing Vice Commander Col. Shawn Pederson remembers when he was among those performers who met with Make-A-Wish children the day before he flew above thousands more.

"It was one of the highlights from my time on the team -- the interaction between the Thunderbirds and Make-A-Wish," he said. "It was a tradition we very much enjoy."

And it was a chance for the team to draw strength from what Pederson called true courage.

"If you're alive and your heart is beating, you can't help but be touched by these kids," he said. "So it was always our desire to give them back inspiration and strength that really pales in comparison to the inspiration and strength we get from them."

Base officials hope the two-day air show, set for April 16 and 17, will draw some 300,000 to Goldsboro.

Those scheduled to perform include the F15-E Strike Eagle Demonstration Team, the Thunderbirds, the Army Golden Knights and free concerts by country music stars Aaron Tippin and Tracy Lawrence.