04/15/11 — 916th refuels jets that are bringing Thunderbird pilot back home

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916th refuels jets that are bringing Thunderbird pilot back home

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on April 15, 2011 1:46 PM

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The Mission: Bring the United States Air Force elite precision flying team, the Thunderbirds, to Goldsboro. Two Seymour Johnson KC-135 Stratotankers were sent to the Missouri / Arkansas border to refuel the eight F-16s en route to perform at Wings Over Wayne.

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Air Force Maj. J.R. Williams is seen on the flight line Thursday at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Williams, who will be flying with the Air Force's elite precision flying team, the Thunderbirds, at this weekend's Wings Over Wayne air show, was stationed at Seymour Johnson in 2003-04 as a member of the 4th Fighter Wing's 333rd Fighter Squadron. He has been a member of the Thunderbirds for seven months.

When the 916th Air Refueling Wing rendezvoused with the Air Force Thunderbirds somewhere over Arkansas Thursday afternoon to refuel the jets on their way to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, the crew likely didn't realize they were also escorting one pilot back home.

Maj. J.R. Williams, the opposing solo for the Thunderbirds, is returning to his roots -- the airman was stationed at Seymour Johnson from 2003 until 2004 as a student in the 333rd Fighter Squadron.

But Williams said he's not the only member excited to begin the show season.

"It feels great [to be back]. Honestly, we're very excited to be here," he said. "Not only myself, because I have a lot of friends here, but the team because we're starting out our show season."

And besides being a homecoming for the pilot, who is in his seventh month with the Thunderbirds, he said this weekend's show will be especially monumental because of an added element to the flying demonstration, which displays the capabilities of some of the Air Force's elite fighter jets.

"This one is really special because this is the first show that we're actually recognizing a fallen hero," Williams said. "If you look on the gear door on the No. 1 aircraft, there's an Army staff sergeant's name on it."

During the show this weekend, the team will honor Staff Sgt. Trey Bradley, a Greenville native who was killed in Iraq in 2008.

"We'll be flying his name the entire weekend," he said.

With the debut of the new fallen heroes segment, the show season's beginning and his return to Goldsboro, this weekend promises to be an exciting one for the young Thunderbird.

"It's still pretty new to me, but it's really exciting," he said, adding that the excitement of this weekend is only amplified by his return. "It's good for me to be back home and it's the start of the new season, so everything all at the same time."