04/17/11 — Thunderbirds perform special show for Make-A-Wish guests

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Thunderbirds perform special show for Make-A-Wish guests

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 17, 2011 1:50 AM

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Dimitri Streit watches a practice by the Air Force Thunderbirds. Dimitri was on base with the Make-A-Wish Foundation

His eyes and mouth wide open, Dimitri Streit slapped the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base flight line and began to laugh.

"Thunderbirds. Thunderbirds," he screamed, pointing toward the sky. "Go. Go. Yay."

The 4-year-old was among dozens of children who, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, got an exclusive tour of the Goldsboro installation Friday -- and a front row seat to the Air Force Thunderbirds' Wings Over Wayne practice run.

"Wow," Dimitri said, as several aircraft flew by in a tight formation. "Whoa. Look. Look. Thunderbirds."

The idea to invite children associated with Make-A-Wish for a pre-air show thrill came, in part, from a member of the 4th Fighter Wing leadership team who has seen, firsthand, the kind of impact the experience can have -- both on the crowd and those who take to the skies to perform for it.

Col. Shawn Pederson, the 4th's vice commander, was, after all, once a Thunderbird.

"It was one of the highlights from my time on the team -- the interaction between the Thunderbirds and Make-A-Wish," he said several weeks ago, as final plans for the event were being made. "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."

After the show, members of the team walked among the crowd made up of those children and members of their families -- posing for pictures, signing autographs, sharing stories.

And when one of the pilots leaned over to talk to Dimitri, the boy's eyes, again, lit up.

"It's a Thunderbird. A real Thunderbird," he said, his smile growing as he clapped his hands. "Wow."